I didn’t see a single movie in my European vacation. I was tempted to see The Dead Don’t Die in a cinema club across the street from our Airbnb, but it was dubbed into Italian. Then, as soon as I got home, I dived into previewing the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It wasn’t until last weekend that I had time to just see a movie. I saw a bunch of them.
A Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019), Netflix
Martin Scorsese used archival 16mm footage and new interviews – some of them with fictitious people – to tell us the story of Bob Dylan’s near-mythical 1975-76 tour. This wasn’t just a Dylan tour; Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Scarlet Rivera came along for the ride. And then there’s Joan Baez, singing, dancing, imitating Dylan, and talking backstage with him about their history together. The rehearsal and performance footage intimately captures these musicians as they work and play.
A- The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019). California (Berkeley)
A sad eulogy for San Francisco, which will never be what it once was. Two young men, a carpenter and a playwright, fix up an empty house that once belonged to the family, even though they know they can’t possibly live in a home on sale for $4 million. Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra shoots The City in a way that looks nothing like any other San Francisco movie; It’s still magical, but no longer beautiful. The musical choices remind us of the long-gone Summer of Love.
B Rosenda (1948), BAMPFA
This was my first experience with Mexican auteur Julio Bracho, but while I liked this romantic melodrama, I didn’t find it exceptional. Set in a small, backward town, the beautiful Rosenda is caught between two men. Her first love is a mule driver who runs off before the wedding. When he comes back as a revolutionary general, she’s much more deeply in love with the successful and decent businessman who took her in. Sexy at times, and pulls hard on the heartstrings.
C+ The Vikings (1958), Criterion Channel
An almost fun medieval action movie involving Vikings vs. British, Vikings vs. Vikings, and British vs. British. There are good and bad people on both sides, but the movie is weighted clearly towards the Vikings. After all, they’re more fun – especially in the overly camp version of their lifestyle that this movie presents. But as a widescreen epic shot in Technirama, the movie spends way too much time on scenery and ships at sea, to the point where even Jack Cardiff’s beautiful photography gets boring. Kirk Douglas produced and starred. The cast also includes Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and a very boisterous Ernest Borgnine.
C The Woman in the Window (1944), BAMPFA
This noir starts out like The Man Who Cheated Himself: It’s a clear-cut case of self-defense, and yet the main characters do all sorts of stupid things to hide their connection to the corpse. Of course, everything goes from bad to worse. Considering the filmmakers, this should be the better movie: Fritz Lang directing a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, starring Edward G. Robinson (in his weakling persona), Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, and Raymond Massey. But everything is thrown off by the worst ending in the history of noir. The following year, Lang and much of the same cast will make the much better Scarlet Street.