A very young thief, a romantic triangle, & the “Black Woodstock”: What I saw this weekend at BAMPFA

I caught three very good, but very different, films at
the BAMPFA this weekend.

The Traveler (1974)

Friday night, BAMPFA started its new series, Abbas Kiarostami: Life as Art, with this touching story reminiscent of François Truffaut’s 400 Blows.

Kiarostami (1940–2016) was one of Iran’s most important and influential filmmakers, and this massive series will run well into December. Most of his films have recently been digitally restored, and this series is, to an extent, a celebration of these restorations. The Roxie is also running a smaller Kiarostami series.

Okay: on with the movie:

A ten-year-old boy, clearly heading for a life of crime, lives only for soccer. Failing at school, he has absolutely no sense of right or wrong. He robs from his parents and tries to scam venders who can see his lies a mile away. He’s more successful scamming kids his own age, when he pretends to photograph them with a broken camera lacking film. He’s doing all this to get enough money to go to Tehran to see a big game. If he can do that, he apparently reasons, everything will be fine. Heartbreaking.

I give The Traveler an A.

The Traveler was preceded by the short Bread and Alley. In this ten-minute pleaser, a young boy must get passed a seemingly angry dog.  Both boy and dog are adorable.

The DCPs of both films looked and sounded fine, but not exceptional.

Clash by Night (1952)

One of the last screenings in the series Fritz Lang’s America, which will close this week with Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and While the City Sleeps.

Barbara Stanwyck must choose between the sweet, bland, and not too smart Paul Douglas or the very sexy but misogynistic Robert Ryan. This is all set in a fishing village, where the men go off on their boats every morning and the women are housewives – if they don’t have to work in the cannery. Everybody drinks. A not-yet-famous Marilyn Monroe plays a young woman who knows how to handle her tough man. Based on a play by Clifford Odets, and yet the movie only occasionally feels stagey.

I give Clash by Night a B+.

The 35mm print was fine.

Wattstax (1973)

I finally got to catch something in BAMPFA’s summer series, It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll. I saw this documentary in 16mm before it opened (long story). It was great to revisit it again.

Concert documentaries were big box office in the 1970s, but Wattstax failed to get the buzz it deserved – probably because everyone in it was black. The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Kim Weston, and Isaac Hayes give great performances to excited audiences and well-placed cameras. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, dressing much wilder than he would later when running for president, handled MC duties. These were in the days of Black Power, when the call was “Black is beautiful!” In between songs, we get documentary footage of Watts residents talking about their lives. Best of all, a not-yet-famous Richard Pryor adds his own very funny asides.

I give Wattstax an A-.

This documentary has been playing around the Bay Area this summer, thanks to a new DCP. But BAMPFA has a 35mm print in its collection, and that’s what I saw Saturday night. It looked as good as you can expect from a blow-up off of a cropped 16mm negative. The 5.1 Dolby digital mix was great.