What’s Screening: February 18 – 24

This is a great week for silent movie lovers. Bay Area theaters are screening three shows this week with live musical accompaniment, from such masters of the art as Murnau, Méliès, and Chaplin. But if you prefer talking in your movies, local cinemas will screen works from Truffaut, Coppola, and Hitchcock.

But no festivals.

The Week’s Big Event

A+ City Lights, Paramount Theater, Saturday, 7:00pm

In Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect comedy, the little tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and befriends a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire, but neither of them know the real Charlie. The result is funny and touching, with one of cinema’s greatest endings. Sound came to the movies as Chaplin shot City Lights, resulting in an essentially silent film with a recorded musical score. Cinema has rarely achieved such perfection. Read my Blu-ray review. But instead of the 1931 recorded music, Timothy Brock will conduct the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

New films opening theatrically

C The Pact, Rafael, opens Friday

There’s nothing cinematic about writing poetry; it’s not like painting or composing music. Unless the poet reads their work aloud, the movie audience doesn’t experience it – and it’s worse with subtitles. And there’s very little poetry spoken in this drama based on real people. Denmark’s top poet, Karen Blixen (Birthe Neumann) wants to control the life of her pupil, upcoming bard Thorkild Bjørnvig (Simon Bennebjerg). But he doesn’t want to be controlled. The Pack is by no way a good film, but it’s not entirely a flop, either. Read my full review.

Promising events

Three Silent Shorts / Snarky Puppy, New Mission, Sunday, 6:20pm

This unique presentation shows three silent films from 1903 to 1926: Ménilmontant, Ballet Mécanique, and the only one I’m familiar with, A Trip to the Moon. That one is delightful. There’s also a 21st-century short called Groundup. [Correction: I do not know if the films will be accompanied by Grammy awarded ensemble Snarky Puppy. The group is part of the show, but I’m not sure how.]

Theatrical revivals

A+ Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00pm

Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature turns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day of reconciliation and romance in the big city. Yet it’s the execution – with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and expressionist performances – that makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Read my Blu-ray review. Although this late silent film was originally released with a music-and-effects soundtrack, this presentation will be accompanied live by Bruce Loeb on piano. Part of the series F. W. Murnau: Voyages into the Imaginary.

A The Conversation (1974), BAMPFA, Sunday, 2:00

Francis Coppola’s low-budget “personal” film, made between Godfathers I and II, is almost as good as the two epics that sandwich it. The Conversation concerns a professional snoop (Gene Hackman) who bugs peoples’ private conversations for a living. Remote and lonely, his emotional armor begins to crack when he suspects that his work could lead to murder. Walter Murch’s ground-breaking sound mix exposes us to layers of meaning within the titular recorded discussion as we hear it over and over again. Part of the series Francis Ford Coppola and American Zoetrope.

A The 400 Blows (1959), Vogue, Wednesday, 7:30pm

François Truffaut helped launch the French New Wave and modern cinema with this tale of a rebellious boy on the cusp to adolescence. Shot on a very low budget, it follows young Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud in the first of six films playing this role) as he cuts school, gets in trouble, discovers his parents’ marital problems, and refuses to fit in. Set to a brilliant jazz score, The 400 Blows captures the exhilaration and the horror (mostly the horror) of being 13.

B+ The Wicker Man (1973 version), Roxie, Sunday, 4:30pm

This is a tough film to write about without spoiling everything. It’s also quite difficult to tell who you should be rooting for until you’re deep into the story. A policeman (Edward Woodward) flies from mainland Scotland to a small island to investigate a missing child. Strangely, no one seems upset about the disappearance. The people on the island are all Pagans, which is a problem because the policeman is a Christian fanatic who responds to a different religion with narrow-minded hatred. Christopher Lee plays the local Lord, and Britt Ekland is there to look good without clothes.

B+ Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), BAMPFA, Saturday, 1:00pm

Making-of documentaries are seldom worth a trip to a movie theater, but this record of how Francis Coppola shot Apocalypse Now is an exception to the rule. But then, the making of Apocalypse Now is one of the great stories of cinema history. One star had a heart attack. Another arrived grossly overweight. A typhoon destroyed the set. The director didn’t know how he would end the picture…or whether the picture would end him. Coppola’s wife Eleanor filmed the whole expedition, and that footage made this fascinating documentary possible. Part of the series Francis Ford Coppola and American Zoetrope.

B+ The Lost Boys (1987), Elmwood, Friday & Saturday 10:40pm

This clever and funny – and even occasionally scary – teenage vampire movie was shot in Santa Cruz and is clearly set there (even though they give the town another name). So, you have the undead partying in the summer nights on the beach, on the boardwalk, and dealing with teenage angst. But then, what do you do when peer pressure tells you to become an immortal bloodsucker? Hey, all the cool kids are doing it. A lot of fun in a horror movie that refuses to take itself seriously.

B- The Birds (1963), New Mission, Monday, 4:15pm

Alfred Hitchcock’s only out-and-out fantasy has some great sequences. The scene where Tippi Hedren calmly sits and smokes while crows gather on playground equipment behind her, and the following attack on the children, are classics. The lovely Bodega Bay location adds atmosphere and local color, and many of the special effects were way ahead of their time. But the story is weak, the ending unsatisfactory, and lovely scenery plays side-by-side with obvious soundstage mockups. Worse yet, new-comer Hedren doesn’t provide a single believable moment. She’s beautiful, but utterly lacking in acting talent or charisma.

Continuing engagements

Frequently-revived classics

One thought on “What’s Screening: February 18 – 24

  1. The New Mission Web site makes no mention of Snarky Puppy in attendance. They’re in a live performance film, that’s all. New Mission does record the names of two non-snarky musicians, but their role is not made clear.

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