Sunday, April 13, 2008

Taking Inventory as of April 13

On Saturday (April 12), SF Jazz presented three silent films with live accompaniment by The Club Foot Orchestra. Club Foot is best known for scoring silent films.

The three films (all silent with intertitles) were:

Sherlock Jr. with Buster Keaton; (1924)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; (1920)
Nosferatu directed by FW Murnau; (1922)

If you are old enough to remember the early-1980's, you have probably seen clips from Nosferatu. The music video for "Under Pressure" by Queen & David Bowie featured a clip of Max Schreck as Nosferatu. That was when MTV played music videos.

Also, there was a movie in 2000 called Shadow of the Vampire with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. That was a very entertaining movie. The premise is that Schreck (Dafoe) is an actual vampire playing Nosferatu on the set and only Murnau (Malkovich) is aware of his true nature. Murnau allows it continue because the performance is fabulous.

Having seen Nosferatu, I have to agree that Schreck is amazing. He looks incredibly menacing considering it was made in 1922. He has these long talon-like finger and a mis-shapened head.

Sherlock Jr. was another gem. The special effects and stunts were incredible. Long before The Purple Rose of Cairo, Keaton had a character move from "real life" into the movie. Then there is this still impressive sequence where Keaton moves from one scene to another without the jump cuts being visible. Finally, Keaton performs stunt after stunt including steering a motorcycle while sitting on the handle bars. Apparently, he broke his neck performing one stunt.

As for Dr. Caligari, I'm embarrassed to admit I fell asleep. The story had to do with a somnambulist so it is appropriate that I fell asleep.

All three films were preceded by the same short - Felix the Cat Woos Whoopee; (1928). Felix gets drunk, hallucinates, and has to face his wife at home.

I enjoyed the films (at least while I was awake) but I'm not sure about the Club Foot score. Maybe, I'm stereotyping, but I expect silent films to have period scores - preferably a tinny piano playing uptempo jazz. Club Foot's scores were more contemporary and less derivative.

I also caught two more films in the Dueling Divas series.

Harriet Craig with Joan Crawford; (1950).
Back Street with Susan Hayward; (1961).

You have to wonder what Crawford thought when making Harriet Craig. Harriet was a manipulative, clean freak and purportedly, Christina Crawford left the theater on viewing the film because it hit too close to home. If you can put aside that Crawford's family may have lived through this in real-life, Harriet Craig features a deliciously bitchy performance by Crawford.

Monday, April 7, 2008

2008 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

The 26th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival ran from March 13 to 25. I saw 14 films (Long Story Short and Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows were 50 minute films paired together in one program). I saw a 15th film from SFIAAFF less then a week after the festival closed.

Blood Brothers with Qi Shu; Mandarin with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
Death Note; Japanese with subtitles; (2006) - Official Site
Whispering Sidewalks with Betty Inada; Japanese with subtitles; (1936)
A Battle of Wits with Andy Lau; Mandarin with subtitles; (2006) - Official Site
I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK; Korean with subtitles; (2006)
881; Mandarin, Hokkien, & Cantonese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
West 32nd with John Cho & Grace Park; Korean and English with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
A Gentle Breeze in the Village; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
Slingshot; Tagalog with subtitles; (2007)
Long Story Short - documentary; (2008)
Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows narrated by Nancy Kwan - documentary; (2007) - Official Site
Yasukuni - documentary; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
Wings of Defeat - documentary; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site
Ping Pong Playa (2007) - Official Site
Behind Forgotten Eyes - documentary; Japanese & Korean with subtitles; (2007) - Official Site

A few other items of interests.

Death Note co-stars Takeshi Kaga whose best known role was as The Chairman in the Japanese version of Iron Chef. In this film, he plays a no-nonsense cop. It took me half the film before I stopped picturing him in his Michael Jackson costume, biting into a raw bell pepper with a Cheshire cat grin.

A Battle of Wits is not in the SFIAAFF film program. I arrived at the theater expecting to see Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay with John Cho & Kal Penn. That film was changed to a different venue and the replacement was A Battle of Wits.

Whispering Sidewalks star Betty Inada was a Sacramento native. A Nissei, she was unable to find work in the US, so she went to Japan to make films and dance/sing.

Death Note and A Battle of Wits were based on Japanese manga. A Battle of Wits was a Pan-Asian film with Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans in the cast and crew. Actually, there was even a black guy! Death Note is the first half of a two film series.

Behind Forgotten Eyes, Yasukuni, and Wings of Defeat were documentaries on WWII Japan. Behind Forgotten Eyes was about Korean "comfort" women. Wings of Defeat was made by a Japanese American director whose uncle was a surviving kamikaze pilot. Yasukuni was about the controversial Japanese shrine that is also the location of samurai sword manufacturer.

As I mentioned, one of the SFIAAFF films (Planet B-Boy) opened for a limited release soon thereafter. I saw it at the Lumiere Theater. Planet B-Boy (2007) is a documentary about the World Team Break Dancing Championships in Germany. I learned that the South Koreans are a break dancing powerhouse.

This year's festival had a number of standout films. I greatly enjoyed Wings of Defeat, Death Note, Whispering Sidewalks, Ping Pong Playa, Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows, and Long Story Short. My two favorites were West 32nd and A Gentle Breeze in the Village. West 32nd is about two Korean Americans - one a lawyer and one a gangster, that have to deal with racism in their respective professions. A Gentle Breeze in the Village was directed by Linda Linda Linda's Nobuhiro Yamashita. Like his previous film, A Gentle Breeze in the Village is a sweet examination of teenage angst. In this case, it's about a high school girl in a small town that falls for the new boy from Tokyo. If her first crush isn't tough enough to deal with, she has the added burden of small town gossip, her paramour's juvenile antics, her girlfriends' petty jealousies, and her father's past dealings with her boyfriend's mother.