Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Paying Tribute to Bernard Schwartz & Lola Montès

Last month, while perusing the Telluride Film Festival Program, I wrote "I hope Gary [Meyer] can convince someone to screen a few of these in the Bay Area...Lola Montès - directed by Max Ophüls; (1955)"

As I was re-reading the current Castro Theater calendar, I noted on the back cover that Lola Montès will be screening there from November 19 to 25. November 27 is Thanksgiving so I'll have to keep that in mind when making travel plans but with any luck I'll get to see Ophüls' film of the (in)famous European courtesan of the 19th century.


On November 18, the Castro is having rump session of the Mill Valley Film Festival. MVFF is paying tribute to Bernard Schwartz, better known as Tony Curtis. Curtis will be there to accept his award and then they will show Some Like it Hot. I'm not a huge Curtis fan but he has had enough memorable moments to be well deserving of a tribute. Actually, with all due respect to him, I thought he was dead.

My Immediate & Random Five Tony Curtis Screen Memories

1) Tony Curtis being propositioned by Laurence Olivier in Spartacus. I think that scene was filmed at Hearst Castle. Olivier kept speaking metaphorically about liking oysters and snails. Rather than literally being Sir Larry's Love Slave, Curtis runs away to join the Slave Revolt where he develops a serious man crush on Kirk Douglas

2) Burt Lancaster making Tony Curtis his personal bitch in The Sweet Smell of Success. Lancaster's voice oozed with contempt for Curtis' character - something like "Match me Sydney" when asking for a light for his cigarette.

3) Tony Curtis doing his Cary Grant impersonation in Some Like it Hot. Curtis and Jack Lemmon made a great comedy team. Afterwards, Curtis opined about co-star Marilyn Monroe, "It was like kissing Hitler."

4) That scene with Natalie Wood in short shorts in The Great Race. She was changing behind the car or something and she steps out to give a nice view of her gams. There was a pie fight at the end of the film. Jack Lemmon co-starred.

5) Earlier this month, I was watching AMC on a Saturday morning. I started watching Kansas Raiders (1950). Audie Murphy starred as Jessie James. Richard Long (best known as Jared in the TV series The Big Valley played Frank James. Brian Donlevy played William Quantrill of Quantrill's Raiders fame. James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazard was cast as Cole Younger. In the role of Kit Dalton was Tony Curtis. Kit Dalton was an author that wrote Under the Black Flag, his memoir about his time in Quantrill's Raiders. I don't know much about Kit Dalton but I don't think he had a heavy Bronx accent.

Honorable Mention - The Vikings (1958) starring Issur Danielovitch Demsky, Ermes Effron Borgnino and Bernie Schwartz (otherwise known as Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine and Tony Curtis). Weren't the Vikings tall, blonde, Aryan Norsemen?

2008 Dead Channels Preview

Dead Channels runs from October 2 to 10. They are only showing films from October 3 to 9 with the 10th being the Closing Party. The festival runs at the Roxie for the entire festival and at the Parkway Speakeasy in Oakland on October 9 only. October 2 is the "Opening Night Gala Party" at the Vortex Room. The closing night party is at the Vortex Room. In fact, the Launch Party or whatever it was called was on Sept. 20 at the Vortex Room. The Vortex Room is located at 1082 Howard St. in San Francisco. The Vortex Room is a lounge/bar/Grind House film venue. The Vortex Room trips off the tongue, doesn't it?

Even though the festival schedule was officially released on Sept. 20, I knew what was playing. Michael Guillen at The Evening Class had already previewed most if not all the feature films on September 16. He even cross posted on Twitch. Also, the Roxie updated their on-line schedule last week so I was able to see the films playing there.

I won't spend much time covering the same ground Guillen has on his blog. Not to be hypercritical but Michael simply "appropriated" the Dead Channels Festival Guide synopses. That's not to say he didn't really have a chance encounter with Bruce Fletcher in Toronto but apparently he had access to the electronic version of the festival guide.

Dead Channels has 21 programs at the festival. A few films caught my attention:

GolgothaGolgotha - "An homage to German Expressionist silent films..." The website even has an old-timey, silent film intertitle card motiff. I don't know if the film can live up to expectations - homage to films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as well as eponymous reference to the Crucifixion. Anyone who is willing to give that a try deserves a screening. That reminds me of that silent film based on one of HP Lovecraft's Mythos stories from a few years ago. What was the name of that film?

Epitaph - 2007 Korean film set in 1942 that features not just Japanese Imperialism and all that entails but also hints at necrophilia. It has a striking poster too.

Cut-Throats Nine - 1972 Spanish Spaghetti Western billed as "The Most Violent Western EVER Filmed" in the film guide. This film is one of four presented by Cosmic Hex.Epitaph

A Visit From the Incubus - 28 minute short film by Anna Biller whose Viva! was a personal favorite from the 2007 Indiefest and played at many festivals world wide. This film was made in 2001.

Tokyo Gore Police - a late addition to this year's Hole in the Head gets a screening as Dead Channels. I found it enjoyable but not enough for a second viewing. I would like to see Machine Girl again.

I'm not sure how many films I will be able to see. I have work and family matters that may take precedence. I'll probably buy a pass to support the festival and my history has shown that once I buy a pass, I become obsessive about getting my money's worth. For Dead Channels, 15 films to break even point for a festival pass. 15 films in 7 days is pretty tough especially given that I may have other commitments. Of the 21 programs, 12 of them only screen once. One of those is Tokyo Gore Police which I have decided not to see since it screens at 10 PM on Saturday night. That means I have to see 15 of the remaining 20 programs or 75%.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Taking Inventory as of September 20

Gunman’s Walk with Van Heflin, Tab Hunter & James Darren; (1958)
The Burglars with Jean-Paul Belmondo & Omar Sharif; (1971)
The Group directed by Sidney Lumet; (1966)
Tell No One; French with subtitles; (2006)
Band of Outsiders with Anna Karina; directed by Jean-Luc Godard; French with subtitles; (1964)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart; directed by John Huston; (1948)
There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day Lewis; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; (2007)
The Red Heroine accompanied by the Devil Music Ensemble; silent with Chinese and English intertitles; (1929)


Gunman’s Walk was directed by Phil Karlson. This film only adds to my growing appreciation of PFA. This was a film I was completely unaware of and it turned out to be an outstanding film. Lee Hackett (Heflin) is a rancher with two, grown sons – Ed (Hunter) and Davy (Darren). Lee is an old-school rancher. He settled the land the old fashioned way – with a six shooter, his two fists and four fingers of whiskey. Now he looks around to see his world changing and he doesn't like it. Gentrified is the word we use today. Lee has more issues than nostalgia and a wild streak. He has a strained relationship with his sons. Competitive, proud and racist are just some of his better traits. He also has his sons call him Lee, orders them around like they were children and seems to want to be their friend rather than their father.

Ed takes after his father but doesn’t quite measure up and he resents him for it. Davy is more even tempered and his father is dismissive and nearly contemptuous of his younger son’s ways. Lee’s character really descends into murky waters. At the beginning, he could be dismissed a prideful old man trying to relive his youth by dominating his sons. However, by the end of the films, he has lied and compromised his ethics for Ed. Ultimately, he is forced to kill his own son in self-defense. Left with the spectre of having killed his older son and disowned his younger son (for dating a half-breed Indian), Lee is inconsolable. For the first time in his life, he asks someone (Paul) for help and presumably that is his road to redemption.

This film was really Shakespeare masquerading as a Western. The main conflict was between father and son even though they are more alike than different. Lee's lack of parental responsibility is the root cause of Ed’s ruination. It’s not quite a simplistic though. Paul had the same father but turned out much different so one cannot lay the sins of the father on the son. Ed took Lee’s credo and perverted it to the point where the only area he exceeded his father was in being more amoral.

At its core, this is Van Heflin’s film and he is up to the task. Tab Hunter was a little weak in the role but serviceable. James Darren didn’t have much to do but made the most of his limited screen time in a role that was designed to be the object of Lee and Ed’s contempt, disrespect and pity.


The Burglars is a remake of The Burglar. The Burglars removes the sexually frustrated overtones of the original and veers to a more playful film. The film reminded me of 1970's James Bond film (with Roger Moore). There is a famous car chase that reminds me of a Bond film. Spectators are cheering the action on-screen. Belmondo hams it up a little too much but overall this is an enjoyable film. There are a couple standout scenes. Dyan Cannon has a clapper for her lamp (Clap On! Clap Off!). As she gets slapped around by Belmondo, the lights go on and off. In another scene, Belmondo get dumped out of a dump truck and tumbles down a hill. The scene is shot in one take from the bottom of the hill. It is clear Belmondo performed this (and one a moving bus) stunt by himself. Sharif commands attention and his portrayal of a crooked cop serves as an effective foil to Belmondo's joie de vivre thief. Their stand out scene is in a restaurant as they verbally duel about the jewels Belmondo has stolen. In a nutshell, this lightweight film is precursor to modern action films - suspense, action and humor combined. Belmondo and Sharif are at the top of their game, Ennio Morricone composed the score, the film was shot in Athens and Dyan Cannon looks as good as she ever did.


The Group is a jumble of plot lines. Eight women graduate college in the early 1930's and their soap opera lives play out for the next two and a half hours. Mary McCarthy wrote the novel by the same name. Apparently, it was a bestseller and critically well regarded. However, the film gets bogged down by too many characters. The actress whose appearance and performance stood out was Joanna Pettet as Kay, the mentally unstable one who plunges to her death on December 7, 1941 (while scanning the skies with binoculars looking for Nazi warplanes). The film does boast an impressive supporting cast including Larry Hagman (as Kay's abusive husband), Hal Holbrook and Richard Mulligan. This film is notable for being Candice Bergen's debut. I think she even had top billing (although they may have been billed alphabetically). She is off-screen most of the film and has one of the smaller parts of the octet.


Tell No One - I didn't enjoy it so I won't say much. Mika'ela Fisher as the female assassin steals the film with just a handful of scenes.

Mika'ela Fisher in Tell No One


Band of Outsiders is the rare Godard film with a discernible plot. More importantly, it has the enchanting Anna Karina (Mrs. Jean-Luc Godard at the time). Karina plays a more innocent young woman in this film which was made one year before Pierrot le fou. The plot is boilerplate pot boiler but Karina's presence, Godard's faux gravitas narration and nice performances from Claude Brasseur & Sami Frey as the other two legs of a love/crime/existential triangle make this film eminently enjoyable. The most famous scene is an extended sequence featuring Karina (wearing a man's fedora), Basseur and Frey dancing The Madison in simple & repetitive sequences while Godard provides some comedic narration about their inner thoughts.


I can't add much that hasn't already been said about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and There Will Be Blood. For those not aware, Daniel Day-Lewis based his speech pattern on John Huston's voice. Day-Lewis is particularly effective playing the intense anti-hero (Gangs of New York). I would have liked to know more about what motivates Daniel Plainview or why he is a misanthrope. As for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it was very enjoyable. My only complaint would be that Bogart performance delved into ridicule but perhaps that is because so many have parodied his performance as Fred Dobbs.


The Red Heroine was not a great film but it served as an interesting historical artifact. I wonder why the film had English intertitles. Was it originally intended for a release in the US and Europe? Even as early as 1929, some kung fu tenets are already establish - wire work while flying through air vertically (as most famously and gracefully depicted in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the puff of smoke appearance, and the long haired, bushy bearded kung fu master (maybe that some basis in historical fact). Also present were the intertitles in Pidgin English and one villain with a severe bucktooth overbite. Another criticism is that the film wasn't cropped correctly so the bottom line of the intertitle was frequently unreadable. Combined with the Pidgin English I could sometimes not understand, I struggled with the dialogue. Fortunately the plot was simple enough that it was not a problem. Speaking of the plot, 30 minutes and 3 or 4 characters could have been excised from this plot.

I was surprised by the violence and skin in the film. The Chinese Generalissimo had a pleasure palace full of concubines wearing short shorts and tight, skimpy halter tops. Given the black & white film and primitive film stock, it frequently looked like the women were nude. In later films, the good guys (or girls) often spared the lives of the villains but the Red Heroine killed two men with her sword while they were on the ground. She was tidy enough to wipe their blood off her sword using the bottom of her tunic.

The Red Heroine played at the 4 Star. I haven't been out there since last year. I hope the 4 Star makes it. It seems to have abandoned most of the Hong Kong films for art house films, second run and an occasional first run engagement (Sin City opened there although that was 3 years ago. Actually, I hope there is another SF Asian Film Festival this year.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

So Many Films, So Little Time and Robert Blake in Three Violent Films

I've been so busy at work that I can't find to post although I have scoped out a few movies.

As I previously mentioned, the 4 Star Theater on Clement St. is showing Red Heroine (1929) on Friday, September 19. This silent film will be accompanied by the Devil Music Ensemble.


The Mechanics' Institute has resumed its CinemaLit Film Series. The series runs every Friday night. The September theme is Peter Sellers. I've missed the two films that I wanted to see (September 5 & 12) - The Smallest Show on Earth (1957) and I'm All Right, Jack (1959). The next two films are A Shot in the Dark (1964) directed by Blake Edwards and Being There (1979). A Shot in the Dark was the second Pink Panther film and was directed by Blake Edwards. I'm not a fan of those films. Being There has an infamous scene where Shirley MacLaine misinterprets Chancey Gardiner's mantra of "I like to watch" and masturbates. I recall this scene vividly and it's been 20 years since I've seen the film. Actually, MacLaine looks absolutely radiant in the film despite despite being in her 40s at the time. Melvyn Douglas won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as MacLaine's father.

Jerzy Kosiński, the author of Being There wrote a book called The Painted Bird. I read that book in 1986 and wish it would be adapted for the silver screen. It is a disturbing book from which I recall two scenes - a man being devoured by rats as he attached by a rope or wire to a boy and a woman (named Ludmilla?) being gang sodomized with a bottle, someone kicks her and the bottle breaks.

The October CinemaLit series is more appealing to me. It is titled "Timeless Japan: From Edo to Eternity." The series is co-sponsored by the Asia Society and the Japan Society. The lineup is:

October 3 - Tampopo; (1986)
October 10 - The Eel directed by Shohei Imamura; (1997)
October 17 - After Life; (1998)
October 24 - Dr. Akagi directed by Shohei Imamura; (1998)
October 31 - Seance; (2000)

Shohei Imamura (now deceased) is a well-known Japanese director. He was Takashi Miike's mentor. PFA had a film series about him last year. The Eel is a modern classic which I've heard much about and hope to catch next month.


On September 19, the Stanford Theater kicks off a series called Rare Treasures of British Cinema. I'm not familiar with any of the films in the series. (Maybe that's why it is called "Rare Treasures?") I have only been to the Stanford a few times. It's a 30 minute drive for me if traffic is cooperating. I need to get down there more often.


The Stanford Theater series reminds me that PFA is having a David Lean series which focuses on films from the same location and time (1940's and 50's). Brief Encounter (1945), In Which We Serve (1942) and Madeleine (1950) are among the films that catch my attention.

While the PFA screens Lean's non-epic films (primarily on Saturdays), the Castro Theater is having Lean Sundays in October and November. All the Lean epics are there - The Bridge on the River Kwai (1950), Doctor Zhivago (1965), A Passage to India (1984) and Ryan’s Daughter (1970); the latter I am not familiar with.

Jumping back to PFA, they are currently in the middle of a Jean-Luc Godard series. His New Wave films from the 60's are getting a screening (in many instances with a new print). This is the Godard I am familiar with - Contempt (1964) and Breathless (1959) are two that I've previously seen and greatly enjoyed. I caught Band of Outsiders (1964)last week an greatly enjoyed it as well. I'm going to try to catch four more films in the series - Vivre sa vie (1962), A Woman Is a Woman (1961), Masculine Feminine (1966) and Alphaville (1965).


Now I'm back at the Castro. Tomorrow, they are showing two films that I have never viewed. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart (1948) and There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day-Lewis (2007).

On September 23, the Castro screens one of my all-time favorites - The Professionals (1966) with Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Ralph Bellamy and Claudia Cardinale (I knew all those actors were in the films without looking it up before hand). With that line-up, how can you miss? I can recite the final line (maybe a slight mistake). Bellamy yells to Marvin "You bastard." Marvin pauses and says calmly "It's a matter of accident of birth for me but you sir, are a self-made man." If that's not enough, The Professionals is being paired with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) as a double feature.

The Castro is also having a James Dean weekend. Another inexcusable hole in my cinema curricula is Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean and Mr. Howell from Gilligan's Island as his father.

I've already mentioned the Bette Davis Centennial and Kurosawa's Kagemusha so I'll mention some odds and ends playing at the Castro between now and November.

Sweeney Todd directed by Tim Burton & starring Johnny Depp; (2007) - I still haven't seen it but I saw an nice stage adaptation at ACT last year.

Electra Glide In Blue with Robert Blake; (1973) - I'm vaguely aware of this film mostly because of the title but Blake always had an edge to him which ultimately proved to be more than screen presence.

Nights of Cabiria directed by Federico Fellini; (1957) - another classic I'm ashamed to admit I have not seen.

Starship Troopers (1997) - It looked kind of stupid when it first came out. It was, afterall, directed by the same guy that made Showgirls. This film is part of Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' Midnite for Maniacs so there must something entertaining.

In Cold Blood (1967) - Robert Blake again in a violent film. It's been a long time since I've seen this film. I want to compare Blake's performance to Daniel Craig's portrayal of the same person in Infamous (2006).

The Dark Knight (2008) - when I saw this film was being paired with Iron Man (2008), I decided to wait to see it on the Castro screen.

Less Than Zero (1987) - I saw this film when it came out and I don't think I've seen it since. My memories of it are hazy (like a shade of winter). I've read it is a horrible film but I don't recall it being so bad. Did you like the way I worked in The Bangles song title which was on the soundtrack of this film? I had a huge crush on Susanna Hoffs back then.


Dead Channels extended their festival from October 2-5 to October 2-10. Dead Channels will screen at the Roxie for most of their run. I'm not sure where the opening and closing night films will be screened.

Shock It To Me still hasn't updated their website but from the Castro program, it appears they will show films on October 17 & 18. It looks like a lot of British films in their gothic style. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. I haven't seen that film on the big screen.

Finally, the Mill Valley Film Festival runs from October 2 to 12. They have released their film schedule. I didn't peruse it much. I rarely get up there and that is probably the case again this year.


By the way, the third Blake film is Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The 15 year old Blake, sells Bogie a lottery ticket (or so I read).

I may have to take inventory soon. I was hoping to write up a few films but I may have to settle with reciting their particularly and providing a few thumbnails. That's the name of that tune...