Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 SF Indiefest Wraps

SF Indiefest closed February 22. Actually, it resume for 2 days next weekend (Feb 27 & 28) in Lake Tahoe (Sugarbowl).

I was impressed with this year's Indiefest. There were a lot of solid films there. I've written before about how Indiefest and its associated festivals have changed since Bruce Fletcher turned over programming responsibilities. This year's festival confirms my belief that my cinematic tastes are not in line with Fletcher's although I do miss his pipeline to outstanding Japanese films. This year, Indiefest only had three feature programs from Japan - Super Happy Fun Monkeybash! which is not a film but a compilation of Japanese television shows and commercials and two programs of soft-core Japanese porn. I wish they had a Japanese narrative film in the line-up but there were so many strong entries that I can overlook it.

I think I can go so far as say that this was my favorite Indiefest since I started going. I've been buying a festival pass since 2002, I believe. I saw 21 programs this year. I usually see more but on three out of four weekend days, I was essentially absent from Indiefest due to other cinematic engagements. Maybe by seeing fewer films, I was more selective in my choices but I don't think so. My choices were largely dictated by the schedule.

My favorite film from the festival was I'll Come Running. Honorable mentions go to (in alphabetical order) Fanboys, The Full Picture, Leaving Barstow, Morris County and Skills Like This. My favorite short film from the festival was Burr. Honorable mentions go to (in random order) The 100th Job, Vroom-Vroom!, No Strings Attached, You Better Watch Out, Side Effect, I Own You and Operation Falcon.


I hope I can get time to write about a few of these films this week. Between February 2 and February 22, I saw 37 films and I am exhausted. I don't have anything on my must see list until February 27 when I'll venture to San Jose to see Birth of a Nation at Cinequest. There are two films playing at the Roxie that I'm interested in. On Wednesday (February 25), Noise Pop is sponsoring Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. It's playing one night only at the Roxie but it is also on the Cinequest program. The documentary is about Cash's 1968 concert at Folsom State Prison. The live album was a bestseller. I have a Greatest Hits of Johnny Cash CD that has five songs from the album.

Playing on the Little Roxie screen until Friday is Crips and Bloods: Made in America - a documentary about the origins of the infamous Los Angeles rival gangs. With any luck, Crips and Bloods will be extended into next week because I'd like to get by with just one weeknight film this week.


The Mostly British Film Series is playing at the Vogue from February 26 to March 5. The film that most appealed to me was Not Quite Hollywood - a documentary about Ozploitation films in the 70's and 80's. Ozploitation refers to exploiting Australian stereotypes and culture.

I was asked to go to Stone of Destiny starring Robert Carlyle. The Stone of Destiny (aka Stone of Scone) is based on the true story about the return of the stone to Scotland in 1996. It's showing March 1 and 2; I'm not sure which showing I was invited to.

Taking Inventory as of February 22

The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke & Marisa Tomei; (2008) - Official Website
Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson & Chuck Connors; (1973)
Kiss of Death starring Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy & Richard Widmark; (1947)
Nosferatu The Vampyre starring Klaus Kinski, Bruno Ganz & Isabelle Adjani; directed by Werner Herzog; (1979)

2009 SF IndieFest Feature Films
Somers Town directed by Shane Meadows; English & Polish with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Fanboys starring Dan Fogler & Kristen Bell; (2008) - Official Website
Ex-Drummer Dutch/Flemish with subtitles; (2007) - Official Website
Leaving Barstow; (2008) - Official Website
Killer Poet: The Double Life of Norman Porter; documentary; (2008) - Official Website
Morris County; (2009) - Official Website
Beauty of the Fight; documentary; English & Spanish with subtitles; (2009)
Waiting at the Gate; (2007) - Official Website
Super Happy Fun Monkeybash!; Japanese with subtitles; compiled by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema; (2008) - Official Website
Harrison Montgomery with Martin Landau; (2008) - Official Website
Eugene; (2009) - Official Website
RSO [Registered Sex Offender]; (2008) - Official Website
Skills Like This; (2007) - Official Website
I'll Come Running; English & Danish with subtitles; (2008)
I Sell The Dead with Ron Perlman; (2008) - Official Website
The Full Picture; (2008) - Official Website

2009 SF IndieFest Short Films Preceding Select Features
Operation Falcon; 16 minutes; (2008) - Official Website
Dear Angela; 13 minutes; (2008) - Official Website
The Party; 11 minutes; (2008) - Official Website
James; 17 minutes; (2008)
Murderabilia; 10 minutes; (2008)
James; 17 minutes; (2008)
I Own You starring Gary Anthony Williams; 18 minutes; (2008) - Official Website

2009 SF IndieFest Short Film Program - A Homegrown Variety
Victoria; 12 minutes; (2007)
Severing the Soul; 18 minutes; (2008)
Shelf Life; 30 minutes; (2008) - Official Website
Lezbro: Don't Cha Know?; 12 minutes; (2008)
No Strings Attached; 37 minutes; (2008)

2009 SF IndieFest Short Film Program - A Scream and a Half
Cantata in C Major; 8 minutes; (2007)
Mombies; 11 minutes; (2008)
You Better Watch Out; 22 minutes; (2007)
Dead Boyfriends; 7 minutes; (2008)
Side Effect; 13 minutes; (2008
Dans la Corde; 16 minutes; French with subtitles; (2007)
The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon; 10; (2008)

2009 SF IndieFest Short Film Program - Altered Fates
Patrick Warren; 2 minutes; (2008)
The 100th Job; 21 minutes; (2008)
Vroom-Vroom!; 10 minutes; (2008)
F.U.B.A.R.; 5 minutes; (2009)
Burr; 28 minutes; (2008)
Dark Yellow; 30 minutes; (2008)

2009 SF IndieFest Program - I Am Curious (Pink): The Second Wave of Japanese Cinema (1986-Present)
New Tokyo Decadence: Slave; Japanese with subtitles; (2007) - Pink Eiga Website
S+M Hunter; Japanese with subtitles; (1986) - Pink Eiga Website
The Bedroom; Japanese with subtitles; (1992)
Sexy Battle Girls; Japanese with subtitles; (1986) - Pink Eiga Website

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Winter 2009 Event
Our Hospitality starring Buster Keaton; silent with intertitles; (1923)
A Kiss From Mary Pickford; silent with Cyrillic intertitles; (1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans starring George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor; directed by F.W. Murnau; silent with intertitles; (1927)

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Winter 2009 Event - Short Films of Alice Guy Blache
The Detective and His Dog; silent with intertitles; (1912)
Martrimony's Speed Limit; silent with intertitles; (1913)
Falling Leaves; silent with intertitles; (1912)

The Human Condition starring Tatsuya Nakadai & directed by Masaki Kobayashi
No Greater Love; Japanese with subtitles; (1959)
The Road to Eternity; Japanese with subtitles; (1959)
A Soldier's Prayer; Japanese with subtitles; (1961)

Josef von Sternberg Retrospective
An American Tragedy; (1931)
The Salvation Hunters; silent with intertitles; (1925)
The Devil is a Woman starring Marlene Dietrich; (1935)
Crime and Punishment starring Peter Lorre; (1935)
The Saga of Anatahan Japanese with English narration; voiced by von Sternberg; (1953)

The Devil is a Woman was preceded by a 10 minute short film titled The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935). The film was not directed by von Sternberg but featured many of Dietrich's costumes from The Devil is a Woman.

Crime and Punishment was preceded by a 12 minute short film titled The Town (1943). The film was commissioned by the US State Department and directed by von Sternberg. The film was part of the war effort to show commonality with our European allies against the Nazis.

African Film Festival
Cairo Station with Hind Rustum; directed by Youssef Chahine; Arabic with subtitles; (1958)
Cairo As Seen by Chahine; directed by Youssef Chahine; Arabic with subtitles; 22 minutes; (1991)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

J-Pop, Smoking Crack and the Nature of von Sternberg & Dietrich's Relationship

As I was perusing the 2009 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) program guide, I noticed an advertisement for a J-Pop center in J-town. J-Pop is Japanese pop and refers to Japanese popular culture. It originally referred to Japanese pop music but now encompasses Japanese music, movies, anime, manga, fashion, etc. Viz Pictures is opening a J-Pop Center at 1746 Post St. in San Francisco. That's in the middle of J-town (Japantown).

The advertisement showed a theater and promised the latest J-pop movies. On the Viz Pictures website, they are promoting Death Note II. The highly anticipated sequel to Death Note which I saw at the 2008 SFIAAFF. The center is opening this summer. I hope it succeeds as I am always interested in Japanese films.


The closing night film at SF Indiefest was/is Deadgirl. It played twice at the Roxie on the SF closing night (Feb 19) and it plays at the Shattuck when the festival closes in Berkeley on Feb 22. The strange thing was that the closing night film played in the Little Roxie for both screenings on the 19th. Actually, just having the same film screened back-to-back on the same night is strange. I'm not sure why they did that. It's strange that the other two programs outsold the closing night film or they restricted tickets to the film.

One of the closing night programs was a short film compilation called Altered Fates. Programmer Joanne Parsont mentioned that Indiefest had more short films programmed in 2009 than any previous year. I saw some good short films that I hope to write about later.

One film showing under Altered Fates was Vroom-Vroom! directed by Tess Sweet. It was nice little comedy about a woman that gets dumped by her boyfriend, drives into the desert, has her car break down and is rescued by a woman with a tight pair of Daisy Dukes, a big Bowie knife and a horrible Puerto Rican accent. Anyway, Sweet was in the audience and fielded questions from the audience. The first thing she said by way of an introduction was that 8 years ago, she was smoking crack at 16th and Valencia (the nearest intersection from the Roxie Theater). That's a first; I've seem several film makers appear drunk during the Q&A. I think Eddie Furlong was drunk at the Jimmy and Judy screening at Indiefest a few years ago. That's the first one where a director admitted past drug use within a 100 yard radius of the theater.

Actually, Ms. Sweet was quite a character with a unusually bubbly personality for a former crackhead although I am probably stereotyping crackheads. Here is a picture of Ms. Sweet from an event called The Slutty Bankers' Ball. Her reverse sleeve tattoos were particularly striking at the Q&A as she was wearing a retro 70's print dress with short sleeves. She looks like she is on X in this photo.

Tess Sweet


Tonight I saw a Josef von Sternberg double feature at the PFA - The Devil is a Woman and Crime and Punishment

The Devil is a Woman is the last film von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich. There is a scene where Dietrich argues with Lionel Atwill's character. She says in successive order, are you my father? Are you my husband? Are you my lover? Atwill responds negative to the first two. His answer is less than unequivocal for the last question but Dietrich responds "You settle for so little."

I have long been under the impression that von Sternberg had a torrid sexual relationship with Dietrich that burned itself out due to its intensity or Dietrich prodigious appetites. After the film, a man two seats down from me told his friend that he thought the film relationship between Dietrich and Atwill's characters mirrored Dietrich and von Sternberg's real-life relationship. He went on to say that the sexual part of their relationship was non-existent or overexaggerated.

Certainly Dietrich is alleged to have gone through lovers (male and female) like a hot knife through butter. If von Sternberg had resisted (or been denied) her charms, it could explain their relatively long collaboration (5 years). There is a plausible theory in this hypothesis. If viewed through the prism of a sexually frustrated intimate, Dietrich's screen persona would have a masochistic bent as von Sternberg continually highlighted the sensuality he was being denied in real-life. There is always a wanton sexuality from Dietrich and dysfunctional relations between Dietrich and her leading man/men in von Sternberg's films. If sexually frustrated, the inspiration for this creativity during his Dietrich period would certainly be at the surface and easily channeled into his film directing.

BTW, I've never seen Dietrich look more beautiful than she did in The Devil is a Woman. Also, what is it with her and various nationalities of the characters she portrays? In Destry Rides Again, she plays a saloon girl named Frenchy. She Tsarina Catherine the Great in The Scarlett Empress. In The Devil is a Woman, she is a Spaniard named Concha Perez.

Marlene Dietrich in The Devil is a Woman

This photo is from a scene where Dietrich sings a clever song called "Three Sweethearts Have I" - a baker, a farmer and a gardener. Actually, they are the sons of a baker, farmer & gardener.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pinku Eiga

This year's Indiefest had two programs titled I Am Curious (Pink): The Second Wave of Japanese Sex Cinema | 1986-present.

Each program consisted of two one-hour "pinku eiga" films from Japan. Pinku eiga translates to "pink film" - what would be called softcore porn in the US.

Quoting from the program guide, since the early 60s, the Japanese film industry has nurtured a bizarre sub-world of low-budget soft-core porn known as ‘pinku’. These films routinely belie their commercial raison d’etre with a wild imagination that we only wish colored stateside porn, and for the last 40 years, legions of young Japanese filmmakers have been given a chance to earn their directing chops within this context.

The films were courtesy of a company that sells pink film DVDs in the US. provided the four films for Indiefest. I assume the films are subtitled although dialog is not the strong point of the four films I saw. Actually, the dialog and production standards are much higher than US porn. Of course, I rarely view US porn so I don't have much of reference point.

One of the representatives mentioned that these films were always shot on film, had theatrical releases and took about 3 weeks to complete from first shot to final edited version. He mentioned that many well known and legitimate Japanese directors got their start in pinku eiga. He mentioned at both screenings that Yojiro Takita, director of Departures, got his start in the pinku eiga in the 1980's. Departures was nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Given that these films were turned around in three weeks, it's easy to see how directors can receive invaluable training in a year or two of cranking out pink films.

Well known for its fetish culture and bukkake (so I read), I would think Japanese pornography laws would be lax but the opposite is true. Frontal nudity is outlawed and all the sex scenes are simulated. In one film, there was a rather impressive ejaculation scene but you only saw the "ejaculate" not the "ejaculation."

The pink films can be grouped into two broad categories - dramas and comedies for lack of better terms. Dramas explore the psychology of sexuality. The two dramas I saw dealt with women with masochistic tendencies and how it affected their lives. These films were less compelling for me. How many women are there that resort to bondage and humiliation as an existential coping mechanism or because they have assumed their dead sister's identity?

The comedies were much more engaging because the situations were absurd to start with. My favorite of the four pink films was S+M Hunter. This film is definitely not for those with thin skins; Catholics, gays, women and people victimized by the Nazis can find something to be offended by.

The plot is worth recounting. A man goes to a BDSM dungeon. The dungeon host gives him the grand tour and the patron select a masochist; not just any masochist but a woman dressed like a Catholic nun who will "absolve all his sins." The patron gives her the whip with a particular gusto; lashing into her skin until she has red welts and eventually collapses. The host insightfully notes that the patron is neither sadist nor masochist but has "a different kind of perversion." The man is clearly distraught so the host calls in the S+M Hunter to properly evaluate the man's perversion. The S+M Hunter is dressed like a Catholic priest with an eyepatch. I think S+M Hunter is patterned after Father Merrin in the The Exorcist.

S+M Hunter

In addition, he carries coiled rope on his belt that he twirls around like Indiana Jones. So skilled is S+M Hunter that he can twirl his rope, bind a woman, remove their clothes and bring his "parishoner" to ecstasy by flicking the rope.

After a few questions, it is revealed what the patron's true perversion is - he is gay. Not only that but his lover was kidnapped by The Bombers, an all girl gang, and is being gang raped by them. The four of them (S+M Hunter, nun, BDSM dungeon master and gay man) journey to the Bombers' sex hideout to rescue the enslaved man.

S+M Hunter quickly tames the Bombers with his ropes of pleasure and returns the slave to his paramour. What he didn't count on was that the Bombers new pledge is the woman who took S+M Hunter's eye. Not only that but when she suits up for the final battle, she inexplicably puts on a Nazi uniform (SS or Gestapo I think).

I won't give away the ending so you will have a reason to buy the DVD from ($19.99). If this film isn't a masterpiece in the genre, there is no justice in the world.

I should also that the director employed a leitmotif whenever S+M Hunter prepared for "battle." It was a very heroic sounding coda; vaguely evocative of Sergio Leone films and Carmina Burana.

Not only that but the film was popular enough to make a prequel - S+M Hunter Begins: The Beginning of the Legend.

Hind Rostom - I Wish I Had Met You Earlier

I'm a film watching machine this month. In the nine day period ending on February 15, I saw The Human Condition trilogy back-to-back-to-back at PFA (total runtime = 586 minute), silent films by Buster Keaton & F.W. Murnau, the sci-fi classic Soylent Green, the noir classic Kiss of Death (Richard Widmark pushes a woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs), Werner Herzog's Nosferatu The Vampyre and a Japanese softcore porno called S+M Hunter. I also saw Josef von Sterberg's directorial debut (The Salvation Hunters - 1925) and Cairo Station, a 1958 Egyptian film about a psycho killer at a Cairo train station.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the few places I think I could have accomplished this feat so I am grateful to be able to live here. Honestly, I'm exhausted. I've also seen a number of SF Indiefest films during that same period. By my count, I've seen 27 films/programs between February 5 and February 15.


I like going to all these films because I discover ideas, people and self-revelations from well made films. What I discovered from watching Cairo Station is that Hind Rostom was one sexy woman with screen presence in spades. Known as the "Egyptian Marilyn Monroe," Rostom was the top Egyptian film actress in the 1950's and 1960's. Not known for its cinema, being the top Egyptian film actress in the mid-20th century make not seem like much of an accomplishment but from what I saw in Cairo Station, Rostom could have been an international film star if she had been European. She reminded me a little bit of Sophia Loren.

Hind Rostom (right)

Cairo Station was, in its own right, a cinematic treasure. In the middle of the film, there is the most amazing musical sequence. Mind you, Cairo Station is a psychological thriller about a mentally retarded (or perhaps autistic) man that sells newspaper at a train station in Cairo. He clips photos of women from the newspapers and creates this creepy shrine in his dilapidated shanty. Eventually, he becomes obsessed with a woman (Rostom) that sells soda to train passengers. About halfway in the film, there is a sequence where Rostom is on the train, dancing with abandon, exuding playful sexual energy as a be-bop band (credited as Mike and the Skyrockets) plays this uptempo song which would seem more appropriate in a Frankie Avalon film (concertina notwithstanding). The scene would have been striking for showcasing Rostom's charisma but considering it was made in 1958 Egypt, it is amazing that it was even filmed.

The film, directed by Youssef Chahine (who also plays the psycho killer) is a little dated in explaining how the protagonist is driven mad by photos in a magazine but I've seen plenty of American films that use the same clumsy plot device. As I mentioned, this isn't an American film, it's an Egyptian film and viewed within that context, it makes one wonder how it could have been made at all in 1958.

Cairo Station was part of the African Film Festival and screened at PFA.


The Roxie Theater remodeled the Big Roxie in late January/early February. Apparently, the Indiefest screening of Ex-Drummer on February 6 which I attended was the inaugural film in the remodeled theater. It appears that the chairs are new and the cement floor has been resurfaced.

One complaint - I like offset seating. I'm not sure if that is the correct industry term. In newer theaters, they have "stadium seating" which means each row is raised or the rows are terraced. Each row is raised enough that you can see over the head of the person in front of you unless you are very short or the person in front of you is very tall.

The Roxie does not have stadium seating. The floor is gently sloped such that the rear of the theater is higher than the front. I think the slope or rake ends around midway towards the front in the Roxie. Anyway, I've often had my view partially blocked by the person in front of me. With the old seating configuration, each row was offset from the row in front and behind it. This meant that as you watched the screen you were looking between the heads of the two people in the row in front of you. The reduced the number of times your view was blocked or made it easy to adjust your line of sight if your view was obstructed.

The new seating configuration has the rows and columns lined up in both directions. As a result, if someone tall is in front of you, you have to crane your neck to see around him/her.

Come to think about it, I think the Roxie repainted the men's restroom. The smell of fresh paint was detectable. The graffiti was painted over. Maybe they put in a new toilet too. I appreciate the changes but the Roxie is limited in what they can do. With a single screen, they have limited options. I think I would have appreciated some soundproofing in the Little Roxie more than new seats and a toilet in the Big Roxie.

That also reminds me that during the screening of Eugene on February 11, a drunk stumbled into the theater. I'm not sure if he paid admission or not. He staggered in about halfway through the film. Sometimes, the Indiefest volunteer(s) leaves the entrance unguarded after the film starts so it is possible for someone to sneak in without paying. There is a loud bar next door to the Little Roxie so he could have been from there. He nearly fell into the lap of the guy sitting two rows in front of me. When the man raised his arm to steady the drunk, the drunk became indignant.

That's the second time a drunk has caused a scene at a movie I've been to this year. At Noir City, a drunk (he sounded like Rupaul) was heckling the action on the screen. He was asked to leave by the theater management. That's the first time I've seen that happen at a film festival. Festival audiences are usually better behaved than cineplex audiences.


The Stanford Theater finally posted their winter schedule. I still have yet to see a movie at that theater.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Marching On

There are a few other items I wanted to mention.

At Noir City, they mentioned an upcoming "Lupino Noir" double bill at the PFA. The Film on Film Foundation is presenting The Bigamist and Outrage on Sunday, March 8. It's a double bill starting at 7:30 PM for only $7. Lupino directed both films but only appears in The Bigamist; the only time she directed herself.

I'm not familiar with FOFF except they have an on-line movie calendar and a blog I occasionally peruse.

The FOFF's mission statement is:

The [FOFF' promotes film as a living art form by screening works from its history and stimulating its continued use in production and exhibition.

We envision a vital film culture in which repertory screenings figure prominently on the cinematic landscape, and film--actual film--is not just an object of nostalgia but a living medium of expression. For over a century, the innate physical properties of film have not only served as the key elements in the work of many of our most significant artists, but have constituted a prism through which we have experienced the world.

In the Bay Area, as in general, the number of venues offering regular repertory programming has been reduced to a paltry few. This is largely due to the popular misperception that the aesthetic qualities of video are essentially equivalent to those of film. Trends in production, distribution, and exhibition have been towards synthesizing these two media, rather than emphasizing their respective strengths. As a result, interest in attending films, especially classics, has waned drastically. Most commercial venues today have adopted a survival strategy based on cutting costs and seeking ancillary profits, and are uninterested in and incapable of offering an excellent film presentation, despite the development of procedures, products, and technologies that make this an attainable goal.

As a nonprofit foundation we reject corporate short-term expediency and allow respect and reverence for film to be our guide. We screen films on film, with uncompromising presentation standards, showcasing the unique visual, material, and phenomenological properties of the medium.


The theme at Noir City was Newspaper Noir. Many of the films were set at newspaper offices or featured a newspaperman as the lead character. In other cases, the screenwriter was a ex-news reporter. Eddie Muller, Sr. (late father of festival founder Eddie Muller, Jr.) was a sport reporter for the SF Examiner for many years.

If you look closely at the poster for the 2009 Noir City Film Festival, you'll see there is a newspaper on the desk in front of the femme fatale. Eddie pointed out that the headshot and article in the far left column was one of his father's old articles. According to Muller, on the full size posters outside the Castro, you could read the article. The model is Alycia Tumlin, Miss Noir City 2009. She was hobbling around with a cane for whatever reason but she vamped it up all festival; posing for photos and whatnot.


The 2009 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival runs March 12-22. The festival will be playing at the Castro from March 12-15.. If it is like years past, they'll be playing at the Sundance Kabuki from March 12-19 and then at the Camera in San Jose from March 20-22.

As critical (hyper-critical?) aside, I like the films at SFIAAFF but the volunteers there are pretty ignorant about how film festivals work. They're nice kids (almost all Asian) but the volunteer coordinator at SFIAAFF needs to train them a little more. At most film festival, I think the volunteeers volunteer because they like films. At SFIAAFF, I think they volunteer out of a sense of obligation to the Asian American Community. I've witnessed/experience issues regarding crowd queueing, pass holder privileges, late seating and general confusion. I guess that's true of many film festival but the crowds at SFIAAFF exacerbate the problems.

The past few years, I've bought a SFIAAFF Castro pass good for the film screening at the Castro (opening night excluded).

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Wrestler

I just came from seeing The Wrestler. I certainly agree that it was a poignant movie but I have to wonder if I've become too jaded or if I've seen too many films.

The plot of The Wrestler is telegraphed from the outset. Mickey Rourke stars as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a huge wrestling star in the 1980's reduced to eking out a living by wrestling on a much smaller scale. As we first glimpse him, his dressing room appears to be a children's classroom. He subjects himself to such indignities as being victimized by a staple gun in the ring and having his boss at a grocery store make homophobic insults about his "profession."

Randy is down and out for a reason though. He skipped out on his daughter, injected copious amounts of steroids and its hinted during the 80's he lived like a movie star, partied like a rock star and f*cked a porn star. It must have been good to be The Ram in 1989. In 2009 however, he can't make the rent on his mobile home, he is estranged with his daughter and his most significant relationship is with an aging stripper.

It's pretty clear after 20 minutes what is going to happen. Randy is going to suffer a setback that requires him to come to terms with his life, his daughter and his stripper. The setback is a heart attack after a particularly violent and bloody match.

Told by his doctor that he can no longer wrestle, The Ram decides to get a legit job at the deli counter at his supermarket, seek forgiveness from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and try for something more than a cash and carry relationship with the stripper (Marisa Tomei, who is fantastic in the role).

Of course, it can't be a straight road to redemption or else it would break every literary rule. You see, the toughest opponent The Ram ever faced was himself. Bored with his job (in a plastic hairguard) and missing the glory of wrestling (even if it is at an elementary school or VFW hall), Randy strays one night from the straight and narrow. He snorts a line of coke, bangs a twentysomething (or was she younger given the firefighter posters?) in the women's restroom of a bar and forgets about dinner with his daughter who has finally begun to forgive him.

When Randy tries to apologize, his daughter calls him a "fuck up" and tells him she never wants to see him again. He goes to the strip club to seek emotional comfort from Pam (stage name Cassidy) but she has her own issues and spurns him. That is the pivotal moment in the film. If Pam had reciprocated his affection at that moment, I think Randy could have found some form of salvation. Indeed, if Randy had approached her anywhere but the strip club, she may have been more amenable. Using SAT format analogies - Pam/Cassidy:Strip Club :: Randy/Ram:Wrestling Ring. More on that later.

Spurned by the two women he loves, The Ram decides to ignore doctor's orders and climb back into the squared circle. You can see where this is going to end. If it is a happy ending or American ending, Randy gets the girl, his daughter's love, a new lease on life and quite possibly wins the wrestling match. If it is a European ending, Randy doesn't get anything, probably dies and at best gets a Pyrrhic victory.

I will say this about Darren Aronofsky; he leaves the ending vague enough (although clearly European) to not quite know what happens although it's really not important because The Ram gave up on life so it doesn't matter if he lives or dies.

For me, sensing where the plot was going, it was up to the performances of the actors to entertain me. I will heartily agree with any award nominations Rourke and Tomei receive. They both deliver powerful performances as damaged people looking to make transitions from their pasts. Tomei really delivers an understated poignancy to her character; at least as understated as a topless stripper can get. Tomei conveys a sense of pain just beneath the surface. She calmly handles the direct verbal insults of men young enough to be her children and the more polite refusals of men who no longer find her attractive. Certainly for a woman that makes her living selling her sexuality, it must be devasting to realize that her sex appeal is drying up. It must be just as difficult as a man wrestling (pun intended) with his aging body and long vanished glory days. So there you have it - two aging stars trying to find what's next for them.

As if often the case, the woman is the stronger one. Tomei has an exit plan and it doesn't include a man because she has hardened her heart. However, as she sees her son playing with a Randy The Ram action figure and her customers' lack of interest, she reaches for the brass ring. She gives Randy his last chance which he declines but you get the sense that Pam will eventually be ok with Randy and Cassidy out her life.

For the record, I found Marisa Tomei to be quite appealing even though she is four years older than me. The tattoos were a little off putting although Aronofsky nicely inserted that non-verbal clue as to her hard living past.

A few other tidbits I noticed.

Randy The Ram Robinson is so self-conflicted that he can't stand to be called by his given first name - Robin. Did I hear correctly that his real surname was Aronofsky?

Not quite sure about the plot implications but it was a little odd to have Evan Rachel Wood's character be a lesbian involved in biracial relationship.

My father, who is a wrestling fan, recognized several of the wrestlers in the movie.

There is something very homoerotic about muscular, sweaty men wrestling half-naked so when the supermarket mananger makes disparaging comments, it was doubly effective.

February Preview

I averaged more than one film per day in January but that's loafing it compared to what I have planned in February.

First up is the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (aka SF Indiefest) running from February 5 to 22 with a rump session in Tahoe on February 27 & 28.

I noticed that Indiefest did not get a mention in Sunday's Pink Section. Noir City got a write-up on January 18. One of Indiefest's opening night films (Fanboys) was previewed but no mention was made of Indiefest. Instead, the only mention of a local screening was that it's opening in theaters on February 6 (the day after it screens at Indiefest).

Regardless, I've mentally committed to purchasing a $200 festival pass. That will blow my $/film average out of the water as I'd have to see 33 films to keep my average in the $6 range. Even more difficult for me to swallow is that I'll have to miss at least two and possibly three weekend days of Indiefest. Opening night of Indiefest is at the Victoria Theater. The remaining San Francisco screenings are at the Roxie and the final four days are at the Shattuck in Berkeley.

On Sunday, February 8, I'm leaning towards a double feature at PFA. At 2 PM is Josef von Sternberg's The Salvation Hunters followed by Cairo Station. Cairo Station is part of the African Film Festival screening at PFA during February. Then I want to return to SF to fill a gaping hole in my science fiction filmography. I've never seen Soylent Green which is screening at the Castro that evening. I've seen the parody ("Soylent Green is People!!!") but not the original.

I've already purchsed tickets to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's Winter event on Saturday, Valentine's Day at the Castro. I'm going to watch three out of the four films being screened that day - Our Hospitality, A Kiss From Mary Pickford and Sunrise. I'm passing on The Cat and the Canary so I can make it back to the Roxie to see some Japanese, soft-core porn at Indiefest.

On Sunday, February 15, I'll be at PFA watch Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition - a 586 minute trilogy about Japan’s occupation of China during WWII.

Also screening during Indiefest is Kiss of Death (1947), the film in which Richard Widmark was nominated for an Oscar Award for his portrayal of Tommy Udo, the cackling psychopath that pushes an old woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Kiss of Death screens at the Castro on February 12.

On February 11 & 12, the Red Vic is screening Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) starring Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz.

Various von Sternberg films continue screening at PFA during Indiefest's run as well.


I've never been to Cinequest which is a film festival in San Jose. I've heard good things about it but it is in San Jose. San Jose a 45 minute drive (that's one way and if traffic is light) from where I live. I was invited to the Cinequest Launch Party on January 27. I could not attend because I was at Noir City that night. Reading Jason's Blog, I see they are screening D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. The chance to see this legendary 1915 film on the big screen is enough to get me down to San Jose. It screens at 7 PM on Friday, February 27 at the California Theater.

The following Friday (March 5), Cinequest is screening Griffith's 1916 opus, Intolerance. I saw that film at the SF Silent Film Festival Winter event at the Castro in December 2007 although I seem to have forgotten to note it in this blog.

Both The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance will feature Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taking Inventory as of January 31

January was a very busy movie going month for me. I saw 33 films in January; most of the films were from Noir City and PFA's Josef von Sternberg retrospective.


Noir City ended February 1 but I skipped the final day's films since I had already seen them and was burnt out after 9 days of double bills. The final day, they screened two Burt Lancaster films that I enjoy: The Killers (1946) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Noir City had a new wrinkle this year, they had a different afternoon double feature on the first Saturday. I had other commitments that day so I only caught the evening double bill. The other two films I missed were Blind Spot (1947) and Chicago Deadline (1949).

Out of the 22 films screened at Noir City, I saw 18 of them. One of the films, Night Editor, screened at Noir City a few years ago. I might have seen a few of the films on TV years ago. I couldn't remember the full plot but a few scenes seemed familiar.

I bought a festival passport for $103.49.

Arlene Dahl was the Guest of Honor this year. Her son Lorenzo Lamas was in the audience.

Noir City Founder Eddie Muller and Miguel Pendás (San Francisco Film Society) announced they were planning an international film noir festival. They didn't announce a firm date(s) but hinted at a summer festival. Muller mentioned he had traveled to Argentina over the holidays and discovered a Spanish language noir in a Buenos Aires film vault.

Noir City

Deadline-U.S.A. starring Humphrey Bogart; (1952)
Scandal Sheet starring Broderick Crawford, John Derek and Donna Reed; directed by Phil Karlson; based on a novel by Sam Fuller; (1952)
Wicked as They Come starring Arlene Dahl; (1956)
Slightly Scarlet starring John Payne, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl; based on a novel by James Cain; (1956)
Cry of the Hunted starring Barry Sullivan and William Conrad; (1953)
Ace in the Hole starring Kirk Douglas; directed by Billy Wilder; (1951)
Alias Nick Beal starring Ray Milland; (1952)
Night Editor; (1946)
The Harder They Fall starring Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger; (1956)
Johnny Stool Pigeon starring Howard Duff, Dan Duryea and Shelley Winters; (1949)
While the City Sleeps starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Howard Duff, Vincent Price and Ida Lupino; directed by Fritz Lang; (1956)
Shakedown starring Howard Duff and Brian Donlevy; (1950)
The Big Clock starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Sullivan; (1948)
Strange Triangle; (1946)
The Unsuspected starring Claude Rains; (1947)
Desperate starring Raymond Burr; directed by Anthony Mann; (1947)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt starring Dana Andrew and Joan Fontaine; directed by Fritz Lang; (1956)
Two O'Clock Courage directed by Anthony Mann; (1945)

My favorites were Wicked as They Come, Ace in the Hole, Johnny Stool Pigeon, Shakedown and Desperate. Tony Curtis (billed as Anthony) had a significant but non-speaking role in Johnny Stool Pigeon as the mute assassin. I suspect it was because he had such a strong Brooklyn accent at that point in his career. The Big Clock must have been the inspiration for No Way Out with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman.

Unlike other film festivals were it is almost assured that the film will be released on DVD or the internet, one of Noir City's selling points is that some of their offerings have not been released on DVD. In some instance, they were released on VHS but not DVD. Films not on DVD make me feel like a saw something special. However, just because the film isn't available on DVD doesn't mean it won't be shown television (AMC or TCM).

The films that are not available on DVD (according to the program guide) are Deadline-U.S.A., Scandal Sheet, Wicked as They Come, Cry of the Hunted, Alias Nick Beal, Night Editor, Johnny Stool Pigeon, While the City Sleeps, Shakedown, Strange Triangle, The Unsuspected, Desperate, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and Two O'Clock Courage.

I noticed something else. Towards the end of his life, Humphrey Bogart wore bow ties exclusively (at least on screen) - Deadline-U.S.A. (1952), The Harder They Fall (1956 - his final film), Sabrina (1954), The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and I'm sure there are other films I'm not aware of.

The crowds were very large for all the screenings I attended. All screenings were at the Castro.


I saw three programs at Berlin and Beyond on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Berlin and Beyond

Hollywood Speaks German; lecture by Stefan Droessler
The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings; directed by Josef von Sternberg; (1930)
12 Winters; German with subtitles; (2008)

Hollywood Speaks German was not a film but a series excerpts from several films. When "talkies" came into being, it presented a challenge for studios. In the silent era, films could easily be exported to foreign countries. The intertitles were edited from English to the language of the country it was being screened. Dubbing and subtitling technology were not available in early talkies. The options were narrowed to two - film the movie with multiple sets of actors speaking foreign languages and teaching movie stars to speak foreign languages. The silent stars drew worldwide audiences (like today) so it was not feasible to recast their roles with foreign speaking actors.

Weimar Republic era Germany was a big market for films so there was a lot of interest in filming in German. Stefan Droessler of the Munich Film Museum, provided commentary before each clip which included the German and English versions of the film. Edward G. Robinson, Laurel and Hardy and Greta Garbo were among the stars who spoke German (at least phonetically). Droessler had an interesting bonus clip of Laurel and Hardy speaking Spanish. Another notable clip was John Wayne's first starring role in The Big Trail (1930). This film (which was a financial disappointment) was one of the most ambitious films of the era. It was filmed in 5 different version - 35 MM, 70 MM, Spanish, German and French. The foreign language versions recast Wayne's character since he wasn't a big enough star to draw foreign audiences.

Another sidenote is that foreign language films were not subject to the same self-imposed censorhip rules (this was pre-Hays Code) so the dialog was not strictly a word-for-word translation. Foreign audiences (or standards) were less prudish so adultery and pregnancy could be more openly discussed in alternate language films.

Within a few years, technology advanced far enough to allow dubbing so the era of Hollywood Speaks German only lasted 3 or 4 years.

All in all, it was a very educational and entertaining lecture.

After Hollywood Speaks German, they showed the rarely screened English version of The Blue Angel which was filmed in English and German. Dietrich and Jannings accents were so heavy that it was difficult to understand them at times. I think I would have preferred the German language version with subtitles. In conjunction with this screening, PFA screened the German language version (Der Blaue Engel) on February 1 as part of its von Sternberg series. I couldn't attend that screening because I was at ACTwatching Rich and Famous.

12 Winters was an highly engaging police procedural about two calculating bank robbers and the cops that track them down.


The Josef von Sternberg retrospective continues at the PFA through most of February.

Josef von Sternberg retrospective

Underworld starring George Bancroft and Evelyn Brent; silent with intertitles; (1927)
The Last Command starring Emil Jannings and William Powell; silent with intertitles; (1928)
Children of Divorce starring Clara Bow and Gary Cooper; silent with intertitles; (1927)
Thunderbolt starring George Bancroft and Fay Wray; (1929)

The silent films were accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano.


I caught two films at the Red Vic.

Fallen Angels starring Takeshi Kaneshiro; directed by Kar Wai Wong; Cantonese with subtitles; (1995)
Vivre sa vie starring Anna Karina; directed by Jean-Luc Godard; (1962)


I saw two general release film and one art house release.

Gran Torino starring and directed by Clint Eastwood; (2008) - Official Website
Frost/Nixon starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen; directed by Ron Howard; (2008) - Official Website
JCVD starring Jean-Claude Van Damme; French and English with subtitles; (2008) - Official Site


As I wrote, I caught the Midnites for Maniacs screening of

The Candy Snatchers; (1973)


Through January 31, my average cost per movie is $6.11.