Monday, February 16, 2009

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.

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