Sunday, July 4, 2010

July is the Hottest Month of the Year

Actually, in San Francisco proper, September is usually the hottest month but July is a brutal month for film lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are so many options that I may set a personal record for most consecutive days at the theater. Regardless, the temperatures are usually cool inside the theaters (except the Little Roxie).


From July 8 to 29, SF IndieFest presents the 2010 Another Hole in the Head which showcases Horror, SciFi and Fantasy films. The venues are the Roxie and Viz Cinema.

A few films caught my attention.

Metropolis 1984 Redux - In 1984, Fritz Lang's classic silent sci-fi hit Metropolis was reissued in tinted color and sporting a rock and pop soundtrack. It immediately developed a cult following, with its blue, green, violet, and red tints, along with a host of songs written by Giorgio Moroder of Donna Summer fame. This version has been completely re-edited, digitally restored and re-colored to the sharpest, cleanest and most colorful yet, revealing never before seen details. Metropolis 1984 Redux is an all original reconstruction, not to be missed!

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl - An intrepid high school transfer girl, Arukado Monami, has a deep dark secret that she'd like to, well, "share" with the target of her affections, Mizushima. It all comes to surface on Valentines Day and there's an immediate girl rivalry between Monami, our sweet and apparently innocent transfer student and the school bully chick, Keiko, who's ruling the local 'Lolita' chicks. Are the girls willing to fight over the object of their affections? Without a doubt! Do things get very, very out of control very quickly? Umm. Yes. This film sets a number of new benchmarks for madness and extreme gore & bloodletting. This is not a film for the meek and you'll know just what you are getting into before the opening credits roll. What exactly am I talking about here? Well, picture a decapitated head that's been flayed of it's skin, flying with gnashing teeth into the face of a victim where, in a unreal visual, a nose is taken with the teeth and the entire face is de-gloved like so much BBQ from a platter of well cooked spareribs. Ah, all this and a side order of well timed humor that ensures an entire film over the top gore and laughter. A splatter comedy? There is nothing sacred here and side splitting and blood spraying humor is on tap from start to hilarious finish.

Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives - a splendid riff on the classic Rape and Revenge Films of the 70s. Filmed and presented in classic Grindhouse style complete with multiple reels and the hissing and popping of old school film reels. This in your face exploitation film is equal parts 'campsploitation' and slasher flick. Yes, now that's what we're talking about! A group of three mean spirited homophobes with murderous intentions tries to take out the girls from the tranny club because one of them is enraged over when he finds what he deems to be "false advertising." Imagine that? Met 'her' at the local tranny bar and he's shocked to find... Oh, well. Never mind. What do they get when they take on the girls? Well, certainly more than they bargained for. What begins as a nasty night out on the town in the local tranny burlesque club quickly turns into a splatter fest of epic proportions. Divine justice? Trust me, this over the top film puts it all out there with hilarious commentary and some good times with the creative use and, well, the placement of knives.

American Grindhouse - a documentary about the full history and impact of grindhouse films in America. A cinematic phenomena that, like all good things, began underground and was ultimately embraced and exploited (such irony) by the main stream film industry.

What exactly is a "grindhouse" film? Grindhouse is an American term for a theater that mainly shows exploitation films. The name itself is derived after the now defunct burlesque theaters on 42nd street in New York where "bump and grind" dancing and striptease were once featured. Apparently the films moved into the only venue that would have them and the "grindhouse" movie was born. These films were, and are, typically low budget films that have pushed the envelope of their respective eras with sex, violence, drugs and every possible aspect of the weird and the offensive.


In the middle of Hole in the Head is the 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival which runs from July 15 to 18 at the Castro Theater.

The undisputed highlight of the festival is their screening of Metropolis - When Fritz Lang’s masterpiece debuted in Berlin in January, 1927, the sci-fi epic ran an estimated 153 minutes, but in order to maximize box office potential the German and American distributors cut the film to 90 minutes for its commercial release. For decades crucial scenes from the film were considered lost. In 2001, the Munich Film Foundation assembled a more complete version with additional footage from four contributing archives, and Metropolis had a premiere revival at 124 minutes (widely believed to be the most complete version that contemporary audiences could ever hope to see). But, in 2008 archivists from the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires made a spectacular discovery — a 16mm dupe negative of Metropolis that was considerably longer than any existing print! That discovery led to this remarkable restoration and Metropolis can now be shown in Fritz Lang’s original — 25 minute longer — complete version.

Other films which appeal to me are:

A Spray of Plum Blossoms - One of the most prolific Chinese directors of the silent era, Bu Wancang based this film on William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, setting the action in China, circa 1930 and casting China’s favorite on-screen couple, Ruan Ling-yu and Jin Yan. Like any Shakespeare comedy, Plum Blossoms is replete with star-crossed lovers, mistaken identity, and a satisfying happy ending. By situating the play in the ’30s-era Chinese army, the “gentlemen” of the Shakespeare’s title are the film’s officers, the duke is a warlord, and his daughter’s ladies-in-waiting are military police!

Diary of a Lost Girl - the second and final work of one of the cinema’s most compelling collaborations: G. W. Pabst and Louise Brooks. Together with Pandora’s Box, Diary confirmed Pabst’s artistry as one of the great directors of the silent period and established Brooks as an “actress of brilliance, a luminescent personality and a beauty unparalleled in screen history.” (Kevin Brownlow) This version has been mastered from a restoration of the film made by the Cineteca di Bologna with approximately seven minutes of previously censored footage.

The Iron Horse - Set in mid-19th century America, The Iron Horse is the silent era’s version of How the West Was Won, weaving its themes of romance and history around the story of the building of the first transcontinental railway. This glorious print is the only surviving 35mm print of the American version. Directed by John Ford..


In addition to those two festival in the City, PFA continues its Kurosawa Retrospective. By my count, PFA is screening 12 Kurosawa films in July. There are 5 films I have not previously seen. Coincidentally, those five films are being shown on three consecutive Wednesdays in July. The busy festival schedule won't allow me repeat viewings of the other Kurosawa films being screened in July (including Stray Dog).

The films which most interest me are Sanshiro Sugata and its sequel Sanshiro Sugata II.

Kurosawa made his directorial debut in 1943, during the height of World War II and at a time when “you weren’t allowed to say anything worth saying,” as he recalled. “Back then everyone was saying that the Japanese-style film should be as simple as possible; I disagreed and decided that, since I couldn’t say anything because of the censors, I would make a really movie-like movie.” Concerning a hero’s awakening and embrace of a larger ideal (in this case, judo), the film’s dazzling cinematic energy is already pure Kurosawa, complete with novel fight scenes (one done entirely in darkness and shadow, another shot on a windswept, grassy mountainside) and a remarkable control of filmic techniques for capturing emotion, space, and time; one montage of a pair of discarded sandals, for instance, conveys the passing of the seasons with an economy that’s as simple, and as pure, as a line of poetry. Within these eighty minutes lies the foundation of an entire career.

Forced to make a sequel to the successful Sanshiro Sugata, Kurosawa responded with a by-the-numbers account of the further years of our lockjawed, sweetly shy young judo hero (the appealing Susumu Fujita, who had become a major star thanks to the first film). This being a wartime production, Sanshiro warms up by battling some naughty foreigners (first a drunken sailor, then a tall boxer with “Killer” helpfully emblazoned on his flowing robe), but Kurosawa has even more fun introducing the next villains: the brothers Higaki. All long hair and white robes, odd twitches and ominous declarations, the two seem to have been flung out of a Noh play. “What interested me was not the hero but the opponent,” Kurosawa noted. Fascinating as an example of Japanese filmmaking during the war years, the film is also revelatory as an example of how Kurosawa could fuel even the basest of tales with moments of pure grandeur.


The Castro Theater is currently presenting a program called Hollywood Does Hollywood. Several of the films draw my attention. The double feature on July 7 is particularly of interest.

Myra Breckinridge - In this hyper-surreal, psycho-sexual farce, transsexual Rex Reed transforms into Raquel Welch, infiltrates an acting school, and plots “the destruction of the American male in all its particulars.” Director Michael Sarne uses clips from dozens of vintage films as counterpoint to this pastiche. Upping the ante is Mae West as a horny, foul-mouthed casting director and a game John Huston. (1970)

The Wild Party - Loosely based on the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, James Coco is a fading silent film comic who throws a party to showcase his latest movie, a party that soon devolves into a full-blown sexual free-for-all. Raquel Welch and Tiffany Bolling co-star in Merchant/Ivory’s ravishingly naughty spectacle. (1975)

Unfortunately July 7 is the day of the Sanshiro Sugata double bill at the PFA so I won't be able to see The Wild Party.

On July 6, the Castro is presenting Gods and Monsters - The sublime Ian McKellen is one of numerous exceptional components illuminating this compassionate speculation on the final days of infamously gay Frankenstein director James Whale. A unique blend of flashback and hallucination, director Bill Condon won the Oscar for his screenplay. With Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave. (1998)


In addition, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is screening from July 24 to August 9 at the Castro Theater, San Francisco JCC and other locations in Palo Alto, Berkeley and San Rafael. Several of the films are tempting me.


On July 16 & 17, Red Vic is screening Wild in the Street (1968) - this camp-tastic example of 60’s youth-sploitation satirizes the establishment’s paranoia about what would happen if “the hippies” took over. Teen rebel Max Frost (Christopher Jones) is a well-loved rocker and revolutionary who lives in a mansion with his extremely groovy band. He hooks up with a politician (Hal Holbrook) and manages to become President by lowering the voting age to 14. Max takes the saying “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and runs with it, establishing 30 as a mandatory retirement age and sending those older than 35 to re-education camps where they are forced to take LSD! The film, a kind of psychic mosh pit for 60’s social issues, has a swinging soundtrack, and an outstanding performance by Shelley Winters. With Richard Pryor.

On July 20 and 21, the Red Vic is presenting Tod Browning's classic Freaks (1932) - One of the most unusual films ever made! Director Browing, who spent time with a traveling circus in his youth, chose to set this horror film in a circus to use a cast mostly composed of actual carnival performers. “This incredible feature, banned for decades, is a powerful morality tale with a thunderstorm scene that is still strong enough to induce nightmares. Tiny Harry Earles is Hans, the star. When a cruel trapeze artist marries him, publicly humiliates him, and tries with her strong-man lover to kill him for an inheritance, the circus freaks band together to avenge their friend.” - The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.


On the 4 Star website, it states Spring Fever is "coming in July." Spring Fever is the follow-up film from director Lou Ye. Ye received a five year ban from filmmaking issued by the Chinese government in response to his Summer Palace (2005). Defying the ban, Ye shot Spring Fever guerrilla style in China.

Spring Fever premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and won the award for Best Screenplay.


I'm not sure how many films I'll see in July. I have already purchased festival passes for Hole in the Head & the San Francisco Silent Film Festival - (SF)^2 Festival.

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