Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cal vs. Stanford for the Kurosawa Crowd

The Stanford Theater's Kurosawa Retrospective ended yesterday. I only caught three films in the series:

Rashômon starring Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura; Japanese with subtitles; (1950)
Scandal starring Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura; Japanese with subtitles; (1950)
One Wonderful Sunday; Japanese with subtitles; (1947)


As I previously mentioned, the PFA is having its own Kurosawa retrospective (30 films from June to August). I would have seen more films at the Stanford series but the looming PFA series, being a procrastinator, still suffering from the effects of a prolonged respiratory illness, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the Tiburon Internationl Film Festival, the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Museum, preparing my income tax returns, a Kurosawa retrospective on Turner Classic Movies in March and other activities conspired against the Stanford series.

In particular, I regret missing the last three films of the series: The Idiot (1951); The Lower Depths (1957) and Ran (1985).


I've seen Rashômon before. There is no point in recounting the plot since the film was popular enough to lend its name to a scientifically observed effect of subjectivity in memory and perception. I watch the film to see if Kurosawa tipped his hand as to which version of the truth is the real truth. I've read opinions on the subject and it is certainly suspicious that Lady Kanazawa meets up with the bandit (Mifune) at the river later in the film. It's likely that none of the four version presented were the truth.

Scandal was an entertaining but minor film in Kurosawa's filmography. The plot revolves around painter who is photographed with a popular singer (Shirley Yamaguchi) at a mountain resort. The tabloids imply the two are having an affair and the photo is of them in a moment post-coital repose. The two decide to sue the newspaper but have the misfortune to hire sad-sack lawyer Takashi Shimura. Slovenly, frequently drunk and venal, Shimura has thrown the case unbeknownst to his clients although they have their suspicions. Shimura is, however, devoted to his tubecular daughter who is his only chance at redemption. Sadly, it is her death ulimately leads to his finding his moral conviction.

Mifune is able to show off his screen charisma as always optimistic, never fearful painter and Shimura gives a preview of the type of character he would perfect in Ikiru (1952).

One Wonderful Sunday was very different from any other Kurosawa film I've seen. First of all, neither Mifune or Shimura are in the film which is unusual for Kurosawa films of the period. The two leads are Isao Numasaki and Chieko Nakakita. A quick perusal of IMDB shows that the two actors did not make anymore films with Kurosawa.

One Wonderful Sunday is not epic which is an adjective I'd use to describe most of Kurosawa's films and/or lead characters. Instead, One Wonderful Sunday feels like The Bicycle Thief transplanted to 1947 Tokyo. The story revolves around a young couple as they try to spend a Sunday afternoon in Tokyo with only 30 yen between them. As they make their way around town, we get a glimpse of post-war Tokyo - the poverty, the grifters, the gangsters, etc. Along the way, we share in the couple's heartbreak such as when a ticket scalper buys the last tickets to Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and scalps them at a 50% markup. Kurosawa engages in all kinds of cinematic devices during the film - sunshine/rainfall/wind to signal the mood of the couple, breaking the fourth wall, etc.

At one point Nakakita urges an imaginary audience to clap for her and her boyfriend who is despondent because the howling wind will not allow him to conduct an imaginary orchestra. The effect is Nakakita speaking directly to the audience in the theater. I was amazed that speaking across 60 years and different culture, Nakakita was able to elicit a modest round of applause from the audience. Maybe I was really surprised that I joined the clapping.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Night of Lust - Teased but Not Satisfied

I stopped by the Red Vic during the week the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival was running to see Night of Lust (1963) directed by José Bénazéraf. I wish I would have gone to the SFIAAFF instead.

The synopsis stated The pinnacle of pornographic artistry was arguably achieved with the release of this smut noir. Though it has been banned in half the world, we have a 35mm print of the rare film to share. As the plot goes, two rival gang leaders clash over control of the Parisian drug trade leading to criminal mayhem and the excuse to showcase tits and ass. Lots of it. After the controversy following its initial release, the film was later re-cut and re-dubbed for American audiences. However, you will likely be too distracted by the stunning black and white photography and original Chet Baker’s free-jazz score to notice the plot holes and off-time lip movements.

I truly wish that I could see the original version which runs 20 minutes longer and without the dub job more appropriate from a low budget 1973 HK kung fu film. I say that not so much to see whatever erotic scenes were cut but to see what the film looked like before the hatchet job rendered it nearly unwatchable. The black and white cinematography was indeed stunning (it must have been très chic in 1962) and the Chet Baker score was evocative of Miles Davis from Elevator to the Gallows (1958). However the dubbing and incoherent plot were quite noticeable. Towards the end of the film, I kept checking my watch to countdown the minutes until I would be released by this disappointing film.


Infinitely more enjoyable than the feature were the previews that preceded Night of Lust. The trailers were provided by Carl Martin from the Film on Film Foundationand Jesse Hawthorne Ficks from Midnites for Maniacs.

The lineup of trailers include the cult classic Switchblade Sisters (also known as The Jezebels) which I would love to see on a big screen somewhere. The Cheerleaders screened at the YBCA last summer as part of their Offbeat Sports series but I missed it then.

Trailers Preceding Night of Lust
Switchblade Sisters directed by Jack Hill; (1975)
Showgirls starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan & Gina Gershon; directed by Paul Verhoeven; (1995)
The Cheerleaders; (1973)
Hot T-Shirts; (1980)
Six Pack Annie; (1975)
Frankenhooker; (1990)
The Devil's Sisters; (1966)
Lola's Mistake starring Rita Moreno; (1960)
The Singles; (1967)

Out of that line-up, I have seen Showgirls and Frankenhooker. Showgirls...well everyone has seen it. Frankenhooker was one of the first independent films I rented on VHS.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Taking Inventory as of March 8

For the past several weeks, I've been battling a chest cold that has hampered my movie going abilities. I feel on the mend but still haven't shaken the cough completely.


From January 16 to February 27, the PFA ran a series called Before “Capraesque”: Early Frank Capra. I was able to view five films in the series.

American Madness starring Walter Huston; (1932)
Submarine; silent with intertitles; (1928)
Rain or Shine starring Joe Cook; (1930)
The Matinee Idol; silent with intertitles; (1928)
The Way of the Strong; silent with intertitles; (1928)

All silent films were accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano.


From January 22 to February 13, the PFA screened Complicated Shadows: The Films of Val Lewton. Lewton was a producer at RKO in the 1940 who cranked out horror films that were a cut above the rest.

I have previously seen two films in the series - The Cat People (1942) and I Walk with a Zombie (1943). I watched:

Youth Runs Wild; (1944)
The Ghost Ship; (1943)
Bedlam starring Boris Karloff; (1946)


On February 19, I was able to watch an early work by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu.

That Night's Wife; silent with Japanese and English intertitles; piano accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1930)


This past weekend, I watched all three films in the Red Riding Trilogy based on the novels of David Peace. Peace also wrote The Damned Utd which was adapted into a well received film last year.

The Red Riding films were originally aired on the BBC. The three films are a fictionalized version of the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the 1970's.

Red Riding 1974 starring Andrew Garfield and Sean Bean; directed by Julian Jarrold; (2009) - Official Website
Red Riding 1980 starring Paddy Considine; directed by James Marsh; (2009) - Official Website
Red Riding 1983 starring David Morrissey; directed by Anand Tucker; (2009) - Official Website


Although I had hoped to see several more films at Cinequest in San Jose, my illness derailed those plans. Armed with anti-biotics, I only saw three films.

The Merry Widow starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray; directed by Erich von Stroheim; silent with intertitles; organ accompaniment by Dennis James; (1925)
The Real Revolutionaries; documentary; directed by Paul Crowder; (2010)
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; silent with intertitles; organ accompaniment by Dennis James; (1927)


On the day I started feeling ill, I went to the 4-Star to see the Hong Kong double feature. I didn't feel well so I left after the first film.

72 Tenants of Prosperity starring Jacky Cheung; Cantonese with English subtitles; (2010) - Official Website


When I was last at the PFA, I picked up a flyer that announced a 30 film Kurosawa series from June to August in celebration of the centennial of his birth. I guess that explains why Stanford Theater is currently having a retrospective.

Details on the PFA retrospective will be announced April 15, I believe.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Preview - SFIAAFF, TIFF, Joseph Losey, Lalo Schifrin, Stanley Kubrick, Red Vic Porn, Roxie Noir, Fight Films and more

As spring approaches, I am looking forward to several events. It is shaping up to be a busy spring.

Foremost is the 2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. I've purchased several tickets to the PFA screenings. The festival runs from March 11 to 21. The main venues are the Kabuki, Camera Cinemas in San Jose and PFA. The festival cut back to only one day at the Castro. In years past, they had programs on Saturday and Sunday but this year only Sunday (notwithstanding the opening night film).

I've also been perusing the festival line-up for the Tiburon International Film Festival. I haven't decided on that festival. It runs from March 18 to 26. It's a bit of hassle to get over there. I'll probably catch a few films.

Finally, the San Francisco International Film Festival has announced they will screen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916) on May 4.


PFA kicks off a Joseph Losey retrospective on March 5. Several of the films interest me.

At the top of the list is M (1951).

Smothered with suspicion, a shadowy Los Angeles becomes the id-like setting for Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s Weimar classic. Here stalks the monstrous M (David Wayne), whose warped logic has him murdering children to save them from an evil society. When the intense police pursuit, led by Inspector Carney (Howard da Silva), disrupts the criminal underworld, the local crime syndicate joins the hunt. Finally captured, M is taken to a subterranean garage and thrown before a kangaroo court where a soused ex-lawyer (Luther Adler) pleads his case. In this harrowing scenario, Losey presciently parallels what would soon be his own plight facing the scrutiny of HUAC. More poignant, though, is the way in which M uses the “baby killer” as a medium to unleash the pathology of the mob. The crescendos of vigilantism join all members of society, high and low, into one vengeful mass.

Other films that I hope to watch include:

The Big Night (1951) - In one of cinema’s more startling first acts, seventeen-year-old George La Main (John Barrymore, Jr.) barely blows out the candles on his birthday cake before seeing his passive father (Preston Foster) savagely humiliated, leading George into an after-dark adult netherworld for the sweet icing of revenge. But the hit-man guise suits him no better than Dad’s ill-fitting clothes, and the journey quickly evolves into a complex coming-of-age melodrama with trenchant commentary on love, shame, race relations, and fatherhood. Banged out on a shoestring budget as Losey prepared to go into European exile, it features some of the most evocative performances to be found in his films, with Dorothy Comingore, Joan Lorring, and Howard St. John as ships passing in the big night, each offering a lesson or revelation. There were real-life revelations to come: Losey would learn that the young Barrymore had been an FBI informant, reporting on his activities in England. Look fast for a cameo by director (and former Losey assistant) Robert Aldrich.

Eve (1962) - Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) lives the life of a smug novelist, garnering the benefits of his success in a Venice of lush parties and canal-side villas. He’s got kudos for his new film, a fiancée in the form of Virna Lisi, and a well-lubricated sports car, but Tyvian’s a soulless imposter. Then one night iconically alluring Eve (Jeanne Moreau) breaks into his house. Eve is zero-degree woman, bearer of knowledge, and a pricey prostitute who is anything but garden variety. Perhaps Losey’s most baroque film, Eve projects Tyvian’s fixation with his unhinged love object upon an ornate setting of fetid canals and Roman alleyways, using Antonioni’s cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo to render the choking complexities of antique space. Tyvian and Eve taunt and tantalize each other in a free-spirited narrative that finds its passion in the agonized tableaux. For years this restive romance was known only through a highly truncated version disowned by Losey. What will screen tonight is an approximation of his original intent, discovered in Scandinavia.


The Castro Theater present another in its Legendary Composer Series. From April 2 to 8, they are presenting 12 films by Lalo Schifrin. I am particularly anxious to see THX 1138 (1971) - George Lucas' first feature length film. Other films in the series that interest me are Hell in the Pacific (1968) starring Lee Marvin and Toshirō Mifune which I've never seen on the big screen and The President's Analyst (1967) with James Coburn.

The Schifrin line-up is solid throughout and includes such classics as The Cincinnati Kid (1965) with Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson, Bullitt (1968) with Steve McQueen, Cool Hand Luke (1967) with Paul Newman and Dirty Harry (1971) with Clint Eastwood.


On April 11, the Castro screens F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) which I missed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's Winter Event a couple years ago.


From April 23 to 29, the Castro presents 12 Stanley Kubrick films which is most of his filmography.

The films are The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Spartacus, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, The Killing, Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A.I.

I've seen most of the films (in a theater too) with the exception of Barry Lyndon (1975) with Ryan O'Neal, The Killing (1956) with Sterling Hayden, Eyes Wide Shut (1999) with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and A.I. (2001) with Haley Joel Osment.

I had lunch with a friend during the Noir City festival this year. She was not attending the festival but looked a souvenir festival guide. She mentioned she had seen a noir on television recently that she enjoyed but could place the title or the stars. All she could remember was that there is a scene at the end where the money blows away at an airport. That didn't ring a bell with me.

At the festival, they kept showing Serena Bramble's short film, The Endless Night. Her film consisted of clips from classic noirs with a very effective soundtrack. I could identify many of the stars and films in the loop. I noticed that there is a clip of money blowing off a luggage hauler on the tarmac. Thinking this was the film my friend referenced, I asked Eddie Muller what film that was. He answered it was The Killing.


On March 17 and 18, the Red Vic screens Night of Lust (1963). The synopsis for this gem reads The pinnacle of pornographic artistry was arguably achieved with the release of this smut noir. Though it has been banned in half the world, we have a 35mm print of the rare film to share. As the plot goes, two rival gang leaders clash over control of the Parisian drug trade leading to criminal mayhem and the excuse to showcase tits and ass. Lots of it. After the controversy following its initial release, the film was later re-cut and re-dubbed for American audiences. However, you will likely be too distracted by the stunning black and white photography and original Chet Baker’s free-jazz score to notice the plot holes and off-time lip movements. Preceded by a lusty trailer show designed to arouse the senses!


The Roxie, returns to noir in May with a two week program titled I Still Wake Up Dreaming: Noir is Dead! / Long Live Noir!

It’s Springtime at the Roxie - where 28 half-forgotten film noir classics and curios will bloom boldly before your disbelieving eyes at San Francisco’s first and foremost House of Noir—The Roxie Theater! This Spring’s amazing cavalcade features six titles from Columbia’s legendary and darkly sinister 1940s Whistler mystery series starring Richard Dix: Mark of the Whistler (from a story by Cornell Woolrich!), Mysterious Intruder (a major noir rediscovery from director William Castle!!), Power of the Whistler (with the incredible Janis Carter!!!) as well as Voice of the Whistler, The Thirteenth Hour and Secret of the Whistler. All six Whistler films presented in BRAND NEW RESTORED 35mm STUDIO PRINTS!

Marvel too at six RARE United Artists noir gems from the 1950s: Jacques Tourneur’s cold-war thriller The Fearmakers starring Dana Andrews; Phil Karlson’s gritty gem 99 River Street with John Payne and Evelyn Keyes; the freakishly strange Nightmare with Kevin McCarthy and Edward G. Robinson (from a story by Woolrich); Ed McBain’s low-down, rough and sleazy Cop Hater with Robert Loggia; Shield For Murder directed by and starring noir icon Edmond O’Brien; and Henry Silva in the ultra-violent late-model ‘63 Rat Pack noir Johnny Cool. ALL PRESENTED IN 35mm STUDIO ARCHIVE PRINTS!

Peppered liberally with ultra-rare 16mm B noirs from the hidden vaults and libraries of private collectors!! NONE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON DVD!!

Programmed exclusively for The Roxie Theater by Professor Elliot Lavine.

The program runs from May 14 to May 27.


The Red Riding Trilogy is currently screening at the Landmark Lumiere.

Several films are opening at the Landmark Theaters in April and May that caught my attention.

The Warlords (2007) opens on April 9. The film stars Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Set in the midst of war and political upheaval during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s, Warlords stars Jet Li as General Pang, who barely survives a brutal massacre of his fellow soldiers by playing dead, and joins a band of bandits led by Er Hu (Andy Lau) and Wu Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro). After fighting back attackers from an helpless village, the three men take an oath to become “blood brothers,” pledging loyalty to one another until death, but things quickly turn sour and the three men become embroiled in a web of political deceit, and a love triangle between Pang, Er Hu and a beautiful courtesan (Wu Jing-Lei).

The Square (2009) which played at the Mostly British Film Festival and Cinequest opens April 16. A stylish, twist-filled neo-noir worthy of the Coen Brothers, The Square centers on an adulterous couple whose scheming leads to arson, blackmail and murder. Escaping the monotony of a loveless marriage, construction supervisor Ray (David Roberts) becomes entangled in an affair with the lovely but troubled Carla (Claire van der Boom). She presents him with a large chunk of money stolen by her husband, suggesting that they keep it for themselves. Ray agrees, and they hire a professional arsonist (Joel Edgerton), which turns out to be the first of a series of deadly errors. At first all seems to go well, but soon the bodies start to pile up, and then the first blackmail note arrives from a mystery author. Written by his brother Joel, this tense thriller is directed by former stuntman Nash Edgerton, who succeeds in building ferocious tension.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) opens May 7. This deliriously over-the-top “Oriental Western” is a loving, virtually non-stop action tribute to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In the 1930s Manchurian desert, where lawlessness rules and ethnic groups clash, three Korean men fatefully meet each other on a train. The Good (Jung Woo-sung) is a bounty hunter who tracks down criminals with rewards on their heads. The Bad (Lee Byung-hun) is the leader of a group of bandits and can’t stand to be second best. The Weird (Song Kang-ho, The Host) is a train robber with nine lives. The three strangers engage in a chase across Manchuria to take possession of a map The Weird discovers while robbing the train. Also on the hunt for the mysterious map are the Japanese army and Asian bandits. In an unpredictable, escalating battle for the map, who will stand in the end as the winner? Never be sure who’s good, bad or weird! Directed and co-written by Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters).


On April 18, Dennis Nyback returns to the YBCA with So, You Wanna Fight!. Film archivist and raconteur Dennis Nyback returns to YBCA for his annual screening of weird and wonderful delights from the past. Tonight he'll present boxing films from the teens to the fifties. Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Max Baer, "Jersey" Joe Walcott, Tex Avery, many others, plus the ferocious fightin' eight-year-old girl, Pam Sproul. Don't get too close to the screen or you might splattered with blood.

I saw an entertaining Nyback program a few years ago at the Hole in the Head called Bad Bugs Bunny.