Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wanted: Jesus Christ, for Anarchist Tendencies...

Those are the opening words to Klaus Kinski's performance on November 20, 1971 in Berlin. Kinski was the sole performer in a spoken word performance called Jesus Christus Erlöser or translated, Jesus Christ Saviour which is the topic of Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior which I saw on a Sunday afternoon at the YBCA.

Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ the Savior starring Klaus Kinski; documentary; German with subtitles; (1971/restored 2008)

I have memorized the opening words to the performance because Kinski repeated them four or five times. The lines were repeated because the audience kept interrupting Kinski. For reasons that are largely lost on on me, Kinski began the performance with an antagonistic relationship with several members of the audience. He was heckled and on two occasions, an audience member stepped up on stage to confront Kinski on one topic or another. Each time Kinski's concentration was sufficiently lost such that he would storm off stage...only to reappear later to restart his performance. Seeming to draw strength from his frustrations, some in the audience would continuously deride Kinski during his performance.

The interruptions happened so often that it became a punch line when Kinski would intone "Wanted: Jesus Christ, for anarchist tendencies..." (in German of course).

The cultural differences between 1971 Germany and 2011 United States are considerable and many references were lost on me as a result. One person yelled that Kinski had made millions from his films which implied people were resentful of his success. From the perspective of 2011, Klaus Kinski performing Jesus Christ Savior seems outlandish. It would be like Charlie Sheen performing Buddha: A Moral Life.

It is clear that Kinski had less patience than Jesus is purported to have. Although he attempted to turn the other cheek to his hecklers, Kinski would seethe until he couldn't continue his performance. Even after the performance was cancelled and the stage was being dismantled, Kinski appeared for a few hundred fans to attempt his soliloquy. At this point, just the murmurs of the audience was enough to throw Kinski off his game.

His full performance was never captured on camera and the handbills indicated it was only a one-night gig. The audience is left to believe that Kinski never performed his anti-war manifesto. Although the portion that was captured seemed pretentious (Kinski was able to get 15 to 20 minutes into his performance), it was still interesting enough for me to wonder how Kinski was going to use Christ to validate his anti-Vietnam War opinions.

I didn't think Kinski came off so bad. Compared to today, security was extremely lax at his performance which was held before approximately 5,000 people. I mentioned the two audience members that came up on stage (Kinski did "invite" of them up to the stage). I can't see that happening today. Although Kinski did ultimately reacts to the provocations, he let most shouted comments go unanswered. I thought it was a few in the audience who instigated the contretemp. Today, I think other audience members would complain about the behavior of people disrupting the performance.

Speaking of the audience, the YBCA screening must have 90% full for the performance which was amazing to me. I doubted that the average patron would know who Kinski was much less attend a film documenting a failed performance by him 40 years ago.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Size Dosn't Matter, Right? And Life Begins at 35!

The Castro Theater had a 70 mm film series in June. I watched two films.

Play Time starring & directed by Jacques Tati; (1967)
Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn & Alec Guinness; directed by David Lean; (1962)

Both film are well known. I saw Play Time at the PFA (listed as Playtime in their program) last year. It's unclear from the on-line listing if PFA screened the 70 mm print. I don't know if they have that capability.

I've seen Lawrence of Arabia on television a few times but not in one sitting. It turns out I had seen 95% of the film from my multiple viewings.

I won't write much about the films. Play Time stood up well to a second viewing. The office and restuarant scenes are still crisp and funny. I still lose focus in the middle part where he visits his friend's apartment. I also noticed a lot of red herring Hulots in the film. A lot of actors were dressed as Hulot and mistaken as Hulot by the audience and characters in the film. I believe Hulot's traditional overcoat was a beige or khaki MacKintosh which the imposters wore. In Play Time, he switches to a houndstooth or herringbone coat.

Lawrence of Arabia also stood up well to multiple viewings. O'Toole piercing blue eyes after he has been tortured (presumably sodomized) by the Turks are unforgettable. I noticed how the English characters are rather staid except Lawrence and how the Arab characters are colorful except Faisal (Guinness). The sweeping panoramas weren't quite as impressive on 70 mm as I was expecting. I don't think there was a single actress with a speaking part in the film.

Actually, I thought the prints or the projection were flawed. I periodically noticed some vertical lines on the edge of the screen on the stage right side for both films. I was sitting right of center for both films. So although the films themselves did not disappoint, the much ballyhooed 70 mm prints left me underwhelmed. I've seen a handful of 70 mm prints in standard theaters (as opposed to IMAX) before. I don't recall ever being impressed by 70 mm per se. The widescreen format impresses me as much in 35 mm as 70 mm.

When it comes down to it, the attributes that well suited to 70 mm or widescreen formats are not the most important aspects of a film for me. That begs the question of "What are the most important aspects of a film to me?" I'm not sure I know the answer. Perhaps it's like Potter Stewart and pornography, I can't define it but know it when I see it. I know that plot and dialog factor heavily into my enjoyment of a film.

Getting back to 70 mm, perhaps my appreciation of cinematography is lacking such that I cannot enjoy the splendor of 70 mm. My feeling is that you don't need 70 mm to make a great film and a great film will be just as great in 35 mm (or even digital nowadays). There are all kinds of arguments as to how 70 mm can enhance a film or film experience but those are largely pearls before swine and embarrassingly, I have porcine qualities as far as 70 mm is concerned...perhaps with respect to other parts of my life as well.


I exchanged some comments with Jason Wiener regarding 35 mm prints on his blog. To clarify my comments, I believe that films that were shot in 35 mm were crafted by the director, cinematographer, set designers, lighting crew, etc. with specific consideration of the medium. To see the film they made, it should be screened in 35 mm. The same can be said for any medium or watching a film on a television screen.

Because of my taste in films, I've seen a lot of 35 mm films in theaters so I may have a bias towards 35 mm films. However, I think the bias is subconscious if it exists at all. For several years, the general release films I see at multiplexes have been a combination of 35 mm and digital depending on the theater. I haven't noticed a drop off in quality of the viewing experience that can be attributed to digital vs. celluloid. I've seen a few low budget digital films that looked like crap but that was a few years ago and their low budget probably affected their choice in cameras or ability to light the set or even have a set.

I'm not a filmmaker but even I know that the Red One digital camera has made high quality digital films available at relatively reasonable prices. I have nothing against well made digital films. Still my bias shows up in small ways. When digital films pixilate, it mildly irritates me. When 35 mm prints show scratches, I fondly think grindhouse or that the scratches are proof that the film is worthy of viewing since it's been screened so many times before.

I'm also fully aware that major studios will shortly stop striking 35 mm prints for their new films. I'm fine with that. Striking a print for each venue or even screen, is inefficient and expensive. In almost every other aspect of society, I would commend and understand the cost saving (as well as environmentally friendly) move and I do so for new films. Can it still be called "films" if there is no film stock in the production and projection?

Studios and archives have invested a lot of money in storage of film negatives and prints. Will they digitize the inventory in their film vaults? I would think so if they could. Perhaps there will be some movement to declare 35 mm prints historical landmarks and thus require their preservation. I don't support that and doubt it will happen.

As technology improves, I believe it will be possible to digitize a 35 mm print such that a human cannot tell the difference when it is projected. At that point (are we there yet?), I think most of my nostalgia for 35 mm prints will evaporate. I used to be able to spot a digital film a mile away and I guffawed at festivals when an audience would ask if it was shot 35 mm. Lately, I can't tell the difference.

I read that Woody Allen's latest film (Midnight in Paris) was shot on 35 mm but used a digital intermediate meaning it was digitized during the editing process. If Woody can switch to digital in his 41st film, I can make the switch too.

Jason mentioned in his post that Super 8 was screened digitially (with D-Box!). Director J.J. Abrams put the whir of a film projector on the digital soundtrack to give it an old-timey feel. Clearly, I'm not the only person who waxes nostalgic for celluloid.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

2011 Another Hole in the Head

The 8th Annual Another Hole in the Head Film Festival ran from June 2 to 17. The festival is sponsored by SF Indiefest. June 2 and 17 were the opening and closing night parties respectively. No film screened those days. All films screened at the Roxie (on the big Roxie screen).

I bought a festival pass for $100. I saw 11½ programs. The festival screened films on 14 days but I missed 7 days due to travel, other social engagements and apathy. I could easily have seen another half dozen films but trips to the gym and an early bedtime prevailed on a few days.

Feature Films
The Oregonian; (2010) - Official Website
Karate-Robo Zaborgar; directed by Noboru Iguchi; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue; (2010) - Official Website
The Craving; (2011) - Official Website
Rat Scratch Fever; (2011)
Absentia; (2011) - Official Website
Apocrypha: (2011)
Red Ice; (2011) - Official Website
I Am Nancy starring Heather Langenkamp; documentary; (2010) - Official Website
Breath of Hate with Jason Mewes; (2011) - Official Website
The Bleeding House; (2011) - Official Website

Short Films
The Unicorn Girl; (2010)
King of England; (2011)
Off The Beaten Track; (2010)
The Monkey and the Quiet Corpse; (2010)
By a Hair; (2010) - Official Website
Roid Rage; (2011) - Official Website
An Evening with My Comatose Mother; (2011) - Official Website

The half program I saw was a An Evening with My Comatose Mother which played with Zombie Undead. The hour was getting late and I was afraid BART would run the last train through 16th St. Mission Station so I skipped it. Actually, there was a little more forethought. I get particularly bored with zombie films so I never had any intention on seeing Zombie Undead.

An Evening with My Comatose Mother was a 33 minute film so I thought it deserved ½ program status on my list.

I saw two of the Hole in the Head films at this year's Cinequest - Bad Behaviour and Midnight Son at Cinequest. I rather enjoyed Midnight Son; Bad Behaviour not so much. Neither of them enticed me enough for a second viewing at Hole in the Head.

Perhaps, I'm getting old but increasingly, it's hard for me to get too interested in films about zombies, vampires, Japanese superheroes, raccoon on crack or giant rats from outer space. I know I haven't completely gone to the dark side because last year I greatly enjoyed Ticked Off Trannies With Knives. Looking at the post from last year, I think last year's festival program was much stronger than this year.

I preferred Cinequest's Midnight Son to anything I saw at this year's Hole in the Head.


Nothing really stood out this year. There were a trio of local films that I saw. The Craving is about a chef whose serial murder victims are the sources of protein for her critically praised meals. Apocrypha is about two vampires with amnesia who reunite in San Francisco. Red Ice is about a guy who one demon as a result of machination by another demon. As I mentioned, Red Ice co-stars Yasmin Lee, a transsexual porn star, as one of the demons. They allude to her unique qualities ("She's not what you think she is.") but never reveal her secret despite her being in the film's only sex scene.

Red Ice director Ralph Hyver held a Q&A after the film and urged the audience to write a review (good or bad) on IMDB. I'll write a capsule here.

Red Ice is a muddled and confusing horror film about a plot by one demon to kill another demon. To add to the mystery, Mr. Wu, the demon's right-hand man, plots to trick a mortal into doing the murder. The film is plagued with too many twists and turns and some wooden acting. I will note that they had a nice scene where the human confronts a rock & roll band in a bar with his flute. His awesome flute playing seduces his target, a female looking demon. Later, his flute is used as the murder instrument. As Joe Bob would say, Flute Fu. The pivotal role in the film was played by Haining, an Asian actor who seemed to play his evil henchman role as if he was channeling a Shaw Brothers film - part obsequious, part sinister, full of facial gestures that would put a opera singer to shame and constantly distracting. Mr. Wu isn't all that is wrong with Red Ice but he is the most visible problem. Director Ralph Hyver showed some skill in Red Ice. It'll be interesting to see what his next directorial project is.

Of the three films, The Craving was best in show. Star Anna Curtis was sufficiently libidinous and murderous as Chef Ronnie Sextos; especially when compared to her co-stars who seemed lost on screen in their respective roles.


Absentia was my favorite feature film. The plot concerns Tricia, a woman whose husband disappeared years ago. She is still trying to come to grips with his absence when Callie, her younger sister comes to live with her. Still legally married to her missing husband, Tricia is pregnant and the father of Tricia's unborn child is a secret. There are a lot of secrets between the sister. Callie is a recovering drug addict with emphasis on the "recovering" part; she has a stash box. The father of Tricia's child is the detective who investigated her husband's disappearance; talk about conflict of interest. Callie can't move on with her life but is encouraged to have her husband declared legally deceased. The two sisters are pretending to get along until a) Callie has some weird
encounters in a pedestrian tunnel while jogging and b) Tricia's ex-husband shows up (just as she is about to go on a date with the cop).

I won't give up the ending which was a little disappointing to me. The disappearance could be linked to drug use, drug induced hallucination or a evil spider or spirit that lives in the tunnel. Resolving the mystery is secondary in the film as achieving the right tone and atmosphere are given higher priority. In that regard, Absentia fully achieves its goals. Let's face it, these horror films are mostly silly. If a director can achieve some scary moments or creepy atmosphere, s/he has done better than most. Better than most - that's an accurate if not a left-handed compliment for Absentia.


A number of films just didn't appeal to me for various reasons.

The Oregonian - this was the most anticipated film on the schedule for me. It was advertised that it had played at the 2011 Sundance. It felt more like a Slamdance film. Regardless of its festival pedigree, I found it tedious. It was one of those films where someone dies and her spirit or soul doesn't know what is happening. The audience is treated to a bunch surreal scenes which left me disengaged. Sometimes (increasing often) I doze off during films that bore me. With The Oregonian, I wanted to take a nap during the film. It screened at 9:20 PM and I was planning on catching An Evening with My Comatose Mother at 11:30 so a little catnap would be helpful. Unfortunately, the sound effects were piercing and loud so I couldn't sleep. Perhaps that was the horror aspect of the film - like A Clockwork Orange, I was forced to watch the film, my eyes pried open by cringe-inducing sounds rather than an ocular speculum.

Karate-Robo Zaborgar - I grew up watching Japanese, cyborg, live-action, television series in Hawaii. I spent many hours watching Kikaida and Kamen Rider as a preadolescent. Karate-Robo Zaborgar captures the look and feel of those classics from my childhood but the film dragged on and on. In other words, director Noboru Iguchi seemed to have epic ambitions or a slavish devotion to the source manga. The film would have been infinitely more enjoyable if 20 minutes had been edited out. Iguchi seems to have become a Hole in the Head fixture as this is his third or fourth film over past few years. In my opinion, Machine Girl was far and away his best. Iguchi is also a pinku eiga alumni; in other words he used to make soft core porn before graduating hard-gore horror and J-pop.

Breath of Hate - Jason Mewes, who is best known as Jay opposite Kevin Smith's Silent Bob, is the third lead. The plot involves an hooker who is trying to get out of the life so she can have a serious relationship with Jason Mewes. Her last "date" hooks her up with some mental institution escapees. The rest of the film blurs reality and her torture induced hallucinations. For a hooker who is under the thumb of her pimp, Love (that's her name) is awfully intelligent and strong willed. As a heavy handed scene shows, Love was sexually molested and drug addicted so she didn't live up to her full potential. A hooker film with no nudity that I recall just isn't going to cut it. It's neither fish nor fowl - it's not exploitation and it isn't as substantial as it is pretentious.

The Bleeding House - another pretentious film which allows the suspense to build slowly. It builds so slowly that I lost interest. There is a stranger with a Southern drawl (the bad guy from
Breath of Hate also had a Southern drawl) and a teenage girl who pins dead insect on her bedroom wall as well as breaks the necks of birds. By the time the film climaxes, I had lost interest - mediocre direction (it was Philip Gelatt directorial debut), lackluster acting and a script that might have worked if the direction and acting was better.

I Am Nancy - Who is Nancy? Who is Heather Langenkamp? The film answers those previously unasked questions? Heather Langenkamp played Nancy in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn't remember this but Johnny Depp played Nancy's boyfriend in that film. Whereas Robert Englund has received fame (and riches if he gets any portion of the Freddie merchandise revenue), Langenkamp has been cast in obscurity. Despite Nancy's pivotal role as the ass kicking teenager, Langenkamp is dismayed that Freddie exists in the public consciousness without a worthy adversary...namely Nancy. Langenkamps sees Freddie and Nancy as the yin and yang of horror movie dynamics and all the attention paid to Freddie means the tao of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is seriously out of balance. The film follows Langenkamp as she travels to fan fests throughout the world meeting her modest fan base and opining about the fate of Nancy. She interviews Robert Englund, Wes Craven and others in her quest to resurrect the power of Nancy. Did this subject need a feature documentary? I don't think so.

The Mole Man of Belmont Avenue - speaking of Robert Englund, he has a supporting role in this horror-comedy film as the randy senior citizen who lives in a slum tenement where pets and ultimately humans are disappearing at an alarming rate. The title says it all. The film has a few funny moments. The most memorable feature was the soundtrack which reminded me alot of Elvis Costello from the 1980s.


My favorite film (short or feature) was Roid Rage about a man with a killer case of hemorrhoids. You've heard of vagina dentata? This the male equivalent. The short film is partly faux movie trailer so it captures the grindhouse look with a generous serving of humor.

Off the Beaten Track is basically Cannibal Holocaust in Australia. The actual attack was a little hard to follow and could have been edited a few minutes but the filmmakers paid sufficient homage to Deodato's classic.

At over 30 minutes, An Evening with My Comatose Mother took its sweet time but a adequately ominous looking court jester doll and an invalid grandma wreak all kinds of havoc on a sexy "babysitter."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Long Goodbye or Love and Haight

The Long Goodbye is a Robert Altman film but I am referring to the painful demise of the Red Vic.

It's been a longtime, open secret among San Francisco film lovers that the Red Vic is not long for this world. In the past few weeks, multiple sources have reported the Red Vic is closing on July 26. The news was posted on a KQED blog and SFist. Even at this late date, one of the operators of the theater is holding out hope that "George Lucas or Pixar or somebody really big to step in."

Hope springs eternal but the potential closure of the Red Vic just isn't moving me off the needle much. The Red Vic is suffering because not enough people go there and I am less guilty than most. As I posted, I saw 10 films there in 2010; good enough for 8th place on my 2010 list.

However, the Red Vic and I have a cool relationship. Unlike the Roxie, the Red Vic is not conveniently located along my commute. However, the PFA is very out of the way for me and the Castro is equally inconvenient. Whereas the programming at PFA and the Castro excites me enough to take a special trip, the Red Vic's programming largely leaves me luke warm. The Roxie, the Castro and Sundance Kabuki host the film festivals I like to attend, the Red Vic seems to eschew festivals.

When Viz Cinema ceased daily operation, I truly felt like I had lost a something valuable and wished I had gone more frequently (even though I did see 41 films there in 2010). The impending closure of the Red Vic is not evoking the same sense of loss in me. It's like a casual acquaintance passing; you feel bad but the emotional impact is not as strong as when a close friend of family member passes.

I have a discount admission card for the Red Vic. It has one punch left on it so I'll be saying my farewell to the old gal before July 25. If it is the end, I thank the Red Vic for all the experiences and wish there had been more of them. July 25 is the Red Vic's 30th anniversary so it was a good, long run.


By the way, what happened to the negotiations between the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) and the landlord of the Clay Theater? Several months ago, Landmark Theaters announced it was closing the Clay. Landmark only operates the Clay. The building is owned by someone else. Landmark was going to cease operating the Clay and speculation was rampant as to what the landlord would do with the property. A last minute push by SFFS was enough to convince Landmark to continue operating the Clay while SFFS and the landlord negotiated terms for SFFS to operate the Clay. Several months have gone by and I haven't heard any news. I doubt Landmark will operate the theater indefinitely if negotiations have stalled.

Monday, June 13, 2011

You Can Get (Almost) Anything in Vegas...

As the saying goes, you can get anything, anytime in Las Vegas...except a 35 mm projector.

A little over a week ago, I was in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has the reputation of being an entertainment mecca and perhaps that is true if you want to see Celine Dion, Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil. As far as movies go, Vegas is the land of the multiplex. There must be close to 200 screens in the Las Vegas metropolitan area and on any given week, they probably screen 15 unique films between them. In other words, every cineplex is playing the same film(s)...on multiple screens. I don't believe there is a single screen theater left in Vegas.

In late May, it was with some surprise I read that the Henderson Symphony Orchestra was performing the live orchestration to a screening of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights on Friday, June 3. I didn't know Henderson had an orchestra and I certainly didn't expect a screening of City Lights.

As I was reading the Las Vegas Review Journal article previewing the screening, I was dumbstruck by this sentence. "The film is being projected by a 35mm projector used during the times of the original film," [a Henderson spokesman] said. "The film industry switched over to digital film projection years ago, and the old projectors are hard to come by. We were unable to find this type of projector in Southern Nevada but were able to rent one from Hollywood (to show the film Friday)."

Call me an elitist or cinematic snob but I was not aware that 35 mm projectors were so hard to come by. It seems like every theater I go to in the Bay Area has not one but two 35 mm projectors in the booth. Considering how many screens there are in Las Vegas, it's amazing that all of them have converted to digital and that they didn't keep a 35 mm around. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas didn't have one? They offer a Bachelor of Arts in Film at the institution.

Then I wondered why they chose City Lights. The film was released in 1931 with a full soundtrack including scoring and sound effects but no dialogue. Why not choose one of Chaplin's silent films?

The most amazing part of the article was "Tickets are $10." Do you hear that San Francisco Silent Film Festival? The audience was treated to a philharmonic with over 60 musicians for 10 bucks!

According to Bethany Swain's post on the Henderson Symphony's Facebook page, the official ticket count was 1,217 which puts it on par with the SF Silent Film Festival's better attended screenings. Perhaps this will lead to more film projects by the Henderson Symphony. By the way, Swain is a cellist in the Henderson Symphony.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Summer of 1984 Returns in the Summer of 2011

The summer of 1984 was (sadly) 27 years ago! That was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. It brings back a lot of good memories thinking about that summer.

Reading the "Coming Soon" portion of the Castro Theater website, I see that Midnites for Maniacs is having a special two day Summer of 1984 "extravaganza." The copy reads

MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS is officially inaugurating "The Summer of 1984" as one of the greatest moments of the 1980s! Take a trip back to these Orwellian picnic-days when the Hollywood studio reclaimed the heyday of the Golden era and harvested a variety of films that will still make you smile from ear to ear!

The seven films (one film isn't announced yet) being screened are:

Cloak & Dagger
The Karate Kid
Red Dawn
The Last Starfighter
Streets of Fire
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai!

I've seen all of those films. In fact, I think I saw them all at the theater or on VHS in 1984. I've seen The Karate Kid and
Red Dawn many times on television. I'm excited about this series. There are several films I want to see again.

My thumbnail memories:

Gremlins - didn't like it; little furry guys - the two I remember are Gizmo and one that gets microwaved; I had a crush on Phoebe Cates although that was probably due to Fastimes at Ridgemont High

Cloak & Dagger - Dabney Coleman: great actor from the 1980s (Slap Maxwell, Buffalo Bill, Nine to Five, Modern Problems when he lets his towel slip); I don't remember the film too well; Coleman plays the father and the imaginary spy

The Karate Kid - an all-time classic; wax on/wax off; sweep the leg!; Cobra Kai; Crane stance; Arnold from Happy Days channeling Charlie Chan; "You're the Best" which has subsequently become the soundtrack for every other montage scene

Red Dawn - another classic; Wolverines!; Powers Boothe sitting around a campfire telling Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and others the Soviets and Cubans invaded the US through Mexico (I was living on the US-Mexican border at the time); Superfly as the Cuban colonel

The Last Starfighter - I'm least familiar with this film out of the eight; video game is actually a simulation/recruitment tool for starfighters in a desperate war

Streets of Fire - not quite as well known as Karate Kid and Red Dawn but a very good film; stylish retro 50s look; great Willem Dafoe performance as the bad guy wearing leather hipwaders; final duel with sledgehammers; Rick Moranis as the jerk Billy Fish; "I Can Dream About You"

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! - full title is someting like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the Ninth Dimension; John Lithgow as the bad guy; couldn't follow the story; I watched it two or three times to see if I was missing something

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Claire Denis Was All Around the Bay

This spring, Claire Denis films turned up all around the bay. The 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival brought the Tindersticks to the Castro to perform the film scores they composed and performed for Denis' films between 1996 and 2009. One of short films I recalled from the 2011 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival was Dirty Bitch which the credits stated was inspired by Denis' Nénette and Boni.

Finally, the PFA had a six week series on her films. I was able watch three films in the series. All films were directed by Denis. Agnès Godard was also the cinematographer on all three films.

Nénette and Boni starring Grégoire Colin & Alice Houri; French with subtitles; (1996)
Beau travail starring Denis Lavant & Grégoire Colin; French with subtitles; (1999)
Trouble Every Day starring Vincent Gallo & Béatrice Dall; French with subtitles; (2001)

I'm embarrassed to say I had not seen Claire Denis film before this series. I was aware of White Material and 35 Shots of Run (her two latest films) but had not watched them.

Although not by my design, those three films are sequential in Denis' filmography. In other words, she directed Trouble Everyday immediately after Beau travail which she directed immediately after Nénette and Boni. In addition, I saw them in the same chronological order they were made.


Nénette and Boni reminds me of a French New Wave film. Nénette and Boni are teenage sister and brother. Nénette is several months pregnant. Boni is involved in fencing stolen merchandise, running a pizza van and fantasizing over the neighborhood baker's wife. Nénette and Boni is episodic and portions of the film are Boni's fantasies. Even the portions that represent parts of the narrative have a surreal and exaggerated feel such as Boni's many methods of coping with sexual frustration. In one memorable scene, Boni's kneads some pizza dough with a fervor bordering on pornographic.

Nénette's (Boni's younger sister) pregnancy does not allow her to indulge in teenage pursuits and diversions. The two have been separated as a result of their parents' divorce. Nénette has returned to Marseilles to find her brother - a safe harbor to dock while she prepares for childbirth. Although estranged and initially distant from his sister, Boni & Nénette eventually form an ersatz couple (nothing incestuous).

Fragmented and stylized, the film primarily follows Boni as his hormones rage, his imagination stirs and he confronts his rather shabby surroundings. Nénette and Boni is a poetic film that evinces more than is on the screen.

Partly choosing to attend Nénette and Boni due to its reference in Dirty Bitch, I can see the parallels but Dirty Bitch is a vulgar and violent reimagining of Nénette and Boni with some over the top comedic moments. Reportedly, director Sun Koh saw a heavily censored version of Nénette and Boni from Singaporean library. The artistic qualities of Nénette and Boni were so badly mangled that she was inspired to make Dirty Bitch.


I was auitably impressed by Nénette and Boni and its director. However, I hadn't seen anything yet.

Beau travail is loosely based on Herman Melville's Billy Budd. To further highlight the relationship between Beau travail and Billy Budd, Denis used some music from Benjamin Britten's opera adaptation of Melville's work.

Semi-random thought - about 12 years ago or so, I saw a great stage adaptation of Billy Budd which was performed on the Balclutha, a ship at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

I don't think I have the skills to really express my thoughts on Beau travail. It's one of the best films I ever seen.

Grégoire Colin (Boni in Nénette and Boni) plays Sentain, the Billy Budd proxy. Sentain has joined the French Foreign Legion. Attractive, young and pleasant, Sentain has provoked an irrational hatred in Sergeant Galoup (Denis Lavant), his immediate superior.

The rest of the film is Galoup simmering as his feelings towards Sentain intensify. There is an undertone of homoeroticism in Galoup behavior but either insecurity and/or jealousy causes him to manifest his feelings as animosity. On this somewhat slender thread, Denis weaves her masterpiece.

It's appropriate that Denis used Britten's opera music for the film because the film has an operatic feel. Balletic too as the Legionnaires go about their exercises. More like tai chi, the soldiers with their shaved heads, look monastic with their ritualistic and synchronized movements. The seeming calmness of their exercises masks the inner turmoil felt by Galoup who joins his men in their exercises.

Layered on top of this are the vistas of Djibouti. The action shifts an urban (at least what passes for urban in Djibouti) to the desolate as the Legionnaires go on maneuvers near the sea. Denis makes good use of the deserts and water as backdrops for the Legionnaires unending training. There are several extended scenes of the men exercising with the desert or sea as a backdrop. The beauty of Denis' direction is that she makes the repetition hypnotic and lyrical rather than boring and distracting. Her success is likely due to the fact that there isn't much plot to the film.

Denis has constructed a film where the viewer can infer what s/he wants within the parameters established by the film. Galoup and Sentain are left superficial with much backstory or expository dialogue. However, Levant and Colin imbue their roles with much more depth than the spoken dialogue. With a lesser skilled director, this is a recipe for disaster. "Look into the camera and emote." That Denis has managed to make such a film immensely watchable is the highest praise from me.

Finally, there is Galoup's dance scene which serves as the coda. Throughout the film, the young Legionnaires go to the disco to dance. At the end of the film, Galoup who has attempted to kill Sentain, dances alone on the set of the disco. No one else is there and the dance is largely symbolic - inner turmoil, suicide, repressed emtion, etc. Lavant dances like a man possessed. In a very brave decision, Denis changes the tone and look of the film in the final scenes by letting Lavant do his interpretive dance of Galoup's psyche. It could easily be criticized as pretentious because by this point Denis has already established the contemplative even meditative tone for the film. Like everything else in Beau travail, Denis films this scene perfectly.

I was not familiar with Denis Lavant before watching Beau travail. The film is almost a solo vehicle for him. His appearance and performance make it seem like he was born to play the role of Galoup. I'm almost afraid to seek out any of his other performances for fear of disappointment. Actually, I have seen Lavant before. He was the monster in Leos Carax's portion of Tokyo!. Honestly, I can't remember the performance.


Trouble Every Day was quite a departure form Beau travail. Essentially a vampire story, Trouble Every Day includes some gory scenes but again Denis gives the film comtemplative veneer. Vincent Gallo (who had a small role in Nénette and Boni) plays an American scientist. He is a newlywed (married to Tricia Vessey) who has combined his honeymoon with a business trip to Paris. His business is to find a cure for the disease with which he is afflicted. The unnamed malady causes him to go into a murderous and cannibalistic frenzy whenever he is sexually aroused. You can see how that would put a damper on your honeymoon. Apparently he contracted the disease in Africa (or was it South America)?

Gallo's Shane is not alone though. While searching for Léo, a fellow researcher (Alex Descas), Shane discovers that Coré (Béatrice Dalle) suffers from the same affliction as he does and that Léo is searching for a cure also. Shane's search for Coré and a cure lead to disastrous circumstances.

In Trouble Every Day Denis films two of the most amazing sex scenes I've ever seen. In one, Coré has sex with a punk/intruder. To protect the public, Léo locks Coré in their house. Coré seems to be promiscuous as well as bloodlustful. Anyway, the sex scenes devolves into Coré attacking and killing her paramour. That scene had the feel of a horror film. Dalle looks sexy and malevolent so it had a black widow feel.

Later, Shane stalks a hotel maid. He "rapes" her in the laundry room of the hotel before he kills her. That scene has a much more menacing feel as I always thought there is something creepy about Vincent Gallo.

By contrasting the two scenes, Denis must be commenting on gender roles as well as sex and violence which goes together like bread and butter (at least in films). Denis also throws in the virginal looking Tricia Vessey whose character's marriage is unconsummated due to Shane's disease which he keeps secret from her. Shane is carrying some heavy emotional baggage - he is a killer, he cannot allow himself to be aroused by his wife for fear of killing her and he is guarded about the peculiarly chaste state of their marriage.

Denis trains her circumspectful camera on the horror genre with interesting results. I'm sure the close proximity of sex and murder make many feel uncomfortable. Her languid pacing and Gallo's introspection hint at a genius in Denis' direction that could get lost in the shuffle. Trouble Every Day also has a 1970s aesthetics. It reminded me a little of The Hunger which was 1983. Trouble Every Day is closer to the film I wish Tony Scott aspired to when he made The Hunger. Shane looks like he played for Oakland A's in the 1970s with his mustache and unshaven look.

After seeing Beau travail, I think any film would have been a letdown but Denis creates an interesting genre piece that she stamps with her trademarks. Trouble Every Day is a serious film within the broad confines of the horror genre that I liked which is only another testimonial to Denis. I typically get bored by the cinematic sophistry filmmakers exhibit to give their horror films the patina of art.

I'd like to see Denis' later films because the three I saw were distinct from each other but have a common look and feel that define them as a Denis filme. Does that auteurism run through all her films? Perhaps what I am sensing are common themes in Agnès Godard's cinematography rather than Denis' direction.

Seeing these three films makes me wish I had sampled Denis' films long ago.

Friday, June 3, 2011

It's Called Bangkok...

Since I saw Bridesmaids, I decided I had to see The Hangover Part II to balance the gender scales. I didn't write too much about it but The Hangover was one of my favorite films of 2009.

The Hangover Part II starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms & Zach Galifianakis; (2011) - Official Website

I can't quite put my finger on it but the sequel didn't measure up to the original. The first time is always the best, right? Part II basically recycles the story from the 2009 original but changes the location to Bangkok, Thailand (pronounced "thigh-land" according to Galifianakis' character). Some of the newness of these characters (particularly Galifianakis) has worn off.

Also, Las Vegas is a superficial city but Bangkok is a dangerous and dirty place as Bangkok Dangerous and countless Thai films have shown us. As the song says, one night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble. To match the locale, Part II ratchets up the raunch and havoc to dangerous levels. Let's check off the truly dangerous activities in the film that are hard to laugh off - Bradley Cooper gets shot, another character loses his ring finger, Ed Helms has unprotected anal sex with a Thai "ladyboy," (I have to admit that was funny) and the boys get mixed up with Mr. Chow who has Interpol and gangsters hot on his tail.

Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow plays a much more prominent role in Part II. He's like a force of nature. You've heard the portmanteau "wigga" or "wigger?" Mr. Chow is a "chigga." A little bit of Chow goes a long ways.

More significant than Jeong's performance throwing off the balance of the Cooper/Helms/Galifianakis comedic troika, Part II evokes some darker emotions. Mason Lee (director Ang Lee's son) plays the missing bachelor. His character is 16 years old and is the one who lost his finger. Right there, we're talking about a child lost in Bangkok and bodily mutilation. As they search for the boy, people ominously keep telling them "Bangkok has him now." It's just not as funny when you take into consideration his age. In other another scene, Galifianakis handles an Uzi or some fully automatic submachine gun in a strip club. He accidentally sprays the place with bullets. I don't remember such mayhem in the first film.

Part II seems to want to balance these darker moments by dialing up the raunch factor to 11. Mr. Chow's penis plays a role as well as full frontal male nudity when the boys visits the "ladies" at the strip club.

When you boil it down, what's left? I liked Part II but I liked the orignal better.


The main tranny character in Part II is Kimmy portrayed by Yasmin Lee. The title of this post is one of the better lines in Part II and is spoken by Kimmy. In real life, Lee is a full fledged tranny porn star. Don't ask me how I know this.

As I was reading about the films in the upcoming Another Hole in the Head film festival (tonight through June 16 at the Roxie), I came across Red Ice which was filmed in San Francisco. I see the same Yasmin Lee is credited as the Succubus.

That was an awkward segue to say I haven't decided how many films I'm going to see at Another Hole in the Head. Their line-up looks a little weak this year and horror, sci-fi and fantasy are not at the top of my genre list.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roxie Stages

Over the I Wake Up Dreaming series at the Roxie, I was able to catch Roxie Stages twice.

The inspiration [of Roxie Stages] is to bring back dazzling, funky, and unforgettable performances, reviving the Roxie’s original function as a venue for Vaudeville-esque variety shows, a place where live entertainment and films are regularly presented in concert.

Before seeing the performances, I read about Roxie Stages in the SF Chronicle.

Both times I saw Roxie Stages, Danny Dechi, the No. 1 No. 2 pencil musician, performed. From reading the Chronicle article, I'm glad he has a day job. The pencil music wasn't bad but his jokes were awful. In fact, he was heckled the first time I saw him perform.

I also saw Rasa Vitalia perform an uptempo belly dance which was very good. She balanced a sword on her head in another dance.

After that, I don't remember the names of the acts. I definitely did not see the 77 year old stripper. I saw a three piece jazz band and an electric guitarist singing power blues. I think I'm missing an act somewhere.

I wasn't too impressed by Roxie Stages. It has an old-timey feel but somehow I think the quality of the acts were better in the vaudeville era. Judging by the audience's reaction, I think I received Roxie Stages better than most. Many people didn't bother to stop playing on their cell phones during the performances.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Red, White & Blue

In December, the YBCA had a horror film series. One of the films in the series was Red, White & Blue. I missed the film screening in December. In April, the Roxie screened Red, White & Blue for a week. In fact, it was extended for at least one additional week. I was able to catch Red, White & Blue during the leisurely schedule I set for myself during the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Red, White & Blue starring Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller & Marc Senter; directed by Simon Rumley; (2010) - Official Website

I had been tipped off that this was better than the average horror film. As I've admitted before, I'm not a horror film aficionado. In fact, poorly made horror films and porn are two the most boring genres I can think of.

So I was a little cautious in my expectations of Red, White & Blue. It wasn't bad...for a horror film.

Red, White & Blue is really two films. The first half follows Erica (Amanda Fuller) as she sleeps around in Austin. The girl gets around and in the opening montage she has foursome with three guys in a rock band including Franki (Marc Senter).

Back at home, a shady looking guy moves into Erica's apartment building. Nate (Noah Taylor) looks like a bad ass biker but it is his taciturn behavior that portends something more ominous. Erica has hit rock bottom and strikes up a friendship with Nate which eventually becomes quite intense.

Meahwhile, Franki discovers he is HIV positive and he is sure Erica infected him. Oddly, his bandmates test negative which made me wonder if Franki wasn't positive from some other encounter. Franki and the band (including the fourth band member who declined to get on the Erica Express) go searching the bars in the Warehouse District because that's where they met Erica.

Eventually, the catch up with Erica and kidnap her to teach her a lesson. They confront her about her HIV status. She doesn't admit to being HIV+ but she does document her rather lengthy list of sex partners and some abuse she suffered as a child. Franki is becoming increasingly agitated but inexplicably, his bandmates leave Erica (bound and restrained) at Franki's house.

After Franki calms down a little and he comes up with the perfect solution - since they are both HIV+, they'll get married and take care of each other. Erica has different ideas particularly since she's become closer to Nate and given up her nocturnal activities. This enrages Franki and he proceeds to repeatedly stab Erica.

Franki calls the band and when they arrive they see what he has done. Initially, they proceed to take Erica to the hospital but in the best scene of the film, they decide to let her die instead. Clearly Franki will have to do prison time for what he has done. In fact, all four of them will probably be charged with kidnapping and face serious consequences. Besides, the bitch gave Franki HIV! They make their moral compromise which sets in motion the second half of the film.

You see, Nate isn't just a biker, he is also some kind of assassin and when he learns of Erica's disappearance, he becomes an avenging assassin. The rest of the film has Nate tracking down the band members to discover Erica's whereabouts. Let's also say that Nate isn't afraid of wet work.

The second half of Red, White & Blue is pretty much a stalker/slasher film. Oddly, I felt sympathy for the three band members except Franki. However, Nate felt no sympathy. A great scene in the second half of the film has Nate hold one guy and his wife and daughter hostage. The guy is driving around with Erica (or her part of Erica) in the trunk of his car. When Nate discovers this grisly find, he poses this Tarantino-esque dilemma to the young daughter. Would you rather live with both your parents dead? Or would your rather die with your parents?

Beyond that scene, I thought the second half of Red, White & Blue was a bore. As Nate took his revenge on Franki, there were copious amounts of HIV+ blood being splashed around. I wondered if Nate was being exposed to the virus as a final coda.

I think the three lead actors couldn't quite find their roles. Fuller & Senter looked awkward at times. Taylor did a fine job when he was killing or menacing people but I couldn't quite believe it when Noah was trying to bond with Erica.