Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 3rd Coming of the Viz?

Just when I was beginning to call it the Film Society Cinema (FSC), they shut it down.  I am referring to the New People World Cinema which I still refer to as the Viz which was the film distribution arm of New People World.  The FSC is what the San Francisco Film Society called the Viz when they leased it arrangement which lasted one year.  I can't say I'm surprised given the sparse attendance at the screenings I attended.  I can only wonder what this means for the direction of SFFS.  Prior to the FSC, SFFS programmed a screen at the Kabuki.  The long term plan is for SFFS to have two dedicated screens in the Presidio.  If they couldn't make a go of one screen a block off the heavily trafficked Geary Blvd. corridor, I'm not sure how successful two screens in the comparatively isolated Presidio are going to be.

I don't know what will become of the Viz either.  This is the second time the Viz has faced dire circumstances.  At the end of 2010, it appeared the Viz was closing but after a brief shutdown for "maintenance," the Viz reopened to weekly programming and festivals.  This schedule continued until SFFS began daily programming in September 2011.

Once again, the Viz's future seems imperiled.  That's too bad because the programming (both under New People and SFFS) has been to my liking.  We'll have to wait and see what happens.

Armed with the knowledge of its impending end, I watched quite a few of the final SFFS programs at the Viz.  In addition to Pelotero, I saw the following films at the FSC in July and August.

Sacrifice starring You Ge, Xueqi Wang & Xiaoming Huang; directed by Kaige Chen; Mandarin with subtitles; (2010)
The Devil, Probably; directed by Robert Bresson; French with subtitles; (1977)
The Moth Diaries starring Lily Cole & Sarah Bolger; directed by Mary Harron; (2011) - Official Website
Battle Royale starring Chiaki Kuriyama & Takeshi Kitano; directed by Kinji Fukasaku; Japanese with subtitles; (2000)
Love in the City; directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Alberto Lattuada, Carlo Lizzani, Francesco Maselli, Dino Risi & Cesare Zavattini; Italian with subtitles; (1953)

Battle Royale is the same film I saw in April at Midnites for Maniacs.  There was an epilogue set during a basketball game which I don't recall from the April screening.  The scene nicely encapsulated the social dynamics of the students prior to the Battle Royale.  The film more than held up to a second viewing.  The classical music soundtrack was more noticeable on the second viewing and enhanced the film.


In the interest in time, I'm going to gloss over Sacrifice and The Devil, Probably.  I didn't really enjoy either.  Sacrifice was a big budget, Chinese historical epic.  I'm always hoping for another Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but I'm repeatedly disappointed.  Director Kaige Chen made Farewell My Concubine 20 years ago, but Sacrifice is no Concubine.  Sacrifice is a variation of the familiar "babies switched at birth" plot device.  Not a terrible film, just a little rambling at just over 2 hours.  There wasn't much to distinguish Sacrifice from any number of other Chinese films I've seen in the past few years.  The "switched at birth" premise may well have more powerful resonance in modern, Chinese, society with its one-child policy but it seemed tired and unimaginative to me.

Director Robert Bresson cast non-actors as the leads in The Devil, Probably.  I'm rarely a fan of this technique but my issue with The Devil was the languid (if not soporific) pacing of the film.  I thought the characters' musings were inane and the film was definitely a product of its time - 1970s Paris.  A young man is found dead with a gunshot wound.  Murder, suicide, political statement?  The rest of the film retraces his life in his final days.  Disenchanted the young man tries religion, drugs, sex, psychoanalysis, etc. with no improvement of his bleak outlook on the moral decay of society.  As much a political statement in the politically supercharged 1970s, the film lost my attention several times which wasn't too bad because the narrative structure was episodic.


The Moth Diaries was a surprisingly effective vampire tale set among an upscale girls boarding school.  Fashion model Lily Cole plays Ernessa, the vampire.  Sarah Bolger plays Rebecca, the only person at the school who suspects the true nature of Ernessa.  Sarah Gadon plays Lucie, Rebecca's best friend and the object of Ernessa's bloodlust.

Director Mary Harron (American Psycho) does a nice job melding the angst and intense emotions of teenagers with the vampire story.  All the actresses played their roles well.  The Moth Diaries is not a great film but it achieved the necessary mood for a vampire film without resorting to gratuitous scenes involving the young women's sexuality.  The song that played over the credits (Marina and The Diamonds' Numb) is still in my memory two months later.

Love in the City was allegedly the Italian Neorealists response to William Wyler's Roman Holiday.  Unable to recognize the hardscrabble streets of Rome that Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn tooled around on with that Vespa, a group of Italian directors decided to make Love, Italian Style.  They pulled the anti-Bresson.  Instead of casting non-actors in fictitious roles, the Italians cast actors as real people and called their film a documentary.  The result was impressive.

Love in the City consists of six unrelated vignettes.  Paid Love (directed by Lizzani), Attempted Suicide (Antonioni), Paradise for Three Hours (Risi), Marriage Agency (Fellini), Story of Caterina (Zavattini and Maselli) & Italians Stare (Lattuada).

Paid Love was essentially an interview of various prostitutes.  This segment may not have used actors.  Using a detached approach, Lizzani films these women telling their powerful stories.  Attempted Suicide uses a similar documentarian approach in telling the sad stories of three failed suicides.  Story of Caterina is a heartbreaking tale of a young mother forced by circumstances to abandon her baby.  Those three were my favorites

Paradise for Three Hours  is nearly free of dialogue and concerns itself with the rituals and gestures at a weekly Saturday night dance.  Italians Stare essentially follows attractive women around the streets and records their movements and men's response to them.  Playing up the stereotype of Italian men as leering lechers with a jazzy soundtrack.  These two I liked but not as much as the first three.

That leaves Marriage Agency - Fellini's segment.  It has a nice setup.  A man approaches a marriage agency on behalf of his friend who suffers from a rare medical condition which he later reveals to the potential wife as werewolfism (is that a word?).  There are quite a few ways to take this story; none of which seems to fit with the general theme of urban grittiness and Italian masculinity.  Fellini wrote the screenplay for this segment as well.  I guess this can be explained as part of his tendency towards the absurd.  Utlimately, the segment fell flat.  We never see the werewolf and I can't recall how the story ended.

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