Saturday, August 31, 2013

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

In the week after the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) ended, I saw two additional silent films.

The Oyster Princess starring Victor Janson & Ossi Oswalda; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; silent with intertiles; live accompaniment by Rodney Sauer & Britt Swenson; (1919)
Battleship Potemkin; directed by Sergei Eisenstein; silent with intertiles; live accompaniment by Cameron Carpenter; (1926)

The Oyster Princess was preceded by a short film.

Cops starring Buster Keaton & Virginia Fox; directed by Edward F. Cline & Keaton; silent with intertitles; (1922)

Rodney Sauer & Britt Swenson are two-fifths of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  Sauer plays electronic keyboard and Swenson plays violin.  The Oyster Princess played at the Smith Rafael Film Center the day after the SFSFF ended.

Battleship Potemkin played at Davies Symphony Hall the weekend after SFSFF ended and was presented by the San Francisco Symphony.  Carpenter played the pipe organ in Davies Hall.  It was the first time I had heard the organ or seen a “film” in Davies although I'm 99.99% certain they screened a DVD.  I should also mention I received a discount (50%?) on the ticket price from a San Francisco Independent Film Festival (Indiefest) promotion.

The subtitle for The Oyster Princess was “a grotesque comedy in 4 acts.”  Actually, on IMDB, the film is listed as My Lady Margarine.  The director of the film, Ernst Lubitsch, was known for the “Lubitsch Touch.”  That phrase means many things to many people but for me, the closest definition comes from  Roger Fristoe.  I quote from The Cinema of Ernst Lubitsch:  “A subtle and souffle-like blend of sexy humor and sly visual wit.”  If “a grotesque comedy” seems incompatible with "a subtle and souffle-like blend of sexy humor and sly visual wit," that's because it was.  Oyster Princess was made in 1919 and I can only assume Lubitsch was not yet aware of his touch.  He would go on to direct films for an additional 30 years after Oyster Princess.

The plot deals with caricatures of American wealth & avarice and a case of mistaken identity.  Mr. Quaker (Victor Janson in a flashy, over-the-top performance) is the obscenely rich American businessman who made his fortune in canned oyster. That makes his daughter, Ossi (Ossi Oswalda, aka The German Mary Pickford), the titular Oyster Princess - spoiled, sheltered and single.  When Ossi reads that a friend of hers has married a count (in real life, Oswalda was married to a baron), she demands from her father, a prince for her husband.  Through a matchmaker, they find Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke) who is deep in debt.  He is anxious to marry when told his potential fiancée is incredibly wealthy.  He sends his friend Josef (Julius Falkenstein) to act as his intermediary.

When Josef arrives at the Quaker mansion, he is mistaken for the prince.  Ossi is in such a rush to top her friend, she drags Josef to the altar and she won't let him get a word in edgewise (even “I do”).  Ossi marries “Prince Nucki” and returns home to inform her father who is “not impressed.”  That is Mr. Quaker catch phrase throughout the film.  Hosting a lavish but hastily arranged wedding reception, Quaker reluctantly introduces his son-in-law, Josef gets drunk and Ossi seems to have little interest in consummating her marriage.  Meanwhile, the real Prince Nucki become restless waiting for Josef and goes out with his friends where he proceeds to get drunk as well.

The next morning, Ossi hosts a breakfast for Multi-Millionaires’ Daughters Association Against Dipsomania.  Dipsomania was the medical term for alcoholism at the time.  Nucki, still inebriated, shows up at the Quaker mansion where the women assume he is a dipsomaniac in need of treatment.  Ossi literally wins a fistfight with the prize being the privilege to treat the handsome, young dipsomaniac.  Ossi decides to begin treatment in her bedroom.  Although mightily attracted to each other, Ossi takes her wedding vows seriously and Nucki doesn't want to risk his nuptials with pre-marital infidelity.  At this point, Josef rouses from his alcohol induced slumber and notices a stranger in his wife's bedroom.  When he realizes it is Prince Nucki, he lets them in on the his true identity and makes the legally dubious claim that Nucki & Ossi are already married since he signed the marriage license under Nucki's name.  Later, Nucki & Ossi sneak off to assert their conjugal rights.  Later, the ever curious Mr. Quaker checks in on his daughter in her bedroom and finally exclaims, “Now I'm impressed!”

There are several scenes from this film which stand out in my memory.  Most of them have to do with the wealth and excesses of the Quakers.  They have an army of servants and at one point, a regiment of maid bathe and dress Ossi like a factory assembly line.  As I mentioned, Victor Janson seems to be having a ball as the crass, cigar chomping, fat cat.  Curt Bois who lived to be 90 and whose final film appearance was in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire turns up as a Cab Calloway-like band leader whose toe-tapping music induces "a foxtrot epidemic" at Ossi's wedding reception.

There was humor in the film but I came in expecting “The Lubitsch Touch” and this was anything but that in my opinion.  I won't say I disliked the film but will say I was disappointed.


I saw Cops at the Red Vic in 2010 when Dennis Nyback came to town.  Dennis Nyback seems to have gone silent as his blog has not been updated since last year.  I recall that program at the Red Vic and enjoyed it although I didn't say anything about Cops in my post at the time.  I recall some of the scenes when I watched it the second time but I don't feel Cops is one of Keaton's better two-reelers.  The most memorable scene involves Keaton being chased by hundreds of policemen and was impressive for the number of extras used in the scene.

I guess once again, I've seen too many films for my own good.  Compared with the three Keaton films screened by the SFSFF in February at their winter event, Cops came up short. It's the same set of characters - Keaton's porkpie hat character, Virgnia Fox as the girl, Joe Roberts as the foil and co-director Edward F. Cline but Keaton in Cops did not inspire the same sense of empathy or sympathy as the February films.  In addition, the gags weren't as funny.  Oh well...even a subpar Buster Keaton film is worth a trip to San Rafael.  I'd much rather see Cops a third time than many of the films I've seen since starting this blog.


Battleship Potemkin was the first film I have seen at Davies Symphony Hall.  As I mentioned, I'm pretty sure it was digitally projected.  What the medium, the picture quality was not very good.  However, organist Cameron Carpenter was quite entertaining.  Sporting a partially grown-out mohawk and a sequined jumpsuit, Carpenter looked more like a rock star.  Carpenter isn't your father's silent film accompanist.  Compared to the Castro or Stanford, the Davies organ appears to have more foot pedals.  Maybe it was because the organ was elevated so that you could clearly see Carpenter's movement.  At the Castro & Stanford, the organ descends into the orchestra pit so it's clear what the organist is doing with his feet.  Carpenter's feet were move frantically and the sequins were reflecting light during the opening piece which did not accompany the film and I do not recall the title or the composer.

After a short introduction which focused on the musical pieces and during which Carpenter admitted to not knowing much about the film, the grainy images of Battleship Potemkin commenced.  I've seen Battleship Potemkin before.  It was a very memorable night as the screening was hosted by the San Francisco chapter of the Freedom Socialist Party.  The music from the DVD gave the scenes on the battleship a certain grandeur.  I originally likened it to Victory at Sea.  The scenes didn't seem so memorable this time.  For all of Carpenter's showmanship, his performance fell short of the standard set by SFSFF.

At SFSFF screenings, the music truly accompanies the film.  The change in tempo or volume is timed with the images on the screen.  Carpenter was simply playing a set piece with the film images seemingly an afterthought.  The music was primary and the film secondary.

Battleship Potemkin stood up well to a second viewing.  The number of extras used in the filming is staggering.  Essentially revolutionary propaganda, Battleship Potemkin makes little effort to personalize the characters.  In contrast, The Weavers at the 2013 SFSFF spent more time humanizing the revolutionaries.  However, Battleship Potemkin has a crucial advantage over The Weavers - Eisenstein's genius with imagery and montage editing with the highlight being the Odessa Steps sequence.

After seeing Battleship Potemkin at Davies, I'm not sure if I'll see additional films presented by the SF Symphony.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival

This post has taken unusually long to write due to other time constraints.  I wish I had time to see all the movies I wanted to.  I also wish I had time to write on this blog about all the movies I've seen in a timely manner.  Of course, if I had time to see all the film I wanted and immediately write about them, I probably wouldn't have a job or the money to see all the movies I wanted to see.

The 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) ran from July 18 to 21 at the Castro Theater.  I saw 13 of the 17 programs.

Prix de Beaute starring Louise Brooks; directed by Augusto Genina; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; silent with intertitles; (1930)
The First Born starring Miles Mander & Madeleine Carroll; directed by Miles Mander; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; silent with intertitles; (1928)
Tokyo Chorus starring Tokihiko Okada & Tatsuo Saitô; directed by Yasujirō Ozu; live accompaniment by Günter Buchwald; silent with intertitles; (1931)
The Patsy starring Marion Davies; with Marie Dressler, Dell Henderson & Jane Winton; directed by King Vidor; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; silent with intertitles; (1928)
The Golden Clown starring Gösta Ekman; directed by A.W. Sandberg; live accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble; silent with intertitles; (1926)
Legong: Dance of the Virgins starring Goesti Poetoe Aloes, Njoman Nyong Nyong, Goesti Bagus Mara & Njoman Saplak; directed by Henry de la Falaise; live accompaniment by Gamelan Sekar Jaya & the Club Foot Orchestra; silent with intertitles; (1935)
Gribiche starring Jean Forest & Françoise Rosay; directed by Jacques Feyder; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; silent with intertitles; (1925)
The House on Trubnaya Square starring Vera Maretskaya; directed by Boris Barnet; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; silent with intertitles; (1928)
The Joyless Street starring Asta Nielsen & Greta Garbo; directed by G.W. Pabst; live accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble; silent with intertitles; (1925)
The Outlaw and His Wife starring Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff & John Ekman; directed by Victor Sjöström; live accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble; silent with intertitles; (1918)
The Last Edition starring Ralph Lewis, Lila Leslie & Ray Hallor; directed by Emory Johnson; live accompaniment by Stephen Horne; silent with intertitles; (1925)
The Weavers starring Paul Wegener; directed by Friedrich Zelnik; live accompaniment by Günter Buchwald; silent with intertitles; (1927)
Safety Last! starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis & Bill Strother; directed by Fred Newmeyer & Sam Taylor; live accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; silent with intertitles; (1923)

I didn't see any short films before the features this year.  Prior to The Weavers (or was it Safety Last!?), festival programmer Anita Monga mentioned that someone from the Alloy Orchestra had emailed her about Dziga Vertov's The Eleventh Year.  They screened the trailer for it.  She hinted it may be on next year's program.

Speaking of next year, the SFSFF has moved the 2014 festival from its traditional July timeframe to May 29 to June 1.  I was told by a fellow festival goer that it was because hotel rates are cheaper in May and the SFSFF has to book several hotel rooms for its musicians and other assorted guests.  By July, San Francisco hotels raise their room rates to summer levels.

The Patsy played at 2008 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  I didn't recognize the title but realized within a few minutes after the start of the film that I had seen it before.

I had just seen Tatsuo Saitô in Sacramento the previous weekend in Every Night Dreams although I did not recognize him or his face in Tokyo Chorus.


Two comedies topped the list of my favorites this year.  I mentioned that I saw The Patsy five years ago but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the film.  Marion Davies was delightful as the long put-upon younger sister.  She showed considerable comedic skills and screen presence.  I wonder how her career would have progressed if she was not William Randolph Hearst's mistress.

Harold Lloyd is indisputably a comic genius and Safety Last! his masterpiece.  One of the most iconic images of Hollywood films is that of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a large clock several stories above the street which is the capstone of Safety Last!.  Although there are several amusing scenes before the grand finale, it is the extended sequence where Lloyd is forced to climb the exterior of a building which elevates the film to the spectacular.  The audience at the Castro went crazy for the gags; both laughing uproariously and gasping in fear that Lloyd would fall.

Prix de Beaute was a showcase for Louise Brooks.  More so than any other silent film star I am familiar with Brooks is a phenomenon unto herself.  Her radiance is spellbinding in all the films which I have seen her in.  I'm racking up quite a collection of her greatest films - Pandora's Box, Diary of a Lost Girl, Beggars of Life and A Girl in Every Port.  I won't say that the bloom is off the rose after seeing Prix de Beaute but I will say that if you look closely, Brooks seems to look older than her 24 years of age.  That's not surprising given the life she lived but her appearance combined with the knowledge that this film was her last hurrah give Prix de Beaute a bittersweet quality.  The film ends badly for her character which only reinforces the tinge of melancholy throughout.

Brooks plays Lucienne "Lulu" Garnier, a typist with dreams of competing in the Miss France beauty pageant.  Her boyfriend Andre (Georges Charlia) is adamantly opposed to beauty pageants so Lulu submits her application and photos in secret.  Eventually she wins the title and must travel to compete in the Miss Europe contest.  Andre finds out and rushes to stop her at the station but just misses the train.  Lulu goes on to win the Miss Europe title and begins to socialize with the rich and famous.  All the while Andre is tracking her down and when he is finally able to confront her, he gives an ultimatum.  Despite her doubts, she chooses him and settles back into a life of domesticity.  When one of her previous admirers appears with an offer of a film contract, Lulu is once again irresistibly drawn to the limelight.  Sadly, when Andre track her down once again, he ends the relationship permanently...with a bullet in Lulu's back.

I was surprised at how the depiction of Andre highlighted several hallmarks of abusive spouses - the apologies, the controlling nature, the need to isolate, etc.  I thought these signs were categorized years after the film was made but I guess even in 1930s France, they knew an abusive husband when they saw one.

I don't want anyone to believe I didn't enjoy film.  It was quite good although Brooks plumbed darker waters in Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. If anything, my knowledge of Brooks' life distracted me from the film itself.  If Brooks didn't look like a million bucks (as she had in her previous films), she certainly lit up the screen Prix de Beaute as few others ever have. 

The Golden Clown was a Swedish tragedy.  Gösta Ekman, whose son and grandson are prominent Swedish actors, plays Joe Higgins (an oddly Anglicized character name).  Higgins is the star clown in a small travelling circus.  He is in love with Daisy (Karina Bell), the circus owner's daughter.  Soon after their engagement, Higgins receives an offer to perform in Paris.  With his new wife and parents-in-law, Higgins settles into the high life of Parisian society.  A critical and financial success, Higgins is living the good life until his wife falls prey to a philandering couturier.  Her affair destroys their lives and leads to her death.

I have noticed that the Matti Bye Ensemble excels in mood music to accompany misery and tragedy.  Their accompaniment of The Golden Clown was the musical highlight of the festival.  Ekman has a memorable scene where he is performing musical number with identically dressed clowns (they look like Pierrot) on a steep staircase.

Gribiche was a fun film about a young boy, eponymous Gribiche (Jean Forest) although that is his nickname.  Raised by a single mother in a modest neighborhood, Gribiche's honesty attracts the attention of a wealthy American dowager (Françoise Rosay, the director's wife).  She proposes to Gribiche's mother that she take guardianship of the boy and to the mother's surprise, Gribiche agrees to the arrangement.

Most of the film depicts the boy as a fish out of water.  Awed by the lavishness and wealth of his new surroundings and overwhelmed by the structured studies which are forced upon him, Gribiche begins to reconsider his choice.  It doesn't help matters that Rosay's character begins to embellish the circumstances of Gribiche's former life.  Gribiche becomes a badge of her altruism to her friends and corroboration of her theories on social hygiene although Gribiche's previous station in life was not so debased.  Gribiche was a pleasant if not particularly memorable comedy about class differences.


This year's festival had a palpable theme of class warfare.  The Joyless Street was set during the post-WWI deprivations in Vienna.  In a poor neighborhood, the two wealthiest people are the butcher who gouges people for his meat and the owner of a fashion boutique who runs a speakeasy/whorehouse in the back.  The film follows two poor women from the neighborhood - Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo.  Their plotlines are not tightly interwoven.  Nielsen resorts to prostitution and witnesses a murder.  Garbo's father loses his pension in the stock market and Garbo makes nice with an American Red Cross worker (or was he an US Army officer?).  The plot was difficult to follow (perhaps due to the film be edited so many times) and what I could follow didn't make great use of Nielsen and Garbo's screen presence or acting skills.  The butcher and his large dog were the most memorable characters in the film which summarizes what I didn't like about The Joyless Street.

The Weavers was heralded as the German Potemkin (reference to Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin).  That's quite a stretch.  I saw Potemkin prior to the festival and I saw Potemkin a week after the festival and Potemkin has an unmistakable grandeur resulting from the crowd scenes and the scenes upon the battleship.  The Weavers is cut rate agitprop by comparison.  The eponymous weavers are Silesian (where the heck is Silesia?) weavers who sell the cloth fabrics for sustenance wages.  The weavers' wages are forced down because of machine looms.  They rise up in revolt, smash the looms, send the wealthy scurrying before their enraged mob and stand up to the Army troops who are sent to quash them.  There are obviously parallels to today's economic conditions but the film was told with its political message preeminent and character development lagging far behind.  I was never able to empathize with the characters and the film's cinematography did not impress me.  The Weavers left me bored.

The Outlaw and His Wife was directed by and starred Victor Sjöström.  His real-life wife, Edith Erastoff, was the female lead.  Sjöström plays Ejvind, a stranger who is looking for work. He gets a job at Halla's sheep ranch and farm.  Halla is a wealthy widow being courted by her portly brother-in-law who also happens to be the local constable.  Ejvind is a fugitive and when his identity is discovered, he makes a run for it.  Halla, who has fallen in love n Ejvind, decides to accompany him.  They take refuge high in the mountains and make a happy life for themselves; even having a child together.  The isolation, the harassment from the police, filicide, a love triangle and the bitter cold have negative effects on Ejvind & Halla.  Eventually, they freeze to death which mercifully ends their suffering as well as the audiences'.  Whereas The Joyless Street was ponderous and difficult to follow and The Weavers was boring, The Outlaw and His Wife had its share of strong scenes.  The plot was difficult to overcome.  Sending Halla & Ejvind up the mountain and isolating them stopped the film dead in its tracks.  The plot has them living up on the mountain for 16 years and Sjöström extends the film to tortuous length to depict their lives on the mountain.  The film ran over two hours but would have been much more palatable at closer to 90 minutes.

Frankly, I don't recall much about the plot of The House on Trubnaya Square.  A woman comes from the countryside to a big city to find her uncle or something.  She brings her duck or chicken for some reason.  Eventually, she finds work as a maid in a dilapidated tenement building which by any objective standard should be condemned.  Eventually she gets elected to some Communist Party committee but its someone else with the same name?  I don't know.  The House on Trubnaya Square was a Soviet film which so alien to me that I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing.  Combining Gogol-esque absurdist humor with slapstick comedy; director Boris Barnet doesn't quite eschew plot like Vertov but does seem more interested in the visual images.  While watching the film, I kept thinking about Russian humor or Soviet humor.  If you can make a joke out of waiting in line for 7 hours in winter to get a roll of toilet paper, then I suppose The House on Trubnaya Square is a Soviet comedy.


I enjoyed the remaining films to varying degrees.

Miles Mander was memorable in The Pleasure Garden which played at the Hitchcock 9 in June.  He plays a similar character in The First Born which he also directed.  Alma Reville was credited with half the screenplay.  In fact, I noticed the pre-screening slideshow recycled a lot of material from the Hitchcock 9.  You would have thought Hitchcock directed The First Born.  Anyway, Mander is once again a cad as he was in The Pleasure Garden although he doesn't kill anyone in The First Born.  Madeleine Carroll (who would star in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps) plays Mander's long suffering wife.  The plot is pure melodrama and there is a tidy ending involving Mander's illegitimate son which cheapens the film a bit but for the most part The First Born is an opportunity for Mander to strut his stuff front and center instead of in supporting role.  Mander has more than enough acting skills to carry the film.

Yasujirō Ozu is the director of Tokyo Chorus but it doesn't feel like an "Ozu film."  In 2011, the SF Silent Film Festival screened Ozu's I Was Born, But... (1932).  I was impressed with that film but Tokyo Chorus (1931) was not quite as impressive.  Ozu relies more on humor than his later film and the humor feels forced.  His trademark pathos isn't quite as evident in Tokyo Chorus. Tatsuo Saitô performance as the strict school instructor cum restaurateur throws off the pacing of the film.  There is a scene where Reikô Tani as the company CEO and Tokihiko Okada as protagonist match each other, movement for movement, with hand fans which was amusing.  The young children are also present to serve as a foil and conscience for Okada as their father.  I can't say I disliked Tokyo Chorus but I wish I had seen it before I Was Born, But...  The latter film shows a natural progression for Ozu when compared to Tokyo Chorus.

Legong: Dance of the Virgins was advertised as a pseudo-documentary shot on location in Bali in present-day Indonesia.  Accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra and the enormous Gamelan Sekar Jaya (they must have had 30 people or more on stage), the Castro was packed for Legong.  Rather than having the detachment of a documentarian's lens, I though Legong was closer to a Paul Gauguin paining.  Director Henry de la Falaise appeared to have a great affection for the Balinese people which mixed the exotic with a vague sense paternalism.  The plot centered on a young man in a gamelan.  A young maiden is in love with her but he has eyes for her half-sister.  Why they bothered to make that distinction is beyond me.  Many of the characters had the same name as the "actor" portraying them so maybe the two women were half-siblings.  This love triangle has a backdrop of the daily minutiae of Balinese life.  In one scene, one of the women rhythmically and gracefully pound grain or rice with a staff and it was hypnotic to watch.  Legong is a tragedy so by the end, someone dies.  Legong was far from a great film but the exotic location and arresting score were enough to keep my interest.  There were several scenes of young women (and girls) topless.  Rather than exploitative, the scenes depict the lifestyle which existed in Bali at the time.  Actually, there is not time reference which I recalled so the film may have been set in contemporary times or centuries ago.  The score began to grate of my ears as the film went on.  It was a constant cacophony of noises which although pleasing at times, became mildly annoying at the end.  More variation in the score would have suited my tastes better.

The Last Edition was also a sellout...undoubtedly due to its being filmed in San Francisco.  If it were set anyplace else, I think I would categorize the film lower.  The plot involves a young lawyer in the San Francisco DA's office and his father who works the printing presses at the San Francisco Chronicle.  The younger man is framed for a crime he did not commit and a Chronicle reporter helps him clear his name.  It was a run-of-the-mill film with a plot that has been used many times before and since.  The attractions were the exterior shots in San Francisco and recognizing the locations.  The scenes where the paper is being "put to bed" were also interesting to me.  Apparently, the Chronicle's masthead hasn't changed in 80+ years.


This year's festival had an odd dynamic for me.  From opening night through Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed seven consecutive films.  Then it was quite a slog to get through four of the next five films and even the exception (The Last Edition) wasn't really that good.  It was because I had not enjoyed those films that I stayed for Safety Last! which proved to be my favorite of the festival.  Typically, the films I like and dislike are more evenly spread out through the festival.

Monday, August 5, 2013

2013 Sacramento Japanese Film Festival

I went to the 2013 Sacramento Japanese Film Festival (SJFF) on July 12 & 13 at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.  The festival continued on July 14 (Sunday) but I skipped that day as I had seen the first film (Key of Life) and would have to stick around until 4:00 PM to see Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.  I also skipped 13 Assassins which played at 8 PM on July 13 because I had also already seen it.  If the 8 PM show had been something different, I may have stuck around to see the midnight screening of Shaun of the Dead presented by Trash Film Orgy which was also screening at the Crest.  As it was, I went to the hotel gym and then had dinner.

I always seek out restaurants near the theaters I frequent.  Near the Castro Theater is Orphan Andy's.  For many years, it was my "go to" place for a bite before & after a show at the Castro but the service has gone down in my opinion so I've been going to Dinosaurs, Sliders, Pica Pica and Super Duper.  Near the PFA is Moccacino Cafe and the Asian Ghetto restaurants or sometimes Top Dog and Bongo Burger on Center Street closer to the BART station.  The latter two restaurants will be directly across the new PFA location when it opens in 2016.  I like Truly Mediterranean near the Roxie.  I could continue listing restaurants for each of the theaters I frequent regularly.

The area around the Crest is pretty deserted on Friday and Saturday nights.  Sacramento's downtown empties out after work.  There are a few dance/night clubs nearby but not many place to get an evening meal.  The SJFF schedule and my previous exploration of Downtown/Midtown Sacramento led me to two restaurants.  I went to the Squeeze Inn at 1630 K Street for brunch on Saturday.  The Squeezeburger with cheese had been recommended because of the "cheese skirt."  Essentially, they melt the square American cheese slices on the grill and form a cheese skirt which is larger than the burger bun.  It's mildly amusing to chip away the melted cheese but frankly I thought the experience and the food was overrated.

Much more appealing to me was Petra Greek at 1122 16th Street (between K & L) which has the added benefit of being open until 3 AM on Saturday & Sunday mornings.  If you know your geography, you know Petra is an ancient city in Jordan known for the red & pink hues of the architecture which was carved out of the mountainside.  If you know your history, you know Petra was populated and influenced by many different civilizations including Greek.  Getting back to the restaurant, I can recommend the Pork Souvlaki Plate and Loukaniko Plate.  The rice pilaf was particularly flavorful.  I bought a couple side orders to take home.

Back to the festival.  The SJFF founder/director Barbara Kado announced that the opening night film (Haru's Journey) had set an attendance record for the festival.  I thought the screenings were well attended.  There seemed to be more people per screening than the Sacramento French Film Festival (SFFF) but the had more screenings than the SJFF.

The SJFF had an "Andy Hardy puts on a film festival" feel to it.  The SJFF is affiliated with the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church.  Kado made announcements before each film and she repeated that a) five or six people were charged $5 too much for their festival passes ($35 was the correct price) and that they should contact her to get their refund and b) ways to avoid the parking garage fees because there was some sort of event in a nearby park and the garages were not honoring the Crest's parking validation (the secret is to enter before 6 PM or park at one of the garages farther away which honored the validation!).  In addition, there was a table in the lobby selling handmade greeting cards.  I know they were handmade because a group of volunteers were making them at an adjacent table.  

The audience at the SJFF skewed older than most festivals I attend and looked to be some Nisei but mostly Sansei generation.  For those not familiar with those terms or their corresponding age ranges, I put the audience members to be mostly 55 and up.  That doesn't seem so old to me anymore...


I saw four films at the SJFF.

Haru's Journey starring Tatsuya Nakadai & Eri Tokunaga; directed by Masahiro Kobayashi; Japanese with subtitles; (2010)
Every Night Dreams starring Sumiko Kurishima & Tatsuo Saitô; directed by Mikio Naruse; silent with intertitles; (1933)
A Letter to Momo; anime; directed by Hiroyuki Okiura; Japanese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Knot starring Mukku Akazawa & Junichi  Kawamoto; directed by Yuichi Onuma; Japanese with subtitles; (2010)

Haru's Journey was screened with a beat up 35 mm print.  Everything else was digital.  Every Night Dreams had a recorded soundtrack; i.e. no live accompaniment.  No short films accompanied any of the features.

Tatsuya Nakadai, who made films with Kurosawa and Mifune, is still making films.  Since Haru's Journey, he has continued working.  At the age of 80, he is probably the most well known Japanese movie actor outside of Japan.  In Haru's Journey, he plays Tadao Nakai opposite Eri Tokunaga as Haru Nakai.  Tadao is Haru's grandfather and they live together but when Haru is laid off from work in their small fishing village, she suggest her grandfather try finding other living arrangements while she ventures to Tokyo for work.  Enraged, Tadao sets off (with Haru in tow) to visit his estranged siblings to see if any will take them in.  Along the way, we glimpse the family dynamics between grandfather and granddaughter but also between Tadao and his siblings which have long been strained.  We also glimpse human frailty and failings as Tadao is far from wise or selfless.  Haru is still dealing with her mother's suicide and father's abandonment.  Ultimately, the film become one of self-discovery; particularly for Haru when they take a detour and visit her father.  Largely lacking the mawkishness which afflicts so many American films, Haru's Journey had a bittersweet quality which elevated it to something above average.  Kin Sugai as Tadao's older sister stood out among the supporting cast.  It was my favorite film of the festival.

Every Night Dreams (aka Each Night I Dream, aka Yogoto no yume) tackles some familiar themes for director Mikio Naruse - long suffering women dealing to abusive husbands and tragedy.  In this case, Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) is a bargirl with a young son at home.  Eeking out a hardscrabble existence, Omitsu life is upended when her deadbeat husband Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saitô) shows up looking to reunite with his family.  Omitsu is initially weary but is slowly worn down.  Not exactly abusive but more beaten down by life, Mizuhara can't get break, not that he necessarily deserves one.  When their son is hit by a car, Mizuhara finds redemption and ruin in his attempt to get money to pay for the boy's necessary operation.  Unabashedly melodramatic, Every Night Dreams didn't quite live up to my expectations.

I've never been a fan of anime and A Letter to Momo won't change my mind.  The story of a girl (the eponymous Momo) whose life takes a tough turn.  Her father dies at sea and her mother relocates them to the small town she grew up in.  Momo final conversation with her father was an argument and she carries guilt around because of it.  She finds a unfinished letter from her father to her and she is haunted by the words he never wrote.  This is ripe setup to tell a story of Momo dealing with her grief and adapting to new surroundings.   This is broached but these damned imps or spirits show up.  Only Momo can see them and they seem to have ulterior motives.  More of a nuisance and mischievous than downright, the three imps cause Momo endless trouble and embarrassment.  By the end, the barrier between her imagination and the real-world is breached and the audience is left to wonder if the creatures were real or a figment of Momo's imagination.  Some (most?) people wouldn't be upset by this but it took the story in the wrong direction for my tastes.

The Knot was an ambitious film seemingly film on a small budget.  Mukku Akazawa is Ayako, a housewife whose husband is slightly indifferent towards her and senile father-in-law is abusive towards her.  When she takes her blood-stained blouse to an establishment with a reputation for working miracles on stains, she discovers the dry cleaner is Keisuke (Junichi Kawamoto), her former junior high teacher and lover.  The film doesn't reveal that immediately.  Instead, it seems like there is a simmering attraction between them and their hesitancy is due to the fact they are both married.  Eventually, they re-consummate their relationship but that only stirs up conflicted feelings.  Keisuke had to leave his position and Ayako had to move away.  Their forbidden love cost them both quite a bit a decade and half ago and neither is completely willing to leave their spouse although Keisuke definitely gives the impression that he married on the rebound.   Sô Hirosawa shines as Keisuke loving wife who slowly realizes her husband's past threaten her marriage but her lack of self-esteem and/or love for Keisuke keeps her from walking out on him.  Director Yuichi Onuma does a nice job of eliciting sympathy for Keisuke who is essentially a pedophile (if not convicted) and giving Ayako some sharp edges which one would expect from a woman who has gone though her situation.  The Knot deals with a complex situation without resorting to banality.  It is a worthwhile film.

In past years, San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) has conflicted with the SJFF.  I'm not sure why this year the two festivals did not conflict.  With the SFSFF's calendar change (May 29 - June 1, 2014), July will now be free for me to venture to Sacramento.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's August Calendar

I'm not sure if I solved the puzzle this month.

August 12 - Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in one of the Star Wars films.  I don't think it was the 1977 original because she wore the earmuff hairstyle in that one.

August 26 - Audrey Hepburn as Princess Anne in Roman Holiday.

August 19 gave me pause.  I don't recall Laurence Olivier's dimple being so pronounced.  I thought it Olivier at first but then thought it was Kirk Douglas from The Vikings. I quickly went back to my initial guess - Laurence Olivier in Hamlet who is a Danish prince for those not familiar with the film or Shakespeare's play.  Kirk Douglas' character in The Vikings was a prince too.

So the photos represent two princesses and a prince.  I'm not sure about the reference but I assume it is honoring Prince George of Cambridge (born July 22, 2013), third in line for the British throne.

I noted that Star Wars was directed by George Lucas and Roman Holiday by William Wyler.  I tired in vain to find a Catherine associated with Olivier's Hamlet but could not.  Beside, I think the photo of Fisher is from The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, neither of which were directed by Lucas.

I also noted that all three lived in London for a period of their lives.  Carrie Fisher studied drama in London.  Hepburn held British citizenship through her father and I always detected a slight English accent to her natural speech.

However, I am still not quite sure regarding the San Francisco (or August) reference or tie-in.  Perhaps it is simply celebrating the birth of the future British Monarch, but it feels like I am missing something.

By the way, the Castro is not closed on August 26.  The program for August 26 is still to be announced.

Castro Theater Calendar - August 2013