Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hot Tix 8/23-8/31

Spent much of this past weekend almost entirely movie-free, at the California State Fair in Sacramento, wallowing in the 21st Century urban version of bucolic splendor mixed with heaping doses of the carnival. Not “carnaval,” but the darker, American version of carnival, the kind with the rides and the midway with games like Skeeball and Ringtoss, all guaranteed to fleece most comers.

This year's theme revolves around super-heroes, and there was a “Hall of Heroes,” of which about 75 percent was dedicated to crap for sale. The remaining quarter included a viewing room with a digital projector screening clips from heroic adventure films (saw about three minutes of a swordfight from The Legend of Zorro (Columbia, 2005), just enough to know that improved filmmaking technology and technique does not make for better movies—Rouben Mamoulian and Tyrone Power, Jr., did it much better in The Mark of Zorro (20th Century Fox, 1940), so did Fred Niblo and Douglas Fairbanks in the original The Mark of Zorro (United Artists, 1920). Heck, Walt Disney's TV unit did it better with Guy Williams in the series Zorro (Walt Disney/ABC, 1957-1959).

Sam Jones, the star of the delightfully bad Flash Gordon (DEG/Universal, 1980) was signing autographs. No sign of Dino DeLaurentiis, Brian Blessed or Max von Sydow.

The piece de resistance in the Hall of Heroes was the Batmobile! The real, genuine, TV show version of the coolest and dorkiest custom car ever made! Apparently it was one of the original cars made for the series by George Barris, that has been extensively and repeatedly modified over the years, but there's a plan to restore it to its original condition. This was the first time I'd ever seen the real Batmobile (I've seen the 1989 version—yawn) and I reacted like a kid.

But, the coolest thing I saw at the fair was a model of the Cerrito Theatre, a 1937 neighborhood screen that has been dark for 40 years, which has apparently been rescued from the grave by a local grassroots effort, and will reopen in October with all of its original murals and architectural details preserved and restored. Look for more news here as I get it myself.

Now, on to this week's films that are so cool, they're hot!
(Please kill me if I ever use that sentence again.)

Top of the list this week is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' last-ever concert, held at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966. There are four film programs at the Castro Theatre, Saturday, 8/26 and Sunday, 8/27.

Saturday's first show starts at 1:00 p.m. with a performance of the set list from the Candlestick show by Beatles sound-alike band The Sun Kings. Then the 1978 teen comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Universal), Robert Zemeckis' first major film, about a group of crazed fans intent on crashing the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I've never seen it, and Zemeckis often gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies (Roger Rabbit notwithstanding), but it supposedly has a scene of Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen from Brian DePalma's Carrie) in a romantic clench with Paul McCartney's Hofner bass guitar. That could be just strange enough to be fun. The real treat is a rare 16mm film screening of McCartney's notorious Magical Mystery Tour, the 1967 TV film about the Beatles on a psychedelic bus tour. Features John Lennon as an Italian waiter using a shovel to feed the portly Jessie Robins, portraying Ringo Starr's aunt, and a cameo by the Bonzo Dog Band. It's a film guaranteed to inspire confidence in any aspiring filmmaker: Yes, even I have made a better film than this. But it is a gloriously awful movie well worth sitting through for 55 minutes. And remember, Ringo is the cinematographer! Still, it's got great music: "I Am the Walrus," "The Fool on the Hill," "Blue Jay Way." (Bonzo Dog member Neil Innes would later collaborate with Eric Idle of Monty Python on the legendary send-up of the Beatles, The Rutles: All You Need is Cash.)

Rock historian (no, not a geologist) Ben Fong-Torres talks about the Candlestick concert, then shows footage of an interview he did with McCartney in 1976. (Yes, the Mulleted McCartney! Oh, the humanity. Thank dog The Ramones came along when they did.) Followed by a 35mm screening of Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (United Artists, 1964), the first and best of all the Beatles movies, and possibly the best rock movie ever made (even better than Rock 'n' Roll High School —let it play for a bit—the sound does kick in). Then more sound-alike music from the Sun Kings. Saturday, 8/26, 7 p.m.

Sunday opens with a brilliant idea for a matinee: The sing-along Yellow Submarine (Subafilms/United Artists, 1968)!!!! C'mon, one of the songs is called "All Together Now." It works! Of course, it will be interesting to see everyone try to keep up with George's “Only a Northern Song.” With a 16mm print of The Beatles Live in Washington D.C., a film of their actual first U.S. concert appearance (after the Ed Sullivan Show). Sunday, 8/27, 1 p.m.

It all wraps up with the astonishing 1966 Richard Lester anti-war classic How I Won the War (Petersham/United Artists), featuring Lennon as Pvt. Gripweed, in glorious 35mm Eastmancolor. This is black comedy at its finest. Dealing with the stupidity of war and the class system that enables war, it's reminiscent of Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22 and Robert Altman's film of M*A*S*H (20th Century Fox, 1970), only bleaker and funnier. This is the one to see if you can see only one. It will be followed by a preview of the new documentary about Lennon's years as an activist, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which you've no doubt read all about at my earlier post below. Drew Harrison, lead singer of the Sun Kings will provide a musical tribute to Lennon as well. Sunday, 8/27 at 7 p.m.

The folks at Bay Area Film Events have promised lots of giveaways, prizes and contests throughout the films. For those who can't get enough Beatles, there's a couple of non-film events at the Hard Rock Cafe at Pier 39 on Friday, 8/25. The Sun Kings will play a set following a proclamation of “Beatles Week” by one of Mayor Gavin's staff at 11 a.m. Then, there's a “Beatles Party, ” also at the Hard Rock Cafe and with the Sun Kings, from 4-6 p.m.

Sadly, they tried to get Help! (United Artists, 1965) and Let It Be (Apple/United Artists, 1970), but both of those films are locked in a legal limbo. This trailer is also not on the schedule, but should be seen to be believed. (A tip of the Beatle wig to Agent LC for this gem.)

You can find out more about events an buy tickets here.

Film Noir is a tricky term. Is it a genre, a style, a technique, all or none of the above? Did it begin with John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros., 1941) or Stranger on the First Floor (RKO, 1940)? Is Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (PRC, 1945) the best noir, or simply the cheapest? One thing is certain, though. Most of the filmmakers responsible for noir had no idea that was what they were making. The term was coined by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, and the real study of the form began, again in France, during the 1950s. The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto presents two of the seminal noir pictures this weekend, Gilda and Laura. Rita Hayworth is Gilda Farrell, one of the most astonishingly dangerous femmes fatale ever to rope a mook. Glenn Ford plays the mook, and Charles Vidor directs. Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt almost makes Hayworth's Gilda look like a librarian who rescues sick kittens. Dana Andrews is the shlub. Vincent Price is also on hand to help chew the scenery. These are both on my Film 101 schedule—you simply must see these. Laura plays at 5:55 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. Friday, 8/25 through Monday, 8/28. Gilda shows at 7:30 p.m. nightly, with matinees at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They're in glorious 35mm and black-and-white!

Jesse Ficks continues to exhume the strangest films from the 1970s and 1980s for his Midnites for Maniacs series at the Castro Theatre. This Friday, 8/25, an astonishing triple bill begins with Heartbeeps (Universal, 1981), one of the great “what were they smoking” films. Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters are shiny robots who fall in love, flee their human masters, and attempt to raise a child who sounds a lot like Jerry Garcia (because it is his voice). The cast includes Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap), Randy Quaid, and the always-astonishing team of Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul). Directed by Allan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School), this film is, well, something. Also on the bill is Weird Science (Universal, 1985), with Kelly LeBrock as the scientific abomination created by two hormonally stressed teen geniuses, with Bill Paxton as the abusive older brother. Plus a legendarily awful film about video games, breasts, and flaunting authority, Joysticks (1983, Jensen Farley). The title pretty much sums it up. It all kicks off at 7:30 p.m., with Joysticks starting at MIDNIGHT.

The Pacific Film Archive concludes its retrospective of films by Japanese director Kenzo Mizoguchi this week. Friday, 8/25, sees the first of the final three programs features a brand new 35mm print of Street of Shame (1956), a strange and troubling journey into Tokyo's Yoshiwara red-light district during the 1950s, examining the lives of five women working at the Dreamland brothel, 7 p.m. It's followed by Sansho the Bailiff (1954), set in 11th Century Japan, at 8:50 p.m.

Sunday, 8/27, the PFA screens The Life of Oharu (1952), considered by Mizoguchi to be his best film. It follows the degradation of a 17th Century lady of the court, who loses everything after she falls in love with page. It shows at 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, 8/30, the series ends with The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939), a Meiji-era drama about a woman's self-sacrifice in support of a kabuki actor. It starts at 7:30 p.m.

The Pacific Film Archive also presents a rare look at the father of animation, Winsor McCay, courtesy of one of the modern masters of the form, John Canemaker. McCay created the early comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, as well as the legendary Tales of a Rarebit Fiend. Although he didn't invent cinematic animation, he was one of its earliest champions and stars, with such films as Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and How a Mosquito Operates (1912). Canemaker presents a program of McCay's shorts, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 8/26. Preceding that is a presentation of Canemaker's shorts, Marching to a Different Toon, including his adaptation of John Lennon's drawings in John Lennon's Sketchbook (1986). That show's at 5 p.m.

The Red Vic screens The War Tapes (2006), Deborah Scranton's interesting approach to embedded coverage of the war in Iraq. She gave digital video cameras to three soldiers, who documented their daily lives as they guard the financial resources of the Halliburton corporation. This is not an easy film to watch, as it takes you close inside the war, but it should be seen, especially by anyone with a “Support Our Troops” sticker on the car. Know what you're supporting. It plays at 2 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. Sunday, 8/27, and 7:15 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. Monday, 8/28, and Tuesday, 8/29.

The Roxie Cinema has a couple of interesting documentaries this week. The first, Our Brand is Crisis (Boynton Films/Koch-Lorber, 2006), is a look how political consultants from the United States, including Bill Clinton's lieutenant James Carville, used marketing, lies, rumors, lots of money and dirtier tricks to try to defeat the popular leftist Evo Morales, leader of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) Party, in Bolivia's 2005 presidential elections. Directed by Rachel Boynton, whose previous documentary was People Like Us: Social Class In America (Center for New American Media, 2001), this looks to be a fascinating examination of how the U.S. tries to control “democracy” in other countries—when it's not imposing “democracy” via missiles and ground forces. It opens Friday, 8/25, and plays through Wednesday, 8/31, 7:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. nightly, with additional screenings at 2:45 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 8/26, and Sunday, 8/27.

The second documentary of interest at the Roxie is Dark Water Rising: The Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues (Shidog Films, 2006), a look at the volunteer efforts to rescue the animals left behind in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina exposed the United States' callousness last year. This will not be an easy film to watch, but it's one that should be seen by everyone that has a pet or just likes animals. I'd say it should be seen by everyone, but the heartless will simply not get it. You can see the trailer here. Directed by Mike Shiley, who also did Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories (2004), one of the best of the un-embedded looks at America's “finest hour.” (Irony intended.) Dark Water Rising plays one night only, Monday, 8/28, at 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Placeholder: Mark your calendars for Friday, September 1. The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto is showing the inimitable Lon Chaney in the dazzling The Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1925), with the astonishing Dennis James at the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. This is a key Film 101 entry.

Copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.


Anonymous Laura Shapiro said...

Still planning to join you at some point this weekend, probably Sunday. Will depend on crazy homework schedule, about which I'll know more after tomorrow night's class.

I am envious that you got to the Fair this year. I've missed it too many years in a row, dammit.

BTW, great commentary on Freleng and Nips the Nips. My corner of the blogosphere has been having some interesting discussions about racism in fandom lately, so it was aptly timed, too.

5:31 PM, August 23, 2006  
Blogger HildrethR said...

One of the most interesting things about racism (or other discriminatory behavior) in the ages of recorded media is how sneaky it is. I found a bootleg copy of some of the Beatles cartoons that ran on TV from 1965 until about 1970 or 1971, and sure enough, there's a gratuitous joke about stereotyped Asian characteristics in the opening credits. No wonder Apple has kept those out of sight for so long.

Heck, even Yellow Submarine has an unfortunate portrayal of Native Americans in the Sea of Monsters sequence. The U.S. Cavalry appears to save the day. Still, I suppose I should be grateful that MGM and Apple didn't simply edit it out, like Disney's done with the offensive bits of Fantasia. I just wish I could be certain that parents were explaining that scene to their children.

Of course, I suspect that one of the reasons Apple's keeping Help! out of sight is because it's got the very British Leo McKern and Eleanor Bron in brownface, playing terribly stereotyped Indian religious fanatics.

BTW, I do hope you've popped over to Hell on Frisco Bay to check out Brian's fantastic post on Freleng, and to follow the links there to lots of others. Hats off to Brian for suggesting it in the first place! -- RH

11:21 PM, August 23, 2006  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

RE John Lennon

"Keep You Doped With Religion And Sex And TV"

9:29 PM, August 24, 2006  

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