Thursday, September 14, 2006

Recommended Films 9/13-9/21

Hollywood's Production Code had been moribund for a decade, dead for at least a year, when the film industry established the letter-based rating system in 1968. Intended to allow filmmakers greater freedom in representing adult subject matter while allowing parents to shield children from undesirable content, the system was implemented by former Lyndon Johnson sycophant Jack Valenti, who became president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1966.

Films approved for release by the MPAA are assigned a letter rating, advising theater operators and parents which movies were appropriate for different age groups. Valenti himself explains the system in
this clip from the fondly remembered Amblin-Warner Brothers cartoon show Freakazoid.

Originally, the “adults-only” designation was given the letter “X.” Films like Midnight Cowboy (winner of the 1970 best picture Oscar) and A Clockwork Orange received “X” ratings. Producers of pornographic films—which exploded in popularity during the 1970s —rarely submitted their films to the MPAA, but adopted the “X” designation as a marketing tool, trebling its impact by inventing the “XXX” rating. The moral backlash that began in the 1980s made it difficult for studios to book the rare legitimate “X”-rated films into theaters. Brian DePalma re-edited Scarface (1983) twice, hoping to get the MPAA to reduce its rating to R. After Abel Ferrara's King of New York (1990) was rated “X,” pressure groups convinced the MPAA to surrender the “X” rating to the pornographers. The new “scarlet letter” was the “NC-17” designation, which proved to be just as damning as the original “X.” Film directors are often bound by a studio contract that demands they deliver a film that receives a rating no higher than “R.” David Lynch made extensive cuts to Wild at Heart to get an “R” rating. (Europeans saw the film as the filmmaker intended it—you can see it that way at the Clay October 20 and 21 at midnight). After Stanley Kubrick's death, Warner Brothers used digital manipulation to obscure elements of an orgy scene in his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, to keep from getting an “NC-17” mark. (Again, Europeans saw the original film.)

The rules the MPAA use for determining these ratings are obscure. The individuals who make these calls are also hidden from view. Hence this week's top film recommendation: an in-their-face documentary called
This Film is Not Yet Rated. Director Kirby Dick borrows heavily from Michael Moore's playbook, chasing the anonymous members of the MPAA's rating board through Los Angeles, but the Illuminati-like secrecy of the MPAA all but demands this confrontational approach. Dick hired a private investigator to uncover the identities of the nation's censors, and the trailer shows that Dick spoke with at least two of them, and interviewed one on camera.

This Film is Not Yet Rated plays for one week at the
Lumiere Theatre, starting Friday, 9/15.

The gorgeous Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto provides a double dose of Howard Hawks films starring Cary Grant this weekend. The screwball classic Bringing Up Baby (RKO, 1938) features Grant and Katharine Hepburn playing against type; he as a dotty paleontologist, she as a scatter-brained heiress. “Baby” is a pet leopard, on the loose in Connecticut. Only Angels Have Wings (Columbia, 1939) is a South American adventure film, with Grant as a daredevil mail pilot, Jean Arthur as a New York showgirl far from her concrete jungle, and a 21-year-old Rita Hayworth as Grant's ex-girlfriend. Bringing Up Baby plays at 5:35 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. Friday, 9/15, through Monday, 9/18. Only Angels Have Wings plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 9/15, through Monday, 9/18, plus 3:15 p.m. Saturday, 9/16, and Sunday, 9/17.

Midnight Mass may be dormant, awaiting its annual resurrection, but
Peaches Christ still walks the earth, and she's been helping the Clay Theatre program their series of midnight movies. This week, Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez star in one of best of the the midnight films produced during the 1980s—the last and possibly the best decade of the midnight movie era—Repo Man (Edge City/Universal, 1984). Estevez plays a punk kid whose larcenous nature leads him to an entry-level position reclaiming cars from bad debtors. Stanton's his mentor. It's the sophomore effort for director Alex Cox, who gave the world Sid & Nancy two years later. Deep behind the scenes of this classic is Michael Nesmith, the only real musician in the Monkees, and the real inventor of the MTV-style music video format, with his legendary Elephant Parts (Pacific Arts, 1981). Repo Man plays at midnight Friday, 9/15 and Saturday, 9/16.

The tenth Madcat International Women's Film Festival continues with three screenings this week. Friday, 9/15, two documentaries explore Rural Women: Finding Independence. First is the U.S. premiere of Water and Atefeh, a 2001 mini-dv documentary from Iran about the struggles of a solitary woman, Atefeh, to maintain her small farm during a prolonged drought. Producer/director Nahid Rezaei studied film in Paris, and was once the director of the Iranian Documentary Filmmakers Society. Next is The Angelmakers, a 2005 Beta SP documentary from Hungary that probes the history of the village of Nagyrev. Astrid Bussink gets the residents to open up about a notorious event from 1929, when several women used arsenic to murder their husbands. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at Artists Television Access.

Tuesday, 9/19,
Madcat offers Motion Stopped: An Evening of Animation. The program is comprised of several short films, but the most intriguing is probably McLaren's Negatives (2006) by Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre. The film explores the nature of legendary Scottish abstract filmmaker Norman McLaren, using the same animation techniques that made his own films so distinctive. Québec native Saint-Pierre gained note with Post-Partum (2004) a documentary about the depression her mother experienced following her birth. Also noteworthy is Phantom Canyon (2006), animated from more than 4,000 separate collages, including images from Eadward Muybridge's Victorian-era photographic examination of human and animal motion, by Stacey Steers. The program starts at 8:30 p.m., pre-show barbecue at 6:30 p.m., at the El Rio.

Wednesday, 9/20,
Madcat presents Psycho Vision: 3D Hallucinations and the Vladmaster, a night of 3-D slides and 16mm movies. Claire and Don in Slumberland is a 30 minute combination of 3-D slides and 16mm film that explores the hyper-rationalism of the mid-20th century, using actual psychology films from 1949 to send two characters on a self-reflective 3-D journey of the soul. Created by Zoe Beloff, this experience looks very interesting. It's preceded by 16mm films from Beloff's own collection, including Dave Fleischer's Mysterious Mose, a 1930 Betty Boop cartoon, and Fleischer's Bubbles, a 1922 Koko the Clown exercise in surrealism. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., the barbecue at 6:30 p.m., at the El Rio.

An extremely rare silent film screens at the
Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Sunday, 9/17, at 5 p.m. The Sentimental Bloke (1919) is one of the few surviving silents from Australia. Based on a 1915 poem by Australian C. J. Dennis, the film follows a larrikin (ancient Australian for fun-loving guy) who vows to clean up his act when he falls for a fair damsel. This print is from a new negative combining elements from Australia and a negative found in the George Eastman House of Rochester, New York. Musical accompaniment is by Jon Anderson.


Anonymous Laura Shapiro said...

MoJo has a review of This Film Is Not Yet Rated in the September issue, and I've been very interested in seeing it. Wanna try catching it together this week/weekend? There's also a new film called Fuck which seems to tread similar ground, but I can't find any info on it, because Google inevitably turns up miles and miles of porn sites, as you might expect.

I'm sad not to be able to make some of the others you mentioned, especially Repo Man, which I've loved since it came out.

12:53 PM, September 14, 2006  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Movies just don't get much more fun than Repo Man .. what in the world ever happened to Alex Cox? It seems like he's been quiet for years now

3:34 PM, September 14, 2006  
Blogger HildrethR said...

Alex Cox is a very busy man. Well outside of the Hollywood mainstream. Check out He's currently seeking funding for an independent feature called Searchers 2.0. You can download FOR FREE a PDF of his book about spaghetti westerns, called 10,000 Ways to Die. There's information about a film he made in 2002 called Revengers Tragedy, based on an obscure Jacobean tragedy, with Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard that looks very interesting, indeed.

5:41 PM, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Laura Shapiro said...

Oh my goodness, that's great news about Alex Cox! I've always loved his work, but a film he directed with Eccleston and Izzard? Sign me up for that!

1:26 PM, September 15, 2006  
Blogger HildrethR said...

Revengers Tragedy is available in the U.S. as a region 1 DVD from Fantoma. It's probably at Le Video, Leather Tongue, Faye's and Lost Weekend in San Francisco. It is listed with Netflix, but GreenCine is a moderately better choice if you must drive nails into the coffin of the corner video store.

2:43 PM, September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Laura Shapiro said...

I know about GreenCine, but we don't belong to any video-by-mail services at this time. We just don't watch enough stuff for it to be practical.

For something like this, though, it might be worth the effort to get to Le Video.

3:55 PM, September 15, 2006  
Blogger HildrethR said...

Lost Weekend and Leather Tongue are both on Valencia Street. Faye's is on 18th Street near Valencia. All three are much closer to you than Le Video, and I'd bet at least one of them has it.

Support the locally-owned neighborhood video stores, before they've all gone the way of the video game parlors.

6:30 PM, September 15, 2006  
Blogger Gary said...

Quick correction- Peter Tork was also a "real" musician, a folkie who partnered up with a pre-Buffalo Springfield Stephen Stills (who tested for the part that eventually went to Tork).

Davy Jones, while not a musician of either Nesmith or Tork's stripe, was a successful musical theater star of London's West End. Which makes me question their theatrical taste almost as much as their cooking.

2:18 PM, October 01, 2006  

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