Thursday, September 21, 2006

Recommended Films: 9/21-9/27

THE THREE greatest comedians of the silent film era are quite distinct from each other:

Charlie Chaplin was a brilliant stage performer whose artistry blossomed within the boundaries of the silver screen.


Harold Lloyd's sheepish onscreen persona gave more power to the extreme physicality of his performance. His “aw-shucks” style also concealed the heart of a ruthless businessman.

Buster Keaton, like Chaplin, was a veteran of the vaudeville stage. Unlike Chaplin, Keaton was a a consummate tinkerer fascinated by locomotives and mechanical processes. He began his movie career by dismantling a camera to see how it worked.

Keaton's understanding of filmmaking as a mechanical process is on display this Sunday, 9/24, in Sherlock, Jr. (1924) at the
Pacific Film Archive. One of the greatest reflexive exercises in cinematic history, Sherlock, Jr. features Keaton as a small-town movie projectionist whose fascination with detective fiction, combines with his spurned affection for the local beauty (Kathryn McGuire) to create a fantasy in which Keaton enters the action he projects onscreen. The film contains many of the gags used in the Keaton family vaudeville act, and is both a technical and humorous marvel. It's part of The Mechanical Age series at the PFA, and it's in 35mm, starting at 4 p.m. An added treat is Broken Down Film (1985), an animated short by Osamu Tezuka—creator of Kimba the White Lion and Tetsuwan Atom, better known in the U.S. as Astro Boy.


Screening right after Sherlock, Jr. is another astonishingly reflexive film of the silent era, The Man With a Movie Camera (1929). Director
Dziga Vertov was the champion of Kino-Eye, a Soviet filmmaking philosophy that decried narrative structure and emphasized montage. The Man With a Movie Camera is Vertov's best-remembered work, and it's a breathtaking example of what cinema, unfettered by theatrical or literary expectations, can achieve. This is one of my Film 101 essential movies. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, 9/24, in 35mm from the PFA Collection. Judith Rosenberg accompanies the films on piano.

PFA CONTINUES its examination of pirates and piracy with Craig Baldwin's Sonic Outlaws (1995), Wednesday, 9/27, 7:30 p.m. Opening with Negativland's defeat in a copyright infringement case brought by liberal-outside-my-backyard-band U2, Baldwin traces the early history of musical mash-ups as a series of battles for maintaining creators' rights to fair use. It's shown in 16mm, from Baldwin himself. It screens with Uso Justo (2004), Coleman Miller's transformation of a 1950s Mexican soap opera into an experiment in experimental filmmaking. In Beta SP, from Miller's collection.

MUDDY WATERS was unquestionably, one of the greatest, perhaps THE greatest, blues guitarists of all time. As part of the San Francisco Blues Festival, the Roxie Cinema presents Muddy Waters Can't Be Satisfied, a documentary from 2005 by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. It took six years to complete the movie, which concentrates on telling Water's story through his music and interviews with performers he inspired, including Keith Richards and Bonnie Raitt.

On the same bill is
Always for Pleasure, Les Blank's 1978 documentary of New Orleans. Blank is one of the most exciting documentary makers of all time (his 1982 Burden of Dreams remains my favorite film about making a film), and seeing his 28-year-old take on the Big Easy should be especially poignant today. For more on this film, check out the sensational entry from 2005 at Hell on Frisco Bay, one of the best blogs about films in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Both films play for one week at the
Roxie Cinema starting Friday, 9/22, with matinees Saturday, 9/23, and Sunday, 9/24.

PETER WHITEHEAD gained fame turning his camera on England's rock 'n' roll scene during the 1960s. He turned heads in 1965 when he directed a documentary of Peter Brooks' The Benefit of the Doubt, a then-controversial play that obliquely criticized Great Britain's support of the United States' military adventure in Vietnam, using then-new experimental and agit-prop theater techniques. Whitehead put much of the original Royal Shakespeare Company production on film in color, interspersed with interviews of the cast and crew in black-and-white. It plays with The Fall, Whitehead's 1969 meditation on violence and society, featuring Robert Kennedy, Tom Hayden, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Arthur Miller and other bookmarks of the 1960s. Neither of these films get screened often, and they aren't available on DVD or VHS. See them at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Wednesday, 9/27, at 7:30 p.m.


THE MADCAT International Women's Festival shifts into high gear for the final screenings of its tenth season. First up is Maquilapolis: City of Factories (2006), “a documentary about (and by) workers in Tijuana's assembly factories, the maquiladoras,” according to the film's website. Coordinated by filmmaker Vicky Funari, artist Sergio De La Torre and Grupo Factor X, a Mexican women's rights organization, the film has its subjects turn the cameras on themselves, allowing the underpaid women who assemble the cheap consumer goods that North America's consumer lifestyle revolves around to tell their own stories. Among the stories:

Carmen, a single mother and one of the more than one million Mexicans employed at the maquiladoras, works making television components six nights a week for six dollars a day. She comes home to a shack she built out of recycled garage doors, in a neighborhood with no sewage lines or electricity. At 29, she already suffers from kidney damage and lead poisoning from her years of exposure to toxic chemicals.
The film is still being shot, even as it's being screened at various festivals throughout the U.S. and Mexico. It looks like an exciting opportunity to see the real results of the
North American Free Trade Agreement. It screens with South of Ten (2006), Liza Johnson's ten-minute presentation of ten vignettes about New Orleans after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 9/21, at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. It's also shown at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, 9/24, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.


MADCAT CONTINUES with Charming Augustine (2005), a 3-D surrealistic exercise based on photos and other records from a Parisian insane asylum of the 1880s. Filmmaker Zoe Beloff examines a case study of a Augustine, a 15-year-old suffering “hysterical paralysis,” drawing parallels between the illness and attempts to document it using the then-experimental techniques of moving pictures. It screens with Case History of a Multiple Personality (1923), a silent clinical film capturing the various personae of a patient attended by Dr. Cornelius C. Wholey, who made the film. See it Saturday, 9/23, 7:30 p.m., at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Tuesday, 9/26 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

AND DON'T FORGET to cast your
vote for the Roxie Cinema in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's version of American Idol: The Architectural Face-off.

Text copyright 2006 by Richard Hildreth. All rights reserved.

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