Recommended films 10-13-10/19
APOLOGIES TO THE three regular readers of this space. Yes, I'm terribly late this week. Not that it makes any difference, but I've been immersed in writing a somewhat scholarly (I actually use the word “performativity”!) paper on Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisá Bemberg's final film De eso no se habla (1993), studying for a mid-term exam, trying to nail down the details of my final thesis statement, and trying to log and transcribe three hours of footage I've done for a documentary proposal prior to handing it off to an editor (Hi, Laura!). I missed Special Agent LC's birthday celebration at The Girl Can't Help It! this past Wednesday, although I did manage to catch the movie on Tuesday—one of the more enjoyable viewing experiences I've had recently, thanks to the presence of Special Agents ES and GH, not to mention the spectral presence of the always delightful Julie London.
Let's just get right to this week's recommendations:
THE EVENT of the week is Rick Prelinger's presentation of industrial shorts, Spinning Up, Slowing Down: Industry Celebrates the Machine at the Pacific Film Archive Thursday, 10/19, 7 p.m. Prelinger is a San Franciscan who amassed a large collection of “mental hygiene” and industrial training and promotional films, creating what is now called the Prelinger Archive. The folks at Mystery Science Theater 3000 frequently tapped the archive for mid-20th century short gems like Jam Handy's Hired! (for General Motors, 1940), Kling Films' Mr. B Natural (for Conn, Ltd., 1957), and the unintentionally creepy Simmel-Meservey classroom instructional short A Date With Your Family (for Encyclopedia Britannica, 1950). These films are an unheralded treasure trove of history, providing a surprisingly frank view of how Americans of the 1940s through the 1960s viewed themselves—not as they were, but as they might be if they could shape their society to their wishes. Ken Smith assembled a monumental catalog of these films, with insightful commentary, Mental Hygiene (Blast Books, 1999).
As part of PFA's The Mechanical Age, Prelinger presents six short films about the United States' relationship with industrial machinery:
(Adapted from Prelinger's notes.) Precisely So (Jam Handy Organization for Chevrolet, 1937, 2 mins, closing segment, Beta SP) is a stop-motion paean to precision.
Mechanical puppets offer a lesson in free enterprise in Round and Round (Jam Handy for GM Public Relations Staff, 1939, 6 mins, Beta SP).
Pennsylvania steel mills shut down in Valley Town (Willard Van Dyke for Educational Film Institute of NYU and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 1940, 24 mins, Beta SP), leaving behind a bleak post-industrial landscape filled with human detritus.
Conquer by the Clock (Slavko Vorkapich for RKO-Pathé, 1943, 11 mins, 16mm) shows World War II production in full swing just three years later, with workers and fighters rhythmically coordinated minute-by-minute in a prefiguration of today's Internet-synchronized world.
We end with Jam Handy's industrial symphony and tour de force Master Hands (for Chevrolet, 1936, 33 mins, 35mm), a newly preserved Wagnerian epic showing the making of Chevrolets from foundry to final assembly.
This is, hands down, my top pick of this week.
WHEN TELEVISION reduced attendance at motion picture theaters during the 1950s, Hollywood responded with technology: stereo sound, different widescreen formats, and 3-D—the illusion of depth produced by viewing two similar images through polarized lenses. There was cheap 3-D, using one strip of double-exposed film and red-blue glasses, which produced headaches and rarely worked. There was expensive 3-D, using two different strips of film projected simultaneously, and transparent, polarized lenses, which produced fewer headaches, and worked more often than the cheap version. 3-D never really caught on, despite frequent attempts to revive it (last summer's fluffy popcorn confection, Superman Returns, had a 3-D sequence inserted for screenings at IMAX theaters).
A few years back, the Castro Theatre installed the equipment required to project the expensive, dual-strip 3-D process, and they're presenting some genuine and ironic classics this week:
Saturday, 10/14: The Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy! With Creature-bait Julie Adams and the man-in-the-suit himself, Ben Chapman, in person for both the matinee and evening shows. It all starts at noon for the daytime event, and at 7 p.m. for those who like it darker outside. Unfortunately, the third picture, The Creature Walks Among Us, will be presented from a digital source, and will not be in 3-D. But the first two (which are much better films anyway) are in glorious dual-system 3-D and black-and-white!
Sunday, 10/15: One of the most fun, cheesy 3-D horror flicks of all time, Andre de Toth's House of Wax (1953), with Vincent Price at the top of his scenery-chewing form, at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. With the lesser but still fun Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), directed by Roy Del Ruth, with Karl Malden's nose leaping from the screen into your lap, at 4:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.
Tuesday, 10/17: Tonight's menu features lots of sliced American cheese. Gorilla at Large (1954) features Lee J. Cobb investigating brutal murders at a circus where the gorilla is the chief suspect. It also features Raymond Burr and Lee Marvin. In eye-popping Technicolor, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. With one of the most disturbing 1950s sci-fi flicks aimed at kids ever made: Robot Monster (1953). This one has to be seen to be disbelieved. If the bizarrely incestuous bondage sequences disturb you, just reflect on the wondrous spectacle of the 3-D bubble machine. A-wunnerful, a-wunnerful! In shamefully grainy black-and-white at 8:40 p.m.
Wednesday, 10/18: Cheesy sci-fi and horror take a backseat to the cheesecake of Ann Miller in the MGM musical Kiss Me Kate (1953). Incorporating and spinning off Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, this is a breathtaking spectacle in 3-D Ansocolor. With the Three Stooges' 3-D short, Pardon My Backfire (1953), both at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Thursday, 10/19: The 3-D series ends with a sci-fi classic, It Came From Outer Space (1953), at 7 p.m. With the sci-fi “klassic” Cat-Women of the Moon, featuring Sonny Tufts and film noir icon Marie Windsor.
MORE HALLOWEEN season cheese is available at Oakland's Parkway Theater, Thursday, 10/19, 7:30 p.m., as Will the Thrill and Monica Tiki Goddess introduce the splendidly awful Spanish-German co-production La Noche de Walpurgis (Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women, 1971) and the wonderfully wretched Filipino abomination Beast of the Yellow Night (1971). With apperances by Mister Lobo and The Devil-Ettes.