Tuesday, April 14, 2009
With the 52nd SF International Film Festival looming large in the weeks ahead, it's seems almost gluttonous to be peering past May 7. But several Bay Area venues and festivals have announced upcoming film programs which merit an immediate look-see.
Just when you thought Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) film/video curator Joel Shepard couldn't possibly top the giddy diversity of his recent programming, he marshals a line-up like this one. I zeroed right in on two important films I'd hoped to find in the SFIFF, but didn't – Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day and Philippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn. Like Asian directors Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiou-hsien before him, Korean director Hong has sent his characters on a sojourn to Paris. Night and Day's protagonist is said to be typically Hong-ian; a cluelessly boorish 45-year-old married artist who flees a messy drug scandal in Seoul, only to entangle himself with several younger female Korean ex-pats in the City of Lights. (May 21, 22 and 24)
Following through on last year's double bill of Philippe Garrel rarities I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore and The Virgin's Bed, YBCA now brings us the director's 2008 Cannes competition entry Frontier of Dawn. As with 2005's Regular Lovers, Garrel is working once more in B&W and with his impossibly handsome son, Louis. Garrel fils stars as a photographer hired to shoot an unhinged actress with whom he falls in love. She ends up in the nuthouse and commits suicide, and a year later her ghost impedes on his relationship with a new woman. The film has gotten very mixed reactions as it's traveled the fest circuit, so I'm grateful to YBCA for giving me the chance to see for myself. (And perhaps if we're lucky, YBCA will get around to bringing us Louis Garrel's second outing with director Christophe Honoré, 2008's La belle personne.) (May 14 and 17)
In the documentary The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry, directors Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough profile one of contemporary music's undisputed geniuses. Perry was instrumental in transforming Jamaican ska into the music we know as reggae, as well as being sole creator of the stripped-down, reverb-heavy sound known as dub. He produced many of the greats, from Bob Marley to The Clash, as well as his own legacy of solo sonic experimentations (earning him the nickname "The Salvador Dali of Reggae.") Unfortunately, it's a musical success story that devolves all too familiarly into a tale of drug abuse and madness. (April 24 and 25)
YBCA has become renowned for its multifarious rep programming, and there are some real lulus this time out – all presented in 35mm prints. First up this Saturday, April 18 is Cinemapolalypse, a double-feature one-night tour stop by the folks at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. They'll be screening 1976's Jack Palance-starring Italian gangster flick Mister Scarface, as well as the Citizen Kane of women's prison movies, 1983's Chained Heat. (The following night, the Alamo Drafthouse moves over to the Castro Theater for a quadruple feature, co-presented by Midnites for Maniacs. Titled Fighting Back…in the 80's, the program consists of Vigilante, Raw Force, Escape from New York and Lady Terminator.)
Francine Parker's F.T.A. (a.k.a. Free the Army or Fuck the Army) documents Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland's tour of Pacific Rim army bases during the height of the Vietnam War. Accompanied by other actors and musicians like Peter Boyle, Steve Jaffe and Holly Near, their satiric sketch comedy/musical revue aimed at getting soldiers to speak out against the war. Interestingly, the film opened in U.S. theaters the same week Fonda made her infamous trip to Hanoi. It was "mysteriously" yanked from cinemas after a seven-day run and made to disappear – until now. F.T.A. screens on May 7 as part of a program called Coming Apart: Two Views of 1972; that other view being Wes Craven's original Last House on the Left (May 9).
Arguably the most anticipated film at this year's Cannes Film Festival (and to the best of my knowledge, the only thing that's been definitely announced so far) is Quentin Tarantino's remake of the cult WWII action adventure flick The Inglorious Bastards with Brad Pitt. Days after either winning or not winning the Palme d'or, YBCA audiences will have a rare opportunity to see the 1978 original starring Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson. This first version is about a gang of condemned army criminals who get a shot at redemption – by volunteering for a commando suicide mission behind enemy lines. (May 29 and 31). Finally (and totally unrelated) on May 30 YBCA presents a program of classic Laurel and Hardy shorts, including Men O'War, Their First Mistake and Busy Bodies.
Over the past year the SF Museum of Modern Art has become an increasingly important venue for Bay Area repertory programming, featuring both themed series (May '68, Dystopia) and comprehensive tributes (Derek Jarman, Chantal Akerman). Up next is a two-month retrospective of maverick photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank, arguably best known for his 1972 Rolling Stones tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. SFMOMA's tribute to Frank includes 18 of the 21 films listed in his imdb profile – but alas, Cocksucker isn't one of them. The film last screened here at the 1998 SFIFF with Frank in person, a stipulation that was part of the director's original court settlement with the Stones over copyright ownership. The film series appears in conjunction with a SFMOMA exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Americans, Frank's seminal work of American photography. The exhibit will feature all 83 photographs from the book (out of the 28,000 he took while traveling across the U.S. from 1955 to 1957), exhibited in the order in which they appeared therein. The film retrospective runs from May 2 to June 27, and the exhibit Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans" can be seen from May 16 to August 23. In other exciting museum film news, the Nagisa Oshima retrospective that's been touring North America for the past year is finally coming to the Berkeley Art Museum's Pacific Film Archive Archive in May/June.
The Frameline festival and SF Jewish Film Festival have recently revealed tidbits of what we might expect from their annual events in June and July respectively. Getting my attention big-time was the announcement that Little Joe, the Joe Dallesandro documentary which had its world premiere at Berlin, will get a Frameline screening with Joe himself in attendance. Also expected are new films from inveterate Frameline favorites John Greyson, Monika Treut, and duo Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau. Some personal anticipated highlights of the SFJFF are Empty Nest, the latest from Argentine director Daniel Burman (Family Law, Lost Embrace), and Defamation, another controversial work from Israeli documentarian Yoav Shamir (Checkpoint, Flipping Out). The festival's Freedom of Expression Award will go to Aviva Kempner (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg) and there'll be a tribute to the Ma'aleh Jerusalem film school.