Friday, May 28, 2010
It's been three weeks since the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) ended, and partly because of a distraction named Cannes, it's taken me this long to assemble a parting overview. I've already written about the films I saw before the festival and a few that were associated with this year's special events. Now here are star ratings and some brief commentary for the other 30 films I (mostly) had the pleasure of watching from April 22 to May 6, 2010. For no particular good reason, they're listed in the order I saw them.
Nymph **** (Thailand dir. Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
My festival got off to a fine start with this metaphysical fable about the primal force of human sexual desire. It begins with a stupefying tracking shot that rushes through and above the jungle, and its unnervingly eerie, musique-concrète sound design was the most memorable I'd hear during the fest. A main character's speech in the final reel, however, brings things back to earth and slightly diminishes the overall effect.
My Dog Tulip *** (USA dir. Paul and Sandra Fierlinger)
I'm not so much into animation, but SFIFF programmer Sean Uyehara recommended this for people who don't like dogs and that would be me. I was entertained by this acerbic man-dog love story by gay British writer J.R. Ackerley, who once wrote "Unable to love each other, the English naturally turn to dogs." The film is made of an amazing 800,000 single cell drawings in different animation styles, and producer Norman Twain was on hand to talk about getting his friends Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini to do the voices.
Around a Small Mountain ** (France/Italy dir. Jacques Rivette)
I hated the opening scene in which Sergio Castellitto silently repairs Jane Birkin's broken down car (later I'd learn that particular scene was everyone else's favorite). I struggled to remain conscious for at least another 10 minutes after that, before succumbing to temptation and conking out. It wasn't the first Rivette film to put me to sleep, but at age 82 – Rivette's age, not mine – it might be the last. At least now I was rested and invigorated for my two evening films, both of which I'd been highly anticipating.
Between Two Worlds *** (Sri Lanka dir. Kumukthi Jayasundara)
I flipped when I learned the festival had programmed this, as I loved The Forsaken Land, the director's Cannes Camera d'or-winning first feature. His new film is another poetic string of disturbing imagery, much of it colored by his country's lengthy civil war. Oddly, though, it seemed less mature and cohesive than his debut. The director was on hand, reluctantly revealing that the titular two worlds represent city vs. forest, imagined world vs. reality.
The White Meadows **** (Iran dir. Mohammad Rasoulof)
From the director of 2005's acclaimed Iron Island comes this fanciful political allegory that's every bit as original and arresting as its predecessor. Trading that film's abandoned Persian Gulf oil tanker for the blinding, chalk white islands of Iran's Lake Urmia, we travel with a boatman who collects the tears of the lake's inhabitants. Rasoulof's societal critiques, a mix of obtuse and obvious (at least to western viewers), were enough to land him a stint in the same prison as filmmaker Jafar Panahi.
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky **** (France dir. Jan Kounen)
This was a fairly standard biopic depicting the years during which Coco and Igor's lives converged, with enough stylistic flourishes to make it interesting. The film's beginning, in which we get to relive the riotous 1913 Parisian premiere of "The Rite of Spring," was perhaps the most thrilling 20 minutes of entire festival. The art direction and costume design are to die for, as is Mads Mikkelsen's butt and Anna Mouglalis' no-nonsense portrayal of Coco (the actress would turn up later as chanteuse Juliette Gréco in Gainsbourg (Je t'aime, moi non plus).
Domain **** (France dir. Patric Chiha)
Personal fave Béatrice Dalle shreds the screen as a rapidly descending alcoholic mathematician in a film written specifically for her by first-time director Chiha. We witness her decline through the eyes of a gay teenage nephew who makes a compelling and controversial moral choice in the final reel. Unfortunately, the screening was nearly ruined by a festival VIP and two gal pals who jabbered at each other and at the screen itself, while frequently checking their phones for what I'm sure were very important messages. Grrrrrrrrr.
Cold Weather **** (USA dir. Aaron Katz)
Experience has made me leery of most American independent films, but this fresh, character-driven piece about sister-brother amateur sleuths in Portland had many charms. Those included clever dialogue, an interesting percussive score, gorgeous Red One videography and nifty performances – particularly by NYC stage actor/playwright Raúl Castillo as the siblings' partner in crime-solving. The image quality was above average for digital projection, but still flawed, i.e. slow camera pans had a stuttering quality. Katz' 2006 Dance Party, USA just got booted to the top of my Netflix queue.
Everyone Else **** (Germany dir. Maren Ade)
This has got be the all-time Date Movie From Hell. A lot of people hated it, but I think they confused hatred of the characters for hatred of the film itself. For two hours we watch in prickly detail as the relationship between a painfully flawed young couple comes apart during a Sardinian holiday. Ade's screenplay is flat-out brilliant, as are the two lead performances.
Way of Nature *** (Sweden dir. Nina Hedenius)
I wasn't hepped-up about seeing this narration-and-dialogue-free documentary about one year in the life of a remote Swedish farm, which is perhaps why I unconsciously got the start time wrong and arrived 30 minutes late. Then I napped through much of what remained. I liked what little I saw, but Green Acres ain't the place for me.
14-18: The Noise and the Fury **** (France/Belgium dir. Jean-François Delassus)
This scathing examination of the wholesale human slaughter that was WWI was one of two great French documentaries I'd see during the fest. Some objected to the colorization, lip-synched dialogue and addition of ambient sound to the archival footage, but I thought it gave those materials greater immediacy. I'm more sympathetic to complaints about the English language voiceover – the film is narrated by a fictitious French soldier – but I got used to it quickly. What didn't quite work for me was the insertion of clips from more current narrative features about that war.
Soul Kitchen ** (Germany dir. Fatih Akin)
I really wanted to love this restaurant comedy which stars my two favorite German actors and is directed by my favorite German filmmaker. It had a manic energy and you could tell everyone involved had a blast making it, but man was this thing ever broad and predictable. I hope director Akin got it out of his system and will return to making complex dramas like Head-On and The Edge of Heaven. For what it's worth, many I know got the biggest kick out of this one.
Frontier Blues ** (Iran/England/Italy dir. Babak Jalali)
Apart from showing me slices of life in a faraway place – in this case the mundane goings-on of an Iran-Turkmenistan border town – I was diverted but untaken by this series of revolving deadpan vignettes. The festival's FIPRESCI jury disagreed and gave the film its award. Phantoms of 1960s French pop music popped up throughout the festival, here in the form of Françoise Hardy's "Tous les garçons and les filles" being repeatedly played on one character's cassette player.
Colony * (USA/Ireland dir. Ross McDonnell, Carter Gunn)
I urgently wanted to see a documentary about the scary phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but instead saw this film about the trials and tribulations of a bible-thumping family of Mennonite beekeepers. Perhaps at this point, too little is known about CCD to fill a feature-length doc? This film does have some good info, but to my surprise, not a word about the existence of CCD outside the USA.
Linha de Passe **** (Brazil dir. Walter Salles)
Why did this gritty and humane film about a São Paolo maid and her four sons take two full years to reach the Bay Area, especially in light of having a well known director and a best actress prize from the 2008 Cannes Film Festival? I would have asked Salles myself, but he didn't return for a post-screening Q&A. At any rate, well worth the long wait.
Wild Grass *** (France/Italy dir. Alain Resnais)
For a good half hour I thought this might end up being my favorite film of the festival, or who knows, perhaps of the year. I had a grin on my face brought on by enigmatic characters, a who-knows-where-this-might- go storyline, candy-colored cinematography, swooping crane shots, a jazzy Mark Snow (The X-Files) score and other delights. By the final reel, however, its increasingly cock-eyed antics caused my admiration to flag.
White Material ** (France dir. Claire Denis)
This was the first time I couldn't engage myself with a Claire Denis film on any level, except perhaps, in its sheer absurdity. A friend called it "unfelt." I'm willing to concede that I just didn't get it. It was a hoot watching Isabelle Huppert drive a tractor and I certainly dug the Nicolas Duvauxchelle nude scene. In a festival first, at least for me, the person intro-ing the film got hooted off the stage by an audience anxious to get on with it.
Vengeance *** (Hong Kong/China dir. Johnnie To)
Despite some amusing set pieces and a stoic, stony performance from 1960's French rock n' roll idol Johnny Hallyday, this was pretty ludicrous and did little to reignite my waning interest in Asian genre films.
Gainsbourg (Je t'aime…moi non plus) ***** (France dir. Joann Sfar)
By far my favorite film in the festival, this was the thrilling E-ticket ride for which I wanted to jump back in line and go again and again. In his filmmaking debut, graphic novelist Sfar takes key moments from Serge Gainsbourg's life and turns them into richly-conceived mythical fantasias, aided in no small part by an astounding lead performance by Eric Elmosino. My obsession for the man's music no doubt colored my appreciation. Unfortunately, at the beginning and end of each reel change in the Kabuki Theater's House 5, the sound would completely cut out for several excruciatingly long seconds. I wanted to scream.
Susa *** (Georgia dir. Rusudan Pirveli)
The spirit of neo-realism was evident in two fest films I caught, one being this grim, affecting look at a youngster forced to work as delivery boy for a bootleg vodka distillery. It reminded me a good deal of the Dardenne Brothers' Rosetta, but without that film's ultimate suggestion of hope.
Ordinary People *** (Serbia/France/Switzerland dir. Vladimir Perisic)
I appreciated this film because it portrayed Balkans-style ethnic cleansing in a way I hadn't previously conceived of – slow, systematic and banal. Unfortunately, the lead actor was unable to bring any interest to the long close-ups of his character lost in thought. Mercifully short at 80 minutes.
La Pivellina **** (Italy/Austria dir. Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel)
An extended family of benevolent small-time circus performers (think spinning plates and trained goats) take in an adorable, abandoned two-year-old girl in the festival's other nod to neo-realism. The naturalistic performances by the non-pro cast were almost shocking in their unselfconsciousness. A real gem.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno **** (France dir. Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea)
I was so exhausted from being out until 3 a.m. – thank you Peaches Christ – that I feared I might not be able to stay awake through this. Not even close. This tantalizing and expertly assembled doc examines what happens when a brilliant director gives himself freedom to run amok and brilliantly fails. I'd happily watch it again just for Clouzot's downright freaky camera experiments, Romy Schneider's wardrobe tests and mustachioed Jean-Claude Bercq in a swimsuit.
Lourdes *** (France/Austria/Germany dir. Jessica Hausner)
While I was intrigued by the issues of faith raised in this tale – an essentially non-believing, wheelchair-bound young woman goes to Lourdes for a miracle and gets one – what really grabbed me was its detailed portrait of Lourdes itself as tourist destination/miracle factory.
Alamar **** (Mexico dir. Pedro González-Rubio)
This wasn't my favorite of the dozen films in competition for the festival's New Director's Prize, but it's a choice I'm happy with. What I liked most was the refreshing lack of any drama or conflict whatsoever. It's just a gorgeously filmed, tender narrative about a young boy spending one final summer on the Yucatan coast with his fishermen father and grandfather.
Lebanon *** (Israel dir. Samuel Maoz)
Winner of the top prize at last year's Venice Film Festival, this intense anti-war film is set completely inside a crippled Israeli tank stuck in enemy territory during the 1982 Lebanese War. Director Maoz based the film on his own experiences in the war known as Israel's Vietnam, and in introducing the film told us which character represented himself. It's a powerful work, if a bit heavy-handed and manipulative when it doesn't need to be.
Woman on Fire Looks for Water *** (Malaysia/South Korea dir. Woo Ming-jin)
This was a perfectly fine, laconic and bittersweet tale of folks who make a living from river wildlife harvesting. I'd never seen a live frog get its head cut off with scissors before and will be quite happy if I never do again. The washed-out digital projection at the Clay Theater made me wish I'd watched it on DVD screener.
Last Train Home **** (China/Canada dir. Lixin Fan)
I was expecting a documentary about the world's largest human migration, an annual phenomenon in which 130 million Chinese workers return home for New Year. What I saw instead was a moving film about the dark side of China's economic miracle, specifically, what happens when parents work for many years in factories thousands of miles away from their children. Few images in the festival were as disturbing as this one's father/daughter Springer-esque slugfest. Or as harrowing as the family's five-day wait in an insanely mobbed Guangzhou train station. Director Lixin Fan was on hand to give a revelatory Q&A.
Winter's Bone *** (USA dir. Debra Granik)
While the film takes place in the US, its setting amongst the rural poor of the Ozark Mountains is as exotic as any Iranian salt lake or Thai jungle. It's a place where kids get lessons in skinning and frying up squirrels. And where weather-beaten women throw a mean punch and your Uncle Teardrop is never without his baggie full of blow. In this absorbing, Sundance Jury Prize-winning film, a 17-year-old girl has one week to track down her meth-cooking father or lose the house she shares with her out-of-it Mom and two siblings. I liked everything, but was uneasy about Jennifer Lawrence's lead performance which too often rendered her character snotty and petulant, as opposed to the gutsy and determined I think she was aiming for.
Hadejwich ** (France dir. Bruno Dumont)
I hoped this might be the film to bring me back into the Dumont fold, after the disappointments of Twentynine Palms and Flanders. Alas, this alternately bland and overheated story of religious nuts of different feathers flocking together didn't do it.
The Little White Cloud That Cried! *** (Germany dir. Guy Maddin)
This is a short Maddin created for a Jack Smith tribute in Germany last year. I couldn't see it as part of the festival's Pirate Utopias shorts program, so I watched it in the press screening room (essentially four computer viewing stations set up in the Kabuki's house 8). Once the XXX-rated tranny porn kicked in, I made sure to keep my hands where everyone could see them.
Friday, May 14, 2010
The 53rd edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) came to a close on May 6, having sold out 92 screenings during its successful 15-day run. While I'm still mulling over the three dozen films I saw during those two weeks – all of which I hope to write about – here's a look back at five of this year's special events.
I've been coming to the SFIFF for a few decades now, and 2010 was only the second time I've attended the opening night festivities. Someday I might feel blasé about the event, but for now I can't help but get caught up in the glamour of it all. My suit came out of the closet for the first time since last year's opening night, and despite a major MUNI snafu I was second in line and able to secure myself a choice, unreserved aisle seat in the Castro Theater. After perusing the contents of my goodie bag – which I placed under my seat and regrettably forgot at evening's end – I spent 90 minutes chatting with friends who were equally amped up for two weeks of movies, movies, movies.
The program started 20 minutes late, presumably to accommodate late arrivals from the aforementioned MUNI delay. Late that afternoon, a man either jumped or fell onto the Castro St. Station subway tracks and was killed, effectively terminating all train service until mid-evening. Finally at 7:20 p.m., SF Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat took the stage and welcomed everyone, reminding us that this was his fifth year at the festival's helm – "the best five years of my life." The resounding applause and cheers hopefully told Leggat that the feeling is mutual.
(Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet considers having his nails done while his film Micmacs screens at the opening night of the SFIFF. Photo by Pamela Gentile)
This year's opening night film was Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs, which the director assured us had nothing to do with Big Macs, and everything to do with his new favorite English word, shenanigans. I've enjoyed all of Jeunet's films, except the one everybody adores (yes, Amelie, I'm talking about you). Reviews for Micmacs have been mixed, but it turned out to be a perfect opening night film – inventive, fast-paced, comical, crowd pleasing. I couldn't remember much about it the next day, but I did recall how much fun I had while watching it. After the screening, the festival's new Director of Programming Rachel Rosen interviewed Jeunet and conducted an audience Q&A. We learned that the director "wanted to put everything I love in this film," which ranged from animator Tex Avery to Mission Impossible, and that he's "not interested in realism." When asked if he might ever work again with Marc Caro (co-director of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children), Jeunet diplomatically replied, "it's so good to work alone." With the final question, Jeunet got off the best line of the evening in regards to Micmacs poor reception on his home front: "In France they love to hate what they loved before." With that, the ebullient crowd adjourned to the Regency Center for a swinging after-party. The nibbly things I sampled there were delicious, and I washed them down with the beer everyone who frequents Landmark Theaters loves to hate.
I hadn't attended the festival's Founder's Directing Award program since it was given to Arturo Ripstein in 1999 (when it was still known as the Akira Kurosawa Award). In the interim years I've skipped honorees both deserving (Coppola, Leigh, Lee, Herzog, Forman, Altman, Kiarostami) and imho, questionable (Eastwood, Beatty, Hackford). When I unexpectedly found myself with a free night on April 28, I high-tailed it over to the Sundance Kabuki Cinema for this year's tribute to Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central Station, The Motorcycle Diaries).
Firstly, I wish someone had clued me in on how handsome this guy is so I could have ogled him from the front row. But from my seat in the Kabuki's large House One it was easy to perceive the man's warmth and self-effacing intelligence. The evening began with introductory remarks by Leggat, followed by a clips reel of career highlights. Then came the on-stage conversation with Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who started things off by saying, "Let's put the guns down before we start, and talk about the sex life of Mr. Walter Salles." Hear, hear! I loved hearing about Salles' early life as a diplomat's son living atop a Parisian arthouse theater. 12-year-old Walter frequented that cinema so often, the ticketseller began letting him in for free. But he longed for Brazil: "I hated the drizzle, the cold, the croissants." During the talk it was also revealed that Salles spent a full year casting the boy in Central Station , that Latin Americans do not make good genre films (i.e. his own remake of Hideo Nakata's Dark Water), and that Argentina currently has the strongest cinema in Latin America (little to argue about there). He also acknowledged that "Antonioni is the director who brought me to cinema," specifically 1975's The Passenger.
(Directors Walter Salles and Alejandro González Iñárritu at the SFIFF's Founder's Directing Award program. Photo by Pamela Gentile)
Before getting to the evening's main event, Salles shared a short film that had been screened only once before – for the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. In it, he addresses his six-month-old son, saying, "If I could choose just one film for you to see before any other, it would be this one." Then we saw an infant entranced by Chaplin dancing with the globe balloon in The Great Dictator. Salles remarked that they screened a DVD projection for the first take, and his son just wasn't interested. For the second take they projected it in 35mm and this time he became fully engaged by Chaplin's antics. What a smart, discerning kid!
As a special treat made exclusively for the SFIFF, Salles next showed us a one-hour work-in-progress documentary about his efforts to film Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." It was edited in just one week from 100 hours of mini-DV and super-8 interview and location footage. Salles, who first read the book as a 15-year-old, feared that showing an incomplete film about The Beats in San Francisco might be a "suicidal act," but the festival audience ate it up. In its current state, the film gives an impressionistic overview of Kerouac's work and the times from which it sprang. An off-camera Matt Dillon intermittently reads passages from the book, and contemporary figures ranging from Laurie Anderson to Johnny Depp to David Byrne reflect on its influence. There are terrific interviews with key players who are still with us (Michael McClure, Carolyn Cassady), as well as vintage screen tests by Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd, Mathew McConaughey and others made for a previous attempt at filming the book. Directors as diverse as D.A. Pennebaker and Jean-Luc Godard have been interested in the project, but based on the evidence presented that night, Salles is clearly the man for the job. Indeed just one week after this event, it was announced that shooting for Salles' On the Road (the narrative feature) will begin in August. The next day at the festival, Salles would conduct a master class, as well as introduce a screening of his 2008 film, Linha de Passe.
On Saturday, May 1st, I must have changed my mind a dozen times. Should I spend the early evening at the Kabuki watching a French orangutan documentary (Nenette) and a Brazilian movie (The Famous and the Dead) before heading over to the Castro for the late-night world premiere of All About Evil? Or should I catch Roger Ebert receiving this year's Mel Novikoff Award at the Castro. I chose the latter and it turned out to be a smart move. The combination of Roger Ebert and Peaches Christ made for one of the most fabulous evenings I've experienced in 35 years of attending this festival.
Ebert and his wife Chaz were brought onstage and seated while four directors delivered heartfelt and hilarious tributes to the man they call "The Thumb." Terry Zwigoff recalled Ebert being the first person in line for a 1985 Telluride screening of Louis Bluie, and later sold him a soundtrack LP in the theater lobby. He also told a great story about a Crumb test screening. The audience survey cards were overwhelming negative – they thought the storyline about brother Charles should be dropped – so Zwigoff "fixed" the cards with the help of Wite-Out and a late-night trip to Kinko's. Ebert would become a steadfast champion of the film, going so far as to record a commentary track for the DVD release (much of which would be used for the text-to-speech software that allows the now "speechless" Ebert to speak through a computer.) Next, documentarian Errol Morris called Ebert, "not just a film critic, but a cultural icon." He was followed by Jason Reitman who, commenting upon Ebert's social networking prowess, declared "I know teenage girls who tweet less than Robert Ebert." Reitman would also add that, "It's hard to put Roger Ebert's work into context when it's him who puts us into context."
(Terry Zwigoff, Jason Reitman, Roger Ebert, Errol Morris and Philip Kaufman at the festival's Mel Novikof Award program. Photo by Pamela Gentile)
Last up was Philip Kaufman, who took a seat next to Ebert and Chaz and read a mayoral proclamation declaring May 1, 2010 "Roger Ebert Day" in San Francisco. Then the man himself fired up his laptop and brought the house down with his first sentence, "My little man is standing on his chair and applauding." The rest of Ebert's speech railed against Hollywood's current output of sequels and so-called blockbusters ("The studios are running like lemmings to 3-D") while films like Erick Zonka's Julia, featuring a tour de force performance by Tilda Swinton, gross a measly $65,000 in U.S. release. (Locally, the film ran for one week last summer on the SF Film Society's Kabuki Screen before moving over to the Roxie). The tribute audience then got to see and judge Julia for itself, having been specifically chosen by Ebert to accompany his appearance at the festival. A letter of regret from Swinton was read to the crowd – she had hoped to attend the screening but was stuck filming on the East coast. I was thrilled to watch it a second time, especially on the Castro's big screen. It's a tough little film and there were a few walkouts, but the applause at the end was booming.
I darted out of the Castro and was greeted by the sight of blood-splattered klieg lights clawing the night sky. Then I noticed a dead body flopped across the base of the lights and a ticketholders line already around the block a full two hours before showtime. This could only mean one thing – the world premiere of Peaches Christ's All About Evil! From my vantage point in the press line, I was able to watch the red carpet parade of outlandish costumes and mile-high hairdos, praying that none of those 'dos ended up sitting in front of me. (This was a movie theater, after all, and not a planetarium.) As Peaches would remark at some point in the evening ("Peaches" being the beloved late-night movie hostess alter-ego of one Joshua Grannell), a movie only gets one world premiere. And boy did he/she pull out the stops to ensure All About Evil's would be momentous.
(Peaches Christ (aka director Joshua Grannell) is flanked by evil twin usherettes Jade and Nikita Ramsey. Photo by Pat Mazzera)
The All About Evil preshow consisted of no less than four musical production numbers, the first one featuring Peaches and a dozen pom-pom shaking monstrosities performing, "I'm a Gore-Gore Girl." Afterwards, she threatened the audience with a three-hour preshow in which she would single-handedly act out the entire movie onstage. Next she brought out All About Evil cast member Mink Stole and the duo croaked out the theme song from John Water's film, Female Trouble. Peaches and Mink go way back, the latter having been the first "celebrity" to appear at Peaches' Midnight Mass film series at San Francisco's Bridge Theater. Waters was also in the house that night and stood for a round of applause. Teen heartthrob and All About Evil co-star Thomas Dekker was next on board, performing the movie's rocking theme song, "Welcome to the Horror Show." Then Natasha Lyonne, who stars as mousy theater-owner turned murderous film director Deborah Tennis (pronounced De-BOR-ah Ten-NIS) wrapped things up with a final number.
After all that hullabaloo, one almost expected the film itself to be anti-climactic. But no, All About Evil delivered the sicko thrills and chills. Two scenes in particular had all 1400 audience members screaming their collective heads off in disbelief, and neither was the film-within-the-film, A Tale of Two Severed Titties. By the time the Q&A wrapped up – with Peaches now out of drag and onstage as plain old Joshua Grannell – it was two in the morning. Everyone was handed a commemorative All About Evil world premiere poster upon exiting the theater, which I'll surely treasure for the rest of my days. It was Saturday night and the Castro Street bars were emptying out – a phenomenon I hadn't witnessed in many years. I was satisfied and spent and had no hope of making it to the next morning's surprise SF Film Society members screening.
If you weren't there that night, here's good news. Comes October, Peaches will be presenting the film, complete with a preshow, at San Francisco's Victoria Theater (where All About Evil was actually filmed). She promises a full-on William Castle-like experience – I think her exact words were "we're gonna stab you and chainsaw you." Meanwhile, check out Dennis Harvey's recollection of the evening at SF360, and don't miss The Evening Class' Michael Guillén and his interviews with Grannell, special effects artist Aurora Bergere and five cast members. Now for a special treat, the evening's complete opening number.
I spent the next few days singing, "I'm a gore, I'm a whore, I'm a gore-gore girl" and desperately needed a new earworm. One came in the form of the rousing and repetitive chorus that greeted each new chapter of Stuart Paton's 1916 silent screen adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This May 4 Castro Theater screening was also the world premiere of a new score composed and performed by The Magnetic Fields' frontman Stephin Merritt, with help from Daniel Handler on accordion, David Hegarty on the Castro's Mighty Wurlitzer and a gentleman playing tuba and trumpet. Merritt was clearly having a goof with it, blending his customary old-timey vibe with injections of electronic bleeping and screechy freakouts. Speaking and singing through megaphones, Handler gave voice to the female roles in an abrasive Olive Oyl-y falsetto while Merritt handled the male parts in a low register that was mostly inaudible. The film itself is kind of unremarkable – a flatly directed mash-up of Verne's "20,000 Leagues" and "The Mysterious Island," with underwater photography that was stunning for its time but is now merely quaint. Merritt exploited the film's campier aspects, such as a sarong-clad "child of nature" who sings a ditty about not wanting to wear pants and who turns out to be Captain Nemo's long lost daughter. I thought it was all good-natured fun and Merritt's legion of fans seemed satisfied, but I know some likened the performance to a bad episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was glad I went, but it paled compared to last year when Dengue Fever blew the dome off the Castro with their score for the stop-motion dinosaur epic, The Lost World.
(Stephin Merritt before the world premiere of his score for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Photo by Pamela Gentile)
Cross-published on The Evening Class and Twitch.