Thursday, July 28, 2005

More Summer Viewing...

War of the Worlds Visually stunning at it's most ridiculous moments! The 'SUV conversation shot' is amazing, but the situation is so ridiculous that maybe the shot was to distract us from the total improbability of the moment. (I'm trying not to drop spoilers.) Poor Tim Robbins. Well, at least this will help with his kids college funds, I'm sure. Thankfully, I saw this as part of a 'double feature' with:

Wedding Crashers Hm. Well. I did laugh a couple of times. The women are great. Rachel McAdams was truly charming and 'present' and actually grabbed the screen whenever she was on! Jane Seymour? I don't know what she was doing in this, but she gives it her best! Also, Isla Fisher steals every scene she is in! The guys don't fare as well. I LIKE Vince Vaughn, but he is overplaying the 'obnoxious ass with a heart' again. Owen Wilson is a better writer than actor and seems to just think he can walk through these things on charm alone. Christopher Walken needed to make a house payment. The continuity is a mess. There is one wedding montage that was sort of visually exciting to watch, but that was in the first 20 minutes. The rest of the thing was all downhill. I was sort of disappointed.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Doesn't really count as 'summer viewing' as it's been out for MANY months, but my sister was visiting from Denver for a week and I thought this was the perfect little San Francisco summer documentary for her. She liked it. Actually, she wanted to go find them, but we let that moment pass... It's a pleasant enough little flick.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ and Peaches' Playhouse) I dragged my sister to this and not only did she remain awake (midnight movie in drag queen time means being out til 3 a.m.), but she really had fun! She didn't think it was as offensive or outrageous as the Peaches' website would lead her to believe. Even if Peaches' Playhouse ended with Peaches being eaten by a giant vagina?? Anyway, the crowd was a bit more over-the-top than normal. It was "Paul Rubens Day", after all. (The anniversary of his arrest in Florida.) This week is the CLASSIC Barbarella, preceded by the even more anticipated Drag Queen Roller Derby!! I. Can't. Wait!

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Friday, July 15, 2005

A Summer Viewing List, so far...

[Jul. 15th, 2005|11:19 pm]

The March of the Penguins!! GORGEOUS!!! I hate it when critics use these words, but they apply to "March of the Penguins": Stunning!! Gorgeous!! Awestruck!! I. Love. This. Movie!!

The Aristocrats Filthy, but VERY, VERY Funny!! VERY FILTHY!! I mean, we're talking NC-17 doesn't really do it justice. I'm surprised the MPAA gave it a rating at all! It is ALL language, but... Wow! With somewhere between 80-100 participants, there are GREAT sections and yawners. But it's worth it for the GREAT sections!

Crimen Ferpecto (The Ferpect Crime) (No, that is NOT a typo) Excellent farce from Spain. Almost Almodovar-esque!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory See it in IMAX! It's HUGE and GLORIOUS to look at! However, it does seem to have lost some of the heart that worked into the previous incarnation. Tim Burton has pushed Depp so HARD, that he doesn't have the pathos and nuance that Wilder brought to it. So, Burton devised a back-story, in a series of flashbacks, that felt intrusive. At least to me. Still, it's worth the bucks!

More on Monday, I think...

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Monday, July 11, 2005

10th San Francisco Silent Film Festival

[Jul. 11th, 2005|08:58 am]
[ music | the waltz from "The Side Show" ]
7/So, instead of a blow-by-blow account of the 10th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (, I thought I would just do a single recap, seeing as there were only 9 programs over the three days. (Even at that, I slept through two of them, so this will be even shorter!)

Opening night: First, the crowd for this was pretty unbelievable! The showtime was 8 p.m., I got in line at 7 p.m. and it went down Castro, turned the corner at 17th and then turned the NEXT corner at Hartford Street (in front of Darren and Allen's house)! Thankfully SueJean (film society 'film slut') was volunteering that night and had saved seats for the rest of our little film slut circle! We spent the weekend pretty huddled together. There is a different 'element' that voraciously attends a silent film festival it seems. They were either in the original audiences, wished they were in the original audiences or believed they were there now. Mind you, I'm not complaining about seniors going to the movies. However, the festival organizers might want to consider creating a separate line for them, so that they won't be trampled by the rest of us. As for the 'dressing up' crowd, they do lend a festive atmosphere to the proceedings, however unnerving it might be if you think about it too much. The really creepy crowd is the 'wished they were there' group who are way too up on their silent film trivia, including the archivists and restorers. However, I guess it's an avid, if not commendable hobby. It is just a bit odd listening to these highly animated discussions about Lillian Gish's resume or the missing reels from a Fleischer Brothers cartoon while standing in line for the men's room. I guess guys do that sort of statistical banter at baseball games, too?

One of the more interesting things about this festival is the amount of background given during the introductions. There is a host for the entire festival, whose name escapes me, however he has a fabulous broadcast voice and handles the crowd quite well. The programmer responsible for the print is introduced, who will give us the background of the actual production. And then a guest is brought up, who is responsible for the restoration of the print, at which time we are given (sometimes EXHAUSTIVE) details about the restoration process.(By the way, the prints at this festival are all in near perfect condition!) There were also Special Guests who were, basically, family members of the subject at hand. On Opening Night, Harold Lloyd's grand-daughter was present and served double duty, having been responsible for the restoration and archiving of his films, as well as giving us stories about what it was like living with Harold Lloyd. (She was raised by her grandparents.) This was an entertaining little interview (there are NO audience Q&A's, thankfully!), and I unfortunately missed the juicy part at the very end (pre-emptive bathroom strike!), where she was asked about his hobby as an erotic photographer! (See "Tura! Tura! Tura!")After those interviews are over, the accompanist is introduced, who usually has a few words to say about the score he is about to play. AFTER ALL OF THAT IS DONE, we finally get to the film!

Now, I don't know how much I will go on about the actual films, as the experience as a whole is what makes the fest for me, more than the films themselves. Of the nine programs presented over the weekend:

"Stage Struck" (dir. Allan Dwan, US, 1925, 120 mins.), piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Starring Gloria Swanson, this was by far the favorite piece presented! You can see why she was such a phenomena then, as she was stylistically ahead of her time. "Stage Struck" is a comedy, bordering on madcap (Gloria Swanson in a boxing ring?!), and she played it perfectly - on that edge of deadpan and clowning! I loved it! Plus the opening sequence of designed by Erte' is not to be missed!

"For Heaven's Sake" (dir. Sam Taylor, USA, 1926, 105 mins.), accompaniment on the Wurlitzer by Chris Elliott. Starring Harold Lloyd, this was the feature for Opening Night. Featuring some great bits, it is a fun little flick! I am a Buster Keaton fan myself, however it was noted that what made Lloyd stand out amongst the 'clowns' (Keaton, Chaplin, etc.) is that he was physically against type: he was stylish and handsome enough that his were romantic comedies, in which he always got the girl. It features an impressive chase scene, however, I do think he pales in comparison to Keaton, as far as inventiveness is concerned.

"The Side Show" (dir. Erle C. Kenton, US, 1928, 105 mins.), piano accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis. This was the surprise of the weekend! Starring 'Little' Billy Rhodes, the synopsis read like it was an early "Freaks" (dir. Todd Browning). However, if anything, Billy Rhodes' (whose only memorable role was that of the Barrister in 'The Wizard of Oz') performance is really good! In fact, the film itself reminded me more of HBO's "Carnivale" than anything else. There was a sincere amount of drama and a fabulously suspenseful climax, which was brilliantly accompanied by Mr. Mirsalis' score! In fact, this featured my favorite score of the weekend, which apparently, was 'improvised/composed' by Mr. Mirsalis. I would love to contact him to see if he has any recordings/dvds/etc.

"It" (dir. Clarence Badger, US, 1927, 100 mins.) accompanied on the Wurlitzer by Clark Wilson. This was the closing night feature, and starred Clara Bow, in her trademark role as the 'It Girl'! She truly was a screen wonder! In fact, she nearly overwhelms the rest of the cast and production. I'm sure this is available on video, so it is more than worth the effort to track it down! Also, whatever format you find it in, I can probably guarantee you that it will have a better score than the one that Clark Wilson put together for it. There is no existing score, so he unapologetically thought that a medley of songs from the period might work best. eh. It's a BIG organ! It should be playing something more than the Top 20 of the '20s! ack.

"Animation Rarities" (var. directors, 1926-1928) piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. This was the Saturday Afternoon collection of cartoons, featuring Felix the Cat, Koko the Clown, Oswald the Rabbit and an 'Alice cartoon' from Disney. Overall, the program was pleasant enough. There just isn't anything that really sticks out in my mind.

"The Big Parade" (dir. King Vidor, US, 1925, 180 mins.) accompaniment on the Wurlitzer by Chris Elliott. This starred John Gilbert and was the 'centerpiece' of the festival. Running 3 hours, and including a literal panel of guests (King Vidor's daughter, John Gilbert's daughter and grandson, and the archivist from George Eastman House), as well as an intermission, it was sort of a long evening. Vidor's daughter was quite well spoken and charming. Gilbert's daughter gave the REAL dish on why John Gilbert was blackballed in the 30's. (It wasn't his speaking voice that knocked him out of the talkies, it was that he knocked Louis B. Mayer out at a wedding!) The archivist gave us some cool trivia about the film and the mutations it suffered after it initial run. It was the biggest moneymaker until "Gone With The Wind" taking in $25 million! Eventually, the film would be hacked down from it's original 3 hours, which made restoring it quite the challenge. The score was the complete original score for the 1925 print. After all of that was said, the film itself was... ok. I'm sure it was quite a landmark, and possibly controversial, to present an anti-war film only 10 years after WWI. However, it is really long. In fact, it plays like two separate films: Part One is recruitment and the time spent in France waiting to be deployed. The actual deployment scene, which is the climax of Part One, was really haunting and wonderfully shot and scored. It could have ended there! Part Two is the actual battle. It's not spectacularly overdone. In fact, it is awkwardly staged, as lines of soldiers unflinchingly march into machine gun fire. On one hand, I think Vidor was trying to be 'personal and real'. On the other, it came off looking even more symbolic and false. John Gilbert does return home, but a very changed man, and unable to readjust to his life there. This performance is really the most redeemable aspect of the film, in my opinion anyway.

"The Scarlet Letter" (dir. Victor Sjöström, US, 1926, 130 mins.) accompanied on the Wurlitzer by Clark Wilson. This was another long one in which the sole redeeming feature was the star turn, this time by Lillian Gish. In fact, she was the ONLY reason I was able to get through it. What the woman could register facially really was astounding! However, her co-star, Lars Hanson as the ineffectual Puritan pastor with whom she has the affair, was truly awful, and reached nearly unbearable levels of annoyance for me! I just wanted to see him get slapped! But, instead, he as an unremarkable death scene, in which he continued to display the one emotion he apparently was capable of. He really ruined this film for me. The film was not assisted by Clark Wilson's score, either. It was another piecemeal score of puritan hymns and '20s love ballads. yawn.

These last two features, "Sangue Mineiro" (dir. Humberto Maura, Brazil, 1929, 90 mins.) accompanied with an original ensemble score by Maura Correa; and "Prem Sanyas" (dir. Franz Osten, Himansu Rai, India, 1925, 110 mins.) accompanied with a 'tabla ensemble' led by Ben Kunin on satir and Debopriyo Sarkar. These both played in the unenviable position of 1:00 p.m., aka naptime, on Saturday and Sunday. The Brazilian feature was so confusing, I simply gave up and went to sleep, only to be validated by those around me who were awake for it all and still couldn't explain what was happening. The India feature was gorgeous, but so was the music! In fact, the music was so enchanting and lulling, that I went completely out during the film. I was not alone in our clutch to do so, either, so I felt sort of validated by that, too! Thankfully, the plot was so simplistic (the history of Buddha), that I was able to catch up whenever I woke up.

This was the first time that I was able to do the festival. (Usually, this is when I would be in Altanta/South Carolina.) markosf was able to join for a couple (Stage Struck and It), and the 'film sluts' (SueJean, Netta and Mike, Carole and Marvin) were there for the entirety, ravenously protecting our seats! SueJean was particularly wound up over the weekend. ;-)

There is rumor that the new Operations Manager of the Silent Film Festival would like to move it to a different theatre. (She was a manager at the Castro and part of the management shake-up there this year.) I hope the Board of the Festival help her get over her grievance with the owners of the Castro and keep it there in the future.

That's it for MY Festival season! I'm a bit burnt out to be able to go to the Jewish Film Festival next week. (Plus my sister will be visiting from Denver, and I don't think she's come out here to sit in the dark for a week!) The next possible fest for me MIGHT be the Mill Valley Film Festival in September/October, though it is a bit of a hassle, logistically... Of course, I'd love to go to Toronto in the second week of September, but... sigh, that is not to be, yet...

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Tura! Tura! Tura!

She's BIG! Well, perhaps more kindly put, Tura Satana has grown into her bosom. Ms. Satana was the Special Guest at last night's 'Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ', which opened its season with "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"

Peaches began the evening by debuting her new single "Idol Worship." Unlike other celebrities or 'pop stars,' Peaches sang this live, backed up by a chorus of Trannyshack regulars, choreographed by Fauxnique. (Yes, I saw one too many Trannyshack documentaries.) The song went over quite well, and was available for purchase in the lobby, along with much assorted Midnight Mass merchandise. (Peaches is becoming quite the 'product.') After a brief introductory monologue, including an explanation about the camera crew (the Independent Film Channel (IFC) was taping it for a series this fall), Peaches stepped aside for a video montage of Tura Satana's work.

Surprisingly enough, Tura has appeared in a couple remarkable features, including "Irma la Douce" and "My Man Flint." Then the lady herself entered to a 90% standing ovation. I don't know why, exactly, but I was not moved to do so. Well. I do know why. It's not like she's exactly Vanessa Redgrave. Anyway, I don't think anyone in our (Bob, Jimmy and Kevin) little section at the Bridge theatre stood, though we were conspicuously seated in the house left exit row. Tura entered wearing a size 20+ version of the costume she wore in "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" which was sort of a hoot. But she does look good for 66, and she definitely is not a starving has-been.

Peaches began her interview. She is simply fabulous at this. She was remarkably adept at making Ms. Satana feel comfortable, yet with a bit of a wink at the audience about how surreal the event was. Tura was also quite willing to spill as much dirt as Peaches (and the audience) wanted! In fact, she has apparently written an autobiography that is in search of a publisher. Peaches' program notes had a mini-biography of Tura, but she sort of fleshed it out during the interview. The woman has lived quite a life. She's partly Japanese and nearly 67 years old now, which meant that her life story begins with being in a Japanese internment camp when she was 3. From there, she was raped when she was 9, sent to a girls infirmary, ran away by age 13, at which point she began to use her anatomic gifts and was able to pass for 19. At which point, Harold Lloyd (yes, THAT Harold Lloyd) took nude photos of her, and her career in burlesque began! (She even appeared at the Condor Club here in San Francisco.) She shared a story about having an affair with Elvis Presley before he was discovered, and she claims to have been his confidant (as well as sexual stimulant, i.e. making over Priscilla to resemble her) throughout his life. Eventually, she was spotted by Billy Wilder and his wife at a club in L.A. (I would like to have had a bit more detail about what the Wilders were doing in a strip club...) We got some good dirt on Billy Wilder playing with her tassles on the set of "Irma La Douce," which performers she did not like working with in "Faster Pussycat!...," as well as how she worked with Russ Meyer, and a cool little story of it's premiere here in San Francisco.

The audience Q&A portion was actually much better than most episodes of this type have proved to be at film festivals! It started off with local celebrity, Leigh Crowe, asking for details about the bra Tura wore in the film. I cannot do justice to the way Leigh asked, which is why she is one of my favorite performers (ah, the days of "The Sick and Twisted Players"!!) in town! The rest of the questions sort of fade into a blur right now. However, there weren't any of those embarrassing 'James Lipton at The Actors Studio' type of idol worship questions, but real 'give us dirt and details' inquiries.

During all of this, camera people (2 on video and 2 still photographers) were running all over the place. I really don't know what this thing is going to look like as a finished product as there didn't appear to be a director in charge, nor any fixed point of view taken by any of the photographers. Plus, as we were seated in the exit row, this meant that there was a good deal of room in front of us, which they used as vantage point, aka got in our way.

Ms. Satana exited to another 90% standing ovation and was followed by Peaches' extraordinary collection of trailers of highlights of the coming Midnight Mass season. The print of "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" was in pretty good shape. (There was an exception in reel 8, as it cued 'houselights up/projector off' for no apparent reason.) Ms. Satana stayed in the lobby during the screening and was available for autographs and selling memorabilia in the lobby. (Jimmy got a full-sized, signed lobby poster and found out that she resides in Reno and suggested that she get a guest shot on "Reno 911!") She was going to be there after the film, too. (We chose to avoid the melee and ducked out a side door at the end.)

To sum up, I never dozed off. The event started in 'Drag Queen Time' - a good 20 minutes late, and we exited at 2:45 a.m. It was definitely a 'San Francisco Only' event!

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