Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Tales of the City - a New Musical

Overall:  There are some great things about this musical adaptation of TALES OF THE CITY, now playing at A.C.T. in San Francisco!  There are a few truly NOT great things, too. The end result is having witnessed a 'work in progress' of a piece that should be a bit further along by now.  The running times during this two week preview period have been rumored between 2:40 and 3 hours.  Our production Sunday night was a solid 3 hours.  (Mind you, it didn't feel that long!)

The show opens with a trademark Scissor Sisters (Jake Spears and John Garden) disco homage (mirror balls included!) before launching into fairly tame musical comedy territory. The cast is given some great music to perform, particularly some of the ballads for the women.  Anna Madrigal's Act One curtain anthem is fabulous.  Mother Mucca's production number at the Blue Moon Lodge, with her 'girls', is a show stopper and could generate its own encore, if staged appropriately. The male chorus has a "Gay Brunch Scene" that is probably the most entertaining moment in the show.  It's a nearly unnecessary moment and if it weren't for it's fun quotient, would risk being cut. Mona has a wonderful ballad in the second act after she runs away and Mouse's coming out letter could be the men's best song, if staged with some sort of interest.  I do wish that, given the size and scope of the cast, there were some sort of ensemble recap, a la "Les Miz/West Side Story", but there isn't a 'grand company moment'.

The choreography and musical staging is terrible.  I do not know of  Larry Keigwin, but what he's done here is a step beyond just marking production numbers.  With only a couple exceptions, the cast basically lines up and step kicks. In unison. It's very amateurish and at times embarrassing.

Jeff Whitty's libretto is nearly slavish to the book, including a bit of an excerpt from the second to help wrap one of the plots up.  This is where it gets a bit bumpy though.  Mary Ann's second 'boyfriend', Norman, is uncomfortably SQUEEZED into the second act. It reaches nearly laughable extremes as his story is condensed, virtually recited and resolved (blackmailing, child pornography and the cliff dive), all within a five minute scene that needs to be responsible for changing Mary Ann's innocent view of human nature.  It is a nearly farcical amount of detail that must be explained away and given the intricacies of the plotlines and the lasting effect it must have on Mary Ann, the character can't really be cut.  Yet, it is hard to justify adding another scene or extending any of the existing ones, without cutting some of the slack from somewhere else. (Perhaps a little less time spent with boyfriend #1 (Beauchamp Day), who is over written to begin with?)

The core ensemble of principals is larger than the chorus, who themselves step into some decent sized supporting roles.  Maupin's characters, particularly the women, are wonderfully portrayed.  Judy Kaye could be a bit more 'butch' as Anna Madrigal, but she delivers the goods from the revelation on.  Mary Birdsong is great as Mona Ramsey as are the showstopping Kathleen Monteleone as DeDe and Diane Findlay as Mother Mucca!  Betsey Wolfe sounds great as Mary Ann.  It is the most difficult role, particularly given the second act.

The Maupin's male characters have never been quite as exciting.  Wesley Taylor is adorable as Mouse and Josh Breckenridge is gorgeous as his boyfriend John Fielding. (He is unable to vocally keep up, though.)  Richard Poe is great as Edward Halcyon, and benefits from only being required a single duet with Madrigal.  The rest of the men just don't seem to be having as much fun. Andrew Samonsky over hammers the misogynist, Beauchamp.  Patrick Lane's Brian is nearly an afterthought.  And then there is the problem of Norman, played Manoel Felciano.  Felciano does his best with THE PROBLEM role of the entire production.

The design of production is workable, though the '70s polyester is almost TOO authentic and cheesy. Madrigal is given some great, flowing star-quality robes, though.  The multi-tiered set is barely used beyond the stage floor.  It's somewhat reminiscent of COMPANY in which each space is brought in by wagon, regardless of which floor of the building it is located on.  However, given the innumerable settings (Barbary Lane's five apartments, Halcyon Communications, Land's End, Ocean Beach, a bath house, various bars, etc.), I'm not sure there is much more of a way around it.  It's as if director Jason Moore was so overwhelmed by the amount of material that he was unable to conceptualize or stylize a way of presenting it.

Maxxxxx says re TALES OF THE CITY: Doobie doobie dooo-oooo
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Silent Film Festival Winter Event, 2011

Winter Event Banner
January 26, 2011
For Immediate Release
Silent Film Festival Winter Event
Features the West Coast Premiere of the Dazzling Restoration of
Accompanied by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
February 12 at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Brigitte Helm in L'ARGENT
The New York Times
hails the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra's recent performance at the Museum of the Moving Image's 'Recovered Treasures' series: "The undoubted highlight is Marcel L'Herbier's spectacular Art Moderne adaptation of Zola's L'Argent, restored to its full three-hour length by the French Film Archives and presented with a live accompaniment by that most sensitive and accomplished of silent film ensembles, the Mont Alto Orchestra."

Greed and sex drive L'Herbier's 1928 masterpiece that chronicles the contemporary Paris of high finance, speculation, and corruption. In spite of a butchered last-minute re-edit (rumored to be the result of a feud between the director and a studio head) the film was popular upon its release. But with this beautiful restoration struck from the original negative, featuring L'Herbier's original cut, L'Argent takes its place among other indisputable masterpieces of the silent era such as Von Stroheim's Greed, Murnau's Sunrise, Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. The excess of the story is mirrored in the filmmaking-opulent sets, breathtaking camerawork, and a rhythm that conveys glamour and modernity, with superb performances by Brigitte Helm, Pierre Alcover, and Alfred Abel. Our 35mm print comes from Archives Françaises du Film, with special permission by Marie-Ange L'Herbier, the director's granddaughter.

Mont Alto's main theme for L'Argent is the "Herod Overture" is by the American composer Henry Hadley. Hadley was the first conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, arriving exactly 100 years ago in 1911. He composed a variety of music for concert orchestras, several operas, and music for the Bohemian Grove's annual festivities, and is remembered today as the composer of the Movietone score for John Barrymore's "When a Man Loves," one of the finest period scores written for a late silent. There's a story that after Hadley left the SF Symphony in 1915, the musicians all got more reliable jobs playing in movie theater orchestras and the symphony had to cancel it's season. 

Complete Winter Event Program:
Our early program It's Mutual (1:00 pm, $15) is a collection of sparkling shorts by Charlie Chaplin, made during his stint at the Mutual Film Corporation where he honed his craft and became the genius director we think of today. The shorts - The Pawnshop, The Rink, and The Adventurer - contain some of the funniest moments ever put to screen, and are a glimpse into the development of this master of cinema. And supplying the perfect accompaniment to Chaplin's brilliance will be Donald Sosin at the baby grand piano. 35mm film prints from the David Shepard Collection.

Continuing our tradition of presenting world-class blockbusters at the Winter Event afternoon show, we present Marcel L'Herbier's L'Argent (3:30 pm, $15) accompanied by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

The evening show, La Bohème (8:00 pm, $17) is devoted to the one of the themes movies have excelled at from the beginning - the love story! This eternal romance set in bohemian Paris of the 1830s has been filmed many times, but King Vidor's classic starring Lillian Gish as Mimi and John Gilbert as Rodolphe is the definitive version. New 35mm print courtesy of Stanford Theatre Foundation and UCLA Film and Television Archive. The Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer, Dennis James, will accompany this perfect Valentine's weekend fare.

At 6:30 there will be a Winter Event Celebration Party ($20) on the Castro's mezzanine. Delicious hors d'oeuvres, hearty drinks, and pleasing conversation to be had by all! The extraordinary Michel Saga will serenade on the barrel organ, singing songs of old Paris.

For tickets and more information, please visit the Silent Film Festival.

Screeners and images are available for all films. Please contact Anita Monga, 510-843-4245

High-res images can be downloaded from our pressroom

The Silent Film Festival is a nonprofit organization promoting the artistic, cultural, and historic value of silent film with live musical accompaniment.

Maxxxxx says re Silent Film Festivals:    (quiet....)

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

PATRIK, AGE 1.5 (aka some Swedish family values for you!)

PATRIK, AGE 1.5 (dir. Ella Lemhagen, Sweden, 100 Mins.) This was a "Centerpiece screening" at last year's FRAMELINE, and is only now receiving theatrical distribution. I feared the film would be 'cute'. I LOATHE 'cute'! But, 'cuteness' lay only in the production design in which the pair of gay men live, surrounded in an IKEA constructed suburb, where they seek to adopt a child. It is not a spoiler to state that the decimal for the 1.5 year old they initially agree to adopt is misplaced to read 15 years old, as that is the conflict and reason for the piece. The trio is forced to deal with each other and their existence as a family, surrounded in a white picket fence world. The characters at the core of the film are what saved it from my loathing. The performances are real and artistically set against the artificial, idealized background, which hinders, if not oppresses their development as a family unit. The screenplay and direction handles the varying sources of conflict (the couple, the kid, the neighbors) with balance and sincerity. Never does the film cross the line into "made-for-tv" melodrama. I never felt manipulated or 'preached to', but gainfully followed the central trio's emotional journey to become a family unit. Director Ella Lemhagen navigates the numerous emotional and sociological obstacles realistically.

It's a crowd pleaser, without condescending to the crowd. The film won the Audience Award at last year's FRAMELINE as well as various other festivals. The film opens on Friday, Aug, 13, 2010, at Landmark’s Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco, and Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

Maxxxxx says re PATRIK, AGE 1.5:  "I love you, too!"

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Friday, July 30, 2010

The 30th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival - the Castro Week Highlights

The 30th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the world’s first and largest Jewish film festival, will be held July 24 – August 9, 2010, in San Francisco, Berkeley, the Peninsula and Marin County. For films, schedules, venues and tickets, visit and its programming pages.

Instead of delving into a slew of DVD press screeners for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this year, I decided I needed to be there in person, as much as possible.  By this point, after Frameline, the SF Silent Film Festival and (my unreported) dozen or so screeners for the SF IndieFest Horror Fest (aka Another Hole in the Head), not to mention reacquainting myself with Matthew Barney's seven-plus hour CREMASTER CYCLE, all within a month of each other, I got a bit burnt out.  But after last year's commotion at the SFJFF, and due to the number of live performances scheduled this year, I felt I really wanted to attend, live and as freshly as possible. Here are my highlights from the first week of the SFJFF, as it opens at the Castro, before moving on to Berkeley, Marin and parts beyond, and returning to San Francisco at the SF Jewish Community Center.

Opening Night began with a traditional review of festival trailers. This year's trailer is actually stood up pretty well against the collection.  Introductory comments were presented by Dana Doron, President of the Board, who in turn introduced a corporate sponsor. This was perhaps the only unfortunately dull section of the program, until Doron introduced Executive Director, Peter Stein and the new Program Director, Jay Rosenblatt.  Peter is always a hoot to watch and listen to as a speaker!  Jay Rosenblatt appeared a bit nervous in his debut (as well as displaying a surprising tenor of a speaking voice) as he introduced the opening night film.

SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT (dir. Ludi Boeken, France/Germany, 2009, 100 mins.)
The film follows the true story of Jewish refugees who were successfully hidden from the Nazi regime by fellow Germans. Yes, I know it sounds like I just gave away a HUGE spoiler, however, it works as wells as a study of the relationships between the regime, the faithful and those who were attempting to survive. There is a little girl in the cast, who thankfully is not asked to cross the line into precociousness or "cuteness", but has been expertly directed to be overwhelmed the situation. The mothers of the farm family as well as the refugees are both wonderfully portrayed and give riveting performances. Though it could be dangerously called a "happy holocaust film", it is a relief (as well as a choice opening night selection) to pick a film that presents hope in the human condition under the worst of circumstances. Following the film, the woman whose life it was based on, Marga Spiegel (who received an exceptionally warm standing ovation), director Ludi Boeken and principal actor Lia Hoensbroech were present for an in depth interview with Mr. Rosenblatt and a smattering of audience Q&A. (Next screenings: Sat, July 31 2010, 6:45pm Cinearts @ Palo Alto Square‎; Sat, August 7 2010, 7:00pm, The Roda Theatre @ Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Mon, August 9 2010, 6:15pm, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center)

HUNGRY HEARTS (dir. E. Mason Hopper, USA, 1922, 80 min) This fairly melodramatic silent film was accompanied by an enthusiastic, if not nearly psychedelic score composed by Ethan Miller (Howlin’ Rain, Comets on Fire) performed by the Moab Strangers, which formed specifically for this project, including Bay Area psychedelic rock and folk heroes Matt Baldwin, Utrillo Kushner (Colossal Yes, Comets on Fire), Joel Robinow (Drunk Horse). I found the combination of the score and the on-screen histrionics of newly arrived Jewish immigrants faced with the injustices of settling in New York City, combined perfectly, particularly during the climatic meltdown scene, at which time a portion of the audience (including myself) erupted in spontaneous applause. (In fact, I had the same euphoric feeling I have when watching Bill Morrison's DECASIA with Michael Gordon's score.)  Unfortunately, it was a one-time only performance for this festival.
A ROOM AND A HALF (dir. Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Russia, 2008, 130 mins.) As Jay Rosenblatt introduced the film with an excerpt of the Variety review, as a "fantasia of memory", nearly perfectly describes this wild ride of a biography of Nobel poet laureate, Joseph Brodsky. The stunning mixture of technique and styles including archival footage, original animation, and a kaleidoscopic combination of cinematographic techniques and the classical and period soundtrack used in film the dramatic narrative gives the screenplay a near Proustian weight and depth. It is an exhilirating couple of hours and worth catching at its encore screenings! (Next screenings: Mon, August 2, 2010, 6:00pm, The Roda Theatre  Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

ANITA (dir. Marcos Carnevale, 2009, Argentina, 104 mins.) This was featured as the Centerpiece Film of the San Francisco portion of the festival and features one of the most charming and warm performances of the festival, by Alejandra Manzo, who is living with Down Syndrome.  (She was present for the Q&A.) After the Jewish neighborhood suffers a bombing, 'Anita' finds herself wandering lost in the city and proceeds on a Candide-like series of episodes. The film does tread treacherously into 'made-for-tv' melodrama, but it is rescued nearly single handedly by Ms. Manzo's surprisingly uncloying and sincere performance. (Next screenings: Sun, August 1 2010, 6:30pm, Cinearts @ Palo Alto Square‎; Tue, August 3 2010, 6:30pm, The Roda Theatre, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

THE "SOCALLED" MOVIE (dir. Garry Beitel, 2010, Canada, 87 mins.) Socalled (aka Josh Dolgin): Frankly, I can not describe this biographic documentary of musician, rapper, composer, magician, filmmaker and visual artist, who calls himself "Socalled" (aka Josh Dolgin) better than the program notes: "...Blasting through the boundaries that separate different cultures, eras and generations, Socalled creates a wholly unique sound combining klezmer, funk, soul and hip-hop. Not too shabby for a nice Jewish boy from Montreal. Socalled is a musical alchemist, always looking for the next old thing to make new again, whether it’s introducing funk trombone legend Fred Wesley (of James Brown’s famous band, the J.B.’s) or inspiring 1950s lounge pianist Irving Fields to pen a new hit song. Shot partly in Socalled’s Montreal neighborhood, where Hasidic Jews and hipsters crowd the sidewalks, and following him on tour through New York, France and an emotionally spiritual trip back to his ancestral home of the Ukraine, The “Socalled” Movie is a dynamic, kaleidoscopic portrait of an iconoclastic artist at the peak of his powers."  'Socalled' was present for a short concert after the screening in San Francisco, and his charm and joy was infectious! 

 It was accompanied by the short subject, MAURICE AT THE WORLD'S FAIR (dir. Spike Jonez, 2010, US, 4 mins.), which relates a childhood memory of Maurice Sendak exacting some revenge against his big sister, featuring Catherine Keener in an array of roles in the dramatic recreation. I love her!

(Next screenings: Sat, August 7 2010, 9:15pm, The Roda Theatre, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

A pair of semi-short subjects are screening together, which feature the Holocaust survival stories of two very different, but similarly strong women. INGELORE (dir. Frank Stiefel, 2009, USA, 40 mins.) focuses on Ingelore Herz Honigstein, who was born deaf and narrates in speech and sign the harrowing events leading up to her immigration to America from Nazi Germany. "Frank Stiefel’s portrait of his mother is both a loving tribute and a remarkable feat of compressed storytelling."  

SURVIVING HITLER: A LOVE STORY (dir. John-Keith Wasson, 2010, USA, 65 mins.)  Tells a similar story, however its subject, Jutta Cords is an exceptionally verbose interview subject. Her story of the romance with a German soldier, which ends up involved in the "Valkyrie" project to assassinate Hitler, is what Hollywood dramas are made of.  It is a riveting story told by a riveting speaker.

Both directors were present, as well as Ingelore Herz Honigstein, who proved to be quite the 'witness' during her public appearance.

(Next screenings: Wed, August 4 2010, 2:15pm The Roda Theatre, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre - Free Admission)

BUDRUS (dir. Julia Bacha, 2009, USA, 82 mins.) This film is currently becoming an audience and jury favorite documentary on the festival circuit and appears to be Oscar bound. It is both an infuriating, yet in the end an immensely moving document of a peaceful resistance movement that took place in the Palenstinian West Bank against the Israeli attempt to surround the village of Budrus with a wall. The movement is led by Ayed Morrar, who successfully involves the politically far flung factions of the village, as well as involving the eager female citizens. The film also has a great deal of footage and interviews with the Israeli soldiers who were involved in this helpless face down. I was truly surprised by how moved I was by the achievement that Morrar's peace movement (or as the producer describes him: "the Ghandi of the Middle East") was able and continues to influence the occupation of the West Bank.  (Next screenings: Sun, August 1 2010, 6:45pm, The Roda Theatre, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

A FILM UNFINISHED (dir. Yael Hersonski, 2009, Israel, 89 mins.)  This is a nearly painful visual experience of the recovery and restoration of a lost "documentary" from the Third Reich which portrays the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. It was incomplete, so director Hersonski proceeds to attempt to piece it together in an attempt to decipher not only the propoganda behind the piece, but also reveals some truly tragic scenes of treatment. She has also gathered some of the survivors who actually appear in the film and/or were witnesses to the staging of some of the scenes. She also was able to obtain the diaries of the "mayor" of the ghetto, which describes his disgust in being involved in the production's creation. It is nearly as painful to watch the participants watch the film, as it is to see the scenes of the deaths in the streets of the ghetto. A particularly sobering experience. (Next screenings: Sat, July 31 2010, 4:15pm, Cinearts @ Palo Alto Square; Sun, August 1 2010, 4:15pm, The Roda Theatre @ Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Sat, August 7 2010, 4:45pm, Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center)

To bring the week at the Castro to a close, the festival chose to present THE KLEZMATICS: ON HOLY GROUND (dir. Erik Anjou, 2010, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Poland, USA, Color, 105 mins.), which is something of a party in itself! I am only vaguely acquainted with this Grammy winning klezmer/world music/jazz fusion band, but am quickly a fan, after watching this documentary, as well as the mini-concert that a pair of the members gave at the Q&A following the screening.  The film itself is described pretty honestly and accurately by Peter Stein in the program: "...[the film] combines the best elements of a backstage doc, a concert film and an eye-opening lesson in remixing Jewish culture."

(Next screenings: Sat, July 31 2010, 7:00pm, The Roda Theatre @ Berkeley Repertory Theatre and features a post-film reception in the Roda courtyard.)

Maxxxxx says re the faves of the week, which  based around music, i.e. HUNGRY HEARTS, THE KLAZMATICS: "Dooby doobie dooo-ooo!"

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The epic art film of the century (so far) THE CREMASTER CYCLE (dir. Matthew Barney,  USA, 1994-2002, 540 minutes, approximately - who's counting?), Matthew Barney's seven hour opus to the cremaster (the muscle which controls the descent of the testicles) returns to San Francisco at the Roxie Theatre, after it's huge engagement at the Castro Theatre seven years ago. It will be accompanied by his latest film, DE LAMA LAMINA (commented upon below), but frankly I'd pass on that just to make more energy and room and time for The Cycle! 

Since Matthew Barney is an ARTIST, people generally love him or loathe him.  If you love him, you probably need not read further as you already have your Cycle Tickets and are going, unless you want to read another, though brief, interpretation of his work here.  If you are new to Matthew Barney, fear not!  You do not need to see the entire 7 hours in a gulp.  I would suggest, if you were to pick and peck at the Cycle, that you begin with Cycle 5. Yes, the ending.  The music by Jonathan Bepler, who scores the entire cycle, is glorious, the visuals are (unusually) accessible and there is even Ursula Andress to look upon to add to the beauty of the piece. It is also one of the hour long episodes.

If you are a newbie and feeling adventurous, then dive into Cremaster 3, the longest of the Cycle at three hours. The production values and artistry are jaw dropping!!  The musical score is dreamy and chaotic. It is a mammoth piece, taking place in the Chrysler Building as well as the Guggenheim Museum, and features Richard Serra, Aimee Mullins and the punk band, Grand Masters. (The Guggenheim Museum sequence is the only section of the entire Cycle that is or ever will be (legitimately) available on DVD.)  It is not quite as accessible as episodes 5 or 1, unless you are familiar with Celtic and Masonic rituals. However, it fits quite nicely in the Cycle as a whole, compared to episode 2.  I would NOT recommend episode 2. Actually, if it weren't so early in the cycle, it would make for a nice dinner break for even some of the Barney-heads, I'm sure!

So, what is all the commotion about?  Yes, I could be somewhat snide and say that Matthew Barney has created a seven-hour art film about his testicles dropping.   However, it does dig deeper into the psyche of his view of masculinity and 'manhood', in all it's forms: biological, psychological, emotional, spiritual. His performances (he appears throughout the Cycle) are quite athletic and robust and, quite often, features himself in the nude. Cycle parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 follow this interpretation quite nicely.  Cycle 2 (aka the Gary Gilmore episode) feels out of place at best. Even after reading quite a bit of analysis of Cycle 2, I still fail to grasp what Gary Gilmore and his Mormon upbringing (HOW did Matthew Barney get the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to cooperate?!) have to do with the cremaster.

I would have switched the sequence of parts 2 and 4. The films were not made in numerical order, but rather in the order of 4 (1994), 1 (1995), 5 (1997), 2 (1999) and 3 (2002).)   Cycle 4 is generally regarded as the most biological interpretation, with the racing of two motorcyclists around the Isle of Man, their target is Matthew Barney as a satyr waiting for them on a pier, and it would fit quite nicely after Cycle 1's dueling Goodyear Blimps. Cycle 3 features Barney having to test himself in Celtic and Masonic rituals: sort of the coming of age of a man. (Then I would have inserted Cycle 4, featuring the murderer, I guess?)  Cycle 5 is definitely the most romantic and spiritual piece, as he reaches a climax. Literally.

Overall, I am gobsmacked at the enormous production values for an 'art project'!  It is nearly Wagnerian in scope.  The Roxie is offering "Marathon Passes" for the weekend screenings.  The theatre has also broken it down into consecutive mini-cycles during the week for those unsure of taking it in one big 7 hour gulp!

For the TRULY DEVOUT Matthew Barney fan, The Cycle is being accompanied by his DE LAMA LAMINA (dir. Matthew Barney, US, date?, 55 mins.)  However, if you ARE truly devout then you have probably seen his HOIST (included in shorts compilation DESTRICTED) which is cut into this document of his performance of the piece at the Carnaval de Slavador da Bahia, Brazil. Though probably the most exhibitionistic of his works that I know of (yes, it features a full erection), I also feel it is the most mundane, if not provocative for its own sake, of his works.  Find HOIST on DVD and save yourself an hour.

Maxxxxx says re THE CREMASTER CYCLE:  "Is it time for shower??!"

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Pagina Perdida

I received a mysterious email, with a link to this trailer for "an intriguing scenario and inhabited by strange characters, "Lost Page” ("Página Perdida") is an abstract film, the result of a powerfull visual dimension created by Lucas Moreira added to the experimental electro-acoustic music of Marcelo Armani.
Produced by Sanglant Films and Department of Culture of São Leopoldo."

It is called: Pagina Perdida

I want to see more....!

Maxxxxx says"Ooooo!"

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2010 - Closing Night

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is held every July at The Castro Theatre and is the largest silent film festival in the country. In its fifteenth year, the festival expands to four days and eighteen programs, July 15 - 18, 2010. Ticket information is available here:

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival wrapped up it's intensive weekend of programming (SIX A DAY?!), featuring an old favorite of mine and a new found group that I now love.

I have seen MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA (dir. Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929, 70 mins.) with the Alloy Orchestra live at least four, perhaps five times now, as well as watched the DVD many times. The film is hypnotic and the cacophonous score reaches a near catharsis. When I first saw this, I had already "done" the QATSI Trilogy, and was left a bit taken aback by Godfrey Reggio's unabashed lifting of entire elements from Vertov's film. I don't know what more to say about MAN WITH THE MOVIE CAMERA except that it is a MUST SEE, and preferably with the Alloy Orchestra score!   The film was preceded by the archetypal classic TRIP TO THE MOON (dir. Georges Méliès, France, 1902, 14 mins.), accompanied by Donald Sosin. I'd never seen it in its entirety, so that was sort of nifty. However, except for its iconic imagery, the campiness is really far overplayed. Ah, those French...!  Which leads me to the final feature of this year's festival.

L'HEUREUSE MORT (dir. Serge Nadejdine, France, 1924, 83 mins.), accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.  This was introduced by Leonard Maltin, who gave the audience plaudits for trusting the SFSFF enough to pack the house for a literally unknown film, by a fairly unknown director, with music by a group fairly new to California. (The Matti Bye Ensemble is from Sweden.)  The film, in short, is a HOOT of a farce! Briefly, a bad playwright (played by the screenwriter, Nicolas Rimsky) is mistakenly left for dead and then, ironically revered and finds new fortune in death. So, he and his wife (a deftly subtle and wonderful Lucie Larue) play along with that. Yes, I laughed! And, yes, there were twists that even the 85 year old film was able to pull off without giving anything away! The score was a lovely, eighty minute, bittersweet waltz, which underscored the desperate situation that our characters found themselves. (I DID walk out humming the waltz!) I LOVED the music that Matti Bye composed for this. His arrangement fully utilized the instrumental, vocal and comedic talents of his five piece ensemble. Had I known how lovely his sound is, I would have bought the three CDs available there. (There is only one available at and it is an import.) I MUST HAVE!  I was thrilled to end the exhausting weekend with a new find!

(The film was preceded, as were all of the features, by a Georges Méliès film, which I have been amiss in reporting on. As TRIP TO THE MOON is probably the most well-known, that was the one which I attempted a full report. The rest of them were... sillier!) 

Maxxxxx says re L'HEUREUSE MORT  :  "Dooby doobie dooo-ooo!"

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2010 - Day 3 (aka I AM Harry Langdon!)

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is held every July at The Castro Theatre and is the largest silent film festival in the country. In its fifteenth year, the festival expands to four days and eighteen programs, July 15 - 18, 2010. Ticket information is available here:

Still coming through the exhaustive experience of the previous night's METROPOLIS, I attended only two of the six programs today. The first being a panel made up of members from each of the festival musicians, each of whom explained their craft and ideology in performing with silent films.  In summary: Dennis James ("the Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer") was by far the self proclaimed purist. He researches for the complete score and then the music of the period, then uses details from the film to fill in what might be missing. Donald Sosin (pianist) is just a step left of this, in that his method relies on a lot of preparation and analysis of the film, though he is not as much of a purist as far as material.  The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra prepares scores with pieces from the period, usually stringing together a program of "quotes" that they feel is as purist as a small ensemble can become during a performance.  The Matti Bye Ensemble prepares original material based upon a thorough dissection of the film and the nuances of the characters within it. Stephen Horne (pianist and some winds) likes to improvise and I have always found his style to be impressionistic; almost Satie- like. The Alloy Orchestra feels they are the "bad boys" of the business as anything goes for them and they LOVE to improvise, even beyond their prepared scores.  The group was moderated by Chloe Veltman, however her questions were so open and vague that the musicians had a hard time answering. She opened it up to an audience Q&A, but, frankly, that scared me and I left for a break.

The next program I attended was introduced by Stacey Wisnia, who presented the SF Silent Film Festival Preservation Award (I need to check that!) to Photoplay Productions, which was represented by (apparent silent film aficionado icons) Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury.  (They received a standing ovation!) Brownlow gave a lovely acceptance speech and introduced THE STRONG MAN. 

I have found the spirit that has unknowingly haunted me until now: Harry Langdon, in THE STRONG MAN (dir. Frank Capra, US, 1926, 76 mins.)  I am Harry Langdon!  I almost could not laugh at the foibles and bits performed, for I was just seeing too much of ME in it to enjoy it!  I used to LIVE to perform that kind of hysterical-deadpan!  Even with the mutated frame-rate, his timing was precious. (He had a short lived career, having committed suicide, but I must do more research!) The plot is a bit more slapstick bound than one expects from Frank Capra, but there is still a moral of course.  Stephen Horne's accompaniment was not as "moving" as I am used to hearing from him, but then I was surprised that he was playing for a comedy.

The festival was beginning to run late at this point, and though I intended to return for the late show HAXAN: Witchcraft Through the Ages, it was reportedly running over 45 minutes late, so I am sort of glad I passed and stayed home.  Which leads me to my one qualm with the festival:  It is a bit like a convention, as far as making the extra time for book signings and merchandising in the mezzanine area.  Even though there is a solid hour slotted between programs for this, the festival was still running nearly an hour behind by the end of each night.  This might also be due to the complicated sound checks as the performers are setting up?  I don't know. I just think the timing is the one thing that would snap the event together.

Maxxxxx says re THE STRONG MAN:  "I'm Maxxxxxx!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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