It’s a big weekend for family entertainment, with not only the new Star Wars joint (The Last Jedi—one of the falsest “last” promises in the history of movies, one suspects) but also Ferdinand, a new animated film based on the same children’s book about a flower-loving bull that inspired a famous Disney cartoon short eighty years ago. Even SF Symphony gets into the act with several performances of Home Alone. Yes, the 1990 comedy with Macauley Culkin will be projected at Davies Hall while the orchestra plays John Williams’ score live. (Maybe they’ll throw in his Star Warstheme as a bonus.) Roll over, Beethoven.
Fortunately, there are plenty of local alternatives for those seeking celluloid entertainment of a more grownup nature.
Two well-reviewed documentaries are opening at Landmark Theaters: Israeli directors Alon and Shaul Schwarz’s Aida’s Secrets probes the very complicated saga of how two Jewish brothers born in a European refugee camp just after WW2 came to be raised on different continents, unaware even of each other’s existence. Bobbi Jo Hart’s Rebels on Pointe chronicles the over half-century history to date of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male “drag ballet” ensemble whose parodies of classical dance have proven enduringly popular despite some initial hostility and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic.
The Roxie offers a single screening Tue/19 of Barney’s Wall, a new doc about legendary Grove Press publisher and censorship foe Barney Rosset. Co-presented by City Lights and Litquake, the program will also feature a live panel discussion with speakers including director Sandy Gotham Meehan.
There’s also the arrival of one of the year’s most acclaimed films, Call Me By Your Name from Italian director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), with rich-kid teen Timothee Chalamet and visiting American Armie Hammer drifting into romance in the idyllic 1983 Tuscan countryside. It’s certainly a handsome piece of escapist-touristic fantasy, though I remain skeptical of Guadagnino, who often seems truer to his sideline as a luxury-product advertiser than he does to the narrative and psychological depth his feature films skim over. (For one thing, this movie completely avoids the specter of AIDS, which would have been very much on the minds and in the conversations of any Italians mulling a gay affair with an American in 1983. I know—I was there.) In the end, this pretty posefest feels like an upscale homophile version of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, albeit with less conflict. I’ll stick with the grittier, heartfelt God’s Own Country as the celluloid gay love story of the year.
Elsewhere, there’s a variety of limited runs and special events:
ALONG FOR THE RIDE: A TRIBUTE TO DENNIS HOPPER
Dennis Hopper spent his later years as a dutiful industry staple, playing villains in blockbusters, collecting fine art and renouncing aspects of his hedonistic past as a registered Republican. But he never really shook the wild-man image of a self-proclaimed James Dean acolyte turned surprise counterculture king of New Hollywood as director of 1969’s Easy Rider, the low-budget “biker flick” whose colossal success helped kick-start an era of more adventurous and independent filmmaking. He followed it up with The Last Movie, a wildly self-indulgent 1971 flop that is nonetheless one of the most truly experimental features ever to come out of a major studio (which hated it). He stumbled along in a druggy stupor until sobering up and re-emerging as an actor in 1986 with the one-two punch of a sympathetic turn (for which he got an Oscar nomination) in Hoosiers and a terrifying one in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
That latter film will be featured in this week-long tribute ballasted by Nick Ebling’s new documentary Along for the Ride, which views Hopper’s eventful life and career through the perspective of his longtime assistant/minder Satya de la Manitou. There will also be screenings of Tony Scott’s 1993 Tarantino-written True Romance, wherein Hopper has a memorable scene opposite Christopher Walken; the rare 1985 featurette A Hero of Our Time; several short films by Hopper’s close artist friend Bruce Conner; and Out of the Blue, the intense 1980 family psychodrama that’s probably the best thing Hopper ever directed. Opens Friday, Roxie Theater. More info here.
REMEMBERING JONATHAN DEMME
A more recently deceased American film great is Demme, who began toiling in the B-movie factory of Roger Corman, making such idiosyncratic drive-in treasures as Caged Heat and Crazy Mama before beginning to ascend towards the Oscar-winning likes of The Silence of the Lambs. Yet he never lost his taste for edgier projects, whether filming performances by Talking Heads, Neil Young and Spalding Gray, or taking on such dicey later commercial projects as the criminally underrated version of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Rachel Getting Married and the little-seen A Master Builder,playwright Wallace Shawn’s take on Ibsen.
Center for the Arts provides a one-night tribute to the filmmaker (who passed away last April at 73) with 1993’s AIDS-themed drama Philadelphia, a somewhat overrated hit, and 1998’s Storefront Hitchcock, a concert showcase for quirky British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock that premiered at the SF International Film Festival and has barely been seen since. Thurs/14 and Sun/17, YBCA. More info here.
Named after Herb Permillion’s Berkeley typewriter-repair store, a stubborn holdout in the digital age, Doug Nicol’s documentary celebrates the history and mystique around the humble machine whose heyday lasted about a century—from the 1880s to the advent of the personal computer. Enthusiasts interviewed include actor Tom Hanks (who owns some 250 of them), recently deceased playwright Sam Shepard, and musician John Mayer, as well as sculptor Jeremy Mayer (no relation to the last), whose artworks make use of discarded typewriter parts. Yes, typewriters (and paper) are bulky. But what physical artifacts will survive—let alone reside in museums—when future literary manuscripts and policy documents exist only as bytes? Where’s the romance in an On the Road found not on an endless roll of paper, but on iCloud? Sat/16, Fri/22, Sat/23, Thurs/28, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.
Another limited run at the PFA is a newly restored print of the 1945 drama that kicked off Joan Crawford’s contract at Warner Brothers (she’d spent the two decades prior at MGM) and snagged her that elusive Oscar. She plays the waitress whose homemade pies eventually propel her up a ladder of entrepreneurial success, turning her daughter (Ann Blyth) into a society debutante—and a horribly bratty ingrate who even steals mom’s boyfriend (Zachary Scott). Based on a pulp fiction by James M. Cain (of The Postman Always Rings Twice), this domestic noir was purportedly turned down by Bette Davis before La Crawford and director Michael Curtiz recognized its possibilities. The recent TV miniseries remake with Kate Winslet, directed by Todd Haynes, hews closer to the excellent novel; but this B&W classic retains its own strengths as deluxe vintage melodrama. Fri/15, Sat/23, Wed/27, Pacific Film Archive. More info here.
LOST LANDSCAPES OF SAN FRANCISCO
The latest edition of this beloved annual event—so beloved that, in fact, this year it occupies two nights at the Castro—is an audiovisual archaeological dig into the past of our rapidly changing city. At least the past caught on film, from the beginning of the 20th century to the Me Decade. Favorites from prior programs will be abetted by new finds that we’re promised will include clips of vintage North Beach nightlife, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the local shooting of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?, with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Audience participation in terms of location identification and other insights. Proceeds benefit archivists Rick & Megan Prelinger’s SOMA “famed experimental research” facility the Prelinger Library. Tues/12-Wed/13, Castro Theatre. More info here.
NEW EXPERIMENTAL WORKS
Speaking of experimentation, The Other Cinema ends its latest ATA calendar with as usual with a night of recent short film and video works in that vein. The eclectic mix will include the world premiere of Anthony Buchanan’s Oriental Flames, plus new titles by Linda Scobie, Isaac Sherman, Tommy Becker, Misha Steier, Kent Lambert, Mike Morris and more. Many of the filmmakers featured will be present, with one (Ellie Vanderlip) providing her own live banjo accompaniment. Sat/16, Artists Televison Access. More info here.