SCREEN GRABS In the silent era there were numerous important women filmmakers—a testament, alas, to how the medium wasn’t taken “seriously” for many years, for by the time the “talkies” arrived, men had usurped nearly every last director’s chair. There were only two women who managed to significantly buck that trend in Hollywood before the 1960s. One, Dorothy Arzner, made a substantial body of underrated mainstream features (including vehicles for Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford) between 1928 and 1943, after which she turned to television and academia.
The other wasIda Lupino, a British-born Warner Brothers star on the wane (Crawford and Bette Davis were pretty much the only “old” actresses still allowed to dominate movies in the 1950s) when she decided to take her accumulated knowledge behind the camera. Actually, it wasn’t entirely her decision: She took over 1949’s Not Wanted only when its original director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack, from which he died some months later. But that independently produced “B” melodrama of unwed motherhood and crime proved an apt start, in that the half-dozen other films Lupino directed over the next few years would also be tough, economical, noir-ish potboilers that managed to wrestle with social issues despite their lack of major-studio prestige or budgets.
These interesting little movies are being revived in recent restorations at the Alamo Drafthouse and Pacific Film Archive. Those being shown also include The Bigamist (1953), about a man with wives in both SF and L.A.; and the same year’s The Hitch-Hiker, a tense thriller in which two staid men on a camping trip find themselves taken hostage by a homicidal maniac on the run. Lupino subsequently moved into TV, directing episodes of myriad popular series like Gilligan’s Island, The Fugitiveand Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But it’s these low-budget features, little-noticed upon their original release, that have now made her seem an industry pioneer with a subtly proto-feminist outlook. Alamo Drafthouse: Not Wanted Wed/9, Hitch-Hiker Wed/16, Bigamist Wed/23. More info here. Pacific Film Archive: Not Wanted on Sat/12, Sun/20. More info here.
Elsewhere this week, there aren’t a lot of new films—the only incoming wide release is the thriller Escape Room, which wasn’t press-previewed in time for this column. But there are a few interesting rep-calendar items, as well as plenty of opportunities to catch up on the year-end prestige films (Roma, The Favourite, et al.) you haven’t caught yet. Unless otherwise noted, all the following open this Friday:
2018 Sundance Short Film Tour
Though they only get a fraction of the attention given feature-film premieres, it’s still a very big deal to get your short accepted into Sundance—less than one in a hundred amongst the approximately 8,000 annual submissions do—and many filmmakers use that stepping stone as an entree to long-form work. This 90-minute program brings together seven shorts from last year’s festival, just weeks before the 2019 edition launches in Park City.
While Sundance’s feature selection leans heavily towards US independents, these shorts represent a more international tilt, as well as a considerable range in style and genre. There’s animation (the South Korean Jeom and Swedish stop-motion musical The Burden), documentary (Kamau Bilal’s Baby Brother, chronicling her sibling’s bumpy return to the parental roof), and neo-realist drama (Alvaro Gago’s Spanish Matria, about a much-put-upon grandma’s attempt to eke a little joy out of life).
Two American entries are very different black comedies: Anna Margaret Hollyman’s Maude is a tale of vicarious motherhood, while Mariama Diallo’s Hair Wolf views white appropriation of African-American culture through a satirical horror-movie lens a la Get Out. Perhaps the most striking single film here is Jeremy Comte’s Canadian Fauve, in which two boys’ rough-housing around some industrial sites takes a turn towards real danger. Roxie. More info here. Also opens Fri/11 at Rafael Film Center. More info here.
A surprise inclusion in the Oscars’ current Documentary Feature shortlist, Anna Zamecka’s Polish film isn’t an entirely “pure” nonfiction—she gives herself a writing credit, and presented the titular event to her real-life protagonists as a sort of structuring narrative device. But it’s nonetheless a memorably strong portrait of premature adult responsibilities forced on children by childish adults.
14-year-old Ola is “just” a schoolgirl, yet her plate is ridiculously full: She is cook, cleaner and general minder for not just autistic brother Nikodem but also their useless-layabout father Marek. It’s perhaps reasonable that her mother should have left this crap marriage to an irresponsible manchild, rather less so that she should have abandoned her children as well. Ola copes as well as she can, though sometimes the weight of the burden her barely-adolescent shoulders carry seems crushing.
When it is decided Nikodem will study for his communion ceremony—an almost impossible task for someone so clinically short-attention-spanned, but a highly desirable achievement in this very Catholic nation—that only puts yet more pressure on our young heroine. This verite “drama” ekes a rare amount of emotional involvement and suspense out of its unscripted events. Playing just twice in the Bay Area for the time being (as part of the Oscars Documentary Shortlist series), it’s well worth a look. Sun/6, Alamo Drafthouse (with director Zamecka in person). Also Sat/12, Rafael Film Center.
Beyond the Darkness
Joe D’Amato was the most prolific of Italian schlockmeisters, starting out working in reasonably respectable genre exercises before gradually sliding down a slippery slope of gore, softcore, pseudononymous work, and finally hardcore—his umpteen titles in the latter realm including Rocco Siffredi’s Tarzan X. In a brief moment between Emmanuelle movies and cannibal flicks—more precisely, between the same year’s nunsploitation joint Images From a Convent and 1980’s inimitably named Porno Holocaust—he made this nasty 1979 item, whose trailer bragged “If you enjoy the violent emotions, this film is for you!”
Handsome but maladjusted Francesco (Kieran Canter), who’s been raised by an alarmingly possessive housekeeper Iris, is in despair when his fiancee Anna dies. He decides the solution to his problems is, of course, to preserve her corpse. Unfortunately, people keep finding that corpse, and suffering grisly deaths as a result. D’Amato approach to horror didn’t rely on such niceties as atmospherics or high style; he simply aimed to gross you out, however crude the viscous FX might be. With music by the fabled Goblin, this movie (also known as Buried Alive) is better than it should be—but you’ll still need to shower off a certain stench afterward. Tues/8, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here.
Lost Landscapes of San Francisco
Rick Prelinger’s popular, ever-changing show of vintage clips, which ran for two nights at the Castro just a few weeks ago, now plays the more intimate confines of the Internet Archive, which it will benefit. Among the images of local yesteryears offered by the assembled mix of home movies, industrial films and more are glimpses of the 1966 “Human Be-In;” Native American protestors of the Alcatraz occupation a few years later; a promotional film for the then-new Union Square Garage; Bay Bridge construction footage; and a 4K restoration of the famously rediscovered 1906 short A Trip Down Market Street Before the Fire, which captures downtown just prior to the catastrophic earthquake. Mon/7, Internet Archive. More info here.