Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Movies Screen Grabs Screen Grabs: A tragic star hounded by the FBI

Screen Grabs: A tragic star hounded by the FBI

Kristin Stewart plays Jean Seberg. Plus: Bong Joon-Ho retrospective, Noise Pop films, Unnamed Footage Festival, more

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A couple of the smaller, more idiosyncratic local film festivals add to the celluloid mix this week. Within the larger Noise Pop schedule of concerts, parties and other events, the Noise Pop Film Screening Series opens this Wed/26 at the Roxie with Lance Bangs’ Pavement: The Slow Century, a somewhat raggedy documentary 2002 overview of the Stockton band’s decade-long existence. The same director’s Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation plays the next night, while Saturday (as screenings move over to the Alamo Drafthouse) there’s a feature about NYC’s legendary indie record store Other Music. On Sunday there’s a double bill of the newly excavated SF punk doc featurette Crime: 1978 plus that year’s terrific Philip Kaufman-directed, SF-set Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. On Mon/2 the series ends with El Duce Tape, about the infamous late lead singer of shock-rock outfit The Mentors. More info here.

Truly off the beaten cinematic path is the third edition of the Unnamed Footage Festival, which celebrates that least-loved genre stepchild, the “found footage” horror movie. Well, apparently somebody still loves it, even if many folks may have long since tired of the form that gave us the original Blair Witch Project and all those Paranormal Activities.

Taking place at Artists Television Access, the Little Roxie and the Balboa Theatre, the four-day event features a substantial lineup of such faux-documentary thrillers, from opening night’s double bill of Ricky Umberger’s 2018 The Fear Footage and its world-premiere sequel to films from Mexico (Feral), Japan (Noroi: The Curse), South Korea (A Record of Sweet Murder), and such tantalizing U.S. titles as Lensface, Phony, A Very Important Film, Peeping Tommy, UFO Abduction and They’re Inside.

Not every film here is new; there’s the Elijah Wood-starring Maniac remake from a few years back, and 2016 festival-circuit favorite Fraud. Laughter unintended by the filmmakers (who’ve since disowned the movie) will presumably be encouraged at the screening of 2012’s The Lock In, a Christian would-be horror movie of truly stupefying ineptitude in which the presence of a “dirty magazine” at a church youth sleepover apparently summons Satan Himself, or something. The Unnamed Footage Festival runs Thurs/27 (at Artists Television Access), Fri/28 (Roxie), and Sat/29-Sun/1 (Balboa Theatre). More info here.

Major commercial openings on Friday include two new versions of much-adapted literary classics. The Invisible Man sees H.G. Wells’ story turned into #MeToo-era horror as Elizabeth Moss’ abusive ex vanishes yet continues to terrorize her. Emma features The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a period-faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s comic-romantic intrigue that’s gotten some admiring early reviews. Love is also in the air with Just One More Kiss (at the 4 Star), a supernatural sudser whose writer-director Faleena Hopkins is also a best-selling novelist in the Harlequin Romance mode.

If you want a literal cartoon, there’s My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, an anime sequel that the Roxie will be showing in both subtitled and dubbed versions. There’s also The Times of Bill Cunningham (at the Opera Plaza, Shattuck Cinemas and Rafael Film Center), a new documentary about the late, great photographer who was profiled a decade ago in the sleeper hit Bill Cunningham: New York.

Previewed but not particularly recommended are Michael Winterbottom’s Greed (at area theaters), a colorful but unfunny satire of today’s predatory super-rich, with Steve Coogan as a British fashion mogul-slash-money-shuffling con man; and Bertrand Bonello’s French Zombi Child. The latter is a mix of listless teen drama and vague colonialist indictment that ends up the biggest hunk of pretentious voodoo-related nonsense since Shirley MacLaine faced Puerto Rican Santeria practitioners in The Possession of Joel Delaney half a century ago. It opens at the Embarcadero and Shattuck.

Definitely recommended is Parasite, which many previously disinterested folks have gotten interested in since its surprise Oscar victory. As a result it’s playing a lot of return theatrical dates, including a special four-day Bong Joon-Ho minifest at the Castro that includes Parasite in its director-approved alternative B&W version (Sun/1-Tues/3), plus on Wed/4 a double bill of his two most popular prior films, 2006’s delicious old-school creature feature The Host and 2013 English-language dystopian sci-fi blowout Snowpiercer. More info here.

Also opening Friday:

Seberg
Jean Seberg was a movie star, but she never quite escaped the onus of being a failed one. A complete unknown, she was chosen amongst thousands of hopefuls to play Saint Joan (yes, of Arc) in Otto Preminger’s 1957 epic. But the turgid movie flopped, her performance seemed anticlimactic after so much hype, and the barely-adult actress reportedly endured much abuse from the famously tyrannical director. (Nonetheless, he used her in his next film, Bonjour Tristesse, in which she was excellent.)

The remainder of her career wobbled between Hollywood and European projects, never finding a stable footing in either, despite the hipster cachet she earned from playing the female lead in Godard’s 1960 breakout Breathless. Her personal life was messy, and the way her support of progressive political politics played out in the press didn’t really help—a sincere belief in racial equality wound up making her look like the poster child for rich white liberal dilettantism. That also made her a person of interest to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which sought to discredit not just black activists but their supporters. There is still speculation that the Feds virtually hounded her to a lurid death, found overdosed in her car on a Paris street in 1979. Her forty-year-old body had been sitting there for ten days.

Seberg has Kristin Stewart as the star at the start of this downhill trajectory, in 1968, when she was back in Hollywood for a supposed “comeback” in the flop musical Paint Your Wagon. (This movie doesn’t detail her affair with costar Clint Eastwood, or even mention his name.) On that trip she met Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a Black Power figure with some vague attachment to the Panthers, and commenced an affair with him—despite his being married with kids, and her own marriage to French novelist Romain Gary (Yvan Attal). Her subsequent political fundraising drew FBI attention, in the form here of two agents assigned to spy on her: One with some compassion (Jack O’Connell), one without (Vince Vaughn). Benedict Andrews’ film charts the combination of good intentions, bad judgments, and malicious government inference that would begin seriously unraveling her already somewhat fragile well-being within the next couple years.

Stewart is less a conventional apple-pie beauty than Jean Seberg was. But she’s styled to a fair approximation, and gives a creditable performance. Particularly coming on the heels of some less exacting celebrity biopics of late, this one merits some points for being at least reasonably accurate to known events. It’s pity Amazon apparently bailed on its awards campaign late last year—if nothing else, Seberg is certainly a better movie than Judy, even though its central performance may be less showy than Renee Zellwegger’s Oscar-winning one. Embarcadero, Shattuck Cinemas. More info here.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band
One of last year’s best movies was Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorcese, though it seems to have slipped through the cracks of most awards-giving bodies—probably because it contained just enough fictive content to confuse classification as a strict documentary. Of related interest is this more straightforward feature by Daniel Roher, executive produced by Scorcese and Ron Howard. It chronicles the intersection of five musicians who were initially known (and remained perhaps best-known) for their association with Dylan, but who on their own arguably kickstarted the “Americana” genre decades before that coinage existed.

Teens Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm first met when the latter was already playing on tour with rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins, whom the former left Canada to join as well. Soon other future members of what would be simply called The Band took spots in Hawkins’ ever-changing backup group, becoming their own stand-alone act only to immediately attract the attention of Dylan—whom they then accompanied on the tumultuous tour when he first went “electric” (and was booed by folkie purists at every stop). In 1967 they began recording their own material, resulting in the next year’s Music from the Big Pink, critical acclaim, and some eventual commercial success. (Read the 48 Hills interview with Robbie Robertson here.)

The Band’s mix of country, rock, folk, blues and other elements was highly distinctive, going far beyond the influences of their professional mentors to date. Alas, it all slowly dissolved in a haze of substance abuse (from alcohol to cocaine to heroin), clocking one final glory with the 1976 SF Winterland concert Scorcese shot for The Last Waltz. Yet even that film was somewhat bitterly contested by Helm, who felt his erstwhile BFF Robertson had once again grabbed the “star” role at everyone else’s expense.

As the title makes clear, this is The Band’s saga from Robertson’s POV, skimming over many of Helms’ gripes and anything else that might not make the principal interviewee look so good. Thus it may comprise a less-than-definitive overview of an act with five significant talents and personalities, even given additional insights from such admirers as Clapton, Springsteen, Taj Mahal, Van Morrison and David Geffen. Nevertheless, it’s doubtless the best such document we’ll get while any of the principals are still alive, and is recommended not just for Band fans but those interested in the evolution of 60s/70s rock in general. Embarcadero, Shattuck Cinemas, Rafael Film Center. More info here. 

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