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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Roxie reopens with cinema classics (and a...

Screen Grabs: Roxie reopens with cinema classics (and a DC punk blast)

Ease back into the seats with beloved sights and sounds. Plus: Story of a Three-Day Pass, Honey Moccasin, Dance of the 41, more

The Roxie is re-opening this coming weekend for limited-capacity, in-person screenings, with mask use required. The kickoff feature Fri/21, by popular demand (yes there was a vote), is Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 sentimental arthouse mega-hit Cinema Paradiso.

It’s being offered in the two-hour version most people originally saw, and for all the complaints over Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein’s editorial interference (back when his other handsy forms of interference were not yet publicly discussed), by all accounts this is one case in which Miramax’s meddling appears to have actually improved a film that flopped in its native Italy (at 2.5 hours). Even fanatical supporters, of which this movie has many, tend to agree that the subsequent “director’s cut” running nearly three hours is way too much of a good thing. 

The weekend will also bring another old favorite (in a 35mm print, yet), David Lynch’s inimitable 1977 feature directorial debut Eraserhead, which for years was the king of midnight movies. There will be projections of two music documentaries already screening in the Roxie Virtual Cinema program: Lisa Rovner’s excellent Sisters With Transistors, about pioneering female electronic composers (which we previously reviewed here); and Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement

The latter provides flashback overview of a creative hub that one participant reflects may have flourished precisely “because DC was so hard to have a punk scene in.” The classic one-industry town with little use for non-political culture, Washington felt like “an empty pit of misery” to many misfit young residents when bands like Overkill, The Slickee Boys, and the great Bad Brains began forming in the mid/late 70s. They in turn begat a second generation of punk outfits including Teen Idles, Enzymes, S.O.A. and the hugely influential Minor Threat. 

Galvanized by the arrival of President Reagan in 1980, DC punkdom was distinctly political, embracing “straight edge” credos as well as some intersection with the communities of old yippies and Young Socialists. The scene somewhat self-destructed when it grew popular enough to attract an influx of apolitical suburban assholes who rapidly cranked up the violence at shows. But there were plenty of lasting benefits, from the founding of Dischord Records to the anomaly of long-running experimental noise band Half Japanese.

With plenty of archival footage, plus latterday interviews with Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, H.R., et al., this feature by Paul Bishow, Sam Lavine and James June Schneider provides another puzzle piece in the ever-expanding map of regional punk scene documentaries—one overlapping a bit with 2014’s Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington DC, which covered a period starting and ending a few years later.

Many of these films will have some kind of live component at specific showings, whether musical performance or local interviewees. That is not the case with The Story of a Three-Day Pass, which is also playing Roxie Virtual Cinema as well as some in-theater dates. Premiered at the 1967 San Francisco International Film Festival, this first feature from Melvin Van Peebles (who’d worked as a cable car gripman here in the ’50s) reflected his earlier experiences as an African American in the Air Force, and in France some years later. 

The Guyana-born, England-based actor Harry Baird plays Turner, a US Army soldier who gets a promotion (for being an “Uncle Tom,” his mirror image chides) and a three-day leave. He heads for Paris, eventually lucking into the companionship of shop clerk Miriam (Nicole Berger). They travel together to the ocean—where despite a few hiccups all goes well, at least until chance crosses his path with some fellow grunts, who will surely ruin his military career by telling the captain he was seen “consorting” with a white woman.

The B&W Three-Day Pass is a movie very much under the spell of the Nouvelle Vague, mixing verite-style realism with every visual and editorial trick in the book, from fast/slo-mo to split screen and double exposures. Its playful style often overshadows the sketchy story’s substance, which sputters out with a particularly weak ending. But if Van Peebles’ direction is more imitative than innovative at this point, he still communicates an infectious joy in the medium, as well as a few sharp social insights. In four years he’d make the much more fiery Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, a singular vision for all its flaws. This comparatively lightweight debut shows that talent in incubational form. 

His appealing leads, alas, were not destined for great things: The strapping Baird, whose athletic build had gotten him roles in Tarzan and Hercules-type flicks, found his acting career cut short by glaucoma-induced blindness just as the movies began creating starring vehicles for the kinds of Black action heroes he was a natural for. Berger had already worked abroad, and been in films by New Wave luminaries Truffaut, Rohmer and Godard. But by the time this final vehicle was released, she’d died, killed by an accidental collision in a car driven by her friend, French singer Dany Dauberson. In addition to the Roxie, The Story of a Three-Day Pass is also playing BAMPFA and Smith Rafael Film Center’s virtual cinema programs. 

Several of the Roxie’s reopening-weekend shows are already sold out, but all the films noted above are being shown more than once. Go to www.roxie.com for schedule and ticket info. 

Some notable new releases available elsewhere:

Honey Moccasin

Comprising Program 3 of SF Cinematheque’s Cousins and Kin series curated by the Cousin Collective of Indigenous experimental filmmakers is this unclassifiable 1998 work by Ontario-based multimedia artist Shelley Niro. She’s sometimes been compared to the likes of Cindy Sherman for conceptual art in which she often dons the guise of satirical alter egos. But as a Mohawk Nation member, the viewpoint she articulates is usually specific to tribal traditions, and to ridiculing popular stereotypes. 

Here, Tantoo Cardinal plays the titular figure, a Native sleuth investigating a rash of thefts in which ceremonial costume and regalia have gone missing. But the 47-minute Honey Moccasin is no more mystery than it is a musical, a camp comedy, or historical analysis, with additional elements including a fashion show, several songs, archival photos, and a B&W experimental film-within-the-film. For all its address of Indigenous issues, the film’s underground sensibility is most reminiscent of early 1980s NYC punk cinema. It’s playing free online through June 15 (more info here).

Dance of the 41

A different kind of wild-side cultural ride is provided by this Mexican drama, which played SFFILM last month and is now on Netflix. It’s based on a notorious real-life society scandal in which police raided a private home in 1901 Mexico City, where a group of largely upper-class men were having…well, a gay old time. It was widely rumored that their number included President Diaz’s own son-in-law, though naturally the details were kept officially hushed-up. 

In director David Pablos and writer Monika Revilla’s film, Ignacio (Alfonso Herrera) is an ambitious new Congressional appointee who duly marries the President’s (Fernando Becerril) daughter Amada (Mabel Cadena). But once that savvy political move is accomplished, he simply installs his bride in a vast mansion and more or less abandons her. Ignacio much prefers spending leisure hours in the very exclusive club of other wealthy closeted gays, to whose drag balls and orgies he begins bringing his real love, younger government worker Evaristo (Emiliano Zurita).

Handsomely produced Dance can get a little monotonous, as its story pretty metronomically alternates between scenes of covert, decadent gay life, and the neglected wife’s rising fury in isolation. One does feel for Amada as a woman scorned by a husband who, even beyond their sexual mismatch, treats her like furniture. However, when the full hammer blow of her (and mainstream society’s) vengeance descends, sympathy swings back in the other direction. That stinging conclusion lends lingering power to an admirable film that nonetheless until then has lacked much cumulative dramatic impact. 

Sequin in a Blue Room

Latterday licentiousness is the primary focus in what New Zealand-born, Sydney-based director Samuel Van Grinsven has subtitled “A Homosexual Film.” Gee thanks—otherwise we’d never have guessed. His protagonist is the wispy 16-year-old redhead known as Sequin (Conor Leach), for the Liza Minnelli-esque blouse he wears during anonymous hookups with hunky older white men. There are a lot of those, since he seems to spend all his time (even in high school Lit class) scrolling a Grindr-type app. He then deletes profiles after meetings because “I don’t really do that… see people twice,” as he sniffs to one inexplicably besotted fortysomething. 

When Sequin is invited to a mysterious floating group sex party in the “Blue Room,” he meets someone (Samuel Barrie) he’s besotted with for a change—though that may be simply because he’s realized he might like hunky Black men closer to his own age. Nevertheless, finding this love object again becomes his obsession, one that leads to trouble in what Sight & Sound called (with rather absurd value inflation) a “Lynchian queer underworld.”

With an emotional range that stretches from smirk to sulk, Sequin is a vapidly self-absorbed youth that only a diehard twink aficionado could love. He already has the jadedness of experience without any of its wisdom. We’re supposed to find something poignant in his finally circling back to something like normal gay adolescence (complete with nerdy classmate b.f.) at the end, but he’s still a shallow surface who has no apparent friends or interests, and doesn’t even appreciate the open-minded supportiveness of his needless-to-say-hunky single dad (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor). 

Itself all sexy style minus any depth (oh wait, there’s a stock maternal drag queen for that), Blue Room is awash in discotheque lighting and other advertising-like aesthetics. It’s a perfect movie illustration of “no there there,” in that it could just as easily have been eight minutes, or eight hours, instead of 80 min., there’s so little narrative shape or substance here. Whatever Van Grinsven is trying to say with this empty package, let’s hope he grows out of it. The film is available on major On Demand platforms as of Tues/18. 

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