Noise Pop is back, and so is its Film Festival, which is a little scaled down from some prior editions, but still offers five days of primo music-centric filmmaking. Things kick off at the Alamo Drafthouse on Wed/22 and Thu/23 with two very different vintage narrative features. 1982’s Der Fan (accompanied by a director’s cut of Boy Harsher’s recent 40-minute music video/horror homage The Runner) is a European cult movie as yet little-known in the US. It was the feature debut for director Eckhart Schmidt, who’s still almost bewilderingly active in his mid-80s—he reportedly made 20 films in 2021 alone—but remains best-known for this adaptation of his own novel.
Desiree Nosbusch plays Simone, a middle-class German teenager whose obsession with the synthpop star known only as “R” (Bodo Staiger) crowds out everything else—she’s uncommunicative with her parents, absent or indifferent at school, lost in delusional fantasies and even suicidal ideations (“Then he’ll be forced to think about me!”). She’s so amazed “R” hasn’t answered her fan letters, she assaults the mailman.
When she finally does manage to meet her idol, it goes better than anyone (save Simone of course) might have imagined. But “R” hasn’t reckoned with the extremity of this groupie’s devotion, or the degree to which she will refuse their ever being parted again. With its funereal pace and cold, stylized, very Germanic New Wave flavor (“R” is the kind of musician who performs stock-still, surrounded by mannequins), Der Fan maintains icy decorum even when it moves into horror territory… complete with deployment of an electric carving knife.
The next night, also at the Alamo, there’s the contrastingly antic hiphop spoof 1993 CB4, written and produced by star Chris Rock. He plays one of three suburban youths who pose as street-hardened thugz to become Cell Block Four, “the world’s most dangerous band,” a fraudulent but highly successful gangster-rap act.
There’s also Chris Elliott as a white-boy documentarian, Phil Hartman as a Tipper Gore-type political crusader, Khandi Alexander as a carnally overwhelming supergroupie (wooed by pint-sized Rock, she sniffs “Small men drown in my shit”), bit parts for LaWanda Page and Isaac Hayes, plus umpteen celebrity cameos (Ice T, Ice Cube, Halle Berry, Flavor Flav, Shaq, Eazy E, even the Butthole Surfers). This freewheeling satire is uneven but always entertaining, and frequently hilarious. Director Tamra Davis will be present for the 30th-anniversary screening.
As of Fri/24 the festival switches over to the Cut Outdoor Cinema downtown with Chad Stockfleth’s new The Elephant 6 Recording Co., a definitive screen history to date of the collective that put the psychedelic twee back in rock-pop, most notably via such interconnected acts as The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Olivia Tremor Control.
The remainder of this year’s Noise Pop Film Festival is all concert movies, one recent and two archival. The former, showing Sat/25 6:30 pm at the Cut, is self-explanatory The Flaming Lips Space Bubble Concert: Live in Oklahoma 2021. Earlier that day (11:30 am) at the Alamo is a revival of 1973’s Wattstax, immortalizing the prior summer’s all-day Los Angeles music festival that featured Isaac Hayes, The Staples Singers, Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas, and more. There are also off-site performances by The Emotions (at a church) and Johnnie Taylor (a nightclub), most of these artists reflecting the event’s sponsorship by Stax Records.
It’s a memorable display of African-American pride—and extravagant 1970s sartorial style—that also makes room for such leading Black cultural figures of the moment as Richard Pryor, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, Melvin Van Peeble, and so forth. Somewhat oddly, it was directed by the very Caucasian Mel Stuart, whose other memorable title in a long career was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
The festival’s closing night at the Cut is another concert film with an activist tilt, 1998’s Free Tibet. It commemorates the ’96 Tibetan Freedom Concert, which I don’t remember a thing about—despite it taking place in SF, and being the largest benefit show of its type since Live Aid. But it had a pretty awesome, uber-Nineties lineup encompassing A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, The Roots, Bjork, Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, De La Soul, Fugees, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers… and, yes, the Dalai Lama. All of whose contributions somehow get crammed into just 90 minutes. So don’t expect entire sets, or even entire songs.
The 2023 Noise Pop Film Festival runs Wed/22-Sun/26 at SF’s Alamo Drafthouse and The Cut Outdoor Cinema. For full Noise Pop schedule, program and ticket info, go here.
Three recent foreign-language dramas arriving this week on streaming platforms are all worth a look.
Mario Martone’s Italian Nostalgia, based on a novel by Ermanno Rea, is about a homecoming: After 40 years’ self-imposed exile spent mostly in Cairo, Felice (Pierfrancesco Favino) returns to his native Naples. A first order of business is seeing his ancient, overjoyed mother. But otherwise, Felice is not in a hurry to reconnect with people from his former life, as he’s primarily interested in reuniting with someone who may be less glad to see him. That is Oreste (Tommaso Ragno), the former BFF whose violent actions drove Felice away those many years ago—though from the other man’s view, it may be more a case of cowardly abandonment.
In any case, Oreste is now the biggest crime boss in the district, and not someone to be messed with. Felice seeks a reconciliation, but will his ex-friend want that? Will he desire vengeance instead? Drawn back here by nostalgia for his youth, does Felice have any idea who he might be dealing with after all this time?
Weaving in flashbacks to the protagonists’ teen years in the 1970s, Martone’s film hovers between crime thriller and character drama—both its hero and the viewer aren’t sure just which way it’s ultimately gonna fall until the final scene. This atmospheric tale is in no hurry, yet it pulls us along, Paolo Carnera’s widescreen photography evoking a Naples that is both inviting and full of potential violence. Breaking Glass Pictures releases Nostalgia to U.S. VOD/digital platforms on Tue/21.
Another tale of return from exile is Spanish director Ruben Sainz’s Brazilian Magoado. Surly loner Beto is introduced laying unconscious on a beach, as if washed ashore from a shipwreck—but he simply passed out drunk the night before. He’s a fisherman who mostly keeps to himself, barring occasional trips into town to sell his catch and get into moderate trouble with local toughs who call him “gringo.” He is not pleased when one day a stranger shows up to shadow him—our first indication that Beto may be on the run from someone or something. (We never really do find out what.) It turns out the visitor is actually seeking him on behalf of the son he left behind in another life 15 years earlier. But Beto doesn’t necessarily want to be found, by his own offspring or anyone else.
Shot in a near-square aspect ratio, in bright colors, Magoado is a visual treat. It’s also bit thin, story-wise, even if the narrative must stretch only over a terse 72 minutes. Still, there is something beguiling about its combination of storytelling simplicity and retro travelogue-like pictorial appeal, recalling neorealist films of yore. Buffalo 8 releases it to US streaming platforms this Fri/24.
Finally, there’s writer-director Rodrigo de Oliveira’s The First Fallen, which focuses on some fictive characters who are among the “first wave” of those impacted by AIDS in Brazil. It opens on New Year’s Eve in 1982. Suzano (Johnny Massaro) has made an unexpected trip home from studies in Paris to see his nurse sister (Clara Choveaux) and teenage nephew (Alex Bonin), as well as old friends in gay community including Humberto (Victor Camilo), transwoman Rose (Renata Carvalho), and ex-lover Joca (Higor Campagnaro). But Suzano may have a hidden agenda—perhaps he’s saying goodbye—and some of these other figures are also already living under a dark cloud they can scarcely acknowledge to themselves, let alone discuss with others.
Eight months later, Suzano’s secret is as visible as a KS lesion. The First Fallen captures the terror of a moment in time when AIDS was a sort of rumor on the edge of stirring panic, with scant medical knowledge and no treatments as yet available. As the sister here discovers, even hospital staff are too scared to deal with its malignant specter.
Oliveira’s capturing of that mood is a bit surprising, since he himself wasn’t born until 1985. Other aspects of this drama can be awkward, with its over-reliance on monologues, and somewhat clumsy structure. Earnest, uneven, well-acted, it’s not the strongest cinematic chronicle of the era that I’ve seen. But given the degree to which that era—indelible to those who lived through it—has largely vanished from awareness for younger generations, The First Fallen still provides a vivid microcosmic history lesson. It’s available On Demand from Amazon Prime as of Tue/21.