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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: Dance, music, sex, romance (and a little postwar German art)

Screen Grabs: Dance, music, sex, romance (and a little postwar German art)

Queen rock Montreal, Noir City crosses borders, Masc defies trad gender roles, 'Anselm' limns a heroic spirit, more


Dance, music, sex, romance—the basic staples of life that Prince enumerated forty-two (!) years ago dominate notable arrivals on local screens this week, which include the launch of both a new series about gender-nonconforming cinema at BAMPFA and Noir City’s 21st edition at the Grand Lake.

Dance, Music, Postwar German Art: A Documentary and Experimental Gamut

Some personal-favorite musical acts, past and present, happen to all be showcased at the movies this week. The biggest release—albeit just on IMAX screens nationwide this Thurs/18-Sun/21—is Queen Rock Montreal, a supersized remaster of a 1981 concert record that has been sporadically seen under different titles (originally We Will Rock You: Queen Live in Concert) over the last four decades. We’re promised the upgrade of 12-channel surround sound, though I’m not sure how the visuals of long ago, captured for what was intended to be primarily home viewing, will benefit from being blown up to gigantic proportions.

However, this hits-heavy set does show the English band in excellent form, complete with Freddie Mercury making an entrance in full Castro Clone garb. (The leather jacket, then the shirt soon come off, natch… then eventually the pants.) While the Canadian audience declines invitations to bust a move, the singer gives his all—in contrast to when I saw Queen a few years prior, in a midsized midwestern city where he didn’t bother straining his voice on high notes. Along with the expected numbers, you’ll get “Under Pressure” sans Bowie, a “Jailhouse Rock” cover, and other relative rareties. Go here for theater locations, showtimes and tickets.

Just as punk arrived in the late ’70s to slough off the baroque excesses of acts like Queen, so a decade or so later grunge emerged in reaction to the various flavors of big-hair silliness metal descended to in the ’80s. While that new scene itself eventually became a kind of over-hyped caricature (whose flameout was memorably chronicled in the 1996 documentary Hype!), it did cough up quite a number of great bands. Laying path for Nirvana et al. were those fellow Washingtonians whose career is chronicled in The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale.

Unavailable for press preview, Bob Hannam’s two-hour-plus career overview charts this grungiest of sludge metal purveyors from their roots to the 1986 recording of Gluey Porch Treatments—a seminal sound as well as a genius title—through the expected less-than-triumphant major label stint, then on to the present day. Unlike nearly all their original contemporaries, they’ve endured, and were always too uncompromising to court “flavor of the month” branding. Colossus plays SF’s 4 Star Thurs/18 only, with Hannam and former Melvins bassist Tom Flynn attending.

As “alternative rock’s” audience aged, much of it drifted towards the more soothing sounds of acts like Sufjan Stevens, Jose Gonzalez, and the subject of Josh Sliffe’s Who Can See Forever: Iron & Wine—all of whom I’ve fallen in, then a little out of love with. In one of this documentary’s more revealing moments, I&W singer-songwriter-mainstay Sam Beam acknowledges feeling pressure by some fans (I plead guilty) to stick with sounds he’s since moved on from. But hey, he needs to follow his muse.

Largely a concert film, albeit in chamber-type surrounds deployed for the camera rather than a real live audience, this is a pleasant 80-minute feature that affords no more insight than Beam is willing to verbalize—which isn’t much. We don’t exactly get to know him, and barely become acquainted with his musicians or any other collaborators. Still, the attractive idiosyncrasy of the native South Carolinian’s vocal and composing style comes through loud and clear. He will be performing an in-person solo acoustic set at both the Roxie’s 6:30 and 9pm screenings on Tues/16. More info here.

‘The Sound of the End of Music’

The movie musical form that perpetually seems to be struggling towards a comeback—and might yet manage it, given the current commercial success of both Wonka and The Color Purple—gets addressed from an avant-garde perspective in SF Cinematheque’s contribution to the 4 Star’s previously-previewed Get Down, Get Down series (more info here) saluting the genre. I Hear A New World: Deconstructing the Musical, which plays this Wed/17 only, offers 10 shorts that address the marriage of music, film and dance in different ways.

Some are pure abstractions, others provocative juxtapositions—TT Takemoto’s Looking for Jiro sets Japanese internment-camp history to incongruous 21st-century dancefloor tracks. Several are subversive appropriations of Hollywood or Hollywood-adjacent product: Gregg Biermann’s Happy Again fragments Gene Kelly’s titular Singin’ in the Rain number into a zillion superimposed parallel universes; Leslie Thornton’s Another Worldly is a critical compendium of vintage “exotic” dances around the globe. Likewise, Rhea Storr’s Madness Remixed considers another era’s commercialization of supposed “primitive” races and cultures as personified by Josephine Baker. A standout is People Like Us’ The Sound of the End of Music—in which Julie Andrews meets Apocalypse Now, Rogers & Hammerstein meets The Doors, and the resulting mashup works quite alarmingly well. Program and ticket info here.

Finally there’s Wim Wenders’ Anselm, a portrait of an artist who happens to be my favorite living one, the 78-year-old German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. No film record could fully capture the impact of his work (particularly the more monumental paintings), and this latest by his same-aged fellow countryman does not utilize the 3D format to ends as revelatory as his prior Pina—which 2011 feature made the late choreographer Bauch’s use of space and location dazzlingly palpable. You may or may not like the sparing use here of biographical reenactments, so frequently more a distraction than a plus in documentary cinema.

Still, this is a bracing overview of an extraordinary talent whose art in various media has always provided a window into “the open wound of German history,” particularly the Nazi era both he and Wenders were born at the tail-end of. We see him at work in the warehouses, and with the extensive equipment/support staff that work requires. We see him interviewed only in archival footage, appropriate for a sensibility that’s never depended on mere shock value, yet often provokes spectators into their own discomfited interpretations—or, sometimes, misinterpretations. (Unsurprisingly, given Germany’s postwar eagerness to bury its then-recent past, he was acclaimed abroad long before he found equal acceptance at home.)

This feature is a strong appreciation and perhaps a good introduction. But anyone previously unfamiliar with the artist is urged afterward to go see those Kiefer canvases on long-term display at SFMOMA—a visceral experience even Wim Wenders and 3D cannot begin to equal. Anselmopens Fri/19 at SF’s Roxie Theater.

Sex: Defying Traditional Roles

Co-curated by the Bay Area’s own Jenni Olson and New York-based critic Caden Mark Gardner, Masc: Trans Men, Butch Dykes, and Gender Nonconforming Heroes in Cinema is an extensive series commencing this week at BAMPFA in Berkeley. (Some of it is also streaming on the Criterion Channel.) With LGBTQ+ rights more than ever a focus for political attack by conservatives—didn’t we go through all this with Anita Bryant & co. almost half a century ago?—these humanizing screen portraits seem more necessary than ever, offering reality to cut through the inflammatory rhetoric.

They are nearly all documentaries, encompassing portraits of historical figures (No Ordinary ManChavela), irrepressible personalities (Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventure in PlasticSouthern Comfort), and defiant subcultures (The AggressivesShinjuku Boys). There is also the lone narrative feature of co-writers-directors-stars Harry Dodge and Silas Howard’s 2001 cult-favorite comedy By Hook Or By Crook, as well as a Feb. 17 program of variably fictive and nonfiction shorts by Monika Treut, Olson herself, and others. For full info on the series, which runs through Feb. 25, go here.

Defiance is also more a matter of necessity than choice for the young male protagonists in a new Italian movie, Giuseppe Fiorello’s Fireworks. In an early 1980s Sicilian village, fatherless Gianni (Samuele Segreto) is bullied by the neighborhood layabouts and even his own not-particularly-supportive mother’s boyfriend, a macho blowhard. One such altercation causes him to have a moped accident—which turns out to be good luck, since it introduces him to teenaged Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro) and his contrastingly warm family, who own a fireworks business. The two lads are smitten with each other, but Gianni in particular is hesitant, having already experienced the scorn of local homophobes.

Leisurely (at 134 minutes) yet never slack, this apparently fact-inspired tale does head in the tragic direction you might’ve hoped we’d no longer see in gay love stories onscreen. But there’s nothing condescending or stereotypical about how the central characters are portrayed. The film takes the actors too seriously to provide any stock sexploitation, making for an unusually chaste depiction that’s nonetheless suffused by mutual longing. It’s the community around them—even, disappointingly, parental figures—that proves sordid and destructive, rather than same-sex desire. A very well-crafted drama, Fireworks is available from Cinephobia Releasing on DVD, On Demand, and digital platforms as of Thurs/18.

Romance: Noir City 21

Well, the romance of old movies, at least—everybody knows love can be a very bitter, even deadly pill to swallow in film noir. This year’s theme for the beloved genre showcase is “Darkness Has No Borders,” allowing for the usual vintage Hollywood melodramas to mix with a selection of like-minded international titles drawn from Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Among the more familiar classics on tap are Carol Reed’s 1947 Odd Man Out, with James Mason as an Irish political fugitive, and John Huston’s trend-setting 1950 heist flick The Asphalt Jungle. Equally famed at least in their countries of origin are Emilio Fernandez’s 1951 Mexican Victims of Sin, stranding nightclub queen Ninon Seville neck-deep in lurid and maudlin travails; Youssef Chanine’s 1958 Egyptian Cairo Station, a vivid slice of lower-class city life;Giuseppe De Santis’ 1949 Italian Bitter Rice, which made neorealism popular by adding bombshell Silvana Mangano to the minestrone; and Louis Malle’s 1958 Elevator to the Gallows, an early nouvelle vague marriage between Maurice Ronet, Jeanne Moreau, crime, and a score by Miles Davis.

A fascinating double bill on Sun/21 teams two among the many versions of Zola’s brutal La bete humaine, from two great if wildly different directors: Jean Renoir’s 1938 French The Human Beast with Jean Gabin, and Fritz Lang’s 1954 U.S. Human Desire, with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.

There are also some choice relative obscurities from the U.S. (Street of ChancePlunder RoadStrongroom), U.K. (They Made a Fugitive, Across the Bridge), Argentina (Never Open That DoorHardly a Criminal), Italy (Without PitySmog) (French Le trou, South Korean Aimless BulletMexican Four Against the World, Japanese Zero Focus).

Star-watchers will want to keep an eye out for William Holden (Union Station) and Edward G. Robinson (Black Tuesday) in under-heralded but quality vehicles. Though for our money the star turn of this Noir City edition—with apologies to Seville, Gabin and Mangano—may be Vince Edwards’ as a hunky hitman in Irving Lerner’s 1958 Murder by Contract. It’s the kind of B movie that was routinely overlooked at the time, but now looks better than just about anything of its type since… and that includes David Fincher’s recent The Killer, which is infinitely more pretentious and less effective.

For full program, schedule and ticket info on the current Noir City, which runs Fri/19 through Sun/28 at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre, go here.

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