Tag Archives: Pacific Film Archive

Big Screen Berkeley: And God created Trintignant

Portrait of Jean-Louis Trintignant (1972). Courtesy Film Forum/P
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One of France’s most popular leading men of the post-war era, actor Jean-Louis Trintignant first achieved a measure of notoriety playing opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s lowbrow Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman, 1957), then skyrocketed to international fame via the massive box-office hit Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman, 1966).

More cerebral than Alain Delon, less earthy than Jean-Paul Belmondo, Trintignant blended Joseph Cotten earnestness with Anthony Perkins neurosis, his signature performance remaining (for me, at least) the nameless prosecutor delivering righteous justice to the fascist generals in Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969). For those interested in exploring the more obscure corners of his filmography, however, you can’t do better than Estate Violenta (Violent Summer, 1959), a romantic melodrama screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9th as part of the series ‘And God Created Jean-Louis Trintignant’. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Good old Eurowestern ‘Navajo Joe’

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If you’ve been keeping score at home, it should be obvious by now that yours truly isn’t much of a western enthusiast. Since I began writing for Berkeleyside three years ago, I’ve penned precisely one column about this most American of film genres – and that concerned a rather non-traditional example of the style.

There’s one subset of the oater, however, that I’ve always found completely irresistible: the Eurowestern. During the 1960s and ‘70s, well over 500 Old West adventures were produced on the continent. Most of these films were Italian — hence the mildly pejorative descriptor ‘spaghetti western’ – but plenty of other countries also got into the act, including West Germany, Yugoslavia, Britain, and France.

Italy, however, was responsible for the vast majority of Eurowesterns, and it’s Italy that’s the focus of Pacific Film Archive’s current series, ‘The Hills Run Red: Italian Westerns, Leone, and Beyond’. As the series’ title suggests, director Sergio Leone remains the name most of us associate with the genre. Indeed, his reputation is well deserved — there are few films that equal The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West – but he was hardly alone. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Hitchcock’s “Sabotage” still shocks

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According to the unattributed dictionary definition that prefaces Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage, the word sabotage means ‘wilful destruction of buildings or machinery with the object of alarming a group of persons or inspiring public uneasiness ‘. It’s an apt description of the effect the film must have had on 1936 cinemagoers, who surely weren’t prepared for Sabotage’s gut-wrenching denouement — a scene still likely to jar viewers today.

Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Secret Agent’, Sabotage (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8:45 p.m. on Friday Jan. 11 as part of the series ‘Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense’) is an overlooked highlight of the filmmaker’s career. Produced prior to Hitchcock’s arrival in Hollywood, it’s since been overshadowed by such US-made heavyweights as Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho. Familiarity with those films, however, has long since leeched them of their ability to shock and surprise — something that can’t be said of Sabotage. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Eyes Without a Face

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Remember Billy Idol? The punk rocker turned ‘80s rock star projected an image of bad boy stupidity, but it seems there was more going on beneath the studded leather jackets and spiky blonde pompadour. An English Literature student at university, Idol apparently also spent time at the local art house, soaking up the inspiration of an obscure French film entitled Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face). The rest is Top Ten history.

Co-founder with Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française in 1937, archivist Georges Franju began making documentary short subjects in the late 1940s, but moved into more fantastic realms a decade later. Eyes Without a Face (screening at Pacific Film Archive on Friday, Dec. 7 at 8:50 p.m. as part of the ongoing series “Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960″) was his second feature-length film and the one for which he’s best remembered. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: La Bête Humaine

La Bete Humaine
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French director Jean Renoir is rightfully considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He’s responsible, after all, for both 1937’s La Grande Illusion and 1939’s La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) – two films that have featured prominently on countless ‘best of’ lists for decades.

In between churning out those classics, Renoir also found time to direct two films in 1938: La Marseillaise, a re-enactment of the French Revolution that I’ve never seen, and La Bête Humaine. The latter feature, every bit the equal of Renoir’s acknowledged classics, screens at 2:00 PM on Sunday, November 4th at Pacific Film Archive as part of the series ‘Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960’.

Adapted from Emile Zola’s 1890 novel of the same name, La Bête Humaine stars French matinee idol Jean Gabin as Jacques Lantier, an engineer on the Paris-Le Havre railway. Stricken by a mysterious chronic illness and burdened by a family history of alcoholism, Lantier prefers the reliable company of his engine, La Lison, to that of fickle humans. … Continue reading »

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Reviewed: “Panic in the Streets, “The Waiting Room”

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Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought ‘I wish I could go and see a good movie about public health tonight?’ Well, guess what — this week you have not one, but two, movies to choose from that satisfy that very desire. One’s fiction, the other a documentary, and both are highly recommended.

Elia Kazan’s 1950 problem picture Panic in the Streets (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 pm on Sunday, October 21) was produced in an era when most Americans believed government was the solution, not the problem. The problem in this case is pneumonic plague, introduced into the United States via a stowaway on a rat-infested merchant ship.  … Continue reading »

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Walker: Absurdist classic steeped in grime, grit, blood

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The United States has always fancied itself master of the Western Hemisphere. From the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 through the Reagan Doctrine of the 1980s and on to the present day, Central and South American countries have frequently found themselves the unhappy victims of “gringo meddling.”

In 1853, an ambitious Yankee adventurer named William Walker embarked on a mission to bring American-style freedom and democracy to the people of Nicaragua. Having previously established the short-lived Republic of Lower California in northern Mexico, Walker was determined to repeat the process in Central America — and he succeeded, albeit temporarily.

Walker’s strange but true story is the subject of director Alex Cox’s satiric 1987 biopic Walker, screening at 6:00 pm on Saturday, Oct. 6 at Pacific Film Archive as part of the Archive’s current series ‘Rebel Without Applause: The Films of Alex Cox.’ As a substantial added bonus, Cox will be in attendance for a post-screening interview with former Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman. … Continue reading »

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‘Pretty Poison’: Free outdoor screening at BAM-PFA

a pretty posion anthony perkins PRETTYPOISON-8
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No one else could portray neurotic young men quite as well as Anthony Perkins. From Fear Strikes Out to Psycho and beyond, Perkins specialized in playing guys who, despite being burdened with major psychological problems, could still engage an audience’s sympathy — even after committing murder in a spooky old motel.

Though getting a little long in the tooth for such roles by 1968 (he was 36 that year), Perkins remained up to the task for director Noel King’s Pretty Poison. Perkins’ performance in this hard to pigeonhole character study can be enjoyed at 8:30 pm on Friday, August 24th, when the film makes a rare repertory appearance as part of Pacific Film Archive’s annual (and free) sculpture garden lawn screening.

Dennis Pitt (Perkins) is a parolee ready to re-enter society. Having accrued a good record during his confinement (for what is not immediately clear), Pitt makes a misstep with sympathetic case officer Azanauer (John Randolph) by joking – we think! — about the secret course he’s recently taken in interplanetary navigation. The overworked Azanauer has arranged accommodations and a job for him at a lumber mill, and doesn’t want to hear about Dennis’s dreams of piloting the first manned flight to Venus. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Shadow and light in “Awaara”

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Charlie Chaplin may have been The Little Tramp, but unbeknown to most Occidental film fans, he had some serious competition in the screen hobo sweepstakes. I’m referring, of course, to Indian filmmaker and actor Raj Kapoor.

Born in Peshawar in 1924 and one of the biggest stars of post-independence Indian cinema, Kapoor was frequently cast as cheeky rogues struggling against the strictures of stuffy high society while pitching woo to ladies far above his station. Massively popular at home, he was also a huge star throughout Eastern Europe, Russia, and China.

Beyond the festival circuit, however, his films remain virtually unknown to westerners. Perhaps his greatest film, Awaara (The Tramp), all but forgotten in the U.S. until an airing on Turner Classic Movies in 2003, screens at Pacific Film Archive at 7:45 pm on Saturday, July 28th as part of the Archive’s current series, ‘The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema’. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits
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What is Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli spiriti) all about? Even after multiple viewings, I’m not entirely sure — but perhaps its meaning is immaterial. Screening at Pacific Film Archive this Saturday, July 14th at 6:00 pm, it’s a visual feast that will send the right side of your brain into paroxysms of ecstasy while the left side struggles to determine the filmmaker’s intent.

Appearing as part of the Archive’s series, ‘Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen’, Juliet of the Spirits marked a significant turning point in Fellini’s career. The salt of the earth realism of his early efforts (I Vitelloni, Nights of Cabiria) had already given way to cerebral examinations of bourgeois conceit (La Dolce Vita, 8 ½), but with Juliet, Fellini began a long-term journey into deeply surreal waters.

The director’s wife, muse, and frequent collaborator Giulietta Masina stars as the title character, a middle-aged woman torn between dedication to her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) and the desire for something more from life. Hiding her feelings behind a perpetual Mona Lisa smile and an array of wide brimmed haute couture hats, Juliet no longer finds fulfillment lounging on the beach and planning social occasions. … Continue reading »

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Babette’s feast: Finding fine fare at Berkeley Art Museum

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Oakland’s loss is Berkeley’s gain: local chefs Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker were exploring opening a venture called Babette’s Table on Temescal’s hipster Telegraph Avenue, but, for a variety of reasons, the deal for the upscale restaurant-grocery-café space fell through.

So the partners in work and life started scouting around for places where they might serve up seasonal, rustic grub. Via the local food-folk grapevine they learned that the owner of Oakland’s Remedy Coffee, who, as well as a Telegraph spot had also set up shop in the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) café space, was looking to sell.

And so Babette at BAM was born. Seven months on, the café has garnered critical acclaim and a loyal following. The café serves breakfast (like bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, steel-cut oatmeal with apricots, cranberries, and toasted pistachios, and baked goods such as fruit-filled pastries), lunch, and coffee and sweet treats into the early afternoon. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Mike Hammer, Oslo August 31st

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Few things personify the musky odor of mid-20th century American masculinity quite as potently as the writings of Mickey Spillane. Born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn in 1918, the jut-jawed, fedora-wearing beer enthusiast penned a series of wildly popular Ayn Rand-approved pulp novels featuring a private eye named, with appropriate lack of subtlety (or perhaps candor), Mike Hammer.

Selling several hundred million books is a sure way to get Hollywood’s attention, and, since his print birth in 1947, Hammer has appeared on the big screen half a dozen times — most memorably in 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly, an ink-black nuclear noir directed by Robert Aldrich. As for Spillane, he was celebrity enough to play himself in Ring of Fear (1954), a goofy but enjoyable circus-set thriller, and actor enough to play his own creation in 1963’s The Girl Hunters, one of a double bill of Hammer adaptations screening this Thursday, June 29th at Pacific Film Archive as part of the pulp writers series ‘One-Two Punch ’. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: “Gothic” — a scandalous good time

"Gothic": Ken Russell's 1986’s tribute to drug-fueled creativity
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The late enfant terrible of British film-making, Ken Russell, is perhaps best remembered for bringing nude male wrestling to the movie-going masses (Women in Love) and for producing a film so profane it was virtually impossible to see unexpurgated for 40 years (The Devils). Never a man for half measures, Russell’s last feature film was the inelegantly titled Whore (1991), after which he rode off into the sunset via a legendary (and abbreviated) appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

His November, 2011 passing is acknowledged by Pacific Film Archive this Thursday, June 14th at 7:30 pm with a rare screening of one of Russell’s late period indulgences, 1986’s tribute to drug-fueled creativity Gothic. The film will be preceded by a performance by Brale, a musical group described as “the world’s only Ken Russell tribute band”.

Filmed at Hertfordshire’s magnificent Gaddesden Place, Gothic relates the mythic meeting of minds that helped spawn Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus’. … Continue reading »

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