Tag Archives: Pacific Film Archive

Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Bicycle Thief’

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We know it as neo-realism, but in India it was called Parallel Cinema – a movement to provide an alternative to the musicals and romantic comedies that have long been the staple of the Indian film industry. Parallel Cinema’s leading light (and the sub-continent’s most famous filmmaker) was Satyajit Ray, an artist belatedly recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with an honorary Oscar only weeks before his death in 1992.

Trained in the fine arts, Ray began his journey into film-making in London, where a viewing of Vittorio de Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) inspired him to pick up a camera and make his first film, 1955’s award-winning Pather Panchali. De Sica’s hugely influential neo-realist classic helps kick off Pacific Film Archive’s series ‘The Brilliance of Satyajit Ray’ at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23. The extensive retrospective continues through August. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Fassbinder’s Favorites

Anna Karina in Vivre sa Vie
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Throughout his remarkably prolific but all too brief career, German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed numerous films focused on strong female characters. Features such as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronika Voss, and Lola displayed Fassbinder’s strong affinity for stories about women, so it comes as no surprise to learn the filmmaker was a big fan of two femme-themed nouvelle vague classics screening at Pacific Film Archive on Friday, Nov. 22 as part of the series Fassbinder’s Favorites.

First up at 7:00 p.m. is Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 drama Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (My Life to Live: A Film in Twelve Scenes). Anchored by a mournful (if sparsely applied) Michel Legrand score, the film stars Anna Karina (then married to Godard; the couple would divorce in 1967) as Nana, a stylish young mademoiselle forced, by economic necessity, to take up the world’s oldest profession.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

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Which big screen version of Jack Finney’s classic novel ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ is your favorite – the original 1956 black and white adaptation, 1978’s full color remake, or Abel Ferrara’s 1993 iteration? You’re probably expecting me to say that the first-out-of-the-gate Don Siegel-helmed feature is the best, and I won’t lie – it’s definitely close to the top of my list of fave sci-fi films.

Ever eager to confound expectations, however, I must admit to enjoying all three – and I have a special fondness for the San Francisco-set ’78 version, screening outdoors on the Crescent Lawn at Oxford Street (between Center and Addison) at 7:30 pm on Friday, Sept. 27 as part the Endless Summer Cinema program that being hosted by Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive and the Downtown Berkeley Association. Admission is free.

Directed by Philip Kaufman (The Wanderers, The Right Stuff) and written by W. D. Richter (Brubaker), 1978’s Body Snatchers naturally reflects the times in which it was made. Whereas Siegel’s original (adapted for the screen by Oakland-born Daniel Mainwaring!) focused on timely ‘50s issues such as small-town social conformity and Red Scare paranoia (or, one might argue, clear-eyed realism), Kaufman’s is more interested in the changing nature of personal relationships in the wake of the sexual revolution. … Continue reading »

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Reviewed: ‘Rising from Ashes,’ ‘The Boys in the Band’

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I’ve never been much for bicycles, and now I know why: according to cycling legend Jonathan (Jock) Boyer, it’s an activity predicated upon suffering – an opinion borne out by personal experience, as I invariably topple off any bike I attempt to ride. Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, no doubt knows from suffering, and is central to the story told by Rising from Ashes, an uplifting documentary about the redemptive power of pedaling opening at Rialto’s Elmwood on Friday, September 13th.

Narrated laconically by executive producer Forest Whitaker, Rising from Ashes follows convicted felon Boyer as he works with a select group of amateur athletes to build a national cycling team in the central African republic of Rwanda. His work pays off when one of his protégés wins the 2006 Wooden Bike Classic, and the film follows the team’s exploits all the way to the London Olympics, where star Adrien Niyonshuti finished 39th (second from last) in the Mountain Biking event. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Sorry, Wrong Number

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We’ve reached the telephonic point of no return: according to data collected by CTIA – the industry lobbying group supporting the wireless industry – there’s now more than one active cell phone for every man, woman and child in the United States. Unless (like me) you don’t own or carry a mobile, there’s simply no hiding from your annoying relatives or that disappointing political candidate to whom you donated $10 during the 2008 election cycle.

Back in 1948, things were different. Perhaps you had a phone at home or at work, but you didn’t have an answering machine, and you certainly had no way of reaching someone who was traveling. If you were home and a line was open, you’d probably pick up the phone if it rang. If you missed a call…well, such was life. Aunt Mildred or President Truman would simply have to call again later. … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Stray Dog’

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Quick — name an Akira Kurosawa film. Chances are one of the great director’s samurai epics will pop into your head, but Kurosawa was no one-trick pony. His kidnapping caper “High and Low” remains one of my all time favorites, and the crime drama “Stray Dog (Nora Inu),” screening at the Pacific Film Archive at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 13 as part of the series “Dark Nights: Simenon and the Cinema” is, despite considerably less in the way of polish, almost as good.

Intended as homage to author Georges Simenon’s detective character Inspector Maigret, “Stray Dog” began life as — believe it or not — a Kurosawa-penned novel. The novel never saw the light of day, but Kurosawa eventually turned it into a screenplay with the help of collaborator Ryûzô Kikushima. While the onscreen result didn’t satisfy the director, who considered it an abject failure, film critics and cineastes tend to disagree with his assessment. … Continue reading »

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Road to nowhere in Marcel Carné’s ‘Port of Shadows’

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Apparently, there’s something about Le Havre. In 2011, I reviewed Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, a quirky and colorful drama set in the aforementioned French port city, and last year I wrote about Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine, a tragedy in which murder is committed on a train bound for the very same burg.

Now it’s 2013, and – entirely by coincidence – it’s time once again to pay a cinematic visit to this foggy coastal town. Our tour guides this time are director Marcel Carné and screenwriter (and poet) Jacques Prévert; the vehicle, their 1938 feature Port of Shadows (Le Quai des Brumes), screening at Pacific Film Archive at 6:30 p.m. on Sat., July 6 as part of the current series “A Theater Near You.” … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Marketa Lazarová

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Thomas Hobbes famously described man’s lot in life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” That seems like an apt way to describe Frantisek Vlácil’s Marketa Lazarová, a Czech historical epic screening at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 28 at Pacific Film Archive as part of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival – though I’d be inclined to add a few adjectives of my own, including ‘cold’, ‘dark’, and ‘claustrophobic.’

Though produced at the height of the Czechoslovak New Wave, 1967’s Marketa Lazarová shares little in common with such brash and bright contemporary features as Horí, má panenko (The Fireman’s Ball, 1967) and Sedmikrásky (Daisies, 1966). Eschewing social commentary and 60s trappings, it’s a black-and-white love letter to the grim, depressing (two more adjectives!) Middle Ages. You can safely leave your popcorn at home for this one (which is just as well, as I don’t believe PFA allows food or drink in their auditorium). … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: The Wrong Man, Hitchcock’s gem

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Though auteur theory was still little more than a glimmer in François Truffaut’s eye, the American public was quite familiar with Alfred Hitchcock by 1956. Perhaps the most recognizable filmmaker since Chaplin, Hitch was a weekly presence in homes from coast to coast via his CBS series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while theatergoers had made his color remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much a huge commercial success. His career still in the ascendancy, Hitch could choose any project he desired – which perhaps explains why his next project was one of the least Hitchcockian films of them all.

Released on New Year’s Day 1957, The Wrong Man (screening at Pacific Film Archive at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5 as part of the continuing series Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense) begins on a deceptive note. In a nod to his small-screen persona, our host introduces the proceedings — but this time the mordant wit and outrageous set pieces are absent. Instead, he tells us quite seriously, what we’re about to see “is a true story – every word of it.” … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: Luis Berlanga’s quirky comedies

Bienvenido Mister Marshall
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When someone gets around to making my biopic, it could well be entitled I Was a Teenage Movie Addict. While the rest of the kids spent summer vacation having fun in the sun, I spent mine basking in the soothing cathode glow of the family TV set, watching as many movies as possible. On a good day I might take in five, six, or sometimes even seven films — and (of course) I kept a list of them (which, of course, I still have).

Sadly, those youthful summers are long gone, and now I’m lucky if I take in two movies a day. More than likely I’m going to fall well short of my goal of seeing every film ever made (or at least, those that still exist), especially since they keep churning ‘em out with reckless abandon and I keep getting older.

The depressing truth is that I’m unlikely to have time for more than 40,000 or 50,000 full-length features in my all too brief lifespan. Consequently, no matter how hard I try I’m likely to go to my grave having missed some really, really good films – but at least (thanks to Pacific Film Archive’s new series, The Spanish Mirth) those lost opportunities won’t include the work of Luis Berlanga.  … Continue reading »

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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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