Tag Archives: Pacific Film Archive

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

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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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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

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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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