Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 11

A big five-film Saturday, so let's jump right in, starting with THE SURROUNDING GAME, all about the game of Go. We get a brief tutorial on the rules and history of the game, and how the very simple rules lead to all sorts of complicated emergent properties. But the drama is about three young Americans attempting to become the first professional players from the West. They're interesting people, a bit maniacal in their pursuits. In fact, that's something that really struck me. I had never played, but I had heard about how it's a beautiful game and even if you lose there's a zen-like appreciation for the beautiful patterns that are created while playing. In fact, the competitors seem to be the least appreciative of the beauty (and it's alluded to in the movie that that's not just an American quirk, the professionals in Asia are all about winning, not beauty.) The people who appreciate the beauty are all the craftsmen. The people who hand craft the game boards and pieces, they're chill. The players...well they live or die based on victories. They aren't supposed to be openly demonstrative, but they say and you can tell that they are ecstatic when they win and crushed when they lose. You know, just like any other sport. 

Oh, and only recently did an AI beat the undisputed human champion in Go. So much of the movie is spent insisting that despite the simple rules it's actually so much more complicated than chess that only the human mind can play it well. And then that's all thrown out at the end. Not in the movie, but in the Q and A, we also learned that some of the AI's winning moves are low level simple stuff that high level masters would mock a student for trying.

Next up was a bit of political campaign docs, starting with the short ELECTION NIGHT. That would be the 2016 American Presidential election night, as seen by nervous patrons and workers in a pub in London. 2 of them were happy with the result.

And that was the lead-in for the feature, NAT BATES FOR MAYOR. Richmond, California is a Bay Area city and home to a huge Chevron refinery. In fact, as a resident of the Bay Area, I only know it as the town around that Chevron refinery (where there was a major fire and shelter-in-place emergency a few years back) that you have to drive through if you want to get to Marin County from the East Bay. Nat Bates is a longtime city council member, and he ran for mayor in 2014. And he supported Chevron. And Chevron supported him--to the tune of $3 million. Allegedly. Unofficially. These were political action committees that can't work directly with the candidate. But his opponent, Tom Butt, isn't exactly squeaky clean, either. He's not in the pocket of Chevron, but he is the old white guy who has a history (alleged) of not taking care of his black or poor constituents. But he is supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance. But are they the solution, or are they out of touch do-gooders (who hold fundraisers in Berkeley, not even in Richmond) who just want to dictate to Richmond's working class black residents. After all, Chevron does provide a heck of a lot of good jobs, and ~40% of the city's tax revenue...

Okay, I'm not going to pretend I understand the local politics of Richmond. I do know that the filmmakers do an excellent job of neither judging nor praising any candidate. Everyone has their flaws, everyone comes off looking a little dirty. It's kind of the opposite of sausages. The end result might be somewhat unappetizing, but it's pretty interesting watching it get made.

Then for a bit of weirdness with CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER. A joyful tribute to the typewriter, a machine that is supposed to be made obsolete with computers and word processing. But it still has it's devotees, and maybe it's here to stay. There are celebrity fans, most notably and charmingly Tom Hanks. And there's a repair shop in Berkeley that'll keep your machine working (and it gave the film it's name.) There's an artist who re-purposes typewriter parts into beautiful sculptures. There are writers and musician who write their plays or lyrics exclusively on typewriters, and talk about how it is so much better for their creativity. And there are collectors, especially one who collects antique typewriters, including the early designs that didn't work out (hey, if anyone out there knows of a Sholes and Glidden that the owner is willing to part with, let him know!) And it's all bookended with the very strange story of the Royal Road Test. Chucking a Royal typewriter out of a speeding car and documenting the scattered pieces. Damn, this was a fun movie. Makes me wish I had written this review on a typewriter, then scanned it in and posted the photo rather than this boring, boring text. Best I can do on short notice is use the somewhat typewriter-ish Courier font.

Next up was ALL THE RAGE, the intensely personal story of the work of Dr Sarno. Co-director Michael Galinsky has suffered from back pain on and off for many years. So did his father. So do many people. It's a verifiable epidemic. And many people are getting surgery, taking pills, etc. to deal with it. But Dr Sarno has been treating it for years, as a psychosomatic disease. Of course, first he does search for a physical cause--a muscle tear, a tumor, etc. But unless he finds something, his diagnosis is TMS. From my layman's understanding, the idea is that the unconscious mind creates pain in the body so your conscious mind will focus on that rather than the unpalatable emotions. The treatment is knowledge. Patients swear by it, including such celebrities as Larry David and Howard Stern. It has personally help Galinsky. But the medical establishment dismisses it. Although it's pretty interesting how that might be changing. See, this production, which was started over a decade ago, was put on hold as funding was scarce and other projects took priority. But when stresses caught up with Galinsky and his back pain returned with a vengeance, he returned to Dr Sarno, not just as a patient but to finish the movie. And he found...well, not the establishment embracing him, but a for more allies than he had just a decade ago. And research in the mind-body connection is a hot topic, at least in psychology circles if not in the larger medical community. (The film presents a brief timeline of how thinking about the mind and body got disconnected in the Western world--short version is historically it was a resolution of a power struggle between the church and science.) I'm not qualified to judge the scientific merits of Dr Sarno's theories, although I will say I find them plausible (for what that's worth) and the movie does an excellent job of making the case.

And then I finished the day with ON A KNIFE EDGE. Five years in the life of a proud teenage Lakota, George Dull Knife, as he becomes a young activist in AIM--the American Indian Movement. There's not a lot of hope on the reservation. Jobs are scarce, income is minuscule, liquor is prevalent despite a ban on liquor stores on the reservation (instead, there is a town just outside with--I shit you not--a population of 10 people and 4 liquor stores.) He holds fast to his proud Lakota warrior tradition. But it's tough to stay optimistic. He nearly gets arrested and his truck impounded at a protest (they literally have to pay off the cops, under the guise of paying the tow truck driver who was already on his way to turn around.) And when peaceful means to life up and educate his people fall short, there is a period of disillusionment. It's a remarkable coming of age story, where he is definitely more of a man at the end for dealing with difficult, complicated, desperate issues with spirit and honor. A great movie and a testament to not just a smart young man, but a community that was so welcoming to outsiders to give them such complete access.

And that was Saturday at Docfest. Just about time for 5 more movies today (Sunday.)

Total Running Time: 468 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,748

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 10

An excellent double bill on Friday, with two films that are so different I wouldn't necessarily expect to work well together.

The first program started with the short MOTHER'S DAY. A charity buses children to visit their mothers in prison (they do a similar service on Father's Day, but his film is about Mother's Day.) A look at the toll that incarceration takes on the children (1 in 10 California children have a parent in prison) by looking at the one day they get to have a family for a little while.
That was the lead-in to the Centerpiece presentation, THE WORK. A remarkable program, Inside Circle, matches troubled men with inmates--many of them lifers--in a 4 day group therapy retreat in Folsom prison (there are other circles, but the film focuses on the one in Folsom.) This isn't some "scared straight" bullshit. This is a team of men, inmates, and professional facilitators who get to the root of their troubles. Their feelings of betrayal, their fears, their machismo. They tear down barriers, they fight, they cry. It's so goddamn liberating for men to cry, and to not be ashamed of it. I don't think anything I can write will come off as anything but hokey. But it's not, the movie should just be seen, not read about. Or better yet, the experience should be lived. It was really fucking powerful just watching it. And dudes, we all got frustrations. One of my favorite parts was the guy who didn't look like he was there because he was in any sort of danger with his lifestyle, he was just kind of...aimless in life. 20-something, and doesn't know what he wants to be. Not the sort of thing you'd think convicts would help with. But they do. Turns out although his father wasn't abusive or anything, he just never got the praise and acknowledgement he wanted, so he grew up thinking he wasn't good at anything. And extremely common, almost mundane problem, but he makes a breakthrough as much as anyone else. Powerful, powerful stuff.

And then the next film, at first couldn't seem more different. And in tone, it certainly is. But while THE WORK is about how men deal with the pressures of being men, TAKE MY NOSE, PLEASE! is a comedic look at how women deal with the pressures of being women. Especially how female comedians take on cosmetic surgery--because they're the only ones allowed to be honest about it. Director Joan Kron, an 89 year old woman who has written about cosmetic surgery for decades, knocks it out of the park in her directorial debut (see, it's never too late to make your movie!) She's got humor and pacing, telling the history of cosmetic surgery (starting with face peels on Egyptian men in the age of the pharaohs) all the way through modern times. And how that history became a fact of life for women in entertainment--starting with Fanny Brice and a nose job from someone who turned out to not actually be a licensed doctor. And of course there's the Catch-22, where if you get work done, you're not aging gracefully but if you actually age gracefully, you can't be seen in public, much less work! And so dramatic or glamorous actresses lie about the work they get done, while comedians are the only ones who can speak openly. Even when their homely looks are part of their humor, like Phyllis Diller, they aren't immune to...wanting to look a little better (or as she put it, getting tired of the dog dragging her outside and burying her.) One interesting common procedure is getting the nose done, specifically to not look so Jewish. Hey, the movie doesn't judge, so neither will I. We also get to follow a couple of comedians as they get some minor work done, like youngster Emily Askin and the veteran Jackie Hoffman. And holy cow, I know I had seen her in bit parts before, but she's freakin' hilarious. How was I not a bigger fan of hers before?

Just a final thought, that wasn't in the movie but I was thinking it on the way home. Cosmetic surgery is kind of like CGI in movies. We think it looks bad, because we only notice when it looks bad. If it's well done, you don't even notice it.

Total Running Time: 194 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,281

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

Two more shows on Thurday. First up was a shorts program and part of the program on Nonfiction Vanguard honoree Jamie Meltzer. Meltzer is a teacher at Stanford, and Stanford Smorgasbord is a selection of his students' work.
(ALMOST) FREEDOM: An examination of what it's like to live with an electronic anklet for monitoring your house arrest.
BISONHEAD: A view of the marginalization of Native Americans, through the lens of a controversial buffalo hunt in Yellowstone. Are they exercising their native treaty hunting rights, or is this an outdated and unnecessary practice?
JANUARY: Three generations of women, family intimacy, and clutter. Nobody really talks about the clutter, but I think someone is kind of a hoarder.
LAPS: Popular enough at Indiefest, they brought it back for Docfest. A look at runners in San Quentin Prison, and how running helps them out in life.
PELICULA DE MI PADRE: A daughter's love and worship for her father, who to her was Elvis.
POWDER FRESH: Talcum powder. Great for that fresh, dry, clean feeling. Also great for giving you cancer. And great for marketing to black people. Yikes! I didn't grow up with baby powder being for anything other than...babies (I'm white) so this was quite an eye-opener.
SCRAP: Collecting junk. Selling the metal. Cool.
THE SHIFT: Late night 911 operators in San Francisco. A unique view of the city.
UNHEARD: Singing through the pain of a son lost to police violence. Powerful.

And then the second show was a wonderful film geek meditation, BLUE VELVET REVISITED. When David Lynch made BLUE VELVET, he invited along a young German filmmaker Peter Braatz to do the making-of documentary. That film, NO FRANK IN LUMBERTON, was apparently never released commercially and had very limited distribution. But Braatz still had all the footage, and 70% of it wasn't used. So he went back to the footage, and rather than make a straightforward making-of documentary, he made a meditation on it. Now heavy on nostalgia (it's so weird to see such a young David Lynch) it plays out like a melodic and visual poem. As a sleep-deprived maniac, I can tell you it's an excellent film to drift in and out of consciousness to, and there are wonderful moments with Lynch talking about stuff like how great it is to be on a low-budget film again, or how he doesn't trust radiation because it's invisible. I really hope this gets released, or I have another chance to see it. And for that matter, now I'm curious about NO FRANK IN LUMBERTON. Perhaps a triple bill with BLUE VELVET itself?

Total Running Time: 167 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,087

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Two great features last Wednesday.

First up was CHARGED, a story of survival and recovery that is beyond inspirational. Eduardo Garcia was hiking though the Montana wilderness when he found a metal box with a dead bear inside it. He didn't realize it was a poorly maintained, still live electrical junction box. And he got zapped with 2400 volts. He nearly died. But he survived, made it to the road, and was medivac'ed to a specialist burn center in Salt Lake City. He lost a hand, a few ribs, and a lot of muscle mass. And his recovery was long and difficult, but he survived. Not just that, he re-learned his proffession and passion--being a chef (that requires a lot of hand work, so relearning that with a hook was quite a trick.) But I said it's beyond inspirational, because it's not just about that. Sure, he has his triumphant TV tour where he's the toast of all these talk shows. Oooh, wait, "toast" is probably a bad choice of words. But I think Eduardo would be fine with it, because one thing that came across strong in the film--and even stronger in the Q&A--is his sense of humor. And I'm 100% certain that his sense of humor saved his life. The ability to laugh at yourself keeps you from giving up. I know this, I've felt it. But here's the thing I learned about that--humor works right up until the moment it stops working. And this movie gets into that, too. It's not just about triumph and the joy of being alive. It's about the toll it takes on yourself and your loved ones. It's about the days when things get so overwhelming that humor isn't enough anymore, and what you do then. And for that, I think Eduardo had an interesting source of strength--having a shady past of drug and alcohol abuse, hurting people he cared about, cheating on his girlfriend (who later became his best friend and business partner, and was making most of his medical decisions in recovery. So when it came time that they had to amputate a testicle...it was the girlfriend who he cheated on who got to make that decision.) But also realizing (multiple times in the past) that his behavior was hurting not just himself but the people he loved, and having the strength of character to get help and pull himself out of that...twice (okay, so maybe the first time didn't stick 100%, but he never quit.) An inspiring man, and inspiring (and beautifully shot) film that shows the warts-and-all reality behind the inspiring story.

And then I caught an interesting experimental documentary, THE ROAD MOVIE. Made entirely of Russian dashboard camera footage, it could play like an extended Youtube playlist, but a very, very well made one. It's the art of content curation and editing. as we alternate between pants-shitting terror and surreal hilarity. In fact, it reminds me of a term from the Grand Guignol--the "Scottish Shower." That is, to alternate hot and cold. In the Grand Guignol it was alternating between gore and sex comedies. Here it's alternating between crashes, break-ins, floods, a horse-drawn sleigh, a crazy guy jumping on the windshield, a drive through a forest fire, etc. There's no narrative arc (which is great if you're sleep deprive, you can doze through a few without missing the zeitgeist) and it's brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying. I want to come out with the conclusion that Russian drivers are just insane. But I wonder what would happen if dashcams were as ubiquitous in America as they are in Russia. Oh yeah, this isn't in the movie but a friend of mine was telling me how practically every car there is equipped with one. In fact, (according to my friend) insurance companies typically won't pay out if you don't have the dashcam footage proving you weren't at fault.

Total Running Time: 158 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,920

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 7

Two more shows on Tuesday, starting with the shorts program Bay Area Voices. Hooray for local filmmakers!
ARRESTED (AGAIN): Karen Topakian, protester extraordinaire, talks about her life and many, many arrests.
BUMP AND SPIKE: The brief period of professional volleyball with the IPVA. Founded by Hollywood moguls, featuring the skill and athleticism of a post-NBA Wilt Chamberlain, it was an incredible party for 1 year. Then collapsed amidst a pot smuggling scandal by the owners of the Denver team.
THE EXTRACTIGATORS: French broom infests the hillsides of Marin County, choking out the other plant life. A small group mostly elderly residents get together once a week and pull up as much as they can. They're the small time heroes the community needs.
EYE, CAMERA: As in a prosthetic eye, with an tiny camera inside. The result of a horrific accident becomes an adventure in wearable tech.
NO VACANCY: It was already hard enough for artists to afford rent in the Bay Area. Then the Ghost Ship fire...
VIRTUAL REALITY: A TECH UPRISING: A brief exploration of what some people believe is the future of entertainment.
VOICES FROM THE KAW THOO LEI: With over 10,000 photos fading in and out over each other, it creates an abstract visual to focus your rational mind on the words of Karen People of Burma, whose homeland has suffered from a civil war that's been going on for over six decades without many people taking much notice.
WHO KILLED PARK MERCED?: An investigation into just one example of the SF Bay Area housing crisis. Well before most people were talking about the general housing crisis, the Park Merced community was told they were getting evicted and their homes would be torn down for a new development. A harbinger of things to come, if we don't get some solid housing policy.

Then for the next show, I traveled to Australia by way of Finland. Or at least two Finnish girls who need work, and get worked over at HOTEL COOLGARDIE. Lina and Steph are traveling though Australia. They just got there from Bali, where their credit cards were stolen. So, they're keeping their travels going, but they need some work. And the employment office has set them up to be barmaids in a pub in Coolgardie, a tiny dot on the map near a mining town in the outback. And you meet the locals and immediately realize you're just watching in horror and waiting until one or both of them get raped. Not that the guys are violent or criminal-looking, but they definitely objectify women, they're all trying to get to the "fresh meat" (a direct quote from the movie.) They don't give off an overtly threatening 'I will knock you out, drag you into the bushes, and have my way' vibe, but definitely a 'I will get you drunk and refuse to leave your apartment no matter how much you insist' vibe. And I guess I shouldn't spoil anything, but it is pretty terrible the...endurance test these girls are put through (one far more than the other.) Oh, and I learned that the Finns have a word--morkkis--that translates to "drinker's remorse" but is described in the movie as that feeling the morning after drinking a lot when you don't quite remember what happened but you want to dig a hole in the ground and bury yourself.

Lest you think this is just some sort of misogynistic horror show, there are many excellent qualities to this film. It's well shot, and most of the locals tend more to the crude-and-don't-know-how-to-talk-to-women personality than rapists. Or there's their boss, who isn't sexually abusive so much as ridiculing their bartending abilities...which are kind of shitty. Early on he does say that if they're gorgeous they can make up for it, but if they're average looking they better have a lot of experience and be excellent bartenders. Well, in my opinion they're pretty enough, but not good enough bartenders.

But the best part of the movie is Can Man (I didn't realize until the end of the film that his real name wasn't actually Canman, they just call him that because he takes all the empty cans to the recycling center for a little extra beer money.) He's the ugliest guy there. I don't know if he lived in his car but his dogs definitely did, so when he takes the girls for a ride the smell is overwhelming and ends with a bit of vomiting. But he's also patient with the girls, helps them in the bar, tells them where and how to get the drinks, and is never rude to them. He ends up being the sweetest, nicest guy in the film (made me root that he'd reunite with his estranged daughter.) So there's about 10% of a lesson about not judging a book by its cover. But it's kind of overshadowed by the lesson about beware of obvious rape traps, because they often lead to someone getting raped.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,762

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Jason goes to Docfest, Day...6, I think

I missed all weekend--days 2 through 5--for Silentfest, but I was back at Docfest full time starting Monday.

First up was the shorts block WTF Literally! Truth is stranger than fiction.
THE AFGHAN BRUCE LEE: Exactly what it sounds like, a profile of an Afghan dude who practices karate and wants to be an action start. He even sorta looks like him.
THE DUEL: A father's mental breakdown is retold in this stylized reenactment.
HAFE: THE STORY BEHIND: The totally real and medically document phenomenon of High Altitude Flatus Expulsion. You know, when the lower pressure at high altitude makes you fart.
INERTIA: Earth + Space Shuttle Endeavor are true loves. Ah, how sweet!
PHENOMENALITY: The life of Ric Friar, surfer, big wave pioneer, a man who risked death to find his life. He also dated Twiggy, made a fortune in manure as the "King of Poo" and just had an amazing, crazy, creative life.
THE SANDMAN: When he arrives, people go to sleep. He's a doctor who, while personally opposing the death penalty, attends and participates in executions as the overseeing physician. An interesting portrait of a man with a strange calling. Although often I want to shake him and scream, "what are you doing!?" the fact is I think his views on capital punishment mirror a lot of my own. I'd rather it not exist, but if it exists I'd rather it's administration--through all levels--be dealt with by people who have serious moral objections to it. The alternative is a death penalty administered by people who think executions are cool.
THE WIZARD OZ: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, wizard, unicorn rancher, mermaid investigator, and next door neighbor to a serial killer. That's a pretty odd life.
THE YOWIE: The search for...basically Australia's version of Bigfoot? They claim to have found him. I couldn't see it. But they're pretty fun.

Then the next show started with the short THE COLLECTION. That collection is the mother lode of printing plates for movie advertisements in newspaper. And it's awesome. Just as a movie fan, it's a sight to behold. 

And then the feature, a very different sort of sight to behold, TOKYO IDOLS. Young Japanese girls who are pop music and Internet stars, and the adult men who spend way too much to follow them around. Ri Ri makes an interesting heroine, a teenage girl who never really wanted to be an idol, but saw it as a way of getting started in a music career (I don't know if something is lost in translation, but the distinction she makes between "idol" and "singer" says just about all you need to know about the industry.) Then there's the men who have given up salaried careers and blown way too much money just to follow their favorite idol. Oh, and I learned that for at least some Japanese men, a handshake is a deeply sexual experience. Interesting, and well photographed. But this is an example of what I call a "feature length short." In that it was interesting enough for about a 20 minute short, but not enough for a feature length film. Really, this should've been a short and THE COLLECTION should've been expanded to feature length.

Total Running Time:193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,591

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jason goes to Silentfest--The Finale

6 more films on Sunday, to wrap up the best and most intense film weekend of the year (every year)

We started the day with some Ernst Lubitsch hilarity with THE DOLL (DIE PUPPE) (1919.) Set in a magical storybook, Baron von Chanterelle (Max Kronert) has no heir to leave his fortune (because, it appears he's not a fan of women. Oh yeah, this is presented as a children's storybook, but if you have a dirty mind it's a lot funnier.) So he offers his fortune to his nephew Lancelot (Hermann Thimig) if he'd only get married. But Lancelot isn't a fan of the ladies either. In fact, he runs away from several lovely wannabe brides to go join a monastery. There he and the monks hatch a plan. He'll go to the famous dollmaker Hilarius (Victor Janson) and buy a lifelike automaton doll to pretend to be his bride, so he can get his uncle's fortune and then give all the money to the monks. Hilarius' daughter, and model for his newest doll, is played by the Lubitsch muse, the delightful and mischievous Ossi Oswalda. Well, wacky hijinx ensue and Ossi has to fill in and pretend to be the doll. While Lancelot marvels at the cleverness and craftsmanship, the wedding party agrees he's chosen a wonderful bride. Very silly, and absolutely hilarious.

Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius did an excellent job with the score, kicking off the early morning with some high energy laughs.

Then it was time for a little early Cecil B. DeMille melodrama (he produced, director was Rupert Julian) with SILENCE (1926.)  Jim Warren (H.B. Warner) is in jail. He's going a little mad listening to the constant hammering. That hammering is construction of a gallows. A gallows that he will hang from. And although he has been a crook for much of his life, his lawyer is sure that he's innocent and is taking the fall for someone else. So the story is told as a flashback, unraveling a tale of love, misunderstandings, blackmail, and an unorthodox family (at least, for the times.) High melodrama, well done. Plus, it was thought lost until just last year when Cinémathèque Française discovered it in their archives. So we were the first audiences in ~90 years to see it!

And as long as we had to wait 90 years to see it, we might as well see it with the best possible accompaniment, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

The next show started with a bonus short, not in the program, FIFTY MILLION YEARS AGO (1925.) It's an animated primer on evolution, and released the same year as the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. And it was very entertaining.

But okay, as a guy with a science background, I have to address the title. In the opening lines, they claim that scientists agree that the earth is at least 50 million years old. "At least" is doing a lot of work in that sentence, because scientists now peg the age of the Earth at ~4.5 billion years, with multi-cellular life being around for about half of that time. Well, it turns out we've learned a lot in the past century. Earlier, younger estimates were largely based on the work of William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin, preeminent physicist and giant of thermodynamics. He had a pretty simple model--starting with an Earth-sized ball of molten lava, and knowing what we do about the transfer of heat within the Earth and from the Sun to the Earth, how long would it take to cool so that there was a crust with our current average surface temperatures. His first calculations gave him an estimate of 20-400 million years. So even at best he was "only" off by an order of magnitude. With further refinements he concluded the right answer was closer to 20 million years--i.e., he was refining his model in the wrong direction.

His conclusions were disputed, particularly by geologists who claimed that the geologic record (e.g., how long it would take certain geologic features to form.) They had a powerful ally in one Charles "Chucky-Boy*" Darwin, who used geologic principles to establish that the Earth was, in fact, old enough to give his theory of evolution enough time to work. Kelvin had a ready counter to the geologists points, though, which was, "Screw 'em, they're not really scientists!" Okay, not in those words, but essentially that the time scale of geologic processes had too much uncertainty.

Of course, the geologists turned out to be right and Kelvin was massively wrong. He missed two important points about heating inside the Earth that counteracted the cooling. One any good chef knows--convection. The other, only a few scientists at the time were discovering--radiation. Although it was well known by 1925, when the movie was made. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be writing about movies here. Sorry for the interruption, let's carry on.

Anyway, FIFTY MILLION YEARS AGO thematically would've fit better before A LOST WORLD, but there was more room in the schedule to stick it before A MAN THERE WAS (TERJE VIGEN) (1917.) Victor Sjöström's beautiful take on Henrik Ibsen’s poem. The tinted and toned print was phenomenal, and featured one of the best examples of the technology, in a brilliant yellow and blue scene early in the film. Sjöström himself plays the hero Terje Vigen, a sailor with a lovely wife and young daughter whom he adores. But when a British blockade leaves them starving, he bravely sets out in his small dinghy to get purchase food from Denmark and save the village--and especially his family. But he is captured, and languishes in jail while his family starves. Years later he returns, is heartbroken, but soon gets a chance at revenge... A masterfully done morality tale.

And speaking of masterly, I can think of no better way to describe Mattie Bye Ensemble accompanying it.

Then one of my favorite films, THE LOST WORLD (1925.) Here's what I wrote the last time I saw it, back in 2014:
THE LOST WORLD (1925): Starring Wallace Beery, but especially starring Willis O'brien stop-motion effects (the first time stop-motion animation was used in a feature length film.)
When people ask me why I care about silent films, this is a big reason. Because this film's influence can still be seen today. Have you seen the trailer for the new JURASSIC WORLD? Doesn't it look awesome!? Remember how the second JURASSIC PARK movie was called THE LOST WORLD? You better believe Spielberg was inspired by this silent film to create his own dinosaurs.
Oh, but that's not all. Willis O'brien followed this up with a little film called KING KONG. You better believe that inspired a lot of filmmakers, most notably Peter Jackson. Maybe you loved the LORD OF THE RINGS movies like I did (maybe you also think the HOBBIT films are getting to be a bit much, but that's a different question.) And I guarantee you his movies have inspired kids who will become the master filmmakers who blow your mind 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now.
Oh, and Willis O'brien mentored Ray Harryhausen, who became the master of stop-motion animation. And it can all trace back to THE LOST WORLD.
Oh, do you like Pixar films? Perhaps you recognize the influence on UP (which kind of makes me wish UP had actually been an unofficial sequel to THE LOST WORLD and they found dinosaurs instead of weird looking birds there.) This is not a coincidence, Pixar luminaries have spoken about how they studied silent film to learn how to tell the story of WALL-E, where large stretches have no dialogue.
So this is why silent films are so great, and so important. They're the start of a century-long conversation on film, with influence that stretches beyond generations and will continue as long as film does (and maybe even carry over into whatever medium is next.)
Oh, and do you want to know what the film is actually about? I think I've written about it before.
This might be one of my favorite reviews ever, despite barely mentioning the actual film. But this time I will add that this was a glorious restoration, the best version that has been seen since 1925, and Serge Bromberg and Lobster Films deserves all the credit for that.

And, of course, equal credit goes to Alloy Orchestra for their excellent score.

So after child's storybook silliness, high melodrama, Sweden, and dinosaurs, it was time for the Russian Revolution. Or close two it, the Ukrainian civil war of 1917-1921, with TWO DAYS (Dva Dni) (1927.) Despite the big political setting, it's a very personal and apolitical story about a father and son. Aton (Ivan Zamychkovsky) is a loyal servant to his master, and stays behind to protect their property as they flee from the approaching Bolsheviks. When they arrive, he's surprised to find that his very own son Andrii (Sergei Minin) is their leader. Meanwhile, the young master of the family (Valeriy Gakkebush) was accidentally left behind in the chaos, and Anton hides him in the attic and saves his life. The Bolsheviks make a mess of the place, and make Aton's life miserable. But he remains loyal to his master, and protects their son, more than his own. Which makes it all the worse when young master accuses him of being a Bolshevik spy. An emotionally powerful movie that showcases personal misery instead of getting drawn into politics. It's interesting they showed it the same weekend as BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. It would be blasphemy not to say that POTEMKIN is the greater movie, but TWO DAYS definitely has it's strong value as well. (Oh, and trigger warning, there is a graphic scene of a dead puppy early in the film, if that sort of thing bothers you.)

And Stephen Horne, the festival's one-man band, brought it all to life with his music.

And finally, we ended the night on a rollicking comic adventure, with Douglas Fairbanks and THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1921.) What can be said? It's a classic, D'Artagnan (Fairbanks) joining the other three musketeers (not Douglas Fairbanks, so who cares?) and with Gascon bravery he leads them on a mission to save the queen from Cardinal Richelieu's machinations. Plot isn't important, this is about swashbuckling, daring-do, adventure, loyalty, and charisma. I.e., it's all about Douglas Fairbanks. And it was a great way to end a great (and exhausting) weekend.

And the great accompaniment of Guenter Buchwald Ensemble took us to the finish line and set us out into the night as merry adventurers!

Total Running Time: 492 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,398

*To my knowledge, no contemporary scientists ever called Charles Darwin "Chucky-Boy." Neither do scientists today. I'm trying to start this.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 3

Saturday started bright an early, after a little breakfast at Orphan Andy's, with MAGIC AND MIRTH: A Collection of Enchanting Short Films, 1906–1924
But first, a one minute home movie from 1942 of David Shepard as a toddler. The whole festival--but especially this program--is dedicated to the memory of the great David Shepard. And this program, curated by his friend and colleague Serge Bromberg, featured many of David's favorites.
THOSE AWFUL HATS (1909): An early D. W. Griffith short, which would be played at the beginning of programs to remind women to take off their gigantic feathery hats. Very funny.
CARTOON FACTORY (1924): Koko the Clown out of the inkwell and causing his typical amount of trouble, this time with an army of Fleischer soldiers.
THE MASQUERADER (1914): An early Charlie Chaplin at Keystone Studios, and taking place in...Keystone Studios. First he causes a bit of a ruckus in the dressing room, fighting with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Then he causes chaos all over the studio until he's kicked out. Then he sneaks back in very convincingly disguised as a lady. Very funny.
FIRST PRIZE FOR CELLO PLAYING (1907): One of the funnies things I've seen, and one of the shortest films in the program. A man sets up in an alley and starts playing cello...badly. Very badly. Badly enough that the neighborhood pelts him with anything they can find.
FANTASMAGORIE (1908): Possibly the earliest example of animation on film, simple line drawings change shape in a sort of dream state.
TIT FOR TAT (1906): A gloriously colorful hand-painted (stenciled) film. An entomologist goes hunting insects. But the insects get their revenge, before he learns a lesson and they all get along in peace. Wonderfully inventive and a bit surreal.
WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES (1907): Like the title suggests, the devil takes control, first of a coach and then of a train, and takes the passengers on a wild, wild ride.
DOWN IN THE DEEP (1906): Another beautifully hand colored film, this time taking us on an adventure under the sea.
THE DANCING PIG (1907): One of my favorite hilarious nightmare-inducers. A grotesque pig tries to get a girl to dance with him, then she embarrasses him by stripping him naked (why was the pig wearing a suit anyway?) and makes him dance. Later he dances in a lady's dress. Bizarre, especially the tongue and the googly eyes.
THE WITCH (1906): And we ended with a little Melies. And for extra verisimilitude, just like they had back in the day, we had live narration provided by Serge Bromberg. A hero gets his fortune read by a witch, who tells him of a beautiful maiden who is in love with him but held captive in a dungeon. The hero goes to save her, but he doesn't pay the witch enough, so she chases after him and tries to thwart him for revenge. 

Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius provided an excellent accompaniment on piano and percussion (and Donald's voice providing the screech of the cello)

Next up was the proto-noir, A STRONG MAN (1929) introduced to the Czar of Noir and world's premiere noir-cheologist, Eddie Muller. A Polish film about a powerful man who believes the rules don't apply to him and he can get away with murder. Henryk Bielecki (Grzegorz Chmara) is a failed writer. His friend Jerzy Górski (Artur Socha) comes to him with a manuscript for "A Strong Man." Henryk steals the book and drives Jerzy to kill himself. When the book becomes a best-seller, Henryk becomes the toast of the town and king of the world. Even more so when it gets adapted to a stage play. But a suspicious girlfriend and a guilty conscience brings the comeuppance to him. I'll confess I had trouble staying awake at the beginning, which made much of the later part a bit hard to follow. But it was still pretty fantastic, and I could see the influence of Russian films, especially in the layered mise-en-scene.

Guenter Buchwald and Sascha Jacobsen provided a perfect musical accompaniment.


The next show started with the festival award presentation to EYE Filmmuseum for its commitment to the preservation and presentation of silent cinema.

The movie started with an aerial theme, with a short unidentified documentary footage of the launch of a weather balloon.

Then it was time for a little girl power and air pirates with the serial adventure FILIBUS (1915.) Filibus is the name of the leader of a daring gang of thieves who travel by zeppelin and drop in from the sky to rob banks, steal jewels, etc. Revealed early to the audience, but unknown to most characters in the film, Filibus happens to be a lady (Cristina Ruspoli.) In fact, not just any lady, but the glamourous Baroness Troixmonde (when she's not disguised in drag as Count de la Brive.)  Detective Hardy is on the case to track down Filibus, but she's always one step ahead. Getting away with the crime while framing...none other than Detective Hardy. Soon enough she has him questioning his own sanity, thinking perhaps he's actually Filibus when he's asleep and sleep-walking. A wonderful, funny, and pretty bizarre serial. With enough loose ends left at the end for it to continue indefinitely. But then...it's been over a century, I don't think anyone is going to pick up the reins on that one.

Providing the perfect accompaniment was the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (with help from Stephen Horne for the short.)

Then a little more proto-noir with OUTSIDE THE LAW (1920,) once again introduced by Eddie Muller (as a last minute replacement for Leonard Maltin, who couldn't make it.) A Tod Browning/Lon Chaney collaboration, but one with Chaney taking dual supporting roles as villainous Black Mike Sylva and Chinaman Ah Wing. Wing is the assistant to Confucian master Chang Lo (E. Alyn Warren,) who is teaching San Francisco crime boss Silent Madden to go straight and lead a better life. His daughter Molly 'Silky Moll' Madden (Priscilla Dean, the real star of the film) isn't quite on board with this, and so when a setup gang fight (orchestrated by Black Mike to frame Silent Madden for the murder of a cop) sends her dad to prison, she falls back into crime. But Dapper Bill Ballard (Wheeler Oakman, married to Priscilla Dean at the time) knows that the caper they're planning is a plot to frame her and get away with the loot, so he tells her, and they double-cross Black Mike. Confusing enough yet? How about we throw in an adorable little kid? How about we put that little kid in shockingly dangerous situations? (Oh yeah, Lon Chaney in yellow-face isn't the most outdated non-PC element in the film.) Crazy gangster antics, with a bloody, violent ending. What fun.

And Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius added to the fun with an excellent score.

And then a highlight, the rock-star of silent cinema, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925.) I had puzzled earlier in the day whether I had only seen clips of this film or if I had seen the whole thing in a class in college. I believe the answer is the former. In any case, if it had played in front of me I had never truly "seen" it until tonight. It truly is the masterpiece by Sergei Eisenstein, the man who pretty much invented the language of cinema (that is, the language of montage and editing.) A battleship crew is pushed to their limits by their cruel admiral who insists wormy, rotten meat is good to eat and anyone who thinks differently will be executed. So they mutiny, raise the red communist flag (hand painted on the film) and steam into Odessa, where their cause garners popular support but also vicious repression by the Cossacks--leading up to the famous scene on the Odessa Steps. The film was made for the 20th anniversary of the failed 1905 revolution, and premiered at the famous Bolshoi Theatre (the first film to play there) and no matter your politics, it revolutionized cinema. More importantly, it reinvigorated my night. I felt more awake after than I had all day. And again, no matter your politics, it's always good to have a little revolutionary zeal in you (depending on your politics, especially now.)

The Matti Bye Ensemble did a fantastic job accompanying, and breathing some of that revolutionary zeal into the soundtrack.

Then finally, we ended the night in a Japanese insane asylum, with A PAGE OF MADNESS (KURUTTA ICHIPEIJI) (1926.) The program notes give a synopsis: "A retired sailor volunteers to work odd jobs at the asylum where his wife has been confined since her attempt to drown their infant son many years before." I didn't get that from watching it. I got: "we're in an asylum, and it appears the inmates have taken over and made a movie." Perhaps it was that exhaustion creeping in, perhaps it was the lack of intertitles (on purpose, not just that there was no translation, this film was made without intertitles, leading to speculation that it was supposed to be accompanied with a live narration.) But there's a lot of frenetic action, rapid editing, and crazy visuals. It's not a film to understand, it's a film that you let wash over you and don't know how to feel afterwards. In other words, it was the perfect kind of weirdness for the bad boys of silent film accompaniment, The Alloy Orchestra. And they did a tremendous job. 

Total Running Time: 431 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,906

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

I missed the matinee shows because I had to work my day job, but I was up for the 7:00 show, BODY AND SOUL (1925.) It's a strange film from the super-independent African American director Oscar Micheaux, and featuring the imposing Paul Robeson in dual roles. Primarily, he's a fiery preacher...kinda. Really an escaped convict posing as a preacher and strong-arming the owner of the local speakeasy. He also plays the con/preacher's honest and good twin brother, Sylvester. And that can be confusing. Among his many evil deeds, the central one is tricking a trusting mother into leaving him alone with her daughter. And since it's the 1920's, the only explicitly shown misdeed is stealing their savings and making the daughter take the blame for it. Which eventually leads to her complete ruin. And then a strange extra ending, because the original ending was too dark. Like I said, a strange movie. I'm not sure I completely got it.

DJ Spooky made his SF Silent Film Festival debut with a cool jazzy mix and Guenter Buchwald on the violin.

And then we ended the night with THE INFORMER (1929.) It was introduced Bryony Dixon from the BFI, who described it as a proto-noir. But forget that, there's nothing "proto" about this. For my money it's full on noir, even if it's a decade early and on the wrong continent. A meeting of Irish revolutionaries (known simply as "The Party") turns into a shootout and unfortunately ends with the accidental killing of the chief of police by one Francis McPhillip. Now the Party has to denounce him and he has to leave or he'll endanger them all. But he sneaks back to see his mother. Which results in Gypo Nolan thinking he's come back to see his girl Katie (lovely Lya de Putti.) So a misunderstanding and romantic jealousy leads to Gypo becoming an informer and getting Francis killed. So now the party turns on him.

This was one of those films made at the start of the talkie era, and a sound version exists (it was also remade by John Ford in 1935, and now I have to see that version.) In the introduction, Bryony Dixon talked down the talkie version, and it seems like it's just as well. Because the silent version was excellent, with style, deceit, and danger, like all good noir.

And equally excellent were the trio of Stephen Horne, Guenter Buchwald, and Frank Bockius providing the score.

Total Running Time: 191 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,476

Jason goes top Silentfest--Opening Night

While Docfest rocks on at the Roxie, I'm spending the weekend at the Castro with SilentFest. I'll see you Monday, my Docfest friends!

The opening night film was Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN (1925.) Guilty confession, I spent most of the day thinking I had seen this one recently and could just copy my recent review. It was only just before the film started that I realized I was thinking about Buster Keaton's take on going to college, COLLEGE (1927.) And they have their similarities, but also their individual charms. In Lloyd's case, it's all about his sweet naivete. While Keaton is the bookworm who only gets into sports to get the girl, Lloyd is determined to be the popular guy on campus, and just happens to find the girl on the way. He idolizes and emulates the star of a popular movie, THE COLLEGE HERO, even imitating the jig he dances when introducing himself to anyone, and insisting that people call him Speedy. While people pretend to befriend him, they're really all laughing at him and taking him for a high-spending sucker (and the source of ice cream for the whole campus.) Eventually, the only way to salvage his reputation and become a campus hero is to win the big football game, which is kind of hard when you're only the water boy. Pretty hilarious, and a fun way to kick off the most intense film weekend of the year.

And accompanying the film was The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, made entirely of the brightest students from the Berklee School of Music. This is their third year at the festival, with a new crop of composers and musicians every year. And it's fantastic to see their wide-eyed enthusiasm (sometimes I forget what it's like to behold the glory of the Castro movie palace for the first time) and then for them to deliver a top-notch performance that perfectly matches the film.

Then it was off to McRoskey Mattress company for the after party. A few drinks, a little food, chatting with a lot of one-weekend-a-year friends, and finally I had to take the BART home for a little sleep.

Running Time: 76 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,285

Friday, June 2, 2017

Jason goes to Docfest--Opening Night

Opening weekend of SF Docfest once again conflicts with another one of my favorite film festivals--the SF Silent Film Festival. But opening night on Wednesday was all about Docfest, and all about bringing the noise with TURN IT AROUND: THE STORY OF EAST BAY PUNK. A story of a vibrant, strange, and inclusive community, it takes the audience briefly through the history of the rise of the punk scene in San Francisco, the Maximum RocknRoll fanzine, and how it started to be a haven for violence and neo-Nazi racists. And how at just the right time, at 924 Gilman in Berkeley (a venue that is still operating, BTW) an alternative punk scene grew, with values of inclusiveness, fun, and often quite a bit of silliness. Out of that scene came bands like Green Day (who executive produced the film) and Rancid, but the film delves into what seems like every band that ever played there. Which makes for a long film (over two and a half hours) but one that captured my attention the whole time. It was only after I checked my watch upon exiting the theater that I started thinking about how many of those interviews could have been clipped out (and made into DVD extras.) But in the moment, it all worked beautifully. So be prepared to spend a good chunk of time with this. And after all, part of the point of the film is about enjoying the moment more than nostalgically lamented that you missed the scene (I didn't move to the Bay Area until 2000, so I missed the scene.)

The film is also enjoying a run at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission, so you all have a chance to check it out outside the festival.

Running Time: 155 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,209

Jason watches PREVENGE

So I spent most of the day at a baby shower. Where I got good and drunk at the behest of the mother-to-be. Since she couldn't drink, I promised to drink enough for both of us.

So what could be better after a drunken baby shower than to go see a movie about an 8 months pregnant woman whose unborn child is telling her to kill? And kill she does. Hilarious black comedy, and Alice Lowe (SIGHTSEERS) does a fantastic job writing, directing, and starring in this. Woman power!

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 428,054

Jason watches RADIO DREAMS

A fun little flick that played recently at the Roxie. Set in a Farsi-language radio station and starring Mohsen Namjoo and his glorious head of hair (as a fellow big haired guy, I'm impressed.) He plays the station’s program manager, Hamid. And he deals with all sorts of difficult talent, bills, and an owner who wants to take the station away from him. But he's got his dream, and his plan. A triumphant live musical broadcast of Metallica (Lars Ulrich cameos) and Kabul Dreams--Afghanistan's first rock band (who are a real band and are featured in the film.) A fun movie, with probably more social relevance than my drunk ass could appreciate at the time.

Yeah, of course I was drunk, I was coming from a baby shower.

Running Time: 93 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,966

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for a Laurel and Hardy Mother's Day

And, of course, Our Gang, which actually had mothers.

BOUNCING BABIES (1929): Weezer is jealous of his new baby brother, even sleeps in his crib. But mommy says he has to grow up. Like if he can't get up in time for breakfast, he'll have to make his own pancakes (just don't use the plaster of Paris as batter.) Later he tries to take the baby back to the hospital and trade him for a goat. That doesn't work too well, either.

COME CLEAN (1931): The Hardys want a nice quiet evening at home. Unfortunately, the Laurels come calling. And while out getting ice cream for their little get together, Stan and Ollie come across a suicidal woman named Kate (Mae Busch). They save her life, but she's a little crazy and insists they're now responsible for her. She's moving in whether they like it or not, or she'll scream and claim they tried to drown her. And she's moving in whether or note they decide to tell their wives (spoiler warning--they don't.)

FORGOTTEN BABIES (1933): Our Gang goes fishing. Except for Spanky, who is tricked into staying behind and baby sitting the really little ones. And hilarious mayhem ensues.

DIRTY WORK (1933): Laurel and Hardy as chimney sweeps, making quite a mess in a mad scientist's living room. And then things get stranger when the are introduced to his amazing rejuvenation tank. Wacky, childish hijinx ensue.

Total Running Time: 78 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,873

Jason Watches SANTA SANGRE

I love Alejandro Jodorowsky. And this is the film that started that love, thanks to a friend in college (you know who you are, if you even read my blog.) I also think it's still Jodorowsky's most accessible film, if not his flat-out best (although I haven't seen TUSK or THE RAINBOW THIEF, which I hear are less Jodorowsky-esque.)

This is definitely Jodorowsky-esque. Stunning visuals, hallucinations, abusive father, manipulative mother, a strange religious cult, dwarfs, a dead elephant, a deaf-mute beauty who saves the day...

Jodorowsky has said he uses his films for the same purposes as Americans use recreational drugs. And that's on full display here.

But it's also got a story, with structure and character and a plot arc and a goal at the end that is beautiful. You can watch it as a good story, well told, with a lot of weirdness around it. As opposed to a lot of weirdness with a thread of a story holding it together, like most of Jodorowsky's work.

Anyway, stop reading this. In fact, forget you ever read any of this, and instead just go find a copy of SANTA SANGRE and watch it. And maybe you'll also get kind of hooked on Jodorowsky.

Running Time: 123 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,795

Jason Watches COLOSSAL

Nacho Vigalando, director of TIMECRIMES--one of my favorite films that I've inexplicably never revisited since first seeing it--is back with a wonderful and weird film. There could be feminist study papers written about this film. About female empowerment, about realizing your own strength, about the fragile, petulant male ego and nice-guyism claims of entitlement....

But it's also all wrapped up in just a rockin' fun monster movie. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a party girl who is frequently blackout drunk. Her boyfriend dumps her and kicks her out of his apartment so she moves back to her childhood home. You know, just temporarily. There she runs into childhood friend and nice guy Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who owns the local bar and gives her a job there. They reconnect, she gets blackout drunk in the old playground. And wakes up to find out there are news reports about a monster that terrorized Seoul last night. Very strange. And even stranger, she figures out that the monster is mimicking her motions when she's in the playground, at a specific time. Very, very strange. Turns out, her existence isn't as insignificant ash she's always thought. In fact, she controls colossal events. And it all goes back to something that happened in that playground when they were kids.

Anyway, Oscar's nice guy behavior doesn't get her to fall for him like he'd like, so he becomes belligerent and abusive, and it turns out he's got some colossal-ism in himself as well. So their seemingly petty relationship is a battle royale on the other side of the world.

Fun story, clever implications, and a fantastic ending (I've spoiled enough already, so I won't go into that.)

Running Time: 109 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,672

Jason Watches GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL 2

Well, that was fun.

You don't really need another opinion about the movie, a month after it was released, do you?

Good.

Running Time: 136 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,563

Jason watches RISK

Laura Poitras, director of CITIZENFOUR, now takes a candid look at Julian Assange and his organization, Wikileaks. Oh, and also Jacob Appelbaum, one of the creators or the Tor project...and for a time during the film, Laura's lover. That's mentioned, but the implications of this connection aren't really explored. The film is very well made, and takes a long-ish view, filming for over 6 years (I love long form documentaries.) Your reaction probably depends heavily on your opinions of Assange and Wikileaks, and I have friends who would definitely take exception to how critical it is of him and other friends who would take exception to the hero-worship parts of it. Which is probably why I came away with the reaction of "that's interesting, but I don't know whether to think better or worse of him afterward." But it was super weird when Lady Gaga came to visit him while he was hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,426

Jason goes to SFFILM--Closing Night...and then some.

Well, as happens far too often, I've fallen way behind on this blog. So quickie reviews to catch up. My pre-pologies to all the filmmakers who really deserve better than this.

First off was a triple bill by Jem Cohen, a poetic, political, observational filmmaker.
BIRTH OF A NATION is his take on Trump's inauguration, and the protests around it.
BURY ME NOT is sort of a time capsule of the vibrancy of New York City.
WORLD WITHOUT END (NO REPORTED INCIDENTS) is his longer work, exploring post-Brexit England. Specifically the working class resort town of Southend-on-Sea. It's a quiet, observational, and poetic look.

Then I saw Short Program 3: Animation.
BROKEN – THE WOMEN’S PRISON AT HOHENECK: An animated documentary about a women's prison in East Germany.
EDGE OF ALCHEMY: Frankenstein collage. Pretty cool.
EVERYTHING: From the simulation game of the same name, everything from the atomic to the galactic. Neat.
HISTORY OF MAGIC: ENSUEÑO: The third time I've seen this hilarious cartoon of a girl riding her bike through a bizarre fantasy land. Every time I find something new to laugh at.
HOT DOG HANDS: They're a curse, but maybe also a gift.
SUMMER CAMP ISLAND: Surreal an silly, like a summer camp crush.
SECOND TO NONE: The deadly competition to be the world's oldest person.
VICTOR + ISOLINA: A he-said/she-said about their lives, their love, and why they separated after 50 years together.

And then the closing night feature, THE GREEN FOG. Guy Maddin doing his Guy Maddin-est, with the help of co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson, composer Jacob Garchik, and the Kronos Quartet. It's practically more of an event than just a mere film. For San Francisco, they re-made the Hitchcock classic VERTIGO, using found footage from films either set in or shot in San Francisco. But don't overexert yourself taking it seriously. Yes, if you know VERTIGO I'm sure it tracks pretty well with the story (I've seen VERTIGO, but I haven't committed every scene to memory.) You can also play a rousing game of "I recognize that!" as you try to piece together what films they used. But I preferred to just let it wash over me as a full on Guy Maddin experience. And it was awesome that way.

Then off to the closing party, for drinks and snacks and the joy of several satisfied film fans.

Oh, but it wasn't over after the closing party. It still went on for three more days. And I caught a few more films, and in the interest of dumping these reviews ASAP, I'm putting these capsules here.

Shorts 4: New Visions. The new, the strange, the avant-garde. Okay, I can't remember all of these. Usually I try to do at least one line about each short. I'm sorry, I just can't. I remember enjoying the overall program, but now, a month and a half later, the only one that sticks in my mind is THE WATERSHOW EXTRAVAGANZA. Which was beautiful and weird.

I skipped Tuesday, because I had a crazy early meeting on Wednesday, but Wednesday night I was back for the real finale.

Shorts 2: GGA Shorts. Again, I'm not going to go through them all. But here are the ones that stuck in my mind:
AMERICAN PARADISE: From the guys who are making THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, a humorous story about white privilege and a bank robber who's mask won't come off.
BALLOONFEST: I love Cleveland, I really do. But sometimes they do some stupid shit. Like try to set the world record for most balloons released. But when the weather doesn't cooperate, there are some unexpected results.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARIO WOODS: A moving portrait of the mother of a local man shot by the SFPD.
IN THE WAKE OF GHOST SHIP: Ghost Ship was a tragedy, and the repercussions are dire for other live-work spaces. In this case, the focus is on Burnt Ramen and their attempts to bring their space up to code or be condemned.
MEANINGLESS CONVERSATIONS IN BEAUTIFUL ENVIRONMENTS: Exactly what it sounds like, and it's hilarious.

And finally, 3 days after "Closing Night" I finally ended SFFILM 2017 with Alejandro Jodorowsky's gorgeous ENDLESS POETRY. Part 2 of his planned 5 part cinematic autobiography (the first being THE DANCE OF REALITY) takes on his coming-of-age in Chile. Falling in with gangs of artists, opening up, being controlled by domineering women, fighting with his father... There's a story in all this, but the joy is in the dazzling exuberant imagery. People who aren't already in love with Jodorowsky might see it as indulgent...because it kind of is. But those like me who adore his work, think he's earned that indulgence. And I just hope he keeps it up and finishes his planned 5 films. He's only to the point in his story where he tells off his strict, domineering father and runs away to France to study art. What a beautiful way to end the festival.

Total Running Time: 443 minutes
My Total Minutes: 427,334

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 11

A four movie Saturday, as the final weekend is half over. Let's jump right in.

My first show started with a short, FAJR, a beautifully shot, very stylized sunrise and morning call to prayer. Figures in silhouette, as the light grows the desert reveals some mysteries...mostly mysteries about how it was shot.

And that was the lead-in to the feature THE CHALLENGE. The film is nominally about falconry, and a competition in the Arabian desert. But don't expect to learn much about falconry. Instead, prepare to immerse yourself visually into a world of opulence, with gold-plated Harley Davidsons, a pet cheetah in a Lamborghini, and opulent bidding (in the near 100,000...but I didn't catch the currency) on a single prize falcon. There are scenes here that are as beautiful as anything I've seen in a movie (especially speeding across the dunes in souped-up SUVs.) And then there are lo-res cell phone videos that totally take me out of the film. It makes a lot more sense when you realize director Yuri Ancarani is known more as a visual artist, not a  traditional filmmaker. So think of it as spending 70 minutes in a visual art installation, more than watching a traditional documentary. Most of all, don't expect to learn much about falconry (which is a shame, because I really wanted to learn about falconry.)

Then I made my way over to the Alamo Drafthouse for I LOVE DICK. A sneak preview of a new Amazon Studios show from the creators of TRANSPARENT. Griffin Dunne plays Sylvere, a writer and scholar, working on a new take on the Holocaust, and recently awarded a fellowship at a small institute in Marfa, Texas. His wife Chris (Kathryn Hahn) is a Brooklyn filmmaker whose newest film was accepted to the Venice film festival...until it wasn't. Seems she didn't get rights for some of the music in it. So they move their passionless marriage to Marfa, where they meet the charismatic leader of the institute, artist and teacher Dick (Kevin Bacon.) And she immediately becomes obsessed with him, even when he dismisses her art, and to some extent all female artists. In fact, that kind of makes her more obsessed. And that obsession also affects Sylvere. In fact, their loveless dry spell is broken in spectacular fashion. We got a sneak preview of the first two episodes, and it looks pretty good. Definitely something to check out when it comes out later. We were also treated to a discussion with write Sarah Gubbins (oh yeah, behind the scenes, it's an all-female writer's room) and stars Griffin Dunne and Kevin Bacon. Without giving too much away, they talked about the free, almost experimental process of making the series, and how an all female-written show still has a heck of a lot of male energy in it. Also, getting naked episode after episode after episode. Also, how funny it is, it's sexy and downright silly at times.

Then I stayed at the Alamo, had a delicious beer from their menu--a Laughing Monk Evening Vespers Dubbel--and was transported to Ireland for A DATE FOR MAD MARY. Mary (Seána Kerslake) is just out of prison--she did six months for a bar fight--and doesn't have a whole lot of time to prepare to be her best friend's Charlene's (Charleigh Bailey) maid of honor. She's got the speech (Charlene wrote it for her) and the dress. What she needs most is a plus-one, to show that she's got something of a life and is grown up and isn't still the wild child they both were in school. There's a bit of a dating montage, but nothing is working right. One bloke seems like a fine choice--he needs a date for his brother's wedding, too, so they can make it a sort of business arrangement--but he splits when she asks him to dial down the "camp." Seems the only person she can even stand to be around is Jess, the videographer she hired to shoot the wedding. But it would be pretty scandalous to show up with a lesbian date for the wedding, wouldn't it?

In the hands of a less subtle team, this would just be a silly rom-com, good for a few laughs but ultimately forgettable. But the writing-directing team (brothers Colin and Darren Thornton) and especially the actresses do a fantastic job of getting into the characters and showing us something real.

Interesting, if I LOVE DICK is remarkable for women writers telling a story with lots of male energy, A DATE FOR MAD MARY reverses that, with male writers telling an excellent story through females characters. But most importantly, through interesting characters.

And then I ended the day at the Roxie with HEADSHOT, a brilliant, brutal action thriller. It opens with a super-violent prison escape, and a young man (Iko Uwais from THE RAID) washing up on the beach with no memory of his past. He's rescued by the beautiful medical student Ailin (Chelsea Islan,) who names him Ishmael (she's a fan of Moby Dick.) But they're not going to get to enjoy a peaceful life, because crime boss Lee (Sunny Pang) is looking for him--and looking to end him. And so there will be fight after fight after fight as Ishmael has to defend himself. And then when Ailin is kidnapped, he has to fight a horde of bad guys--and one exceptionally bad girl Rika (Julie Estelle)--to find his way to Lee, learn his own past, and kill him. Not an especially complicated plot, but the fight choreography is some of the best ever. A lot of fun, a great way to end the night, and a great cap to all the fantastic Dark Wave films in the festival.

Total Running Time: 342 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,840

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 10

After playing hooky for just one little film, I was back at the festival for 3 more films on Friday.

First off I was at the Alamo Drafthouse for HEAVEN SENT, a Lebanese absurdist comedy. Omar is a bodyguard. And he has his dream job, protecting a beautiful singer who is getting into politics. Meanwhile, a man arrives to town, after walking over snow-capped mountains, is loaded into the back of a truck, and is dumped on the street outside the club where Omar's singer is performing. He tries to get in, and is pushed away a few times, until Omar finally knocks him out cold with a head-butt. Then Omar takes him home and takes care of him, because it turns out the mystery man is Omar's brother. He's been lost, and presumed dead, since the 90's. But he was a great soldier in the civil war. And why he's back is not entirely clear, except perhaps to teach Omar a lesson. But as absurd as that setup is, it's the small details where the humor comes from. The dad ranting about all the invaders that Lebanon has cut to pieces over the centuries. The feud with the neighbor across the street who plays his TV too loud. Or bodyguards discussing whether a white shirt or a black shirt (under their black coats) is better. Very funny stuff, even before the rocket launcher comes into play.

Then I made my way over to the Roxie for PARK. In 2004, Athens hosted the Olympics, and it was a grand spectacle. Now, the venues are abandoned and rundown. They've become modern Greek ruins. And they're inhabited by youth with nothing better to do and no parents in the picture. They play, their play gets kind of dangerous (it gets very dangerous to a dog, one of the unfortunate themes of the day was violence against animals) but mostly they're just aimless kids without much in the way of a hopeful future. The cast is mostly amateurs, bringing to mind some of Harmony Korine's films. The default main character is an older teenager who is kind of a leader and has a fumbling relationship with the only girl in their circle. A fascinating, real movie showing a snapshot of disaffected youth.

And finally, I ended the night with the dark wave show, MRS. K. The titular Mrs. K (Kara Wai) looks like the sweet housewife to a successful doctor, and a doting mother to her daughter. But early on, when some thieves posing as delivery men confront her, we find out that she can kick a serious amount of ass. Meanwhile, three bad guys are offed in succession, and we learn that a vengeful madman is behind it all. And he has a connection to Mrs. K and her past. Something about a casino heist, but who cares...this is all about the dizzying, bone-splitting action sequences. And they totally freakin' deliver. Especially when the daughter is kidnapped and Mrs. K has to go full rampaging vengeance mode. Awesome.

Total Running Time: 267 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,498

Jason watches RAW

I had Friday off as a holiday at work, so I planned on 4 films at SFIFF. But when I got there, turns out that press tickets were all distributed for all the 3:00 shows. I could've gone to the venues I tried for rush tickets. Or I could've hung out in the lounge for a few hours. But instead, with a few hours to kill, I looked at what other movies were playing, then made my way to the Landmark Theaters in Embarcardero Center to check this out.

And it's a damn funny cannibal movie. Justine is a young woman who has grown up in a strict vegetarian family. She's off to veterinary school, just like her big sister Alex. Alex is quite the party girl at school, and it's quite a party school. And as a "rookie" (don't know if that's a different term or an odd translation of "freshman") she's going to be subject to a lot of hazing. And one bit of that hazing is eating a raw rabbit kidney (hey, Bunny!) She objects as a vegetarian, but Alex doesn't back her up. And so she goes through with it. And...she develops a taste for meat. Worse yet, she develops a taste for raw flesh. Worstest yet, she develops a taste for raw human flesh. And so wacky hijinx ensue. Oh, there's plenty of blood and gore, and it's all played very seriously, so I'm sure some people will object to me classifying it as a comedy. But this is definitely funny. A comedy about shambling heaps of flesh who have fucked-up relations to other flesh--shambling heaps or otherwise.

Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,231

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day9

I'm always cautious of the silent films with live music events at the festival. I've been burned before, and tend to boycott them for a few years. But this one was too good to pass up, and I was right to see DeVotchKa accompany (that's the critical word, accompany, not do a concert in front of) Dziga Vertov's THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA.

When I last saw this film, at the SF Silent Film Festival back in...wow, 2010, has it been that long?...I described it as a hallucination. It still kind of is. But more importantly, it's a wall-breaking film that invites the audience into the process of making the film, and invites the film into the process of making an audience. It has no intertitles. It's very explicitly attempting to invent a new language--a language of moving images that it uniquely cinematic and universal. And it shows the mechanics of film-making, but at the same time creating intentionally artificial images. If it has succeeded in creating a language of film, it's created a language where it's easy to convincingly lie, and a literate audience must be aware of that. Last time I saw it, I thought of INCEPTION (or the trailer to it) and that's even more resonant now, as INCEPTION was based on layers upon layers of artificial worlds until you literally don't know if any are true (INCEPTION was also based on shared dreaming... which is what films are.) I'm certain Chris Nolan has studied THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA. If not, he has at least been subconsciously influenced by other works who were influenced by it.

And DeVotchKa...they were amazing. Keeping it high-energy and fun. Accompanying the film, but recognizing it as a very very playful film. There are big ideas in there, but it's ultimately about a man playing with a movie camera. And their standing ovation was well deserved, and their encore was greatly appreciated.

Running Time: 67 of the best damn minutes ever!
My Total Minutes: 426,132

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 8

Another movie on Wednesday. This time the YouTube documentary of a YouTube star, THIS IS EVERYTHING: GIGI GORGEOUS. Born Gregory Allan Lazzarato, he was an outgoing boy (when he was a boy) and a champion diver. He was also a gender non-conformist, who did makeup tutorials online as Gregory Gorgeous. He didn't really surprise any of his family when he came out as gay. He did terribly confuse his dad David for a few seconds when he later announced he's not gay...then she explained she was transgender. And she started on the medical path to become Gigi Gorgeous.

I have to pause and give a shout-out to David Lazzarato, who is a very traditional, conservative father and if very open about his surprise at how Gigi's life as turned out, but has always been there to love and support her (even when he screws up and calls her Greg or uses male pronouns.) I don't have kids of my own, but he did make me think about how I'd feel if I were in his shoes. In my mind it came down to, 'Would I rather have a happy daughter or a miserable son?' And that answer was easy, and I suspect, without him saying it, that it was part of his thought process, too.

Anyway, back to Gigi, she's a woman now, and a celebrity. And good for her. She's vivacious, entertaining, and endlessly upbeat. She really appears to love her life (and own it...those are probably related.) That celebrity aspect is the other really fascinating aspect. Because in the past, people were celebrities for playing a role. Actors, of course. But even sports stars were famous for one skill they had, which hardly defines their entire character. So if you tell someone you met a celebrity, the first question they tend to ask is "What is she really like?" Well, with the YouTube generation, it's possible to become a celebrity for being yourself. I knew hardly anything about Gigi before seeing this movie. But I know enough that I can answer the question. What is she really like? Exactly what you see on YouTube.

Running Time: 92 minutes
My Total Minutes: 426,065

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 7

Just one event last Tuesday, but it was a great one. I made my way to the Castro for Asian Dub Foundation performing their live score to George Lucas' art film sci-fi THX 1138. It had been nearly two decades since I had watched THX 1138. And I remembered it being good, and fascinating, and very sterile and cerebral. It's a dystopian sci-fi in a world built for efficiency where people are administered drugs to keep them calm and compliant and individual thought--and especially love--are strictly forbidden. Well, THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) goes off his drugs and escapes to the surface (sorry...spoiler alert...if you can say that for a movie that 46 years old.)

What Asian Dub Foundation gave it was a beating heart and turned it into something that hit me in the gut as much as in the mind. And I suddenly realized how very, very funny this movie is. THX's big crime is...drug evasion. He frequently stops for confession at state-run kiosks ("mass for the masses") which give pre-recorded encouragement that barely matches what he confesses. And the best joke, at the very end he escapes because...the pursuing police run out of budget. The world is so devoted to efficiency that it ends up being more efficient to just let him go. And then the ending...he's just standing on the surface, out of focus, with the setting sun behind him. A gorgeous scene, but leaves you wondering if he actually won anything.

Oh, and the best part is a lot of it was shot in the under-construction tunnels of the BART (which gets a thank-you in the credits) and then I hopped on BART home.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,973

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 6

Most days, with my day job, I'll only be able to see one film per weeknight. But Monday was special. I wasn't going to miss the first show, BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY. Especially since Mr. Nye himself was there. Now most of the audience were fans of his show when they were kids. Or there were older fans whose kids were fans of his show. But I'm in the in-between generation where I was a fan because I watched his show in college--he had a pretty big following at Caltech. So I knew most of the science he was teaching, and either enjoyed his show ironically, or for the genuine entertainment value, or for just how freakin' cool it is that someone is pushing the meme that Science Rules!

Anyway, the movie mentions his show briefly, but quickly gets on to what he's been doing since then. He's the CEO of the Planetary Society  (I imagine him idolizing Carl Sagan the same way the next generation idolized him) and is making Sagan's dream of a solar sail a reality. He's brought in as an expert on news shows to talk about science, and that has gotten him into feuds. He famously debated evolution vs. creationism with young-earth creationist minister Ken Ham. And most recently, he's injected himself into the debate on global warming/climate change. Now, I don't remember years ago anyone particularly caring that Bill Nye didn't have a PhD. He was the "Science Guy" not the scientist (he's a mechanical engineer who studied a lot of physics.) But it seems once he got himself into political issues, speaking on behalf of the pro-science side, it's now a very important point to make sure everyone knows he's Mr. Nye, not Dr. Nye (because, of course, the difference between science being correct or incorrect hinges on the difference between a D and an M) Okay, enough editorializing, back to the film. A large part of the climate change section of the movie is devoted to his friendly duel with Joe Bastardi, meteorologist and outspoken skeptic of human-induced climate change. One of the funniest dynamics in the film is how Joe's son grew up as a big Bill Nye fan, and so he spends a lot of his screen time kind in amazement as his father argues with his 4th grade hero. It's very funny.

After the film, there was a brief panel discussion with Bill Nye; the filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg; and Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, the former Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. One of the most interesting points to come out is how public, moderated debates (like the one Nye had with Ham over creationism) are a pretty bad way at getting to scientific truth. Because debates are about scoring points and winning the debate, while science is about getting at truth. Also, because scientists are good at drilling into complicated subjects, but to win people over you need three things. A simple message...repeated...from a trusted source. Let me repeat that:
- A simple message
- Repeated
- From a trusted source

Scientists tend to be bad at the first one (but Bill Nye is great at it.) The second one anyone can do. And the third one is always tricky, because you tend to be trusted right up until you say something that your audience disagrees with. It's maintaining that trust that's hard.

I would've loved to stick around more, at least to shake Bill Nye's hand, but I had another movie to run off to, over at YBCA. I have to say, with a more spread out festival this year, I'm getting my exercise.

78/52 is an excellent documentary with an awful name that nobody understands. It refers to 78 set-ups and 52 cuts that make up the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The circumstances in the world and in Hitchcock's career that led up to PSYCHO. The setup of the scene, and finally the scene itself. Dissected by directors, editors, actors, and the actual body double in the scene (who was hired for a 2-3 day job that went on for 7 days...just to get like 45 seconds of screen time.) How the shrieking strings make such an impact (which we had seen the day before in SCORE.) How, despite what everyone thinks, you never actually see any nudity (okay a little side-boob) or ever see the knife touch the skin (or do you? Hitchcock himself said it never happened, but the body double said that they pressed the knife against her belly, then pulled it away and ran the scene in reverse and you see it in the film.) Or how about the great sound effects of knife stabbing flesh (the key--casaba melons.) Director Alexandre O. Philippe seems to have lined up everyone in Hollywood eager to talk about the scene, then put them in a mock-up of the Bates Motel to do it, which is clever and funny wall-breaking that's appropriate for such an intense and film-geeky dissection of less than a minute of cinema.

Total Running Time: 181 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,885

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 5

I skipped the festival on Saturday, since I have season tickets to the San Jose Earthquakes, and I've already missed the first two games. So I watched a feisty Quakes squad have a bit of bad luck but pull out a last minute draw with the Seattle Sounders in a game (this hometown fan believes) they should have won.

But I was right back at it again on Sunday, starting in the fabulous Dolby Theater for SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY.

First, let me just say that the Dolby Theater is awesome. It's mostly used by Dolby Labs and is completely state of the art, with bright, high-contrast images and spectacular sound. It's not often open to the public, so this was an amazing treat.

And the movie was just as much of a treat. An exciting and informative overview of the art, craft, experimentation, and history of movie music. Starting from the very early days, we all know the saying that "silent films were never really silent." At least a piano was played, sometimes a theater organ (usually a Wurlitzer.) And while I've learned quite a bit about silent film accompaniment over the years as an audience member, a little tidbit I learned is that the music was at least partly there to cover up the sound of the projector. I never really thought of that before.

Then we get into the sound era, and the classic Hollywood golden age scores. Another little tidbit I didn't know before--that famous 20th Century Fox fanfare? It was originally written for--and rejected by--MGM.

In a preview of something I'm looking forward to tomorrow, we got to see the famous shower scene from PSYCHO, with and without the music, to realize how tame that scene actually is, and how much terror the shrieking violins lend to it. Some thing with KING KONG--without the music, it's a cheesy and unconvincing movie, but with the music it's awesome.

Once the important of music is established, and some of the basic techniques (e.g., repeated themes) are explored, we get into the maestros. Too many to name, so I'll forget a few, but how about Morricone, Williams, Zimmer, Elfman, Reznor,...the interviews are fantastic, and show the creativity and vibrant boundary-pushing of the art. All the while, it's important that the movie never upstage the film. Somehow, if you come out thinking about what the movie was trying to do, it didn't do it. It's an art form that is subliminal. Or as Moby (I think it was him, the interviews kind of come at you fast and furious) points out, music is the only art that doesn't exist as a physical object. There are instruments, and there are recordings, and there are musicians, but the art itself is just subtle vibrations of air that vibrate your inner ear in a certain way. Fascinating stuff, in a marvelous state-of-the-art theater (seriously, I'm still kinda blown away by Dolby, and this was a great way to introduce me to the theater.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for the Q and A, because I had to run off to SFMOMA for MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE. A fascinating biopic exploring the work and life of the great woman of science, played splendidly by Karolina Gruszka. It starts off midway through, when she and her husband Pierre are awarded the Nobel Prize. Or rather, a year later when they finally agree to take a break from their work and go to Sweden to pick up the prize. Pierre is careful to give Marie credit not just for the work, but for coining the term "radioactivity." When they tell their young daughter Irene that Marie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, Irene blurts out, "Well than I shall be the second!" (spoiler alert, she was!)

But the film delves equally into her private life. Her struggles even after the Nobel to be taken seriously by the all-male scientific community. The denial of a professorship, at the hands of a boorish dean who had previously called her "fuckable" (you're left to wonder...but not too hard...what she possible could have done differently to get his approval.) And her grief after Pierre dies suddenly after slipping in a rainy street and being run over by a carriage. This happens early in the film, but it had already been well established that they were the best of partners--in life and in science. There's a beautiful scene early on where they're in bed, he snuggles up behind her, he nudges her and asks, "shall we?" She smiles and says yes, and so...they sneak down to their lab to work!

Much of a the second half of the movie is devoted to her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, a married man and former student of Pierre's. The scandal--which included a severely anti-Semitic angle--was exploited by her enemies, but nevertheless she became the first person to ever win a second Nobel Prize, this time a Chemistry Prize to go with her Physics one (the only other person to win to Prizes in two fields is Linus Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace)

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the Curies did significant research and experiments in using radiation to treat cancer. In the movie, they show a collar with chambers for doses of radium. This is especially cool, because radiation oncology is the field I work in now (for a medical device manufacturer, not as a researcher or anything...but still cool to see a movie about the founder of my field!)

Then as a bonus, we got a panel discussion with three women of science talking about their careers and the ways sexism has--or hasn't--hindered their careers. The big theme is...it's really annoying. They've generally been successful on the strength of their work and have plenty of motivation in just trying to solve scientific mysteries, but the little things, comments from colleagues and the like...that aren't a big deal individually but just get really annoying and tiring as they build up. Ya know...I probably shouldn't try to mansplain their lives. I just want to say it was really cool seeing smart, accomplished women talk. Also, learn about and check your implicit bias.

These women are really, really smart.


And finally, because I just can't get enough of powerful, inspiring women, I made my way up to the Castro for DOLORES. A great documentary about the most important activist you've never heard of (and if you're a public school student in Arizona, you'll never hear of--by law.) Dolores Huerta was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Not just Cesar Chavez's assistant, or his girlfriend (as one badly informed politician says in the movie.) No, she was very much his equal, and often the only one in the movement who would challenge him. She came up with "¡Si, se puede!" which Obama translated to English as his "Yes, we can!" motto (when giving her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he joked that she forgave him for stealing that.) Also, to tie it back to the start of this post, it's a pretty common chant at soccer games I've been to. She was a tireless organizer, speaker, activist, marcher. She tied the farm worker's movement to the civil rights movement, to feminism, to the environmental movement (an important point about pesticides is that we wouldn't be poisoning our crops if it were middle-class white people working in the fields.) This was before we had the word "intersectionality." Anyway, it would take way too long to explicate her total awesomeness, so instead I'll just encourage you all to see the film (PBS is releasing it in theaters this fall, and then on TV later) and wish her a happy 87th birthday, today!

Peter Bratt (director) and Dolores Huerta (superhero)

Total Running Time: 286 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,704