Wednesday, July 23, 2014

YBCA: BAN7—INVASION OF THE CINEMANIACS!

Bay Area Now (BAN), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' (YBCA) signature triennial, has for six years running brought to life current perspectives for both YBCA and the regional art scene through the work of artists who capture the spirit of "now." In its seventh edition, BAN7 is experimenting with a new curatorial approach that highlights collaborations with the region's artists and arts organizations and pushes beyond presentation—what Dina Iordanova terms "descending programming"—toward a multidisciplinary celebration of the diversity of artistic practices in the Bay Area.

BAN7's core idea is to decentralize the curatorial process, and centralize the public presentation of some of the most exciting artistic voices in the region today. As a common shared site for the presentation of works, BAN7 aims to create a lucid web of creative activity in the Bay Area. Their vision is to create a platform for new work and experimentation rooted in the belief that a decentralized curatorial process will open up an opportunity for a wider range of voices and create spaces for dialogue beyond the arts.

In conjunction with BAN7's core curatorial initiative, Joel Shepard, YBCA's Film / Video Curator assembled this Summer's film program "Invasion of the Cinemaniacs" to inflect that initiative. As he states it in his curatorial statement: "When I took this job at YBCA over 15 years ago, I decided immediately that I would not be the only curatorial voice that got to be heard in our Screening Room. I knew very well what a smart and engaged film community we had here, and knew it would be a big mistake to try to speak for all those individuals and communities. My solution then was to make partnerships with a great number of local media organizations, who would host weekly or monthly screenings here. These included groups such as the SF Jewish Film Festival, Film Arts Foundation, Cine Acción, Frameline, Goethe-Institut, San Francisco Cinematheque, and many more. Some of these groups are now long gone, some are alive and well. And some still do regular screenings here.

" 'Invasion of the Cinemanaics!' presented as part of BAN7, is really an extension of this original impulse, but takes it to a deeper, different level. There is a community in San Francisco of avid cinephiles. You might not know their names, but you've seen them around. Some of them write excellent blogs about the local film scene. I wanted to celebrate these folks, who are so strongly invested in local film exhibition, but generally don't get to have a say in what actually gets screened. I realized I could take this idea a little further, and reach out into the world of film criticism, publicity, and other areas where people were building communities around screenings, like Meetup groups.

"I asked everyone to choose a film of special significance to them, without any restrictions. We only had enough slots for ten people (plus one super-sized sidebar event presented by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks), but we could have had a lot more. Many great, dedicated people got left out—for now. But, this was such fun to put together we will definitely do it again, so stay tuned. And the film program, taken as a whole, is amazing. We've got an incredible diversity of some very rare, stunning films. Where else would you find classic Korean cinema next to Mexican psychodrama, alongside Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Bronson, and camp icon Maria Montez? Join us for this unique experiment in film curating."

Imagine my delight in being invited to be among the first wave of "cinemaniacs" to offer a film to this significant, brave program. As a former anthropologist, urban models of the core and periphery have long captured my imagination and my intellect and—in many ways—my current lifestyle of frequently shifting between the San Francisco Bay Area and my (now relatively) new home in Boise, Idaho has been living practice of how cultural flows operate and traffic. By what I have offered the Bay Area over the last decade through entries on The Evening Class, I understand that I will always be recognized as a San Franciscan, even if I reside somewhere else, and Joel Shepard's invitation to join the Cinemaniacs series was respectful confirmation of that. My only regret is that I'm unable to catch all of the series in person, though I will fortunately be able to catch several.

The Hole by Tsai Ming-liang, Courtesy Celluloid Dreams
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"Invasion of the Cinemaniacs" kicked off this past Sunday with publicist Karen Larsen's choice of The Hole (1998), a "gonzo gem" from Taiwan by Tsai Ming-liang, screened in 35mm. Somewhere in Taiwan, the rain won't stop. A mysterious disease reaches epidemic proportions. A young man uses the giant hole in his living room floor to spy on his downstairs neighbor, a woman who stockpiles toilet paper and dreams of singing and dancing… The Hole is Tsai Ming-liang's craziest and most entertaining film, a tragicomic tale of urban loneliness.

In the early '70s, Karen Larsen founded Larsen Associates, a public relations firm specializing in independent feature and documentary films, film festivals, and special events.

The Company by Robert Altman, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
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Tomorrow evening, Thursday, July 24, filmbud Brian Darr selects The Company (2003), an underrated film from the end of Robert Altman's oeuvre. Robert Altman's penultimate theatrical film allowed him to apply his classic approach of "community as character" to an existing organism: Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. By integrating actors Malcolm McDowell (as fictional Artistic Director Alberto Antonelli), Neve Campbell (as a striving dancer), and James Franco (as her romantic interest) into a cast of real professional dancers and choreographers, Altman gracefully pirouettes between subtle observational drama and the magnetic forces of star charisma. In chronicling a typical season of a 21st century arts institution, his camera rarely captured such spectacular motion and color. The result is arguably his most underrated and Wiseman-esque masterwork.

Brian Darr was born and raised in San Francisco and currently works in the San Francisco Public Library's audiovisual department. In 2005 he founded the blog Hell On Frisco Bay, and has been highlighting local film screenings there (and more recently on Twitter as @HellOnFriscoBay) ever since. He's also written essays for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Senses of Cinema, Fandor, and the 2013 book World Film Locations: San Francisco.

Here is the remaining schedule:

Colorado Territory by Raoul Walsh, Courtesy Warner Bros
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Jonathan L. Knapp presents Colorado Territory (1949, 94 min, 35mm) by Raoul Walsh on Sunday, July 27, 2:00PM. A remake of his film High Sierra (1941), Walsh's noir western inhabits a space not far removed from that of his broody Pursued (1947). As in High Sierra, here we have the tale of an aging criminal (Joel McCrea) convinced to pull one last heist. But of course things go awry: there's double crossing, a love triangle (Dorothy Malone and especially Virginia Mayo do great work here), and the general sense that the past is an inescapable force that must be reckoned with. Ghosts haunt the landscape of Colorado Territory, proving that the shadows of postwar Hollywood stretched far beyond the dark city.

Jonathan L. Knapp has spent nearly a decade in the local film community, whether through writing for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, or working for film festivals such as the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and Frameline. After several years at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Knapp came to YBCA, where he has worked for the past three years as Film / Video Curatorial Assistant. Simultaneously, he completed an MA in cinema studies at San Francisco State University, and is leaving his position at YBCA this summer to pursue doctoral work in film and visual studies.

Death Wish 3 by Michael Winner, Courtesy Park Circus
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Cheryl Eddy presents Death Wish 3 (1985, 92 min, 35mm) by Michael Winner on Saturday, August 9, 7:30 PM. His wife is murdered in Death Wish (1974). His daughter gets it in Death Wish II (1982). So in 1985's Death Wish 3, architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey (stone-cold Charles Bronson) has ascended to his true form: lone wolf with a heart of gold—and a white-hot temper. (You just can't keep a justice-loving man with access to a jaw-dropping array of firepower down, especially when New York City is crawling with so many violent scumbags.) Bleak and relentlessly brutal, Death Wish 3 is classic exploitation cinema with a distinctly 1980s flair; its villains are a street gang that manages to be both sinister and cartoonish ("They killed the Giggler!"), and its synth-heavy score is by none other than Jimmy Page.

Cheryl Eddy is the Senior Arts and Entertainment Editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where she has worked since 1999. She holds an MA in cinema studies from San Francisco State University and is a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

Madame Freedom by Han Hyeong-mo, Courtesy Korean Film Archive
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Adam Hartzell presents Madame Freedom (1956, 125 min, 35mm) by Han Hyeong-mo on Sunday, August 10, 2:00PM. As Steven Chung, the Korean Studies scholar based at Princeton, notes, "the women's melodrama of the late 1950s was arguably one of the most important and influential of the period's mass cultural products." Melodrama is still a huge part of South Korean film, so much so that it seeps into other genres such as horror or war films. And the key melodrama of the 1950s was Han Hyung-mo's Madame Freedom, about a woman who flirts with a rapidly modernizing and westernizing South Korea. Come check out the fancy cafes, mambo dance halls, and French fashions of Gangnam Style, pre-Psy, in this classic film.

Adam Hartzell has been writing for the premier English-language website on South Korean cinema, Koreanfilm.org, since 2000. He has been published in The Cinema of Japan and Korea (Wallflower Press) and Directory of World Cinema: South Korea (Intellect Books). He has written often about the films of Hong Sangsoo, and recently presented a paper on his work at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

Hell Without Limits by Arturo Ripstein, Courtesy IMCINE
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Michael Guillén presents Hell Without Limits (El Lugar Sin Límites, 1978, 110 min, 35mm) by Arturo Ripstein on Saturday, August 23, 7:30PM. Less than five years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein bravely challenged entrenched social presumptions by inspiring compassion for the figure of La Manuela (Roberto Cobo), a not-very-attractive, elderly, cross-dressing whorehouse flamenco dancer at odds with the town's patriarch and his hired henchman Pancho (Gonzalo Vega), both of whom are intent on seizing Manuelita's properties. Complicating matters, La Manuela desires Pancho despite himself and seduces Pancho's own conflicted reciprocity. In a dazzling gender provocation, Ripstein maneuvers the narrative's power struggles to a choreographed denouement between the most feminized and the most machismo of men. Arturo Ripstein will be in attendance.

The Exile by Max Ophuls, Courtesy Universal
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David Wong presents The Exile (1947, 95 min, 35mm) by Max Ophuls on Sunday, August 24, 2:00PM. The Exile overlays a familiar fable—that of the incognito prince in love with a commoner—onto the historical exile of England's Charles II to Holland in the 1650s. Director Max Ophuls got on well with producer-star-co-writer Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and was given free rein stylistically. Ophuls's trademark camera fluidity and compositional intricacy—used to devastatingly heartrending effect when tracing the psychological confinement of his female protagonists—achieve a more muted poignancy when utilized to underscore his outsider male protagonists' longing for the simple rituals of ordinary human connectedness.

David Wong writes: "I first began to take film seriously during a 1979 Francois Truffaut retrospective at the UC Theatre, Berkeley and have been attending local screenings with near full-time intensity since about 1980. I remain indebted to Professor Kaja Silverman, whose film theory classes at Cal in the early 1990s helped fill in the gaps created by mere film-viewing alone, and also to Max Ophuls, whose detached yet acutely-sensitive renderings of profound human emotion serve as a constant reminder of what is most valuable about cinema."

Pietà by Kim Ki-duk, Courtesy Drafthouse Films
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Alby Lim presents Pietà (2012, 104 min, digital) by Kim Ki-duk on Thursday, September 18, 7:30PM. Nobody likes Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk—you can only either hate him or love him. His movies aren't just dark; they're ugly, bleak, cheaply made, and just plain hard to watch. But they also explore human nature like few other movies do, and they win prizes for it. Take Pietà, Golden Lion winner for best film at the Venice Film Festival, about a ruthless debt collector whose life falls into turmoil when he meets a woman who may be his long-lost mother. It's savage, even a little preposterous, but it'll make you think long after its closing credits roll.

As organizer of The Red Lantern: Bay Area Asian Cinephiles, the world's largest Meetup for Asian films, Alby Lim hosts Asian film events in San Francisco and beyond.

Little Fugitive by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, & Ray Ashley, Courtesy The Film Desk
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Lynn Cursaro presents Little Fugitive (1970, 8 min, 16mm) by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, and Ray Ashley on Sunday, September 21, 2:00PM. Seven-year old Joey, tricked into thinking he has shot his brother, runs off to Coney Island, convinced he can never return home, and a gentle, bittersweet adventure begins. Co-directors Ruth Orkin and Morris Engel had impressive careers in photojournalism before they ventured into film. The immediacy and beauty of this tale of yearning have all the elements of the best street photography of the golden era of Life and Look magazines. As spunky and independent as its young hero, the film had a profound effect on François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and D.A. Pennebaker said, "It spurred us all on." Preceded by the short Sun by Stelios Roccos.

Local film-goer Lynn Cursaro also curates 16mm treasures at SF's Oddball Archive, where she's on the lookout for wacky educational films and '30s curios. A staunch believer in film, she does not own a DVD player nor does she "stream."

The Brides of Dracula by Terence Fisher, Courtesy Universal
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David Robson presents The Brides Of Dracula (1960, 85 min, 35mm) by Terence Fisher on Thursday, September 25, 7:30PM. On her way to a new job in Transylvania, comely schoolteacher Marianne accepts the hospitality of the mysterious Baroness Meinster. The innocent Marianne accidentally unleashes a hideous evil from the dungeons of Castle Meinster, one which follows her to her new assignment. Marianne's depraved new suitor threatens her very soul, until Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) arrives to even the odds. This early entry in Hammer Films' famous horror cycle balances sumptuous Gothic atmosphere with full-tilt vampire action, and remains a fan favorite to this day.

David Robson holds a degree in theatre from the University of Virginia. He worked at YBCA for several years, during which time he programmed series of films by Phil Karlson and Alex Cox. He currently serves as Editorial Director for Jaman, a website that offers users a smarter search for movies online. He also blogs at the House of Sparrows.

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