Saturday, February 25, 2006

Oddball Films--Sex in the Cinema: The Love Goddesses

Tsai Ming-Liang reminded us in Goodbye, Dragon Inn of how sad it is to lose our movie palaces as, one by one, they close their doors. This is certainly the case in San Francisco where only a handful of art houses remain. But what Tsai didn't address (perhaps he will in a future film?) is what steps in to fill the vacuum left behind by these dying movie palaces? What becomes the alternate venue for the filmgoer? I mean, the show must go on, right?

I decided to start exploring the new crop of alternate film venues in San Francisco and began this evening with Oddball Films, a nonprofit film archive located in the heart of the Mission at 275 Capp Street, between Mission and South Van Ness and 17th and 18th Streets. Every now and then archivist Steve Parr opens up his space to share choice selections. I was drawn tonight to the first in a "Sex In Cinema" series to view the 1965 Graeme Ferguson and Saul J. Turrell documentary—The Love Goddesses: A History of Sex in the Cinema. After climbing a first set of steep stairs, I arrived at the front door to Oddball Films. As I rang the doorbell, I noticed the door was covered entirely in soft, fake black fur. I knew I was in for a unique experience!

Walking up another flight of stairs brought me into a huge space where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of film cans are stacked away. To be in the physical presence of so much celluloid is, quite frankly, a little intoxicating and, despite the fact that Steve was late getting the program started, and had a few initial technical difficulties, I was totally into the experience warts and all and chose one of a batch of viewing sofas set up before a large screen to enjoy The Love Goddesses, preceded first by a close-to-kiddie-porn piece starring Shirley Temple, followed by a Union Oil commercial where a very young Marilyn Monroe suggested how wonderful it would be to get oil in her tank!

The Love Goddesses is an informative piece with great clips from many many movies from the turn of the (last) century up to the sixties, highlighting careers as diverse as the "It" girl Clara Bow and a frolicking Bridget Bardot. From the vamps to the modern woman, representations of sex on the screen gesture towards social climates and concerns, respond to world wars and political mores. I was especially impressed with Lya de Putti, Nita Naldi and Pola Negri, actresses I have heard about, read about, but never seen on film. And although the documentary focused on actresses, I was fascinated with the footage of Asian villain Sessue Hayakawa who I'm hoping will be profiled in The Slanted Screen at the upcoming San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival.

Afterwards Steve admitted his screenings are infrequent and totally based upon his moods, whether he feels like writing press releases, what he's found that he wants to share, etc. The archives are filled with home movies of the 30s and 40s and earlier in the day he had been looking at footage of a horse swimming beneath the Golden Gate!! Here is Oddball Films' website. I recommend a look at the demo in their archives; it's clever and indicates the wealth of material in the archives. Whenever Steve is in the mood to share more stuff, I'll probably be back.

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