Bay Area cineastes can revisit the films of James Dean and Stanley Kubrick, savor a daylong program of classic silent movies or sample the California Independent Film Festival, which makes its SF debut.
California Independent Film Festival
Established in 1997 and based in the East Bay, CAIFF shows new works by local filmmakers as well as older, mainstream crowd-pleasers such as the 1979 Oscar-winner “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Robert Benton’s film—starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep—about an upwardly mobile urban couple going through a contentious divorce, and the impact the break-up has on their young son, was controversial at the time for its examination of changing gender roles and the shifting expectations of parenthood. On a lighter note, there’s the upbeat comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” a road movie in which Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo and the late Patrick Swayze play an unlikely trio of drag queens who embark on a cross-
country trip together. It shares a double-bill with another nostalgic hit, John Hughes’ bittersweet teen comedy “Sixteen Candles,” which launched the career of its young lead actress, Molly Ringwald, in the 1980s.
Sept. 11 → 14
New Rheem Theatre (Moraga), Orinda Theatre, Castro Theatre
James Dean: Restored Classics from Warner Bros.
An outsider with a cool, self-contained exterior that barely concealed the pain beneath the surface, James Dean was a magnet for women and a role model for men who wanted to emulate him. That he lived fast and died young and beautiful has only fed the legend. Instantly recognizable nearly 60 years after his death in a car crash at the age of 24, Dean’s enduring iconic status as a troubled, disaffected loner is all the more impressive given that he had major roles in only three films: George Stevens’ “Giant” (1956), a melodrama with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor as wealthy Texas ranchers and Dean as an alluring, moody cowhand; “Rebel Without a Cause,” an exploration of teenage alienation and middle-class superficiality directed by Nicholas Ray; and Elia Kazan’s “East of Eden” (1955), a Cain and Abel story set in Salinas. In this memorable adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel, Dean plays Cal, the tortured, less-favored son of a demanding, rigid father (Raymond Massey) who lavishes his affections on Cal’s older brother. If “East of Eden” introduced the public to the young star who would become the handsome face of rebellious, angst-ridden, misunderstood youth, “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) cemented Dean as an emblem of vulnerability and restlessness for a pent-up generation that would blow its lid in the 1960s. “He appealed to the young because he understood that youth knew some truths about the world that adults looked away from,” wrote historian David Thomson in “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.” “Dean is not dated yet. Kids … still fall under his sway.” All the films shown are new digital restorations.
Sept. 5, 12 & 19
Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
Eyes Wide: The Films of Stanley Kubrick
It’s hard to believe that films as varied as “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” “Lolita” and “Spartacus” were all made by the same director. These and a half-dozen other movies are included in this comprehensive retrospective. Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist, an innovator and a skeptic who “tried on just about every genre—war, noir, thrillers, period drama, satire, everything but the Western and comedy,” says Pacific Film Archive curator Steve Seid. Meticulous and deliberate, fatalistic and technically innovative, Kubrick directed only 13 films over 46 years, many of them groundbreaking and obsessed with the darker recesses of human nature and the futile search for meaning.
“From his first curiosity, ‘Fear and Desire,’ to his final unrelenting oddity, ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ [Kubrick’s] films seemed to have an abiding faith in man’s tendency toward ill,” observes Seid. “His protagonists do their best to do their worst.”
Seid concedes he’s partial to the dystopian “A Clockwork Orange,” a surreal vision of an anarchic future ruled by sadistic street punks and a fascistic government that uses bizarre behavioral modification techniques to control them. “This is a rip-roaring nasty film that seemed amazingly prescient about British culture,” he notes. “Its main character may be a bona fide sociopath, but the State is more malicious at every turn.”
Sept. 4 → Oct. 31
Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
“‘True art transcends time’ is our only unifying theme,’” says Anita Monga, artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. A one-day event this month, “Silent Autumn,” along with the annual festival typically held the last week in May, showcases masterpieces for audiences not necessarily familiar with the silent era. “We’re trying to make these great works accessible to film lovers through thoughtful presentation (the best possible prints, excellent projection) and splendid musical accompaniment,” she says.
The lineup of five programs in “Silent Autumn” does just that with a compilation of Laurel and Hardy shorts, an evening of cinema from 1914 and three features including the new digital restoration of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920). A horror story told in flashback, Robert Wiene’s spooky, highly stylized, German Expressionist thriller concerns a hypnotist who controls a somnambulist whom he keeps in a coffin and exploits for his own nefarious purposes.
The resourceful, Boston-based ensemble Alloy Orchestra uses an inventive combination of percussion, found objects, electronics and keyboard instruments to generate rousing original scores for two films: Buster Keaton’s “The General,” which follows our hero (played by Keaton, of course), a train engineer who’s spurred to join the ranks of the Confederacy by the loves of his life: his fiancée and his locomotive; and, Rudolph Valentino’s swan song, “The Son of the Sheik” (1926), a swashbuckling romance that resumes 25 years after his previous blockbuster, “The Sheik.” Valentino, a serious heartthrob in the early 1920s, feared his star was fading and hoped this film would mark his comeback, but he didn’t live to see its phenomenal critical and box office success.