Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SFIFF58: Experimenter

Last Thursday I attended closing night of San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. Executive Director Noah Cowan introduced the evening & announced that the audience poll winners were The Dark Horse & the documentaries Romeo is Bleeding & T-Rex. The closing night feature was Experimenter, Michael Almereyda's light-weight biopic about social scientist Stanley Milgram. Mr. Almereyda was present to introduce his film & called it "a small movie about a vast subject."

The story starts with Milgram's controversial "Obedience to Authority" experiment in 1961 & follows his career through his unexpected death in 1984. If you know a bit about Milgram already, there is no new information, but it's nice that the movie also includes the many benign experiments he carried out after the obedience study. Episodes of his professional life are interspersed with domestic scenes about his marriage, to give the movie some slight emotional content.

Peter Sarsgaard portrays a dry & wry Milgram. He sometimes addresses the audience directly, & the movie contains several similarly playful moments. We might see an elephant following Milgram down a hallway or an obvious rear projection used for the background. I was amused by scenes containing deadpan impersonations of Dick Cavett, Ossie Davis & William Shatner.

Following the screening, Director of Programming Rachel Rosen conducted a Q&A with Mr. Almereyda, actress Winona Ryder, who played Milgram's wife, & Alan Elms, who was Milgram's real-life assistant. Mr. Almereyda told us that Mr. Elms was the 1st person he contacted in researching the film. Mr. Elms attested to the accuracy of the film & said that actor Jim Gaffigan's portrayal was very close to the real-life James McDonough, who played the experiment's victim. Mr. Almereyda told us that the film was shot in 20 days & that he got the idea for Milgram talking to the camera not from Ferris Bueller but from Milgram's own films, in which he often did the same thing. An audience member said she was confused about a scene taking place on Halloweeen, & Mr. Almereyda apologized for not making the continuity clear. The evening ended with the festival's closing night party at Mezzanine, near Mint Plaza.

§ Experimenter
Director: Michael Almereyda
2015, USA, 98 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
May 7, 2015   7:00 p.m.   Castro Theatre

§ Closing Night Party
9:00 pm, Mezzanine
444 Jessie Street

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