Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time To Leave (Le Temps qui reste)

This movie by Francois Ozon got mediocre reviews, but it sounded like something I would like, so I went to see it this afternoon. I thought it was beautiful, philosophical, & very French, though if it resembles anything, it is very much like a Bergman film. The main character is often unpleasant. If he wasn't so ridiculously good-looking, it would be pretty hard to identify with him. But the movie does not rely on our liking him. It's about how this very detached, selfish young man arranges things so that he can die feeling that he has made some kind of peace with himself.

The movie is somber & deliberately paced. It has no surprises, but every scene provides us with information & has a dramatic purpose. There are terrific actors in every role who give very detailed performances. For instance, there is a small but affecting moment at the end when Romain loses interest in the ice cream he's just bought at the beach. I also really liked the woman who played the waitress who asks for Romain's help.

The movie has 3 very explicit sex scenes, which probably made the movie unrateable. None of them involve what would be considered typical sexual situations, but all of them are visceral, erotic, & revealing of character.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Alex Ross Podcast

Alex Ross, blogger & music critic for The New Yorker, has listened to all the works of Mozart & come up with a nifty podcast about Mozart's bass lines. I hope Mr. Ross does more podcasts. I think he does a great job of getting content about classical music on the Web.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Silent Film Festival

Went a little overboard this weekend & saw 4 programs at the SF Silent Film Festival at the Castro. This year there were a lot of interesting programs, & I had a hard time narrowing down my choices.

Au Bonheur des Dames
This was the best program I saw over the weekend. Made in 1930 in Paris, so it's one of the last silent movies made in France. A beautiful & meticulous film in the classic silent style. Spectacular climactic montage sequence. I enjoyed the documentary street scenes of Paris. Based on a novel by Zola with one of those endings that is so right yet you hate it anyway. Musical accompaniment by the Hot Club of San Francisco, in the style of Django Reinhardt. More or less appropriate to the period & fun to listen to, but they weren't quite up to the emotional range of the movie.

Pandora's Box

I've saw this a long time ago, & I remember being impressed by it, but for some reason this time I wasn't that into it. I mostly found it exhausting. Everyone in the movie spends a lot of time glaring at each other & acting like animals. I noticed that in early scenes a menorah is prominently displayed in Lulu's apartment, & Schigolch has many stereotypically Jewish characeristics. Is this from the Wedekind source?

Musical accompaniment on the organ by Clark Wilson. He evoked the time frame of the movie by referring to the Three Penny Opera & the musical Cabaret. He played very consistently through the 2+ duration of the movie, though I found his playing a little lacking in variety.

Although the show was scheduled to start at 8:20pm, the film didn't start rolling until 9:10. It was sold out, so it took a while to get everyone into the theatre, then there was plenty of borching beforehand. Local artist Bruce Conner gave a rambling, pointless reminiscence of coming from the same town as Louise Brooks.

Amazing Tales from the Archives

Session about issues of film preservation. Appealed to the geek in me. I was interested to learn about the different formats many of the films are preserved in, such as paper prints, the spirograph, & the 3 column 35 mm films for home use. Naturally, everything is being transferred to digital.

The Girl with the Hatbox

Cute Soviet comedy about a perky young girl finding love & mayhem in Moscow. The film moves very deliberately at first, but there are several big comedic pay offs as the action moves into high gear at the end.

Whenever I see a Russian movie, I'm always impressed by the acting, & here the same high level of acting is evident. All the performers are great. I really liked the actor playing Natasha's love interest. He has a very appealing & expressive way of moving, & he's never over the top. I was disturbed to read in the program notes that 10 years after this movie, he ended up in the gulag.

Musical accompaniment was provided by a balalaika ensemble. Appropriate to the film, but for now I've heard as much balalaika music as I care to hear.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Citizen Kane at Union Square

This was fun. Last night, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation sponsered a showing of Citizen Kane outdoors at Union Square. The starting time was advertised as 8:00pm, but they had to wait for it to get dark, so it didn't start until 8:45pm.

Before the show started, they ran a raffle for DVDs of Citizen Kane, & the projectionist gave a brief talk about how innovative the movie was for its time. The movie was projected from a DVD onto an inflatable screen. Watching them inflate the screen was a bit of a show in itself.

There was a quite a crowd in Union Square, sitting on the ground directly in front of the screen, in chairs set up behind this area, & on the ledges & benches in the square. The audience was very quiet & attentive. I even saw a woman shush 2 women sitting behind her who continued to converse quite audibly several minutes into the movie.

As for Citizen Kane itself, I've seen it before, of course, & I continue to be impressed by its technical brilliance. Its many famous transitions are still stunning. But I'm never much interested in the content of the story itself. The revelations about Kane never seem significant, & I never care about what happens to any of the characters.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July Fireworks

It was actually a clear night tonight, so I went to Fort Mason to view the fireworks show launched off Aquatic Park. Usually the show is completely fogged in, & all you get to see are colorful clouds. But tonight the view was awesome. Besides the popular smiley-face fireworks, there were ones that expanded into cubes!

Titanic Exhibition at the Metreon

I couldn't really tell what the Titanic Exhibition at the Metreon was going to be like, but I decided to take a chance on it. It's not cheap. I paid $27, which was $22 for admission plus $5 for the audio tour. I would say that the experience, while unusual, is overpriced.

For history buffs & the curious, the real attractions of the show are the hundreds of objects retrieved from the wreck. These range from small personal effects like jewelry & toothpaste jars to a huge wall-sized portion of the hull. It's stunning to discover such fragile items as clothing, wallets, paper money & letters survived underwater all that time. Many of the objects are quite eerie to contemplate: A pair of wired-framed glasses; a pocket watch with the face obliterated; a letter from a mother, carried on board by her son; a corked bottle of champagne which appears to have the original liquid still in it.

The goal of the exhibition is entertainment rather than instruction. Besides the artifacts, there are several life-size walk-through recreations of the interior of the ship. These are like little stage sets, with sound effects & music. We walk through a hallway & view recreations of a dining room, a 1st class stateroom, a 3rd class stateroom & the grand staircase.

As you enter the exhibit, a staff person hands you a boarding card which describes a passenger on board the Titanic. At the end of the exhibition is a wall listing the names of all the passengers, which survived & which perished. You can find out the fate of your passenger.

Naturally, the last room of the exhibit is a small crowded gift shop. The day I went they had a sign announcing that the author of a book about the Titanic was on hand to sign copies of his book. Sure enough, he was there behind a counter at the gift shop, looking like he might possibly be there most days. I didn't see him make any sales, though.

The oddest trinkets on sale in the gift show were crumb-sized pieces of coal from the Titanic, packaged in small vials as jewelry or in a plain plastic bag in a box. I think they were priced from 6 to 16 dollars. According to the exhibition documentation, 1 pound of coal supplied energy to move the ship at full speed for 1 foot.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marriage of Figaro at SFO

Thursday night I went to a performance of the Marriage of Figaro. At first I was going to pass on it, but it really is my favorite opera, so I paid for an expensive side orchestra ticket at the last minute.

I heard the conductor Roy Goodman lead Rodelinda last year, & I remember really liking his conducting, but every time the orchestra started up my first thought was always that it was too fast. He also had the orchestra doing these original instrument things, like having the strings play straight tones without vibrato & doing terraced dynamics. A flute line or horn line would stick out more. I suppose this made details of the orchestration clear, but it often sounded unblended.

I don't know why, but oddly the last moments of the 2nd act finale were not together. Is Goodman's beat not clear? I couldn't tell why he was having coordination problems. I think the tempos were a problem, though. Not enough room to be expressive with the music.

The cast was very even, & they were all good actors. The Figaro was John Relyea, who is tall, lanky & has an athletic stage presence. He seemed to enjoy hopping over benches or steps on stage. & he has a very big voice. Ruth Ann Swenson as the Countess gave the most musically mature & controlled performance of the evening.

But this was very much an ensemble cast. No one performer or character dominated. The secondary roles were especially good. Dr. Bartolo hammed it up, flirting with the audience at the end of the 3rd act sextet, & Marcellina got applause doing her 4th act recitative about women having to stick together against the tyranny of men. For sure everyone was having fun on stage, & so the audience laughed a lot too, even though the staging wasn't especially clever or funny.

I want to know, why is it that characters always run offstage as soon as they finish their arias? Is this a convention? It seems strange, because it always leaves the audience applauding an empty stage. It robs the audience of a chance to interact with the performer

There is always too much to admire about this opera. On this hearing, I was thinking about the character of the Count. He's not a nice guy. He's predatory, smug & unreasonably possessive. Yet in the last act we see Figaro falling prey to that same kind of jealousy. Figaro, whom we like so much, could just as easily be the Count.