Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SFO: Siegfried

SiegfriedSunday afternoon I was in upstairs standing room at San Francisco Opera to hear the new Siegfried. It seemed like conductor Donald Runnicles & the orchestra simply picked up where they left off from their beautiful Walküre of last summer. Maestro Runnicles's pacing was elastic & had a powerful, natural flow. The orchestral playing was full of detail, & gorgeous solos popped out frequently, especially from the clarinet, flute & trumpet. The sound coming out of the pit for the stormy act 3 overture was tremendous.

David Cangelosi was terrific as Mime. He sustained a high level of energy throughout, even executing cartwheels & somersaults. His characterization was comic without being sniveling or cowardly, & he got one of the biggest ovations of the afternoon. Jay Hunter Morris's voice does not have the baritonal quality of a heldentenor, but I liked its bright & slightly gritty edge. He was impressively consistent for the entire opera. I never felt, as I have with other Siegfrieds, that he was not going to make it. This Siegfried wears facial hair & does not exude a sense of boyishness or stupidity. Mark Delavan sings the Wanderer with clear diction & a somewhat speech-like quality. His Wanderer comes across as impatient rather than commanding. Gordon Hawkins, as a very bitter Alberich, had an appropriately dark sound. Nina Stemme was exuberant after she awoke as Brünnhilde. She is a small woman, & it is like an optical illusion when that huge, healthy sound comes out of her.

The setting for this production seems to be an apocalyptic, post-industrial wasteland. Mime & Siegfried live in a beat-up trailer at the edge of a scrap yard. I enjoyed Siegfried's food-stealing bear & the can of Pam sitting on a shelf in the trailer. Act 2 takes place at a huge warehouse, which Fafner guards with a gigantic robotic garbage truck. The totally man-made setting went against the music's evocation of a forest, though. The Forest Bird appears on-stage as a perky young girl who takes notes while trying to communicate with Siegfried. Stacey Tappan sang & acted the part spiritedly. I did not understand the Wanderer's encounter with Erda in which they are physically abusive toward one another. Ronnita Miller is a noble Earth mother, & her voice is strong & even throughout its range. She pushed out equally powerful high & low notes.

BiergartenEven though Ring Cycles do not start for another 2 weeks, the audience must have been full of Wagnerites, since there were no signs of restlessness & almost no attrition after the 2nd act. The Opera Tattler attended in standing room, & she left a children's book about the opera to entertain me while she went backstage to work the coffee service between acts. SFMike materialized in standing room as well during act 3. I spent my intermissions eating the 3 sandwiches I had brought to keep me going. A Biergarten was set up on the outside balcony, where one could buy a beer, a sausage in a bun & a Bretzel.

§ Siegfried
San Francisco Opera

Conductor, Donald Runnicles
Director, Francesca Zambello

Siegfried, Jay Hunter Morris
The Wanderer (Wotan), Mark Delavan
Brünnhilde, Nina Stemme
Mime, David Cangelosi
Alberich, Gordon Hawkins
Fafner, Daniel Sumegi
Erda, Ronnita Miller
Forest Bird, Stacey Tappan

Sun 05/29/11 1:00pm

Monday, May 30, 2011

Chora Nova

Chora NovaSaturday evening I was in Berkeley for Chora Nova's program of Psalm settings from the Italian Baroque. The chorus of 51 was split into 2 groups slightly facing one another. A chamber orchestra of 13 accompanied them. Conductor Paul Flight did not push. He consistently led with a gentle rocking tempo & a small dynamic range. The laid-back chorus had a spongy sound, & the outer voices predominated.

The Psalm settings sometimes sounded operatic rather than liturgical, & each piece contained some virtuosic passages for the soloists. I enjoyed soprano Michele Byrd's clear, slightly metallic sound & her very clean attack. Soprano Jennifer Paulino made smooth octave leaps in the "Confessio et magnificentia" of the Pergolesi. I liked her high-flying "Cum dederit dilectis" solo in Galuppi's Nisi Dominus, as well as the picturesque soprano duet "Gloria Patri et Filio," in which she held a very long, pretty note.

Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus took up the 2nd half. Tenor Brian Thorsett sang the sustained 16th-note runs of "Dominus a dextris" with ease. I was startled by the entrance of the natural trumpet at the beginning of one of the choruses. The instrument was quite exposed & played cleanly but for one unfortunate mishap right at the end. Another surprise was when Mr. Flight turned around & sang the "De torrente" aria from the podium in his firm counter-tenor voice.

Toward the end of the Galuppi in the 1st half, a violinist's string broke with a loud pop, & the performance came to a halt for several minutes while the player ran off-stage to replace it. Mr. Flight turned to the audience & said, "This is the perils of a popped string." During the intermission, home-made refreshments were offered for a dollar "in the room behind the narthex."

§ Chora Nova
Paul Flight, Artistic Director

Michele Byrd, soprano
Jennifer Paulino, soprano
Paul Flight, counter tenor
Brian Thorsett, tenor

Vivaldi Discovered!
Psalm settings from the Italian Baroque

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi - Confitebor tibi Domine
Baldassare Galuppi - Nisi Dominus
Antonio Vivaldi - Dixit Dominus, RV 807

First Congregational Church of Berkeley
Saturday, May 28, 2011, 8PM

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rickshaw Bagworks Factory Tour

Rickshaw BagworksThursday morning, on another SFMade Week event, I took a tour of the Rickshaw Bagworks warehouse factory in Dogpatch. 4 of us showed up & were greeted by Rickshaw's founder & CEO, Mark Dwight. He gave us a brief history of the messenger bag, explained the stages of fabrication that are done here, & generally talked up many aspects of the business, from the zero-wastage design of the Zero Mini to his current profitability goals. I liked the concept of the Round Trip Shipper, a durable shipping pouch that customers mail back after receiving their product. Rickshaw often receives small gifts back from satisfied customers this way.

PhotobucketWe saw women cutting & sewing products during the visit. I am surprised that companies like this & Timbuk2 can afford to do manufacturing in the City, but Mr. Dwight has no doubts about the benefits to the local economy, even from this small, 16-person company. He is clearly happy to be running Rickshaw, & his warm & voluble personality sold me on the joys of entrepreneurship. He welcomes visitors to the location anytime they are open, including weekends. An Italian reporter for Mission Local was also on the tour. Earnest & dogged, he even interviewed me.

§ Rickshaw Bagworks Factory Tour
SFMade Week

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ritual Coffee Roasters Roastery Tour

Tuesday afternoon I went on a free one-hour tour of Ritual Coffee's roastery in a warehouse space on Howard Street. The tour is part of a week of events put on by SFMade to promote manufacturing within San Francisco. A well-behaved group of more than 25 showed up. Ritual Coffee owner & founder Eileen Hassi led our tour. Standing among burlap sacks of dried coffee seeds, she explained the entire process from coffee tree to roasted beans. The company sources beans directly from the farmers that grow them, & Ms. Hassi considers the high quality of these beans to be the company's competitive advantage. They aim for a coffee that is "clean, sweet & bright."

Ritual Coffee RoasteryThe roastery has recently started using a vintage German roaster made in 1956, though it looks like it could be a 19th century steam engine. Ms. Hassi was clearly proud to own it. It takes 15 minutes to roast one 40 pound batch of coffee. The master roaster took careful notes during the entire process.

Ms. Hassi is wonderfully enthusiastic & unjaded about the business. When someone asked what was the difference between coffee & espresso, she was eager to explain. Naturally people wanted to know her favorite way of preparing coffee, & she responded by showing us a fancy conical drip filter. We also learned that she recently ate at a well-known restaurant, & the server refused to bring her an after-dinner coffee, pleading, "I know who you are!"

§ Ritual Coffee Roasters Roastery Tour
SFMade Week

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maker Faire Day 2

Maker FaireOn the 2nd day of being in my friend's geeky booth at the Maker Faire, the onslaught of curious visitors continued. If anything, people were even more intensely interested in the technical details of wireless sensors. I could discuss the project in general terms, but I think my real job was to make sure no one ripped-off the booth. It was only toward the end of the afternoon that I broke away to see more of the fair, but by this time my ability to absorb new information had really slowed.

I caught part of the raucous Tesla coil show & saw a man play the electric guitar while his chain mail suit conducted 1 million volts. In the same hall I admired Ken Murphy's meditative video installation A History of the Sky. It combines 360 time lapse videos of the daytime sky into 1 view. Its visualization of the winter solstice is sublime.

Maker Faire exhibits often walk a fine line between unique personal projects & out-right commercial enterprises. 2 young gents in old-timey outfits showed-off ties made of reclaimed wood & sold-out of them at the show.

Maker FaireThis skinny, faceless, androgynous being wandered the festival on both days. I caught him Sunday afternoon seeming to have fun learning to hula hoop. The steampunks had their own little outdoor neighborhood. Why do complete strangers seem to think that I am in want of a hat? A charming gentleman in a motorcycle jacket insisted that I try on merchandise from the Steampunk Hatter along with him. I did learn that my hat size is XL, meaning, I suppose, that I am quantifiably a fat head.

§ Maker Faire
Bay Area, May 21 & 22
San Mateo County Event Center
Saturday 10am - 8pm • Sunday 10am - 6pm

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Maker Faire Day 1

PhotobucketI spent Saturday at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, helping out in a friend's booth. His undeniably geeky exhibit features hacked wi-fi routers, XBee radios, custom PCBs & environmental sensors, yet it attracted a steady stream of interested visitors. Even he was surprised by its popularity. The only thing to slightly dampen his presentation was the unaccountable lack of consistent wi-fi connectivity in the expo hall.

The faire was extremely well attended. At 10am the entrance line for ticket holders snaked completely across the parking lot. A problem with being an exhibitor is that you don't get to see much of the expo yourself. When I did wander from the booth for about an hour, I found some parts of the expo so crowded that it was hard to move.

The organizers have done a great job populating the faire with activities for kids, like this Lego play area.

Typewriter Assemblage
I marveled at this human head by Jeremy Mayer, made by re-assembling the parts of a manual typewriter.

The outdoor area south of the Expo Hall has some spectacular constructions, such as the death-defying WhiskyDrome.

In an area devoted to 3D, I got my first look at a 3D screen that does not require one to wear glasses. The resolution is not high, but the illusion works. I also learned that ham radio is experiencing a resurgence, despite the Web, & there are even active Morse Code users. I guess Kevin Kelly is right to claim that technologies never go extinct.

§ Maker Faire
Bay Area, May 21 & 22
San Mateo County Event Center
Saturday 10am - 8pm • Sunday 10am - 6pm

Set-up Day at Maker Faire

This weekend I'm helping out a friend who is a first-time exhibitor at the Maker Faire in San Mateo. We spent Friday afternoon setting up the booth area, though my friend is quite dismayed that we have a structural column right in front of it, making it awkward for people to notice what's going on. Our neighbors are a precocious school boy with his computer-controlled nerf gun & a 2nd-hand book seller with a tall, rickety bookcase.

Maker Faire Sculpture
This enormous sculpture is one of many amazing constructions at the Faire. It was last shown at Burning Man in 2006, & it's an impressive & frightening thing. People can actually make it rotate by pulling on ropes suspended from those huge stones. Someone told me they saw people standing on the stones earlier in the day.

Maker Faire Paella Pan
In the evening we were treated to a paella dinner prepared in this gigantic pan. Everyone waiting in line seemed to be Burning Man veterans. A friendly fellow with scary contact lenses let me try on his steampunk hat, complete with goggles. I ran into a woman I take yoga classes with & discovered that she designs wearable computers.

Maker Faire Paella
The paella was both beautiful & tasty.

I hate driving, & getting to & from the event center did not encourage me. I turned off the freeway too early & made an unplanned excursion around the perimeter of the fair grounds. At the end of the day the car wouldn't start, & we had to wait for AAA to jumpstart me in the parking lot at 10pm.

§ Maker Faire Bay Area
San Mateo County Event Center
May 21 & 22
Saturday 10am - 8pm • Sunday 10am - 6pm

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rio 3D

Today I caught Rio in 3D, an animated children's movie from Blue Sky Studios. Our hero is a nerdy, nervous blue macaw, so pampered as a pet that he does not know how to fly. I did not get into the movie's story of animal smuggling, love & adventure, but I enjoyed its tropical, candy-colored world. It's just fun to look at. Though the setting is Rio de Janeiro, it feels more like a lush jungle. Naturally the animals of Brazil talk, sing & dance, but the music is more hip-hop than samba. The human characters mostly look like skinny bobblehead dolls, but the animators display great affection for a couple of rolly-polly male characters. I found it distracting that a Brazillian bird, raised in Minnesota, should talk like Mark Zuckerberg.

Rio was paired with the short Scrat's Continental Crack-up, also in 3D. The filmmakers know how to make a joke & then move on. The frantic little story starts off with just a squirrel & an acorn, yet it ends up encompassing the physics of the Earth's core, plate tectonics & the evolution of giraffes.

§ Rio (3D)
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Blue Sky Studios

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Don't Peek

SF MOMAWhile at the SFMOMA yesterday for a repeat visit to the Muybridge show, I spotted this stout likeness of Gertrude Stein on the closed-off 4th floor. She's surrounded by unopened crates containing, I assume, works for the up-coming exhibit bringing together works collected by her & her brothers. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is offering a concurrent show about Ms. Stein.

§ The Steins Collect
Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
May 21 - September 06, 2011

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories
Contemporary Jewish Museum
May 12, 2011 - September 6, 2011

Monday, May 09, 2011

ABS: Lotti & Bach

ABS NapkinAn unusually full house turned up for American Bach Soloists's concert of Lotti & Bach last night at St. Mark's. There were also twice as many performers as I usually see at their shows. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas wished us a Happy Mother's Day & announced the up-coming almost-all-Bach season. Mention of the St. Matthew Passion elicited a small burst of applause. Mr. Thomas also pointed out in the audience Murray Somerville, the man who led the American premiere of Lotti's Mass for 3 Choirs at Harvard. I hope Mr. Somerville was not upset by the merriment taking place in seats next to him before the start of the concert.

Lotti's Mass is a collection of short, contrasting movements. It's very contrapuntal, & almost every movement uses a different configuration of voices. I liked the Christe eleison, with 3 trios of singers set against a larger chorus. It would have been cool to have the 4 choirs in different parts of the church. The trumpet solo at the beginning of the Gloria was clear & clean. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock played a sweetly imploring solo in the Domine Deus.

ABS's performances are immaculate. Mr. Thomas sometimes conducts with a pinkie finger. As with the Lotti, the Magnificat was highly proficient. The chorus of 20 sang with unity & precision. I mistook soprano Shari Wilson's low, liquid voice for that of an alto. Mezzo Danielle Reutter-Harrah has a rapid warble in her higher range. Alto Abigail Fischer sounded low, & her voice sounds like it comes through a very narrow space. Tenor Scott Mello was fluid & buoyant in his aria. I enjoyed bass Mischa Bouvier, who is warm & fuzzy in both sound & presence.

The orchestra played incisively & in tune. I was surprised by the slurred articulations in the 1st movement of the Magnificat. Debra Nagy played a nice oboe d'amore obbligato in Quia respexit, with just a touch of rubato. The flute duet in Esurientes implevit bonis was light & pleasant, & the audience laughed at the piece's final, comically plump, pizzicato. The audience was very attentive, applauded enthusiastically for each work, & gave the concert a standing ovation. While they were extremely quiet during the music, they were very loud at the dessert reception during intermission.

SFMike & The Opera Tattler have weighed in on the event as well.

§ American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Shari Wilson, soprano
Danielle Reutter-Harrah, mezzo-soprano
Abigail Fischer, mezzo-soprano
Scott Mello, tenor
Mischa Bouvier, baritone

Antonio Lotti, Missa a tre cori ("Mass for Three Choirs")
Johann Sebastian Bach, Magnificat in D Major, BWV 243

Sunday 8 May 2011 7:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Book Arts & Printers' Fair

Red Riding HoodThis morning I was at this small gathering of book arts & letterpress nerds at Fort Mason. I enjoyed perusing Jennie Hinchcliff's zines & her collection of mail art. While I was at her table, another visitor told us how she received a china bowl through the mail without any packaging, her address written directly on the bowl. She claims it arrived intact! At the Bay Area Book Artists table I handled a hand-made alphabet book by Raven Victoria Erebus. It looks lovely but is actually quite distributing disturbing. Every letter of the alphabet is matched with a drug she has been prescribed to treat her Lyme disease.

§ Book Arts & Printers' Fair
Sunday, May 7th, 9am - 3pm
Fort Mason

Olmec at the de Young

OlmecFriday morning I was at the de Young to catch the Olmec exhibit before it closes this weekend. It opens commandingly with that gigantic helmeted head that is on all the posters. What's startling, besides its mass, is that it seems to depict someone in particular. The galleries contain more monumental stone statues, polished stone axes & other objects in the forms of animals or humans. The word "zoomorphic" appears frequently on the labels. There is something appealing about the large figures, with their square, over-sized heads sitting atop squat bodies. They look like the cast of a cartoon show.

El Bebé, an axe in the shape of crying baby, is so entertaining that I had to try to copy him, even though I can't draw. You can hear him screaming. I was surprised by the refinement of a pair of child-sized masks, carved from jadeite. Their almond-shaped eyes & flat faces make them look Asian. The Olmecs' polished stone axes are so sleek that they could go on a 1950s executive's desk.

A wave of school kids engulfed me at the start of the exhibit, & there were a fair number of adult visitors as well. I did not expect the gallery to be so crowded on a weekday morning. I guess people know it is a fun show. Since the biggest pieces are so massively huge, I left wanting to know how the museum transported them & set them up. A behind-the-scenes look would have been interesting.

§ Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico
de Young Museum

February 19, 2011 - May 8, 2011

Friday, May 06, 2011

SFIFF Closing Night: On Tour

On Tour castThursday evening a pink Studebaker drove up to the Castro Theater, & out came 3 curvaceous ladies & one trim gentleman. They were cast members of Mathieu Amalric's On Tour, the closing night film of the San Francisco International Film Festival. At the start of the event, the excited audience again clapped along to the sponsors reel. Executive director Graham Leggat announced that Incendies won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, with 13 Assassins coming in 2nd. Crime After Crime won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, followed by Better This World. Rachel Rosen, sleep-deprived director of programming, accidentally said she wanted to "spank the filmmakers" during her introductory remarks.

In On Tour, M. Amalric plays a rangy, down-on-his-luck promoter shepherding a troupe of American burlesque performers through the outskirts of France. It's a bit of a shaggy dog story, so the interest really lies in the outrageous burlesque numbers & in glimpses of life on the road. I wanted to see more of a bizarre strip-tease involving a severed hand, as well as a routine in which the dancer ends up inside a giant balloon. The story is full of random incidents, but a small scene in which M. Almaric's character flirts touchingly with a gas station cashier has a huge emotional pull.

Cast members, & real-life "New Burlesque" performers, Kitten on the Keys, Mimi Le Meaux, Evie Lovelle & Roky Roulette were on hand for a Q&A. They told us that even though M. Amalric had a script, he never showed it to them, so they never knew from day to day what they would be shooting. This mimics the movie, in which the promoter keeps the troupe in the dark about a canceled booking. We also learned that an important bit of bedroom dialogue was lifted directly from Colette. Roky Roulette, who had to leave the Q&A early, made a surprise re-entrance dressed as Colonel Sanders & gave the screaming festival audience a live example of New Burlesque. At one point he was wearing nothing but a fake beard & a bucket of KFC. The burlesque show continued at the closing night party, where I heard Kitten sing about her pussy, witnessed Roky disrobe while bouncing on a pogo stick, & marveled at Mimi's spectacular fan dance.

§ Tournée
director, Mathieu Amalric
France/Germany, 2010, 112 min

San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Closing Night

Thu, May 5 7:00 / Castro

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Cinema Komunisto

Yesterday was such a warm day to be sitting in a movie theater that someone complained to the staff about the stillness of the air at the screening of Cinema Komunisto at the SF International Film Festival. Cinema Komunisto is a documentary about Avala Film Studios, a huge studio in Belgrade, ambitiously created from scratch after World War II. It specialized in "partisan films," WWII epics with casts of thousands, glorifying Communist resistance to the Nazis. The documentary is made up of clips from the movies, archival footage & interviews with old men fondly recalling their work in the industry. In the 1960s, the shady Ratko Drazevic was made head of the studio, & he used lucrative Hollywood partnerships to bring valuable foreign currency into the country. It is bizarre to see footage of Richard Burton meeting & then portraying Yugoslav dictator Tito. Even weirder is seeing Orson Welles proclaim Tito "The greatest man in the world." The movie's best find is Leka Konstatinovic, Tito's personal projectionist, who chased down movies & put on private screenings for the dictator on most nights for over 30 years. I wanted to know more about these evenings.

Director Mila Turajlic appeared after the screening for a Q&A. She explained how an initial concept to do a history of the film studio turned into a history of the era itself. All the people she approached to be in the movie initially refused, & it was only through a great deal of persuasion that she got her interviews. She said that Tito is already disappearing from the minds of people in the Serbia, as is, incredibly, the decade of Milošević. The studio itself is being privatized & sold off, & the fate of its archives is uncertain. People at the screening were curious about the standing of dissident director Dušan Makavejev. Ms. Turajlic described his situation as "complicated" & admitted that he was outside the scope of her film.

§ Cinema Komunisto
director, Mila Turajlic

San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Sat, Apr 30 3:15 / Kabuki
Tue, May 3 6:30 / PFA
Wed, May 4 3:15 / Kabuki

Golden Gate Awards

Golden Gate Awards CeremonyLast night the winners of the Golden Gate Awards were announced at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Prizes ranged from film stock & laboratory services to cash amounts up to $25,000. Before handing out prizes, members of the award juries read brief statements explaining their selections. South Korean Park Jung-bum was awarded the new director prize for The Journals of Musan. He accepted his framed certificate modestly & addressed the audience in Korean, which was then translated for us. He also acknowledged a friend who had passed away. In the acceptance speech for Crime After Crime, we learned that the subject of the film said she was not afraid to die because she knew that director Yoav Potash had made her immortal. One of the presenters teased the man who came up to accept the award for Kelly Duane de la Vega's Better This World, saying, "Hey, you're not a Kelly. You're a dude!" He turned out to be the film's embarrassed editor.

The event was basically a moderately-sized, informal cocktail party with a brief awards ceremony in the middle. Attendees were mostly filmmakers, screeners, festival staff, press & sponsors. Someone pointed out to me George Gund, a major festival donor. If you see empty seats in an otherwise rush-only screening, those are probably reserved for him.

§ Golden Gate Awards Ceremony
San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Wednesday, May 4, 7:00pm
Temple Nightclub—Prana Restaurant

Golden Gate Award Documentary Feature Winners

Investigative Documentary Feature:
Crime After Crime, Yoav Potash (USA 2011)

Documentary Feature:
Better This World, Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway (USA 2011)

Bay Area Documentary Feature:
Better This World, Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway (USA 2011)

New Directors Award:
The Journals of Musan, Park Jung-bum (South Korea 2010)

The Salesman, Sébastien Pilote (Canada 2011)

Golden Gate Award Short Film Winners

Narrative Short: Blokes, Marialy Rivas (Chile 2010)
Documentary Short: Into the Middle of Nowhere, Anna Frances Ewert (Scotland, England 2010)
Animated Short: The External World, David O'Reilly (Ireland 2010)
Bay Area Short, First Prize: Tourist Trap, Skye Thorstenson (USA 2010)
Bay Area Short, Second Prize: Young Dracula, Alfred Seccombe (USA 2010)
New Visions: Lost Lake, Zackary Drucker (USA 2010)
Work for Kids and Families: Specky Four Eyes, Jean-Claude Rozec (France 2010)
Youth Work: Z-Man, Nat Talbot (USA 2010)
Youth Work Honorable Mention: The Snowman Kelly Wilson, Neil Wrischnik (USA 2010)
Youth Work Honorable Mention: The Math Test, Sam Rubin (USA 2010)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

So who was this Mahler?

Degenerate blogger Gavin Plumley toured the beautiful lakes & mountains of Austria & all he brought back was this video about some guy named Mahler. MTT might have some competition here, unless he starts dressing up in A&F for his talks too.

Mr. Plumley will also be appearing live at the Neue Galerie on June 9th to tell us more about this Mahler person. I'm sure it will be a delightful event.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tindersticks: Claire Denis Film Scores

The Castro Theater was packed for this live event at the San Francisco International Film Festival, featuring the British band Tindersticks accompanying clips from the films of Clair Denis. Anticipation was high, & the keyed-up audience clapped along with the music for the sponsors reel that precedes every screening. Being ignorant of both the band & the films, I was at a big disadvantage. The 8 musicians of Tindersticks play a variety of instruments, including double bass, cello, violin, flute, saxophone, guitar, keyboard, percussion & melodica. Their music made me think of lounge jazz, & its slow, sauntering gait & long melodies evoked landscapes. Leader Stuart Staples sometimes sang, though I could not make out any of the words. The flute was puzzlingly off-key, even though the same musician sounded fine on the violin & really lovely in a trumpet solo accompanying an image of the sea. It was my favorite part of the show.

The clips were from several different movies, & were shown as fragments, intermixed with each other. I never got a sense of what any one movie was about, except for one that takes place in Africa. There were many close-ups of people kissing or having sex. Several scenes show women perpetrating violence against men. A woman on a horse drags a man to death, another hacks a man to death with a machete, &, in a particularly gory sequence, a woman chews off a man's face.

The band was on the stage, directly in front of the screen. Since I always saw the top half of the band sticking up into the bottom of the picture, I never fully entered the films themselves. The experience left me a bit disengaged. The audience was quiet & attentive. They applauded each break in the music & gave the band a standing ovation at the end. The woman seated next to me took pictures of the screen 3 or 4 times during the show.

§ Tindersticks: Claire Denis Film Scores 1996–2009
film scores, Stuart Staples
director, Claire Denis

San Francisco International Film Festival 54
Mon, May 2 8:30 / Castro

Monday, May 02, 2011

Film Festival Fanatics

Just to show you how passionate, enthusiastic, devoted, & dedicated are attendees of the San Francisco International Film Festival, this is how one of my friends saw 5 movies this past Sunday:

10:00am Buck (Members' screening)
12:30p Kinyarwanda
3:30p The Dish & The Spoon
6:00p Circumstance
9:00p Another Earth

He described his day like this:
After the first film, I basically went out and stood in line for the next film; and this cycle went on till the last one. During this time, I had one apple, one large banana, one extra-extra-large rice crispy treat, a cup of coffee, and 2 bathroom breaks.
And he's seeing 2 more films tonight.

An Afternoon with Serge Bromberg

Late Sunday afternoon I was at the Castro Theater for this super-entertaining show at the San Francisco International Film Festival of 3-D films , some going back to the unbelievable date of 1900. At the start of the event, Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming, presented Serge Bromberg with the Mel Novikoff Award for his efforts to promote & preserve film history. Then Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Library interviewed Mr. Bromberg about his career as a film collector, archivist & presenter. We heard how he discovered a color version of Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon, which will premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The decaying film took 3 years to unwind.

The interview transitioned into Mr. Bromberg's 2 hour presentation of 3-D films, a kind of road show he performs a few times a year. The films ranged from a cheesy studio short to computer animation to silents. All of them were fun. I enjoyed the cool 1950s design & subversive humor of Melody, the 1st 3-D cartoon. The action of Falling in Love Again, a 2003 animation, occurs mostly in the air & is a perfect fit for 3-D. Most incredible were the "accidental" 3-D films made by Méliès. In order to produce 2 negatives for export purposes, Méliès shot these films with 2 cameras simultaneously. By combining the 2 prints, the movies can be projected in 3-D, & it works! Mr. Bromberg was able to push 3-D back even earlier by projecting sequential stereoscopic images originally printed on paper. Some of these have amusingly naughty scenarios, such as a woman receiving a lover in her bedroom.

Mr. Bromberg himself is a genuine showman. To demonstrate the volatility of old nitrate stock, he set a strip of it spectacularly aflame for us. He bounded on stage to introduce each film, & his joy in sharing them was undeniable. He even played the piano for the silent films, providing simple but charming accompaniment. Mr. Bromberg seems like the kind of guy who would invite you out to a nice restaurant & make sure you tasted all the best things on the menu. The Castro Theater was full for the event, & the audience was rapt for the entire 2 1/2 hour event.

§ San Francisco International Film Festival 54
An Afternoon with Serge Bromberg
Mel Novikoff Award: Serge Bromberg
Retour de Flamme: Rare and Restored Films in 3-D

Third Dimensional Murder (George Sidney, USA 1941)
Musical Memories (Dave Fleischer, USA 1935)
Working for Peanuts (Jack Hannah, USA 1953)
Parade of Attractions (Fish) (Soviet Union, late 1950s)
Motor Rhythm (John Norling, Charley Bowers, USA 1953)
Arrival of a Train and other shorts (Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière, France 1935)
Lumber Jack-Rabbit (Chuck Jones, USA 1954)
Parade of Attractions (Birds) (Soviet Union, late 1950s)
Melody (Ward Kimball, USA 1953)
Parade of Attractions (Jugglers) (Soviet Union, late 1950s)
Various brief 3D risqué situations (1900, René Bunzli),
Falling in Love Again (Munro Ferguson, Canada 2003)
Knick Knack (John Lasseter, USA 1989)
The Infernal Boiling Pot, The Oracle of Delphi, Parafargamus the Alchemist (George Méliès, France 1903-1906)
Coyote Falls (Matthew O’Callaghan, USA 2010)

Sunday, May 1, 5:00 pm
Castro Theatre