Saturday, July 19, 2014

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Film Festival--Day 3

I skipped day 2 to see a lackluster Quakes lose to the Los Angeles Galaxy at Stanford. At least a full day of tailgating, watching some World Cup Soccer on a big screen, and a fireworks show afterwards was fun.

Anyway, Sunday started off with some Baby Peggy! Or, as she's known now, Diana Serra Cary (I can think of no better way to illustrate the rapid pace of technological change than to say that I am Facebook friends with a silent film star.)

MILES OF SMILES (1923): Peggy plays twins in this one. As a baby, one twin crawls out of their crib and almost gets run over by a train. But the conductor stops in time and raises her as his own. A few years later (now with Peggy playing the twins) she is operating the train herself (a lot of Baby Peggy comedy was based on her doing grown-up work.) But then she gets mistaken for her twin, and lots of wacky hijinx ensue. Very funny.

PEG O' THE MOUNTED (1924): Peggy is playing beside a mountain cabin in Canada (actually Yosemite) when a wounded, exhausted Mountie shows up. After Peggy nurses him back to health, he explains that he was chasing some moonshiners. So now it's Peggy's job to track them down and bring them to justice.

And then there was a real treat, a of piece of a work-in-progress restoration of PEGGY, BEHAVE! (1922) This was especially interesting because I had heard many times (and read in her autobiography) about a stunt she did once where she was tied on top of a goat like she was riding it, but the goat was actually in the back of a pickup truck that was supposed to be going 15 mph. Well, the teenager they got to drive the truck was overexcited, or misheard, or something...because he took off at 50 mph. Peggy was thrown from the goat, but still attached by a length of rope. So she was dangling inches from the spinning wheels. Her dad yelled at her to hold her arms in at her sides so they wouldn't get snagged in the wheel well, and she obediently did. Eventually they stopped the truck and she was okay (although she thought she was going to die.) Anyway, i had heard the story many times, but now I've seen the scene where that happened (although her falling off the goat isn't in the final cut.) There's that scene, and a few other gags, but like I said this was a work in progress so it didn't really make much sense out of context and ended abruptly. But I'm looking forward to seeing the full restoration sometime soon.

And then there was one more screening of BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET. Because Diana shows up as a visiting Hollywood star, which incidentally gives her the record (not yet recognized by Guiness) for having the longest film career ever.

And then the second show in the afternoon was THE SPIELER (1928): Starring Alan Hale, Sr. (yes, the Skipper's dad) as Flash, a small time con man with his assistant and friend The Perfesser (Clyde Cook.) They decide to hide out in the one cleanly run circus in town, run by Cleo (Renée Adorée, from THE BIG PARADE.) Flash becomes a spieler, while the Perfesser learns to walk the tightrope. And Flash starts up a little romance with Cleo, and decides maybe going legit and staying with her ain't so bad. Too bad Red Moon (Fred Kohler) has other plans, and so the double-crossing starts, leading to Flash being framed. A good story, well told, and a fun way to end the weekend festival.

Total Running Time: 152 minutes
My Total Minutes: 367,159

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Film Festival--Day 1

Still catching up on my blog. A few weeks ago, June 27-29th, the Niles Film Museum celebrated the 17th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival (yes, the festival existed well before the brick-and-mortar museum)

Early Friday evening all the regulars and pass-holders gathered early for a little summertime barbecue. By which I mean a ton of hot dogs, beans, lemonade, and other snacks. I was pretty damn stuffed by the time the first movie came on.

And that opening film was BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET, made last year by the museum, this was at least the fifth time I've seen it. But each of those previous screenings were kind of a "work in progress" screening. Not that they didn't look good, it's just that some of the lab work wasn't finished (especially balancing the brightness and contrast) and a few intertitles were still being tweaked. And that lab work was delayed as more and more film labs are going out of business. So this was finally the really, really, really final version...and it looked fantastic! I mean, I could have been pretty tired of the movie by now, but it was pretty remarkable what a difference it made. Of course, my favorite addition was at the end of the credits where they thank all the Indiegogo backers and my name appeared on screen!

And then the feature, THE BIG PARADE (1925): This WWI epic stars John Gilbert and was directed by King Vidor. Gilbert stars as an idle rich young man, who has no intention of enlisting (the delight of his mother and embarrassment of his father.) But the patriotic fervor of his friends sweeps him up, and next thing you know he's of to France (to the delight of his father and heartache of his mother.) There he becomes fast friends with two working class soldiers and romances a pretty French girl (Renée Adorée) before his unit is sent to the front. And then the movie gets its classic reputation for the unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war (much like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT did a short time later.) The scenes of war are still powerful today, and Gilbert's acting, Vidor's directing, and a great script easily make it a classic.

Running Time: 150 minutes
My Total Minutes: 367,006

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jason goes to Docfest--The End

Finally, I can put Docfest 2014 to rest.

RICH HILL, about Rich Hill, Missouri starts with a kid (and I hate the term "white trash," but there's no better way to describe him) asserting that while people may look down on him and his friends, they're really good people. Then they spend a lot of the movie failing to prove that. I'm...really uncomfortable reviewing this. I wasn't the only one afterwards who was describing it as redneck-sploitation (or some variant on that.) But it's beautifully and...sympathetically shot, as far as that goes. I'm not sure it's supposed to be mocking or exploiting its subjects or if it's supposed to be making the audience think about their reactions--their own mocking or exploiting of them. And if it's the latter (it probably is) I'm not so sure it's successful. But it is interesting.

And finally, I ended the night, and the festival, with COWJEWS AND INDIANS. Okay, the full title (and best title in the festival) is COWJEWS AND INDIANS: HOW HITLER SCARED MY RELATIVES--AND I WOKE UP IN AN IROQUOIS LONGHOUSE WITH A PICTURE OF JESUS, REMINDING ME--FOR THE WRONG REASON--THAT I OWN THE MOHAWKS RENT. Whew. Director comedian Marc Halberstadt frames his little story around a campfire proposal to a group of skeptical Native Americans. Simply put, his Jewish ancestors were chased out of Germany. And they settled in America, on land that long ago belonged to the natives. There is a case for German reparations to displaced Jewish families. There is equally a claim to reparations for natives from the people living on their land. So...cut out the middle man, and have the Native Americans ask for reparations directly from the Germans. A plan so crazy it's bound to...okay, it won't work, but it can be funny and thought-provoking along the way. Oh, and that picture of Jesus in the title? Consider how a Middle Eastern Jew came to be depicted as a white Anglo-Saxon (sometimes even blond) and consider how Native Americans come to be depicted as caricatures on sports logos. Imagine, if you will, if Jesus was actually depicted as Jewish. As Woody Allen, maybe? Or, as Marc Halberstadt? Okay, I don't assume you know what he looks like, which is why I suggested Woody Allen. Anyway, this is a strange, funny movie with a pretty strong message. And if you're so inclined, there's even a link where you can pay Indians rent.

And that, finally, was the end of Docfest.

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 366,858

Jason goes to Docfest--The Penultimate Day

I will not fall a month behind on my blog. I will not fall a month behind on my blog. I will not fall a month behind on my blog. IWILLNOTFALLAMONTHBEHINDONMYBLOG!

Okay, first up on...Christ, June 18th was VESSEL. Dr. Rebecca Gomperts really cares about women's access to safe, legal abortions. That's good. So she hires a boat and travels to places that ban abortions so she can offer women there legal abortions in international waters. That's...kind of clever. But she has no idea what she's doing. Things as simple as 'if you come into port here, you will be arrested' seem to escape her naive idealism. Whatever you think of her mission, this movie is more interesting as a look at a passionate, naive activist who learns a little bit about how to go about her mission more pragmatically.

Then there was A MAN CALLED GOD. A personal movie made over the course of 30 years, Christopher St John and his son Kristoff tell their story of the guru Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Well...guru/cult leader/child molester, according to the movie. Ummm...yeah, that was not pleasant to hear about. The movie is well made, although it runs kind of long, and the allegations of sexual abuse seem to come out of nowhere and are rather shocking. But maybe that's just because I was struggling to stay awake.

Total Running Time: 196 minutes
My Total Minutes: 366,672

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jason goes to Docfest--Day...The End minus 2

Still catching up. This is from June 17th, as I took a little break from the festival to attend to family matters in Los Angeles.

First up was AN HONEST LIAR: THE AMAZING RANDI STORY. James “The Amazing” Randi is a stage magician, and he opens his act by admitting to the audience that he is a liar. He will tell you he can do magic and then he will trick you. But by telling you upfront, and by doing this solely for entertainment, he is an honest liar. What he has no tolerance for--and what he has spent his life debunking--is those who would use the tricks of stage magic to cheat and defraud people. He thoroughly debunks Uri Geller, he goes after faith healing evangelists, etc. And he does it with wit, style, and sometimes reckless abandon that's always fun to watch. And then, near the end, the movie takes a really bizarre turn as some of the lies of his personal life get exposed on camera (about his lover, but I won't go into detail. It's a bizarre story that you should have the pleasure of discovering for yourself.)

And then, something that was just good ol' fun, DOC OF THE DEAD. A fun and funny look at zombies in pop culture. It's got the titans, from George Romero to Simon Pegg to Max Brooks to Bruce Campbell. And it's got tons and tons of cosplaying fans. I'm not sure you can say there's some great social insight in the genre, but...wait, what the heck am I saying? I'm the guy who complains that I still don't understand the 90s because Romero didn't make a ________ OF THE DEAD movie during that time! These movies are chock full of social importance! And brains! BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS!

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 366,476

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

More catching up. This is from June 12th. Almost a month behind on my blogging. Sigh...

But hey, it turns out to work perfectly, since THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ is currently playing at the Roxie. And it's a pretty great movie. You may remember Aaron Swartz. If you followed the news you knew him as a hacker who was indicted on several federal hacking charges in 2011 and 2012. Most memorably "stealing" a huge archive of academic literature and sharing it for free online. He became a darling of the "information wants to be free" set, and was vilified by others. And then he died--apparent suicide in his Brooklyn apartment. Well, the movie goes behind the headlines and learns about the young child computer prodigy, his skills, his passions, and his priorities. Especially his passion for civil liberties and freedom, and his view of the Internet as a place where those freedoms could finally flourish in the way he wanted. Perhaps he was naive about that, but there's always something a little admirable about 20-something naive idealism. And this movie is a celebration of that, and an elegy for the Swartz.

Then we went from a 20-something suicide victim to a really depressing film. THE ENGINEER follows the life and work of Israel Ticas, the only forensic criminologist working in El Salvador. In a country wrecked by gang violence that kills hundreds of teenagers, Israel is determined to find all the unmarked graves, discover what he can by examining the bodies, and hopefully bringing the killers to justice. It's a gruesome job, and it destroys his personal life. And the film gives a clear, open-eyed look at exactly how gruesome it is. This is not a pleasant film, and it's not for those who can't stomach the view of several real corpses. But it's an important film about an important man doing an important job.

Total Running Time: 197 minutes
My Total Minutes: 366,290

Friday, June 27, 2014

Jason Goes to Docfest--Day 7

More catching up. This is from June 11.

First up we take a look at urban farming with URBAN FRUIT. Exploring the lives and passions of a handful of urban farmers in Los Angeles, it explores the health benefits and positive community it creates. It also explores the sometimes bizarre and ridiculous zoning laws that forbid it (thankfully, as a coda to the movie, much of this is changing.) An interesting and ultimately positive experience about reclaiming a connection with the land where you live. Good stuff.

And then we take a bizarre journey with BRONX OBAMA. Louis Ortiz lives in the Bronx, is a liberal Democrat like most of his neighbors, and during the 2008 election had friends tell him that he kind of looked like Obama with a goatee. So he shaved off his goatee and...he's the spitting image of the man! So on election night, just by walking around looking like the new President-elect, he was bought several drinks. And his new career started. We see his impersonation career grow from just standing on the corner with a sign offering to get your picture taken with the President to a full-on political comedy tour in 2012 with a Romney impersonator and a Bill Clinton impersonator (the veteran, who knows the racket and bemoans that fact that Clinton has gone vegan, lost a lot of weight, and made looking like him so much harder.) Well, that tour gets to be something of a nightmare, as the organizer is right-winger who books them at a bunch of Tea Party events and forces him to make disparaging jokes about a guy he still supports. It's a true American Dream story--realize you have a marketable skill (or at least the look of a lifetime) and cash in on it, only to realize you have to compromise a hell of a lot of what's important to you just to make a living. Still, it's a heck of a funny story.

Total Running Time: 162 minutes
My Total Minutes: 366,092