Winter 2022 At the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive

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The exterior of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

The Winter Quarter film series at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (hereafter “BAMPFA”) may have already started.  Fortunately, while one such series draws to a close by early next week, the bulk of BAMPFA’s Winter Quarter offerings take place in the New Year.  So any harm that can be attributed to this writer making merry a little early by allegedly imbibing one too many glasses of spiked eggnog can be safely ignored.  

The film series closing out 2022 is “Camera Man: Buster Keaton,” which runs until December 21, 2022.  Slate film critic Dana Stevens’ new biography Camera Man: Buster Keaton, The Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention Of The Twentieth Century, by sheer coincidence, will be available for viewers to purchase.  For readers unfamiliar with Keaton, this silent film star had a gift for creating incredible film sequences melding sometimes slapstick humor with physical visual action.  If you’ve ever been thrilled and amused by the action sequences in such Jackie Chan martial arts films as “Project A,” then you need to see these films starring one of the Hollywood legends who inspired Chan’s work.  (While “Sherlock Jr.” and “The General” will have already had their BAMPFA screenings, your friendly public library can help you access these films in one form or another.)

Fortunately, there are other Keaton treasures yet to be screened by the BAMPFA.  In “The Cameraman,” Keaton is the title character, who’s struggling to make his mark at the Hearst Newsreel Company.  Some great visual bits include the one-man baseball game, and an acrobatic competition with public transportation vehicles.  Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill Jr.” happens to be the sensitive college graduate son of his disappointed macho steamboat captain father.  But a disastrous cyclone gives young Bill the opportunity to truly show his mettle.  And yes, one famous and dangerous gag from this film did involve using a real wall.  Finally, guaranteed to make a few college students’ eyes pop out of their heads is “Notfilm.” This is director Ross Lipman’s kino-essay on “Film,” Keaton’s cinematic collaboration with (wait for it) Samuel Beckett, where the legendary silent film comedian’s face never appears on screen.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

By contrast, the BAMPFA film series “Elegy To Seijun Suzuki” will take viewers into the New Year, as the series ends on January 15, 2023.  Watching Suzuki’s “Tokyo Drifter” isn’t enough to get a feel for the man’s talents as a director.  As William Carroll notes in his (also available) new book Suzuki Seijun And Postwar Japanese Cinema, Suzuki’s five decades long career in the Japanese film industry took him from the Japanese studio system to independent productions to even V-cinema.  The films chosen for this series offer films familiar and little-known from Suzuki’s amazing career.

For example:

Fighting Elegy,” called one of the 200 best Japanese films ever made in a 2009 Kinema Junpo poll, satirizes the cultural militarism encouraged in 1930s Japan.  Restless high school punk Kiroku Nanbu may recognize the ridiculousness of the street brawls he orchestrates, even as he revels in their violence.  Yet his awareness of the absurdity of school violence doesn’t quench his desire to participate in the real-life violence of the Sino-Japanese War.

Suzuki adapts the work of writer Kyoka Izumi for the hallucinatory “Kagero-za (Theatre of shimmering heat).”  Playwright Matsuzaki’s plans for a romantic rendezvous in another city get sidetracked by an encounter with his prospective patron on the train.  Matsuzaki’s patron claims they’re there to watch the love-suicide of a married woman and her lover.  But which version of events is real?

Another film of Suzuki’s which made another Kinema Junpo Best Films of the Year list is “A Tale Of Sorrow And Sadness.”  Pretty young golfer Reiko gets chosen to be the public face of a textile brand.  Can she somehow balance both professional training for her sport and the modeling schedule required by the textile company’s contract?  And what happens when Reiko’s success and popularity makes her a magnet for an unhinged fan’s attentions?

Fighting Elegy

Falling into the “good things come to those who wait” slot is the Bay Area debut of the film series “The Cinema Of The Absurd: Eastern European Film 1958 – 1989.”  BAMPFA officially launches its 2023 film series with this group of films showing from January 12, 2023 to February 25, 2023.  These feature films may hail from such countries as Ukraine, Latvia, Romania, and both parts of the former Czechoslovakia.  But the emotional sensibility underlying these films will not be foreign to American viewers.  Is feeling unable to control one’s fate purely an American sentiment?  How about an awareness of the huge gap between the official ideals of national life and the actualities of material hardships and spiritual confinement?  Surely, searching for daily dignity in regimes that officially insist they are flawless isn’t something only Americans did.  .

Pavel Juracek’s Czechoslovakian (Czech Republic) film “Case For A Rookie Hangman” draws its inspiration from the third book of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  But it also adds in the influences of Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.  Thanks to a car accident, the Gulliver character gets lost walking along a country road.  He soon finds himself in the country of Balnibarbi, whose laws and habits are so confusing he accidentally winds up becoming a regular offender of public decency.  Complicating matters is that this particular day is one where everyone in Balnibarbi is obligated to keep silent.  The uncomfortable parallels between Balnibarian life and Czech society led to the film being permanently banned…which makes it worth checking out.

Lucian Pintilie’s Romanian “The Reenactment” is more straightforward.  It’s the story of a prosecutor who forces minor delinquents Vuica and Nicu to re-enact their drunken brawl at a restaurant.  The official aim of the reenactment is for use in an educational film about the dangers of alcohol   But the degradations and humiliations inflicted on the young men soon make clear the project’s real aim is to drill the appropriate official doctrines into them.  Nicu’s doubts about the official system doesn’t save him from an inability to think rebellious thoughts about the system.

Peter Solan’s Czechoslovakian (Slovakia) satire “The Barnabas Kos Case” is a study in cultural tyranny.  Barnabas Kos tinkles the triangle in a symphony orchestra.  When a new orchestra head is needed, the local bureaucrats feel Kos’ “zeal, discipline, and modesty” make him the perfect man for the job.  However, the servile praise of Kos’ colleagues paired with the taste of power winds up turning Kos into a tyrant.

Chronicle Of The Years Of Embers

Odds are many Broke-Ass readers may have heard about the Algerian War Of Independence from the Gillo Pontecorvo subversive masterpiece “The Battle Of Algiers.”  But this classic cinematic tale of a war that actually lasted from 1954 to 1962 had far more complicated facets than could be contained in just one film.  Fortunately the film series “The Algerian War Of Independence: Cinema As History” (January 18 – February 26, 2023) provides that kaleidoscopic framework.

Among the series offerings are:

The Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Chronicle Of The Years Of Embers,” follows an Algerian farmer over the course of decades as he endures everything from colonial injustice to the stirrings of independence.  The experimental “The Zerda And The Songs Of Forgetting” uses footage from French newsreels dating from the 1912-1942 period to show quiet acts of resistance by Algerians during the colonization of the Maghreb.  Another example of forgotten history is fictionalized in “October 17, 1961” and given the documentary treatment in “Drowning By Bullets.”  Those two films cover in different ways the same notorious event: the Paris police’s brutal crackdown on a demonstration organized by the main Algerian nationalist group in France.

Had director Pratibha Parmar been directing when the Algerian War of Independence was happening, she would likely have made something on Algerian women fighting French colonial oppression.  Her career over the last three decades has been dedicated to telling the untold stories of women finding different ways to challenge oppression in its various political forms.

Pratibha Parmar In Person” (February 9-23, 2023) gives Bay Area audiences a chance to meet the director as she introduces her most recent documentary “”My Name Is Andrea.”  This film is a hybrid biographical portrait of late feminist activist Andrea Dworkin.  It’s also a corrective to the misinformation and attacks that have obscured Dworkin’s central demand that women be seen as equals.

Also included in this short film series is a screening of “A Place Of Rage,” a look at the 1960s’ social movements from the standpoint of 1990s culture wars.  It features interviews with Angela Y. Davis, June Jordan, and Alice Walker.  Showing with this award-winning documentary are “Sari Red,” a cine-eulogy for victim of UK racial violence Kalbinder Kaur Hayre, and “Khush,” in which queer people of color from different parts of the world talk about the joys and sorrows of being khush.

A Place Of Rage

The 2023 edition of the “Documentary Voices” film series (February 1 – April 12, 2023) kicks off with four programs of ethnographic films.  Many of these films are made by women depicting the everyday events of their particular communities.  Their styles range from an outsider’s narrative description and analysis to a non-narrative use of humor, dreams, and ancestral memories.

The Australian indigenous media group The Karrabing Film Collective use cell phone and handheld cameras to record both daily life and their frequent friction with the government.  Then again, at least the Australian authorities acknowledge these indigenous people exist.  The Brazilian government, on the other hand, won’t do the same for the Tikmuunt.  The documentary “Yamiyhex, The Woman Spirit” records the history of how and why spirit women known as the yamiyhex left their village only to return for periodic feasting and celebration.  By contrast, “Fad’jal” offers a beautiful portrait of its director’s ancestral farming village.  It was founded in the 16th century, and the village elder orally passes along the village’s history and its rites.

 For one of the BAMPFA Winter quarter’s more unusual film series, why not watch some 16mm ephemeral films?  The series “Out Of The Vault: Everything’s Ephemeral” (January 14 – February 16, 2023) offers three short film programs drawn from home movies, educational films, and orphan films among others to nurture the viewer’s senses of place, play, and poetry.

From The Inside Out” looks at both inner and outer landscapes through such works as “Survival Run” (psychogeography of the Dipsea Race), “Cabbage” (journey through a head of cabbage), and “Bird Lady v. The Galloping Gonads” (human quirks as part of nature).  “Your Eyes Dance Hello” offers poetry through titles such as “Brandy Alexander,” “The Leaden Echo And The Golden Echo,” and “Growing, Growing…”  Finally, “Play Is The Work Of Life” celebrates the primal sense of play in a business-obsessed world via such shorts as “A Boy Creates” (making driftwood sculptures on junkopian mudflats), “Sour Death Balls” (watching peoples’ expressions as they taste spectacularly sour candies), and “Zane Forbidden” (celebrating the titular kid’s “freewheeling glee and spilt-milk meltdown).

South Korean director Hong Sangsoo would probably dispute the claim that all one needs to make a film is a woman, a gun, and a fast car.  The central elements in Hong’s films seem to be a woman, a badly behaving man, and more than a few bottles of soju.  Viewers can see what Hong does with these elements in the film series “Tales Of Cinema: Hong Sangsoo (February 3-18, 2023).”

Tale Of Cinema

Tale Of Cinema,” the film which gives this series its title, consists of two possibly interconnected stories.  Two impromptu lovers have vague ideas for a suicide pact.  Two audience members have possible connections to the first tale.

The Day He Arrives” might be called a pure example of a Hong film.  It’s the story of an evening out with an ex-film director visiting Seoul, an old friend of the director’s, a colleague of the friend, and a mysterious bar owner who resembles the ex-director’s ex-lover.  But why does this evening out start all over again?

In Front Of Your Face” is Hong’s most recent film.  It’s the story of a middle-aged former actress who returns to South Korea after years of living abroad.  Over the course of a day of reconnecting with people and places from her past, the ex-actress must face old resentments and regrets.        

A very special film series showing this season is “Joel Coen In Person (January 21-29, 2023),” a collection of eight films.  However, this is a carte blanche series, which means this Coen Brother shows four films he made paired with four films he admires.  For those who don’t subscribe to AppleTV, here’s your chance to not only see Coen’s “The Tragedy Of Macbeth” but also catch an in-person conversation with the director, star Frances McDormand, and “Jacobin” film critic Eileen Jones.  “Inside Llewyn Davis” may not be a totally accurate portrait of the 1961 New York City folk music scene.  But it does have two great strengths: Oscar Isaac as the jerk title character and a lovable orange marmalade cat named Ulysses.  

Inside Llewyn Davis

Among the admired films selected by Coen, there’s John Huston’s famed James Joyce adaptation “The Dead.”  This is the story of an annual Epiphany celebration that brings to light both the emotional and political ties of the intergenerational guests…and the alienated feelings of Gabriel Conroy, one of the hostess’ favorite nephews.  “Le Trou” is Jacques Becker’s exquisitely detailed chronicle of the efforts of a group of convicts to mount a prison escape.

Finally, the “Limited Engagements And Special Screenings” film series offers a mix of film restorations and recent releases along with special guests.  Even though the “Women Talking” show is sold out, there are still some other intriguing offerings.  “Chinese Animation: The Screen And The Scroll” showcases selected animated shorts made by the acclaimed Shanghai Animation Film Studio between 1954 and 1981.These films show the link between cinema animation and painting through such films as “A Deer Of Nine Colors” and “The Magic Paintbrush.”  “Black Life: An Evening With Paige Taul” offers a conversation with the Oakland-based experimental film director who uses cinema to create a more accurate sense of racial authenticity.  Finally, “Neutra: Survival Through Design” looks at the life and work of acclaimed Austrian-American architect Righard Neutra.  This man who’d worked with Frank Lloyd Wright would eventually create over 350 projects around the globe, all bearing a common vision of “environment, ecology, and livability.”

Not every title mentioned here will float your boat, but individual discovery is part of the fun of checking out BAMPFA’s quarterly cinematic offerings.


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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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