Sunday, July 24, 2011

SKIDOO: You Gotta Be There!

The following was
written by North-
west Film Forum
program director
Adam Sekuler to
promote a
screening of this
under-seen gem.
I'm posting it
with his permis-
sion on the occa-
sion of the film's
long-awaited ar-
rival on DVD.

(Otto Preminger, US, 1968, 97 mins.)

The best film screening the first week of SIFF is easily Skidoo. It's this
Sunday at 3pm at the Film Forum, not in the SIFF program actually, but is
a part of our Secret Sunday matinee series. We don't typically divulge the
feature, but this is just that rare and just that good. I can't recommend
this enough, and in my typically verbose way, here's why you HAVE to be
here for it. Its not available on DVD or VHS, and the film rarely plays!

Skidoo presents an unlikely domestic situation in which Jackie Gleason
plays a retired San Francisco hit man-turned-car wash owner and Carol
plays his daffy wife. Yes, Gleason and Channing as man and
wife; can you imagine them making love? Gleason soon finds himself on a
mission from God. Not the God of the Father-Son-and-Holy Spirit fame,
but the head of the local mob who is known as God. God is played by
Groucho Marx
, and if you can believe Groucho as a mafia chieftain…

Anyway, Gleason is ordered by God to get himself arrested and sent to
Alcatraz, where he is to do a hit on a former gangster who turned infor-
mer. Unfortunately for Gleason, this target (played by Mickey Rooney,
who seems to be reading his lines from cue cards) is in ultra-tight protec-
tive custody and is thus immune from unpleasant visitors carrying shanks.

Unable to fulfill his assignment and stuck in Alcatraz on a bogus
rap, Gleason finds an escape by accident: he shares a cell with
a draft-dodging writer (Austin Pendleton, in his film debut)
who laced the glue of his stationery envelopes with LSD.

Channing is
coping with the
news their
teenage daugh-
ter [Alexandra
has fallen
in with a group
of hippies. The
mod mom hap-
pily embraces
the hippies
and brings
them into her
home. She
tries to get
to God by seducing a young mobster (Frankie Avalon; yes, that
Frankie Avalon). When that fails, she and the hippies commandeer a
small armada and sail off to God's yacht off the San Francisco coast.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

In 2009, the NWFF screened Model Shop as part of their 1969 series. Jacques
Demy's Los Angeles effort also features Alexandra Hay, the daughter in

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
***** *****

Meanwhile, Gleason spikes the soup in the Alcatraz commissar-
y with the LSD-laced envelopes and creates a makeshift balloon
out of garbage bags and a garbage can. He and his druggie cell-
mate fly off to God's yacht just as the hippie fleet arrives. After
much to-do, God and the acid-tripping writer abandon ship to-
gether and sail off into the sunset with a bountiful supply of acid.

Skidoo is such a wild assault on the senses that it's hard to im-
agine the film was ever made. Under Preminger's direction, LSD
is a liberating and empowering tool; it makes Gleason and Marx's
characters end their criminal ways in pursuit of a greater truth. It
also allows an astonishing number of guest stars in the Alcatraz
sequences (including Rooney, Peter Lawford, Richard Kiel,
Burgess Meredith
and Frank Gorshin) tripping on acid.

If that's not enough, the film is packed with other unlikely star
turns including Cesar Romero as Avalon's dad, George Raft
as the skipper of God's yacht, Arnold Stang as Gleason's stooge,
and the great character actor Fred Clark and singer Harry
(who wrote the music) as prison guards.

As for the acid
trips, Premin-
ger fills the
screen with
such imagery
as the Green
Bay Packers
mooning the
camera and
an elaborate
dance se-
quence with
women dressed in garbage cans doing a mock ballet under a
red light. Preminger reportedly experimented with Timothy
to get a feel for what one experiences on LSD, even
insisting that everyone try LSD before making the film!

Skidoo is one of the most wonderfully rude movies ever made. It is
so blatantly weird and in such marvelously bad taste that it feels as if
Preminger was prescient on the pending rise of underground counter-
culture comedy such as John Waters and Cheech and Chong.

It is a film where the druggies are the heroes and even criminals can
become angels if they just learn to chill with LSD. It is a movie where
Hollywood's icons happily ham it up while being under the narcotic in-
fluence and the closing shot, with Groucho Marx and Austin Pendleton
dressed as Hare Krishnas in a boat full of drugs is too funny to endure.

Okay, that's a hell of a lot about this film, but it's really the best
thing screening this week in Seattle, and you only have this one
chance to see it. Even if its 79 degrees on Sunday, don't miss out!

--Adam Sekuler, Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Endnote: Images from Talking Moviezzz and Paper.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Revenge is a dish best served… to the lions!

He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Sunday July 17, 7:30pm, The Castro, San Francisco

A gifted scientist is betrayed by his mentor who discredits him, then steals his research, and his wife. Humiliated, Paul Beaumont (Lon Chaney) disappears into self-exile and the anonymity of life as a circus clown. He contently suffers for years until his nemesis re-appears and plots to corrupt the lovely young bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer) with the help of her wretched father.

The first original Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production had to be spectacular and it was. Based on the play by Leonid Andreyev, He Who Gets Slapped (1924) was the second of nine Hollywood films directed by Swedish master Victor Sjöström. Ethereal images of clowns used thematically throughout the film are both hauntingly beautiful and horrifying. Chaney delivers a searing (and possibly his best) role as a broken, demoralized shell of a man, opposite a luminous Shearer, John Gilbert as Bezano her intended, Tully Marshall, Ford Sterling and of course, Leo.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Midnites for Maniacs present Lon Chaney in Victor Sjöström's MGM masterpiece, He Who Gets Slapped (1924) with live misical accompaniment performed returning artists, The Matti Bye Ensemble.

Life before von Sternberg

The Woman Men Yearn For (1928)

Saturday July 16, 8.30pm, The Castro, San Francisco

A prince of industry abandons his bride when his head is turned by a mysterious and beautiful woman. Catching a glimpse of Staacha (Marlene Dietrich) through a train window, Henri LeBlanc (Uno Henning) is instantly bewitched. His resolve crumbles as she pleads for his help to escape her sinister travelling companion Dr. Karoff (Fritz Kortner). She only reveals the truth after Henri is hopelessly under her spell.

Based on Max Brod's original novel, The Woman Men Yearn For (1929) stars Dietrich the year before her breakout film The Blue Angel in a largely forgotten and surprisingly substantial role as the femme fatale with a twist. Excellent use of miniatures, industrial montage, spectacular costumes and the furious New Years Eve party are memorable.
Director Curtis Bernhardt immigrated to Hollywood in 1940, establishing himself as a women's director in films starring Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner and many others.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Film Noir Foundation, the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and German Consulate of San Francisco present The Women Men Yearn For (1929) with live musical accompaniment performed for returning artists, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Mother isn't quite herself today."

The Goose Woman (1925)

Saturday July 16, 4pm, The Castro, San Francisco

A bitter old woman drowns her sorrows in gin and recalls her career as a great opera singer that ended with the illegitimate birth of her child. Long forgotten, the great Marie de Nardi (Louise Dresser) is known as Mary Holmes, the "Goose Woman" to her village, until detectives discover her past while investigating a murder. In an attempt to regain her lost fame she fabricates an eyewitness account of the crime which implicates her son.

Produced by Universal Pictures and directed by Clarence Brown, The Goose Woman (1925) begins as a beautifully stylized and modest character piece, but develops into a sensational morality play with a compelling performance by Miss Dresser as the title character. The supporting cast includes Gustav von Seyfertitz as Mr. Vogel, the States Attorney, Jack Pickford (inexplicably with top billing) as Mary's son Gerald Holmes and lovely young Constance Bennett as his fiancée Hazel Woods.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and San Francisco Opera present Louise Dresser in The Goose Woman (1925), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Stephen Horne.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Chump from Oxford

Mr. Fix-It (1918)

Saturday July 16, 6.30pm, The Castro, San Francisco

An American at Oxford sends his "happy-go-lucky" roommate home in his place to fix looming family problems. Reginald (Leslie Stuart) hasn't been to the states in fifteen years, so his sister, aunts and uncle are clueless when Remington (Douglas Fairbanks) shows up and turns their blue-nosed, stogy lives upside down. Before long, marriage engagements are broken, the house is filled with playful orphans and "Mr. Fix-It" is climbing the stairs on his hands.

Written and directed by Hollywood legend and Fairbanks favorite Allan Dwan, Mr. Fix-It (1918) is a shining example of the light comedy and physical gymnastics that made "Doug" a Broadway star. His dinner table tricks, antics with the kids and a spectacular mid-picture brawl are worthy of particular note. Mr. Fix-It was also released in April 1918 only days after Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford appeared before thousands at rallies promoting the third Liberty Loan drive.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and Wells Fargo present Douglas Fairbanks in Mr. Fix-It (1918), presented with live musical accompaniment performed by returning organist Dennis James at the Castro's 4/21 Wurlitzer.

Chaplin and Fairbanks on Wall Street, April 8, 1918

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Boyz wilb Boyz

Huckleberry Finn (1920)
Friday July 15, 2pm, The Castro, San Francisco

An old maid adopts motherless Huckleberry Finn to "sivilize" his coarse, free-spirited behavior. Her plans are thwarted when the boy is kidnapped by his father, the abusive town drunk. Huck escapes by faking his own murder and befriends a runaway slave. Their tranquil life of rafting on the river is interrupted by two seedy con-men who sell Jim and involve Huck in fraud, while he masquerades as his best friend Tom Sawyer and falls in love.

Missing the satirical bite and social consciousness of Mark Twain's 1885 novel, director William Desmond Taylor's Huckleberry Finn (1920) displays a sentimental fondness for the story in a production that typifies the consistent quality associated with Taylor and Paramount Pictures. Huckleberry Finn is also noteworthy as the first theatrical film version of the book and for Esther Ralston's oldest surviving performance in a feature film, as the object of Huck's affection Mary Jane Wilkes.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the California Historical Society present William Desmond Taylor's Huckleberry Finn (1920), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Donald Sosin.

Sons of an Apple Polisher

An Adult's Picture Book View - I Was Born, But… (1932)
Friday July 15, 4.15pm, The Castro, San Francisco

Two brothers move to a new town and learn that the ways of the schoolyard and the ways of adulthood are not so different. Keiji and Ryoichi play hooky to avoid a bully, are shamed by their father's subservience to his boss, and challenge authority while relying on each other.

An idyllic portrait of suburban life and emerging adolescence in pre-war Japan, I Was Born, But… (1932) is a well-suited introduction to the great director of social commentary, Yasujiro Ozu. Never was so much value placed on a sparrow's egg, so much pragmatism on a pair of unsharpened pencils or so much love conveyed in the eyes of a parent. I Was Born But… survives with a handful Ozu's silent films as the work of an emerging master. Unassumingly hilarious, modestly sentimental and uniquely Ozu, I was Born, But… ultimately transcends its cultural boundaries as a universal celebration of childhood.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Center for Asian American Media present Yasujiro Ozu's silent masterpiece, I Was Born, But… (1932), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Stephen Horne.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"...the boy in the horn-rimmed glasses."

Grandma's Boy (1922)
Friday July 8, 7.30pm, Kenyon Hall, Seattle

Of all his films, Harold Lloyd considered Grandma's Boy (1922) his personal favorite. The second of eleven silent features starring Lloyd, it was the story of a kind-hearted boy, convinced of his own cowardice, but driven by his determination to marry the girl he loves. He suffers humiliation at the hands of his rival, played by long-time Lloyd and Roach regular Charles Stevenson, and a brutish hobo who terrorizes the town. Harold lives with his adorable old Grandma (Anna Townsend), who dotes on the boy and laments his failures, "Poor Sonny – There ought to be some way to help him." In the end, she does find a way, giving Harold the confidence to battle his demons with hilarious and spectacular results. Never reluctant to be upstaged for the sake of a good picture, even by babies or animals, Harold shares the screen with a colorful cast of local townsfolk, and a generous compliment of cows, chickens, horses, pigs, puppies and kittens, all put to good use in a well developed sequence of sentimental and humorous scenes. Mildred Davis, in her thirteenth of fifteen films with Lloyd, plays the girl, a bundle of blond curls and lace, sweet on the boy and not afraid to show it. When Harold comes calling she plays the family organ, but its merely an excuse to sing, "I love you – I love you – I love you." This film may best exploit the "candy box prettiness" biographer Tom Dardis described in the future Mrs. Lloyd. Grandma's Boy includes the standard Lloyd fare: break-neck chases (by any means), a colossal fight, and wonderfully entertaining intertiles from the always-undervalued H. M. "Beany" Walker. Careful notice of The Rolling Stone character, a malevolent hobo played by Dick Sutherland, reveal the obvious influence on a popular green troll seen in current animated features. Other beautifully added touches to the film include, a kicking mule in a punchbowl, a frightened goose peeking around a corner, mothballs inadvertently placed in a box of candy, a litter of kittens menaced by a china dog, and Grandma's brief but priceless celebration jig.

West Seattle's Kenyon Hall presents Harold Lloyd in Grandma's Boy (1922), with live musical accompaniment performed by returning pianist Donald Sosin at the Chickering grand.