April Film Options are Expansive, Diverse

by Sura Wood

The San Francisco International Film Festival, BAMPFA and a five-film Michelangelo Antonioni marathon take top billing this month.

Literature has long been an important resource for movies. “Auteur, Author,” an engaging series opening this month at BAMPFA, underscores the point with a range of intriguing films inspired by or adapted from the written word. The smart, iconoclastic filmmaker Errol Morris was drawn to the writings of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose sense of wonder and iconoclasm is well suited to the director’s unconventional storytelling techniques.
He based his 1991 documentary, “A Brief History of Time,” on Hawking’s acclaimed exploration of the origins of the universe and the nature of time. Richard Condon’s novel “The Manchurian Candidate” was adapted for the screen twice; John Frankenheimer’s definitive 1962 version, shown here, is a wily satire in which a returning Korean War veteran (Laurence Harvey), brainwashed by his Communist captors, has been programmed to assassinate his stepfather, a presidential candidate. The whimsical “The Fabulous Baron Munchausen,” drawn from Rudolf Erich Raspe’s novel, chronicles the fantastic adventures of a grandiose fictional German nobleman, which include meeting the Man in the Moon, battling a sultan’s armies and riding horses in space. Master Czech animator Karel Zeman’s translation of the colorful 18th-century tale melds puppetry, matte paintings, live action and cartoon and stop-motion animation, with illustrated sets that owe a debt to engraver Gustave Dore. Jennifer Kroot’s “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” is an adulatory profile of the “Tales of the City” author, who has been called the “Charles Dickens of San Francisco.” A tribute to the city’s diverse inhabitants, “Tales,” adapted for television in the 1990s, was initially serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. The film traces Maupin’s journey from conservative Southern political operative and roguishly handsome youth to gay rights activist and adored storyteller with friends such as Neil Gaiman, Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Amy Tan contributing insight and anecdotes.

April 25 → 29;
(510) 642-0808

The great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, a master of mood and poetic intensity, orchestrated keenly visualized stories of late-20th-century ennui and alienation among disaffected, often affluent characters; a five-film, one-day marathon at the Castro Theatre commemorates the 10th anniversary of his death. It opens with his cryptic masterpiece “L’Avventura” (1960), which begins with a young woman who mysteriously disappears from a deserted island while on a pleasure cruise. Her best friend, played by Monica Vitti, a frequent Antonioni collaborator, joins with the woman’s lover to find her but the search grows increasingly complicated as the two fall in love. Vitti also stars in “L’Eclisse” (1962), the last film in the so-called alienation trilogy, and a favorite of the director for its style and evocation of anomie. Here, Vitti portrays a woman whose affair with her mother’s stockbroker (a magnetic Alain Delon) coincides with turmoil on the Roman stock exchange. Antonioni’s first English-language feature, the sexually explicit “Blow-Up” (1966), is set in London during the swinging ’60s. The life of a fashion photographer (David Hemmings) is up-ended after he trails a couple in a public park and inadvertently shoots a photograph of a possible murder. The marathon concludes with “The Passenger” (1974), featuring a finely calibrated performance by Jack Nicholson as an American journalist on assignment in North Africa. Yearning for transformation, he leaves his former life behind when he impulsively assumes the identity of a dead Englishman, whom he later learns is a gun-runner for terrorists.

April 28 at the Castro Theatre; 621-6120

The San Francisco International Film Festival is by far the largest cinema event of the month with nearly 200 films and live programs. Among its many offerings is “A Thousand Thoughts,” the latest brainchild of Sam Green, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who has been reinventing the documentary form since 2010 with his live cinema collaborations. Here, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet performs its original score live, accompanying a multi-screen film presentation featuring interviews with frequent Kronos collaborators Philip Glass, Terry Riley and Laurie Anderson; archival footage of the group’s performances; and onstage narration provided by Green. Other festival film/music programs include a celebration of Oddball Films, Stephen Parr’s 50,000-reel collection of offbeat industrial, educational, historical and concert movie montages. Before his death last year, Parr was known for weekly compilation screenings at his Mission District office and for supplying footage to commercial projects like “Milk” and to Hollywood clients such as Ridley Scott. The evening features selections from Parr’s archive paired with live music from Marc Capelle’s Red Room Orchestra, a collective of pop, jazz, classical and electronic composers and performers. A strong contingent of features and docs revolves around the arts and artists. For example, Sara Driver’s “Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” tracks the perpetually broke graffiti artist in the years before he sold his first painting, offering a fresh look at the 1970s downtown New York art scene where Basquiat thrived. “Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable” is a portrait of the prolific, post-WWII American street photographer and his work; and “Gauguin” stars the charismatic Vincent Cassel in a semi-fictional account of the post-Impressionist painter’s fateful first visit, in 1891, to the French Polynesian islands that stole his heart
and captured his artistic imagination. Amy Adrion’s timely documentary “Half the Picture” shines a bright interrogative light on the reasons why a mere 11 percent of feature films have been directed by women (Greta Gerwig, director of “Lady Bird,” was just the fifth woman in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for best director). Industry professionals inside and outside Hollywood recount their personal experiences and show how they got their start, sometimes with rueful humor; interviewees include Miranda July, Penelope Spheeris and Ava DuVernay, whose “A Wrinkle in Time” marks the first time an African American woman has directed a big-budget fantasy film.

April 4 → 17;
(415) 561-5006