Proposition L on San Francisco's November ballot reads:
Shall 15% of the existing hotel tax surcharge be set aside to acquire, preserve and maintain neighborhood and single-screen movie theaters and promote the local film-making industry?
And the answer that the city's film lovers are chanting is No. I have to admit that I did a double-take when I saw the petitioner outside the Roxie a few months ago. The city's single-screen independents have been hit hard in the last decade. Downtown San Francisco boasts two major new multiplexes and a third on the way, but many (not all) of the theaters that show more interesting movies are struggling. Since I moved here in 1995, the following theaters have closed forever: Regency 1 and 2, Royal, Presidio, Cinema 21, Alhambra, and Alexandria. The Vogue and Coronet are closing soon. The aforementioned Roxie was on the brink but was saved by its release of Rivers & Tides, or so I read somewhere.
I'm not trying to be a good capitalist or anything, but it seems that the best way to contribute to your favorite local theater is to go there to see movies, not to siphon funds from the hotel tax to give to — whom again? To fund which theatres?
Here's what Leah Garchik wrote in yesterday's Chronicle:
A gaggle of irate movie and arts people met at Tosca last week to plan opposition to Proposition L. They say the proposition purports to save neighborhood theaters but would drain the Hotel Tax Fund and the coffers of every arts group in the city for unspecified purposes. It's opposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, every supervisor, the San Francisco Labor Council and both the Democratic and Republican parties.
The group, more than 100 people gathered by Jeannette Etheredge, included Carolyn Macmillan of the Fine Arts Museums; Stefanie Pleet Coyote, the city's designated film czarina; her husband, Peter Coyote; film commissioners Rory Enke and Maurice Kanbar; Kim Aubry of Zoetrope; Phil Kaufman; Sean Penn; the S. F. Film Society's Hilary Hart; Miguel Pendas and Linda Blackaby; Gary Meyer of the Balboa; Anita Monga of the Castro; Bill Banning of the Roxie; and the Film Arts Foundation's Fidelma McGinn. A public service announcement is in the talking stages.
Here's the official stance of the San Francisco Film Society.
And here's the offical voter guide (pdf) from the department of elections.
I'll be voting No. But I'll be renewing my membership to the Pacific Film Archive, attending Hearts and Minds this week at the Castro, closely monitoring the schedules of the Red Vic and Roxie, and otherwise enjoying the city's wealth of movie opportunities while we still have 'em.
I'm catching up with my viewing log.
8-9 The Brown Bunny (Gallo)
8-14 Collateral (Mann)
8-20 In the Mood for Love (Wong) [DVD]
8-21 The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
8-22 The White Nights (Visconti)
8-22 The Stranger (Visconti)
9-9 Notre Musique (Godard) [Toronto Int. Film Fest]
9-9 Le Fantôme d'Henri Langlois (Richard) [TIFF]
9-10 Tropical Malady (Weerasethakul) [TIFF]
9-10 Heaven's Gate (Cimino) [TIFF]
9-10 Whisky Romeo Zulu (Piñeyro) [TIFF]
9-10 Turtles Can Fly (Ghobadi) [TIFF]
9-11 Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (Epstein) [TIFF]
9-11 Nobody Knows (Kore-eda) [TIFF]
9-11 My Summer of Love (Pawlikowski) [TIFF]
9-12 House of Flying Daggers (Zhang) [TIFF]
9-12 3-Iron (Kim) [TIFF]
9-12 Tarnation (Caouette) [TIFF]
9-12 The Woodsman (Kassell) [TIFF]
9-12 Tell Them Who You Are (M. Wexler) [TIFF]
9-13 A Letter to True (Weber) [TIFF]
9-13 Cinévardaphoto (Varda) [TIFF]
9-13 Moolaadé (Sembene) [TIFF]
9-13 Brothers (Bier) [TIFF]
9-14 Tenth District Court (Depardon) [TIFF]
9-14 Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry (Butler) [TIFF]
9-14 Stray Dogs (Meshkini) [TIFF]
9-15 La Noire de... (Sembene) [TIFF]
9-15 The Holy Girl (Martel) [TIFF]
9-15 Café Lumière (Hou) [TIFF]
9-15 Land of Plenty (Wenders) [TIFF]
9-16 L'Intrus (Denis) [TIFF]
9-16 Eros (Wong, Soderbergh, Antonioni) [TIFF]
9-17 Evolution of a Filipino Family (Diaz) [TIFF] [60%]
9-18 As Follows (Veiroj) [TIFF] [short]
9-18 Whisky (Rebella/Stoll) [TIFF]
9-20 No Fear, No Die (Denis) [VHS]
9-21 Nénette et Boni (Denis) [VHS]
These paragraphs are buried in Jonathan Rosenbaum's review of The Five Obstructions:
The most beautiful experimental film I've seen this year — a 17-minute 35-millimeter film by Michelangelo Antonioni called Michelangelo Eye to Eye — doesn't look experimental at all. It wasn't shown to the press or advertised, and it played only twice as a separate attraction at a few theaters in the Landmark chain one weekend in mid-August. I wanted to make it a Critic's Choice the following week, but it got yanked. Apparently the screenings were held so the film would qualify for an Oscar nomination, and we might not see it again if it doesn't get nominated and win.
Antonioni, who's about to turn 92, has been confined to a wheelchair since he had a stroke in 1985. Yet this recent film shows him on his feet, without a cane, entering Saint Peter's in Rome to gaze at and briefly caress the restoration of Michelangelo's Moses, then leaving. An opening title explains that this is possible because of the "magic of movies." This is evidently digital trickery, but it looks seamlessly real. I'd argue that the process whereby the restoration of one Michelangelo is able to interact with the restoration of another is profoundly experimental — much more so than either The Five Obstructions or What the Bleep Do We Know?, both opening this week.
Oh hello. Sorry to leave you sitting there in the dark like that. Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? Is this thing on?
The Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up last weekend, and I'm still feeling that post-festival melancholy. I wish there were more movies, but thank God there are no more movies.
I had the opportunity to catch up with a few friends, meeting some of them in person for the first time, which turned out to be a real highlight of the festival, despite my having been in social retreat for a couple of months (I've been writing less — I wonder if there's a causal relationship?). I strongly encourage you to read their own thoughts on the festival: Doug Cummings, J. Robert Parks, Darren Hughes, and Girish Shambu.
I also, surprisingly, found that random strangers were eager to talk to me about movies. As regular readers of this site know, I myself am a random stranger. What are the odds that two random strangers would be sitting right next to each other? Out of all those people! Such serendipity.
A woman I met at my very first screening went over her entire schedule with me. Although I was scheduled to see 40-some movies and she was scheduled for a couple dozen, we had very few in common. The festival is that big, and each attendee's choices are quite personal. Her calendar wasn't much like mine, but we did run into each other again. We compared notes on "that annoying French film", which of course I loved.
There's the older woman who sat next to me and muttered, "Love films. Just love films. Can't get enough of them," a comment that can't be left to hang in the wind, no matter how softly it's spoken, so we struck up a conversation about how rock-and-roll is here to stay, daddy, and you know it. Well, actually we talked about movies. What else? The man who had three back-to-backs at the Cumberland Theatre shared his thoughts on the "filmmakers' dialogue" that he'd just attended. And I managed to exchange some words with some friends of friends. Lorraine even flew in for the last few days, and we roamed downtown Toronto and ate lox on bagels in the back of a cafe whose walls are lined with books. I gave her one of my movie tickets. She came all this way....
My summary, in brief:
Movies I Enjoyed a Great Deal
Important Humanist Critiques
Documentaries I'm Still Considering
How Can I Not Mention...
It was a long-but-short 10 days, somehow not as tiring as I expected, nor as tiring as some other festival experiences have been. Obviously, keeping the brain engaged, by movies and people, was the key.
You know you've had a long day when the director of the day's first film thanks the audience for coming to such an early screening and the director of the day's last film thanks the audience for coming to such a late one. But you know it was a good day when you didn't notice that it was a late screening until someone pointed it out.
As you may know, one of my peeves is the undue support that studios, media, and critics give to the notion that the world of film is relatively small and knowable in toto by a knowledgeable person. I like A. O. Scott's comments in his coverage of the TIFF in the New York Times:
When critics ask one another, "What have you seen?" what they really want to know is, "What have I missed?"
The honest answer — an admission that haunts dispatches like this one, whether or not the author acknowledges it — is "just about everything." This is not a matter of laziness or lack of will, but of simple mathematics. By the time this year's Toronto International Film Festival ends on Saturday, 328 films will have been screened. Spread over the 10 days of the festival, which began on Thursday, that comes to more than 30 movies a day, which means, according to my bleary-eyed calculations, that to see one movie is to miss about seven others, and that the statistical accuracy of any single critic's impressions of the festival as a whole will be roughly 12.5 percent.
What this suggests is that the Toronto festival, which has become, during the last decade or so, the most important such event in North America, is really 8 or 12 or 35 festivals gathered under one roof. (The numbers are wildly imprecise, and the roof is metaphorical, because the screenings are in shopping-mall multiplexes, college auditoriums and concert halls scattered across this city's sprawling downtown business and entertainment districts.)
As for me, I'm aiming for a statistical accuracy of, say, 9 percent, and doing pretty well so far, if I do say so myself. This assumes I'll be 100 percent accurate on any film that I do manage to see, naturally. How could it be anything less? What I haven't done is post any reactions. I will. But in the precious gaps between movies, I've mostly been trying to carve out moments of quiet. It's been a great festival so far, and most of my must-sees are still in the queue.
To be continued...
Here are the movies I'm scheduled to see at Toronto from the 9th to the 18th. If I'm reading the email confirmation correctly, I got all of my first choices. I won't see all of them, but my pass allowed a certain number so I pretty much filled the schedule, and aside from a handful of must-sees, I'll decide later based on, you know, temperature and fatigue and eye strain and so on.