Magazine article Filmmaker

San Francisco International Film Festival

Magazine article Filmmaker

San Francisco International Film Festival

Article excerpt

Celebrating its 60th edition, the San Francisco International Film Festival - now rebranded as the hashtag-friendly SFFILM Festival - impressed this first-timer not as a hoary institution, recumbent upon its laureled legacy, but as a festival keen to stake out vibrant new tangents, mindful of its city's history (cinematic and otherwise) and full of surprises.

Both those qualities were abundant in the closing night spectacle: The Green Fog, which celebrated San Francisco's indelible place in a century of movies in an appropriately twisted manner. The festival commission brought filmmakers Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson together with hometown string heroes Kronos Quartet and composer Jacob Garchik to engage in the act of "Vertigo-ing Vertigo" (to use Johnson's parlance) in a reputedly shot-by-shot remake of the Hitchcock masterpiece, repurposing clips from a pool of some 400 films and a few TV shows.

The title alludes to The Fog, the apparently lost 1923 silent film that was one of the earliest movie productions to use San Francisco locations. In Maddin's version, the city is seen through multiple shots of sites and scenarios that suggest and replicate moments from the 1958 psycho-thriller in a found-footage manner. There's an overlap of perspective with Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself, as relocated to the 415 area code, and an equal appreciation for the absurdity that arises from the bricolage. The juxtapositions can be insistently comic, as when the actor onscreen is, say, Rock Hudson from the San Francisco-set 1970s detective show McMillan & Wife, and clearly not a lovestruck and heights-averse Jimmy Stewart. A master of reinvented silent cinema, Maddin and his cohorts produce a kind of "silenced" cinema, editing out the dialogue portion of scenes to show only the facial tics and reactions, a funny gimmick that becomes strangely revealing, adroitly annotated by flourishes in Garchik's score. Of course, it helps to have seen Vertigo, and the festival supplied a handy refresher screening the same afternoon at SFMOMA, hosted by film historian David Thomson, who framed its tragedy of dizzy-making doppelgangers with idiosyncratic wit.

Watching The Green Fog in the historic Castro Theatre, a 1922 movie palace resplendent with Art Deco chandeliers and pre-show performances on a Wurlitzer pipe organ, was icing on the cake. The venue was among several vintage bijous spotlighted by the festival, which last year decentralized from its primary hub at a Pacific Heights multiplex. Moviegoers could roam the Mission, dropping into old-time theaters such as the Victoria, the Roxie and the Alamo Drafthouse - also known as the refurbished New Mission Theater, a 1916 structure whose landmarked Art Deco signage remains intact.

But it wasn't a frosted confection that some members of the audience indulged in during the Castro's homecoming screening of Long Strange Trip, Bay Area documentarían Amir Bar-Lev's four-hour history of another San Francisco legend, the Grateful Dead. Yet receiving a face-full of secondhand marijuana smoke, freshly vaporized in the next row, was an appropriate way to start this deep dive into the saga of the Haight-Ashbury jug band turned psychedelic cult phenomenon. …

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