[Pickups: April (Revival and current)]

* The Adventures of Prince Achmed was such a treat! The oldest full length animated feature in existence, it is a stunningly beautiful silent film, created using hand-cut silhouettes. I saw it at SIFF Cinema with a live and original score by Miles & Karina, and it was just magical. The story, adapted from Arabian Nights, is still captivating. It’s fascinating to me to see how the mechanics of storytelling (and in particular comic timing) don’t really change.

* Mr Smith Goes to Washington was the final Metro Classic of this cycle. The lowest circle of hell: politics. It’s Capra at his flag-waving best, and of course we can’t help but love Jimmy Stewart, but me being me my favorite was probably Jean Arthur as the seen-it-all assistant, followed by Thomas Mitchell as journalist Diz Moore. Oh, democracy!

* Either you’re buying into Scream 4 or you’re not. I saw the first three Scream films that week & then went to the fourth at midnight, so clearly I was into it. Better than the second and third, and a worthy successor to the first, it featured all the jumpy-out bits, one-liners, and kick-ass ladies that I could hope for.

* The thing about Henry’s Crime is that it came out about sixty years too late. It is at heart a heist film, with Keanu Reeves basically playing himself as your typical noir hero, an everyman caught up in the underbelly of, in this case, Buffalo. Vera Famiga’s the love interest, Fisher Stevens is the scumbag, and James Caan is the salty old conman. Far more entertaining than it had any right to be.

[Metro Classics]

As I’ve rather obsessively discussed, one of the reasons I would find it difficult to leave Seattle is the sheer accessibility of film, including multiple revival series. One of my favorites is provided by Metro Classics, and my only criticism of them is that they don’t sell series passes; if I could buy a pass, I would be much more diligent about attending films.

I did make it to three out of this last series. First, Swing Time, because I felt the opportunity to see a Fred & Ginger movie on the big screen was not to be missed. I haven’t seen Swing Time since I was a child, obsessively watching AMC (back when they actually showed American Movie Classics), and it was great fun. There are a bunch of great numbers in that show, like “A Fine Romance” & “The Way You Look Tonight”, and of course the dancing is filmed flawlessly in long & sweeping takes. It does have a blackface number that takes one aback as a modern viewer, but to the film’s credit, it’s not a mockery or a caricature. It’s a tribute to Bill Robinson, a great dancer.

On a showbiz roll, I came back the next week for All That Jazz, Bob Fosse’s over-the-top musical about his own death. We went over parts of it in my college film class (the fucking brilliant opening scene in particular — name me another movie that delivers that much information about the main character in less than one minute) but I don’t think I’ve seen it in full since then.

Roy Scheider brings incredible energy to the role of Joe Gideon, Fosse’s stand-in, and it will forever be the primary project I associate with him (followed by SeaQuest DSV, lest ye think me some variety of snob.) There’s a magnificent use of sound, one of those things that when it’s good you don’t notice and when it’s amazing you do. The whole thing is deeply personal, incredibly dark, excessive, perfectly flawed, and beautiful. It’s definitely the film in this series I’m most glad I made the effort to see.

Barton Fink is an entirely different kind of showbiz movie, with John Turturro fighting writer’s block in a hellish hotel in Hollywood. It’s not the sort of film that you’d expect really needed to be seen in the theater, since it’s more of a character/allegorical piece, but on DVD I had never noticed how fantastic the sound design was. (No, seriously. It’s amazing.) And of course it’s lit by Roger Deakins, who is a genius. In the end Fink‘s not my favorite Coen brothers film, nor is it their most accessible, but it is exquisitely crafted.

[The Wizard of Oz]

I hadn’t seen The Wizard of Oz since I was a little kid, and so I was most happy to trade in a volunteer voucher for it down at SIFF Cinema this month. And here’s the thing: We all know the story and the songs, and there are countless lines from it that have grown a bit moldy in the pop culture lexicon. But the damn thing still works, every bit of it.

The music’s still great, the effects are startlingly good considering their age, and the dream logic of it all was fantastic for me to revisit with my obsession with Where the Wild Things Are.

The day after I saw it, I threw Return to Oz and The Wiz into my Netflix queue. Return had given me nightmares as a child, where the Wheelers were racing after me, of course. Thankfully, that doesn’t hold up as an adult. And I’d never seen The Wiz before, so that was fun. I very much liked the concept of moving it to New York, since more Americans were living in cities (then and now). Take that, real America.

[SIFF week three]

* Man on Wire is just crazy amounts of fun. It’s a documentary, with a wee bit of recreation, of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. It’s structured, appropriately enough, like a heist film, and Petite is the master teller of his own story. It’s marvelous filmmaking too, in that there’s great tension even though we know exactly how it ends.

* Be Like Others was my second documentary of the day, and utterly heartbreaking. It takes us to Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, but gender reassignment surgery is legal, even encouraged. It is painfully clear throughout that the vast majority of these people would never make this choice if they lived anywhere else. They’re undergoing this brutal procedure (brutal in that it is gender reassignment in *Iran*, that is, I don’t mean this to be a commentary on truly transgendered people or Western methodology) so that they can fit into the rigid societal/religious definitions of gender. Not so they can fulfill who they really are. The only thing I wish is that there had been further inclusion of women. There is one lesbian at the start of the film, and we never encounter her again. It seems like a huge gap to me. Painful & unforgettable.

* I added Becky Sharp for the form rather than the content, and was pleasantly surprised by both. It’s a Vanity Fair adaptation (obviously), and the first film done in three strip Technicolor. The color is gorgeous and the dialogue is hilarious & snappy. Good times all round. Ignore the IMDb reviewers. They’re idiots.

* Somehow I had got it into my head that XXY was a Canadian film. I blame it on mid-festival pudding-brain. It’s from Argentina, and is the story of a 15 year old hermaphrodite under increasing pressure to choose a gender. It’s just beautiful, and Inés Efron is luminous as Alex. I never remember to vote for the other Golden Space Needle categories, but I’ll try to put in a ballot for her.

* Finally, last night I had scheduled a 9:45 movie, Sukiyaki Western Django. Perhaps because I am insane. I gave serious thought to selling my ticket to someone in the rush line, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it was on copious amounts of crack. More, even, than I had anticipated. I knew it was a Japanese Western, and that Miike is kind of a nutcase director, but I did not know that it had a cameo by Quentin Tarantino, or that it was in English… phonetic English, which sounds a lot like the red room Twin Peaks scenes. It’s an excellent terrible movie, and great fun to see with a packed house.

[The Lady Vanishes]

The Lady Vanishes is, I think, the only Hitchcock in the Janus festival. The majority of the film takes place on a moving train, and is surprisingly funny, but that doesn’t make it any less suspenseful. I hadn’t seen it before, and I would be interested in seeing it again, not only because I enjoyed it immensely, but because I’d like to see exactly how tight of a script it is, the significance of other throwaway-looking moments.