It’s the time of year for road trips and family getaways, backpacking and car camping, Sierra adventures and European expeditions. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have travel plans that will take you further than a neighbor’s backyard barbeque or a waterfront fireworks show. If not, and you’re stuck spending the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer in the Bay Area — a coveted destination for thousands of eager visitors from around the world, mind you — there are ways to transport yourself far, far away, even if it’s only for a few hours. That’s the magic of movies.
We begin our itinerary in cool, blue England, where painter-turned-filmmaker Derek Jarman conjured poetry and beauty out of the ruthlessness of British history and the darkness of the Thatcher (and AIDS) era. The career-spanning Pacific Film Archive retrospective, Derek Jarman, Visionary (July 5-Aug. 28) begins with the gay director’s utterly original 1970s breakthroughs, Sebastiane and Jubilee, moves on to his ambitious ‘80s triumphs—Caravaggio, The Last of England, War Requiem—and climaxes with the early ‘90s quartet of Edward II, The Garden, Wittgenstein and Blue. These expansive and fearless movies, remastered by the British Film Institute to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Jarman’s death, comprise a beautiful tornado of historical imagination, political acuity, philosophical rumination and soaring music. For more information, go to bampfa.berkeley.edu.
Choose your next detour from a trio of new releases at local arthouses. The documentary Life Itself (opening July 4) profiles hard-drinking Chicago newspaperman Roger Ebert, a perpetually engaged and perennially optimistic public intellectual who spent most of his career camouflaged as a film critic and TV personality. The peripatetic Texan Richard Linklater, who has quietly become the essential American director of our time, achieves a rarefied profundity with Boyhood (opening July 18), a first-of-its-kind coming-of-age saga filmed with the same actors over a period of a dozen years. Finally, Woody Allen’s late-career resurrection as a confectioner of recycled romantic fantasies in postcard locales continues with Magic in the Moonlight (opening July 25). If your summer travel plans don’t include the French Riviera, Woody has you covered.
Locations, scenery, setting, place—none of this was particularly important to the late, great avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage. His preferred techniques, in a body of work spanning more than 400 films, were painting on celluloid and scratching the emulsion. The result: sophisticated, demanding experiments in cinema comprised of handmade distillations of color and light. Brakhage made the most open-ended and generous films imaginable, in that they resist linear understanding or intellectual interpretation and free the viewer’s thoughts to go anywhere. Whether you’re hankering for a trip to another galaxy or a journey to the center of your mind, Brakhage, Brakhage, Brakhage (July 6, 10 and 13 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) is the ideal means of transport. For more information, go to ybca.org.
Sometimes, but not always — be careful! — a journey to the past can provide a comforting respite. The Castro hosts new restorations of three beloved masterpieces in July, beginning with Richard Lester’s still-vibrant Beatles romp A Hard Day’s Night (July 9, paired with Robert Zemeckis’ 1978 evocation of 1964, I Wanna Hold Your Hand). A different view from the ‘60s, of power, conformity and messy rebellion, is represented the following day by Joseph Losey and Dirk Bogarde’s bracing collaborations, The Servant (a new digital restoration) and Accident (July 10). The Castro celebrates the immortal Alec Guinness’ centennial with a new restoration of The Ladykillers on a double bill with The Lavender Hill Mob (July 13). For more information, go to castrotheatre.com.
The Roxie continues its long tradition of unearthing and spotlighting forgotten figures from cinema’s odder corners with A Special Weekend with Don Murray (July 11-13). An erstwhile matinee idol who sidestepped fame and fortune after his mid-1950s success in Bus Stop (co-starring Marilyn Monroe), Murray appeared in a variety of movies in the ensuing years that are the epitome of “forgotten.” Are they lost classics, cult film contenders or better left on the shelf? Decide for yourself and meet the good-natured actor, who will grace the Roxie stage for interview on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go to http://www.roxie.com/ai1ec_event/special-weekend-don-murray/?instance_id=3867. (Classical-music lovers, and humanists of all stripes, are alerted to Following the Ninth (July 15 at the Roxie), a continent-hopping documentary about the real-world manifestation of Beethoven’s theme — Alle Menschen werden Bruder (All People Are Brothers) — in several countries.)
The last stop on our ramble is the second Japan Film Festival of San Francisco, unspooling July 19-27 at New People Cinema in conjunction with the curious and colorful J-Pop Summit Festival (the weekend of July 19-20). The selection of new works covers everything from anime to documentary. We’re especially intrigued by the U.S. premieres, notably the food porn-meets-historical epic A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story (Jul 25 and 27) and Crows: Explode, a violent portrait of high school gangs based on the manga by Hiroshi Takahashi (July 24 and 27). For more information, go to jffsf.org. Hot fun in the summertime, indeed.