It’s an in-between season at the multiplex, with the Oscar-winning films trickling out of theaters and the big summer flicks a long way off. That still leaves us an enormous range of big-screen entertainment. What stands out this month is the flurry of unusual surveys of motion-picture performances and history. And, of course, a major festival.
If he’d been born 50 years earlier, gender-bending rock ‘n’ roll chameleon David Bowie would have been a vaudeville star, or perhaps the otherworldly lead in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. He still got to play a vampire, in The Hunger (Mar. 19 and 20), and an alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth (Mar. 15 and 21), and yet another non-human life form (advertising executive) in Absolute Beginners (Mar. 12). "Cracked Actor: David Bowie on Screen," running Mar. 5-29 at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts, reintroduces us to the man who made the world safe for Hedwig and so many others. More information and details here.
The brilliant San Francisco film critic, historian and essayist David Thomson has pondered the multilayered attractions of movie stars since the first edition of his essential resource A Biographical Dictionary of Film came out in 1975. His books about Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando and Nicole Kidman, and extended monographs on Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and Bette Davis, elegantly describe not only each actor’s unique qualities but how they connected and what they represented to the audiences of their time. Thomson’s latest, Why Acting Matters, contemplates (among many things) the ways in which those and other stars taught every one of us how to act (in every definition of the word) in our daily lives. Why Acting Matters: An Evening with David Thomson brings the sage to the Roxie on Wednesday, Mar. 11 to introduce The Missouri Breaks (1976), starring Marlon Brando, and to engage the audience in discussion afterward. More information and details here.
There’s plenty to discover at CAAMFest, the Bay Area’s venerable and exciting Asian-American film (and food and music) festival, but don’t overlook the new work by a trio of veteran former and current San Francisco documentary makers. Arthur Dong returns with the world premiere of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor (Mar. 15) as well as the remastered version of Forbidden City, USA (Mar. 14), his 1989 excavation of local Chinese-American history. Academy Award winner Ruby Yang follows a troupe of underprivileged Hong Kong students mounting a musical in her new feature doc, My Voice My Life (Mar. 17 and 21), and reprises A Moment in Time (Mar. 17), her 1989 study of Chinatown movie theaters in San Francisco from the 1920s through the '70s. Felicia Lowe bravely unpacks personal history in Chinese Couplets (Mar. 14 and 21), which revisits her mother’s experience as a detainee at Angel Island and afterward. CAAMFest runs Mar. 12-22 in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. More information and details here.
Beloved UC Berkeley film professor and raconteur Russell Merritt revels in cinema’s formative years. (Check out his 1994 book with J.B. Kaufman, Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney.) A devotee of both the art of moviemaking and the pleasure of moviegoing, Merritt (who must have been the ringleader of a circus in a previous life) brings The Great Nickelodeon Show to the Vogue on Thursday, Mar. 26. The all-ages panoply of attractions recreates a trip to the moving pictures circa 1910, with live music and performances supplementing the (then–mind-blowing) images. No word on whether “period” prices of popcorn and candy will also apply. More information and details here.
Despite Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to revive the musical (see -- or rather, don’t -- Into the Woods), Americans long ago stopped going to the movies for singing and dancing. (Yes, there have been exceptions, but you could say the same about Westerns.) Regardless, nothing will ever diminish the beyond-words bliss of watching Gene Kelly soloing in Singin’ in the Rain or Astaire and Rogers swinging and strutting in, well, every film they made together. While I can’t promise that Fred and Ginger are included in "Gotta Dance!," a seductive and witty program of immortal dance sequences on film accompanied by the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, Mar. 28, I can’t imagine anyone will go home disappointed. More information and details here.