So close, and yet so far away. Fall is the best and busiest season for serious filmgoers, as distributors acknowledge both the return of children to school (the ritual emptying of the multiplexes) and the upcoming Oscar race (the ritual self-congratulating of egomaniacs, bullies and the occasional talented original). The perennial question is how to weather the sultry August doldrums, and bridge the gap 'til Labor Day. Here are a handful of suggestions.
1. The Castro celebrates its 90th anniversary the entire month with a sumptuous smorgasbord of repertory riches, including a John Huston retrospective on Tuesdays. The big kickoff unfolds this weekend, with the Sing-Along Mary Poppins and a double bill of The Big Sleep and Where Danger Lives on Sat., Aug. 4 and Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane on Sun., Aug. 5. For more information visit castrotheatre.com.
Panic in the Streets
2. August reeks to us of imminent endings, with its lingering childhood echoes of the last free days of summer giving way to button-down shirts, long pants, a frowning teacher and fixed rows of desks. On that melancholy note, the San Francisco Film Society's ambitious year-round exhibition venture, SFFS Cinema, ends its all-too-brief existence with the Tues., Aug. 28 double bill of Elia Kazan's Panic In the Streets and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. The theater, in the New People building in Japantown, goes out with a flurry of great programming including the The Devil, Probably (Aug. 3-9), a typically enigmatic and unflinching chunk of philosophy, morality and spirituality circa 1977 by the utterly unique French master Robert Bresson. For more information visit sffs.org.
3. Another mysterious and legendary French filmmaker, Chris Marker, died July 31, one day after he turned 91. All of his work deals with memory and history, which is to say the fragility and the preservation of civilization and dignity. (My description sounds less intellectual and ephemeral when you consider that Marker was forever marked by the murders of countless innocents during World War II.) SFMOMA shows his best-known work, La Jetée (1963), a science fiction saga constructed (almost) entirely from still photos, with Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid's classic 1943 short Meshes of the Afternoon for free at noon on Tues., Aug 7 as part of the ongoing Cindy Sherman Selects film series. For more information visit sfmoma.org.
4. August is the perfect month for relaxing in front of a giant movie screen outdoors under the stars (or the fog bank). Film Night in the Park does the honors, with a lineup that includes Sixteen Candlesin San Francisco's Dolores Park (Sat., Aug. 4), The Artist (Fri., Aug. 10) and Kung Fu Panda II (Sat., Aug. 18) in San Anselmo and After the Thin Man (Sat., Aug. 25) in Union Square. For more information visit filmnight.org.
The Brain That Wouldn't Die
The Pacific Film Archive supplies the open-air treats for East Bay film buffs with Summer Cinema on Center Street, a trio of Saturday night hootenannies in downtown Berkeley. The theme is campy but "thoughtful" sci-fi, featuring The Atomic Brain (Aug. 4), Donovan's Brain (Aug. 11) and The Brain That Wouldn't Die (Aug. 18). For more information visit bampfa.berkeley.edu.
A Nos Amours
5. As a kind of gentle and inviting introduction to the fall movie season, S.F. Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle presents "The Beauty of the Real" at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael Aug. 12-14 and at the Roxie in San Francisco Aug. 17-23. Drawing on the research he did for his new book, The Beauty of the Real: A Celebration of Contemporary French Actresses, LaSalle has chosen to screen several films that were never released in the U.S. If Gallic leading ladies can't chase your summertime blues, nothing can. For more information visit roxie.com and visit cafilm.org.