Five to Watch: Reeling In The Years

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Robert Helpmann and Ludmilla Tchérina in The Tales of Hoffmann. (Courtesy of Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)

Some moviegoers revel in the relentless parade of choices; others find it overwhelming. The lure of the new is hard to resist, admittedly, given the way pop culture is hawked. June brings an oversize load of popcorn movies, a flurry of high-energy festivals -- SF DocFest (Jun. 5-19 at the Roxie), Frameline39 (Jun. 18-28 at the Castro), the brand new HellaCon (Jun. 13-14 at the New Parkway in Oakland) -- and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ fourth annual survey of New Filipino Cinema (Jun. 11-28). But let’s not forget the films that outlived their initial burst of attention, soared above the vast morass of motion-picture production and entered the pantheon of classics. If some justification is required, let’s just say that summer tends to invite nostalgic memories. Then again, revisiting great art never needs rationalizing.

Moira Shearer <i>The Tales of Hoffmann</i>. (Courtesy of Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)
Moira Shearer The Tales of Hoffmann. (Courtesy of Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal)

Their sails filled by the success of The Red Shoes (1948), the dynamic English duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger ventured even further into baroque Technicolor dance mania with their next project. You’ll find zero trace of buttoned-down British conservatism or 1950s repressiveness in The Tales of Hoffman (1951), a visionary, uncompromising adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s 19th-century opera. Aided immeasurably by Hein Heckroth’s production design, Powell reimagined a poet’s musings over three lost loves in avowedly cinematic terms. The vivid new restoration of The Tales of Hoffmann, opening Jun. 5 at Opera Plaza Cinemas, is truly mind-bending. Visit for details.

Subir Banerjee as Apu in <i>Pather Panchali</i>. (Courtesy of Janus Films)
Subir Banerjee as Apu in Pather Panchali. (Courtesy of Janus Films)

Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” He was contradicted by the work of another brilliant director, Satyajit Ray, whose endlessly moving films centered on everyday people. The Bengali filmmaker’s first feature, Pather Panchali (1955), depicting the rich childhood of a smart, impoverished village boy named Apu, remains one of the greatest debuts in cinema history. Its successors, Aparajito and The World of Apu, are indisputable masterpieces, and follow the lad through adolescence into early adulthood. The completion of The Apu Trilogy's painstaking restoration (down to the Ravi Shankar soundtrack) is a major event, and its one-week run beginning Jun. 12 at Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Shattuck in Berkeley (plus Jul. 19, 26 and Aug. 2 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael) should not be missed. Visit for details.

<i>Jaws</i>. (Courtesy of  Universal Pictures)
Jaws. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The summer movie to top all summer movies, Steven Spielberg’s cannily crafted and deliciously manipulative Jaws gleefully embraced the tropes of horror and adventure movies. Pitting three likable heroes against ocean and land sharks (the resort town’s profits-before-people mayor), Jaws delivers a better ride than any theme park. Cast yourself back to a time when special effects were designed to thrill and enhance the audience’s connection with the characters (rather than overwhelm them). The spectacular Paramount Theatre in Oakland celebrates Jaws’ 40th anniversary on Jun. 26 with a typically fun-filled program, including games and prizes. Visit for more information.

Still from <i>Kiss Me Kate</i>. (Courtesy of MGM)
Still from Kiss Me Kate. (Courtesy of MGM)

Musicals, even more than most movies, require that we relinquish our attachment to the real world’s rules of physics and logic. That’s a good deal of the fun, actually. The 1953 MGM tuner, Kiss Me Kate, reimagines Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with Cole Porter songs and a cast of Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller and -- wait for it -- Bob Fosse. Originally released in 3D, when the movies were experimenting with ways to fend off the looming competition of television (everything old is new again, yes?), the film returns in its original format for a one-week run beginning Jun. 26 at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Visit for details.

Still from <i>Contempt</i>. (Courtesy of Studio Canal)
Still from Contempt. (Courtesy of Studio Canal)

The beloved repertory houses, which thrived on certified classics, cult favorites and second-run bookings, have dwindled to a precious few. The Castro, in addition to hosting numerous local festivals and week-long runs of sing-along versions of Disney hits, upholds a tradition of programming unexpected double bills from the vaults. On Jun. 30, the Castro pairs Contempt, Jean-Luc Godard’s gorgeous, savage 1963 reverie on the sacrifices demanded by filmmaking (starring Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and Fritz Lang), with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), which follows Naomi Watts and Laura Harring through the Tinseltown looking-glass of false dreams and manufactured identities. Sometimes looking back feels a lot like looking forward. Visit for details.