Leave the computer screen behind and venture into Bay Area theaters this week with silver screen recommendations from our film critic Michael Fox.
Opens Friday, July 29
Roxie, San Francisco
Armchair aficionados of criminal justice -- and there are more of us every day judging from the ratings for the nonfiction series Making a Murderer and the spiraling number of British detective shows on PBS -- may be the most enthusiastic audience for The Witness. James Solomon’s uneven but ultimately unnerving documentary follows dogged Vietnam vet Bill Genovese as he seeks to unearth the 50-year-old truth about a murder, its investigation and the media coverage. It would seem to be the archetypal cold case and nothing more—unless you’re of a certain age and that last name struck a chord.
The late-night stabbing of Kitty Genovese on a Queens street in 1964, reportedly while dozens of people in nearby apartments closed their eyes and ears to her distress, became an emblem of the anonymity and indifference of big-city dwellers. (Residents of small towns, rural communities and polite suburbs came to adopt a superior attitude. Perhaps that’s why Blue Velvet was so shocking. But I digress.)
Bill Genovese’s search for witnesses turns up some fascinating details of his sister’s character and sexuality, as well as the degree to which The New York Times and respected editor A.M. Rosenthal printed and promoted the legend, not the fact. (The Witness doesn’t reference it, but the Times did revisit its initially flawed coverage several years ago.)
The first half of The Witness is powerful and riveting until the filmmaker and Genovese make the miscalculation of soliciting the murderer’s participation. Even more bizarre, though, is Genovese’s hiring of an actress to reenact Kitty’s wee-hours path -- and screams -- in a kind of masochistic exorcism. The Witness, opening Friday, July 29 for a week at the Roxie, provokes conversation despite and because of its flaws.
If you haven’t visited the Pacific Film Archive since it moved (with the Berkeley Art Museum) to its new downtown location in January, why not? This week, beginning with film scholar extraordinaire and local treasure David Thomson introducing Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (July 27) as part of a series entitled “Vienna and the Movies,” has more peaks than the Alps.
The “Guided Tour: Museums in Cinema” series continues with the recent Dutch doc The New Rijksmuseum (July 28) and Aleksandr Sokurov’s breathtakingly ambitious Russian Ark (July 30 and 31), while the “Hitchcock/Truffaut” series is represented by Francois’ exquisite Shoot the Piano Player (July 29) and The Bride Wore Black (July 31).
Wait, there’s more: The musical travelogue Buena Vista Social Club (July 30) concludes a Wim Wenders retrospective, while “Vienna and the Movies” presents an archival print of Max Ophuls’s elegant 1932 evocation of love and memory, Liebelei (July 29). To paraphrase Martin Scorsese’s appreciation of Sam Fuller, if you don’t like anything at the PFA this week, you don’t like cinema.