Now Playing! Giving Thanks for Bruce Lee, Avant-Garde Film and ‘Uncle Frank’

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Still from Linda Scobie's 'Decked Out,' 2014. (Courtesy SF Cinematheque)

Thanksgiving is frankly weird this year, and the movie gods have concocted an unusually eclectic brew to accompany the turkey, turducken and tofurkey. It’s deities’ way of reminding us of the vast variety of the world of cinema.

Bruce Lee’s 80th Anniversary Birthday Blitz
Nov. 27

The charismatic Hong Kong action star and martial artist Bruce Lee was born at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco on Nov. 27, 1940. A plaque marking the momentous occasion was put up (finally) on the Chinatown building in 2017, but the nearby Chinese Historical Society of America has a higher-wattage homage in store: A major exhibition, We Are Bruce Lee: Under the Sky, One Family, is slated to open next fall. Hop on Facebook any time Friday for a preview, along with tales and tributes to the hometown hero who died in 1973.

Still from Nazli Dinçel's 'Void (4.INABILITY),' 2016. (Courtesy SF Cinematheque)

traveling thru with eyes closed tight
Through Jan. 10, 2021
Online via S.F. Cinematheque
An underrated feature of online exhibition is the elimination of the various hurdles to entry that mark in-person screenings: scheduling, travel, parking and the most devious, inertia. Experimental film triggers another barrier for some people, namely the reluctance to check out something unfamiliar and/or challenging. Here again, streaming smooths the way, especially when the program is free.

traveling thru with eyes closed tight, curated by outgoing S.F. Cinematheque staff member Alix Blevins, is a delicious sampler plate of Bay Area avant-garde filmmaking in the (still-)new century. The nine short works, by Linda Scobie, Kent Long, Christina Battle and other notables, explore light, color, shape and shadow and—this is key—the texture and tactility of film. If you’ve never seen an experimental film, this program is a terrific introduction.


The BlaQ ArTed Short Film Fest
Through Nov. 28
Online via the East Bay Queer Healing Arts Center

Avant-garde films—almost all short films, in fact, whatever the genre—are personal. The BlaQ ArTed Short Film Fest, though, takes “personal” to a whole ’nother level. The filmmakers are Black queer, trans and nonbinary youth, which means they are gutsily exposing and exploring their identities and voices in public—that is, through their films.

Hilda Ameyaw, Miaya Potter, Eddrena Hall, Silvia Gathundu, Leo Sherman, Meeow (Lottie) Fultz, Zena West, Shay House and Maya GoGodfrey’s work was curated by founder Kin Folkz into a rare festival that incorporates art, activism, education, community and pride.

Paul Bettany and Sophia Lillis star in 'Uncle Frank.' (Photo: Brownie Harris; Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Uncle Frank
Now streaming
Amazon Prime

Shame overrides pride for an unhealthy chunk of Alan Ball’s journey to the past, which he could have called Southern Discomfort. The Atlanta native’s Oscar win for American Beauty (1999) rocketed him to screenwriter stardom and, in turn, propelled his HBO series Six Feet Under and True Blood. Here he rolls all the way back to early-1970s South Carolina in a perfectly fine but unmemorable coming-of-age tale of closeted self-loathing and unsuccessful escapes.

Uncle Frank is Frank Bledsoe (a disarming Paul Bettany), who fled his small town and grew up to be an openly gay literature professor in New York City. In the movie’s prologue at a Bledsoe family get-together, he encourages his 14-year-old niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) not to be limited by their kin or their surroundings. Easier said than done, of course.

Four years later, Beth is a college freshman in New York, so good on her. But we don’t get to spend a lot of time in Manhattan with Beth and Uncle Frank and Wally, his longtime companion (though the movie doesn’t use the term, in one of its endless ploys to circumvent cliché), before a death in the family pulls everyone back below the Mason-Dixon Line. (South Carolina is played onscreen by North Carolina.)

It’s easy to identify with, and pull for, the dual protagonists, although both characters are somewhat underdeveloped. Indeed, at bottom, our affection for Frank and Beth is the element that carries us all the way through the film. The adolescent recollections and adult revelations that Ball dispenses feel dated, and not just because Uncle Frank is a period piece.

Of course, teens still struggle with their sexual orientations, and the acceptance of their families (or lack of). Uncle Frank offers them a narrow ray of light, not sufficient to navigate to a coastal capital, but possibly enough to ward off the deepest darkness of adolescence.