Where have I been? Well, last night I had another awful night at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and another movie we just walked out of. This year's SFJFF has been a real disappointment. And I'm a little concerned that this year's festival was simply designed to fail. Because there's a theme of aaarrrggghhh running all the way through it. And that theme appears to be films that are self-serving, self-referential, and self-reflective except without the reflection.
Now maybe, you might say, we've just managed to hit a bad film here and there. But goddamnit, we've got All Festival Passes — which means that we've seen more movies —more bad movies— than anyone has a right to. It also means that we've walked out of more movies than I've ever walked out on in my life.
To tell the truth, the bad-movie experience started on opening night at the Castro.
Mabul — The Flood by Guy Nativ, was the Opening Night Film. It was torture to watch, but I gave it a chance and sat through the whole thing. It actually worked as a movie, and unfortunately, you really do have to sit through the whole thing in order to get the point of it and experience the redemptive ending. The Director and principal (child) actor were there to answer questions and explain stuff, and that helped a lot. Still, I walked out wondering if the rest of the Film Festival was going to put us in the audience through more of the same. But no. It was going to put us through worse. This one, at least, had a point.
Bobby Fisher Against the World was next. This one wasn't terrible at all, just depressing. And while it didn't help us like Bobby Fisher any better, it didn't help us understand him better either. But I think it tried. Or maybe that's over-generous. Maybe they didn't try to shed some light on what-happened-to Bobby Fisher. Maybe they just tracked down a bunch of footage and did a good editing job — and are leaving the interpretations up to us. And maybe if Bobby Fisher had been given / and taken meds, all his genius would have melted away?
Connected, An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology by Tiffany Shlain was by far the worst movie I'd ever seen in my life up until that point. And that was true — until tonight, when something worse topped the Worst-Of list. And it was beginning with this film that I formed the hypothesis that there was something dreadfully wrong with this year's SFJFF. There was a lot of local-girl-makes-good cheering before the film began. It's local-girl using local-money, and aren't we all so precious and precocious? Tiffany is Leonard Shlain's daughter. He's the brain surgeon who thought he knew all about the mind. First book was a good one, but his Alphabet book is one 19th century reductionist blunder after another. All innuendo, and all of its argument refuted a century ago. The film, therefore, is a fitting tribute by Tiffany to her dad, right down to making us watch her home movies and her crying at his memorial. The argument in the film is that the internet is connecting us all in new ways, and isn't that special? We walked out, but it was almost over by then, so I guess that doesn't count. It didn't seem like Mabul at all — there wasn't going to be any redemption at the end.
The Names of Love by Michel Leclerc was an absolute delight, thank god, and I thought the festival redeemed itself with this one. It dealt with pluralism in France in a nuanced and fun manner, bursting stereotypes, and still managing to cover Jewish angst, Franco-Algerian struggle in the younger generation, French radical activism, and a whole lot more — and still manage the delight. Now, was that so hard?
Don't Tell Santa You're Jewish hit the mark exactly. I remember that dilemma when I was little. A fun little ditty.
Spartacus. Well, it was great to see Kirk Douglas get the Freedom of Expression Award that the SFJFF gives. And to learn just how much Spartacus reflected the political sentiments of Douglas. Important movie. Still, I didn't make it past the intermission.
Jews in Toons included three TV cartoon series' episodes on Jewish themes. The Family Guy episode "When you wish upon a Weinstein" was forced and not quite as terrible as it promised to be. South Park's "Passion of the Jew" is of course a classic that everyone should see. And The Simpsons "Like Father Like Clown" was the least interesting of the three. The audience was then subjected to Mike Reiss' comedy onstage, which, like the Simpsons episode that he wrote, should have been (like his "Queer Duck") edgier and have a point.
Life is Too Long — I know I saw it. Can't remember a thing about it. And that's after rereading the blurb about it. Good title. The only reason I'm sure we saw it is that it came with a short entitled Grandpa looked Like William Powell, and I know I saw that one. Or at least some of it.
The Queen has no Crown we got through. And I think it's important despite the self-referential quasi-home movie/quasi documentary surface. Here was another depressing movie addressing in part the very large point of whether Israelis have lost the dream. And whether the Israeli diaspora may be a sign of the failure of the Zionist entity. The film is understated and more important than it seems. Still, it's more home movie than I ever want to see in my life ever again.
Between Two Worlds was another self-referential home grown local-girl-makes-good movie that starts out particular (right there at the controversial 2009 SFJFF at the Castro Theater) and moves rapidly to the downright massive, if not cosmic, question of who gets to speak for the Jews today? This film is the opposite of The Queen has no Crown, which focuses on the particular and lets the audience contemplate the larger questions. This one tries to cover absolutely everything, and ends by being way too diffuse to be useful. Sure, Deborah Kaufman gets credit for putting the SFJFF on the map. And that's a good thing. But the film just isn't. The panel afterwards was moderated by Michael Krasny. The only person worth listening to here was Rabbi Kula — who reminded us that our identity is rooted in part in the fact that we do debate this stuff... (He said it better, and had a lot more to say)
100 Voices was another self-referential let's-film-ourselves flick. Only these were American cantors going 'back' to Poland and giving concerts in Warsaw and Krakow. This one was better than I expected, although I ended up in Ashkenazi overload despite the presence of not one, but two Sephardi cantors participating.
Sarah's Key — despite the Terry Gross interview with Kristin Scott Thomas nothing in the world could have made me want to see this film. I just don't think I could take it.
which brings us to tonight's
Flawed was a short preceding Four Weddings. It was a 13 minute stop-motion animation that was another me/my life movie, but it managed to keep it humble, keep it sweet, and keep it short.
Four Weddings and a Felony — which we walked out on, and then so did a bunch of other people as well. And that, was after the writer/director/actor of it even came out to introduce the thing. This one may well tie with Connected as worst-movie-ever, except that we didn't stay long enough to find out. Yes, this is another follow-myself-around-with-a-camera and let's-talk-about-me-some-more movie. And if it's got a redemptive quality to it, well you'll just have to let me know.
If you've wondered (and I've gotten email that proves that there is some wondering) why the hell I haven't been writing anything in a couple of weeks, well, here's your answer. It's been bad movies and more aaarrrggghhh movies over the last couple weeks. I know that's no excuse.
Oh. And I was dragged to see Captain America on Saturday night.
"You'll hate it," she said. "But you have to see it."
She was right. I was appalled. But it's an important movie. A propaganda film about propaganda films — unashamed of itself, and promoting hard every inch of the way. An important movie. Do not underestimate this film. Its subliminal message isn't subliminal at all.