BAMPFA partners with the Bay Area Book Festival for the third year to present a series of films that celebrate, adapt, or creatively reinterpret the written word and its practitioners. Renowned writers, filmmakers, and other guests introduce the screenings.
I was program director and curator of film at the Pacific Film Archive from 1972 to 1980; in those days a young graduate student in philosophy—Errol Morris—was one of our most passionate cinephile “regulars.” Our theater was Errol’s film school, so I am very pleased that he will return to present his extraordinary A Brief History of Time, inspired by Steven Hawking’s book.
Another highlight is Karel Zeman’s adaptation of the oft-filmed fantasy adventure classic by Rudolf Erich Raspe, The Fabulous Baron Münchausen. We will show a recently completed digital restoration, which makes clear that Zeman’s film is one of the most stunning, magical, and beautiful films ever made.
Critic Greil Marcus, who wrote a book on the film adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate in 2002, revisits this political thriller in light of current events. We pay tribute to the late author Denis Johnson with the film adaptation of his classic short story collection Jesus’ Son. Three esteemed authors and friends of Johnson introduce the film and share stories.
Two films bring us directly into literary lives. Mark Eisner, translator of Pablo Neruda and author of a major new biography, introduces Neruda and adds his own reminiscences. The series closes with a portrait of the legendary Armistead Maupin.
Tom Luddy, Guest Curator
Guest curated by Tom Luddy, cofounder and codirector of the Telluride Film Festival, in conjunction with Cherilyn Parsons, founder and executive director, Bay Area Book Festival.
The Manchurian Candidate
John Frankenheimer (US, 1962)
Wednesday / 4.25.18
Introduction: Greil Marcus
Cultural critic Greil Marcus is the author of a monograph on The Manchurian Candidate published in the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series.
Frankenheimer’s outspoken satire, based on Richard Condon’s novel, played with America’s oversized horror of Communist infiltration while dealing on another level with the brainwashing potential of media-induced fear. Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra return from the Korean War after the Communists have taken them and their entire platoon to the head cleaners, and made Harvey a walking time-bomb set to assassinate the presidential nominee. Harvey’s sensitive portrayal of this much-used soldier is a sobering antidote to the Kubrick-like absurdity of the plot. The fact that the president-to-be(-murdered) is Harvey’s stepfather is only the beginning of the film’s reverberating Oedipal complex.
Written by George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon. Photographed by Lionel Lindon. With Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury. (126 mins, B&W, DCP, From Park Circus)
The Fabulous Baron Münchausen
Karel Zeman (Czechoslovakia, 1961)
Thursday / 4.26.18
In person: James Mockoski
James Mockoski is a film archivist at American Zoetrope, where he has supervised the restorations of classic films including Apocalypse Now and The Conversation; as an independent consultant, he oversaw the restoration of The Fabulous Baron Münchausen.
(Baron Prášil). The whimsical Baron Münchausen mistakes a modern-day astronaut for a lost moon man and leads him on a series of miraculous adventures, riding on seahorses, battling the sultan’s armies, and romancing the beautiful Princess Bianca. This lovely, humorous version of a classic tale is like a nineteenth-century magic lantern show brought to glittering life. Master Czech animator Zeman combined cartoon and stop-motion animation, puppetry, matte paintings, and live action, creating a fantastic mechanical clockwork that anticipated the work of later animator/directors such as Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. —Dennis Bartok
Written by Zeman, based on the novel The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe and the German translations by Gottfried August Bürger. Photographed by Jiří Tarantík. With Miloš Kopecký, Jana Brejchová, Jan Werich, Rudolf Jelínek. (90 mins, In Czech with English subtitles, Color, DCP, From Karel Zeman Museum, Prague)
Preceded by Impossible Voyage (Le voyage à travers l’impossible) (Georges Méliès, France, 1904). Méliès, cinema’s first magician, partly adapted an 1882 fantasy/science fiction play by Jules Verne for this satire on a scientific exploration into the sun’s interior. (Written by Méliès, Victor de Cottens, based on Journey Through the Impossible by Jules Verne. 20 mins, Silent with live English narration, Tinted, 35mm, From George Eastman Museum)
Total running time: 110 mins
A Brief History of Time
Errol Morris (US, 1991)
Friday / 4.27.18
In Conversation: Errol Morris and Edward Frenkel
Edward Frenkel is a professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley; his latest book is Love and Math.
Stephen Hawking’s 1988 classic A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes was written for the layperson, and Morris’s documentary uses cinema to go for the heart of this outsize mind. Hawking collaborates in this, guiding us (using his speaking device—he has ALS) through questions like “Why do we remember the past and not the future?” He is not unaware of their poetry, we think. Morris seems equally fascinated by the family of unflappable eccentrics that spawned Hawking and his sense of wonder, and by colleagues like Roger Penrose, who theorized the death of stars while crossing the street.
Hawking died on March 14, 2018.
Based on the book by Stephen Hawking. Photographed by John Bailey, Stefan Czapsky. Music by Philip Glass. (84 mins, Color, DCP, From Janus Films)
Raúl Ruiz (France, Italy, Portugal, 1999)
Friday / 4.27.18
Introduction: Steve Wasserman
Steve Wasserman is publisher and executive director of Heyday Books, and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review.
Also screens Sundays / 3.18.18 and 5.6.18 (without introduction; see Limited Engagements)
(Le temps retrouvé). Ruiz achieves the seemingly impossible with this adaptation of the final volume of In Search of Lost Time. It is a film at once wholly faithful to Proust and to the distinctive vision of its director. Inventing a cinematic equivalent to the novelist’s “involuntary memory,” Ruiz creates a permeable fiction in which every image opens on another and every level of the remembrance—from Marcel’s cozy childhood memories to his struggles to recall the past—exists on the same plane. The film is a casting miracle, as the actors are perfect physical and emotional matches for Proust’s characters. —Dave Kehr, SFIFF 2000
Written by Gilles Taurand, Ruiz, based on the book by Marcel Proust. Photographed by Ricardo Aronovich. With Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez, John Malkovich. (158 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, DCP, From KimStim)
Zacharias Kunuk, Natar Ungalaaq (Canada, 2016)
Saturday / 4.28.18
Maliglutit (Searchers) continues in the breathtaking vein of Canadian-Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s unforgettable Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner with a story of cruelty and cold revenge inspired by John Ford’s The Searchers (which was based on the novel by Alan Le May) and spoken entirely in Inuktitut. As Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) dogsleds across the snowy tundra to find his kidnapped wife and daughter, the brutal Arctic landscape and the film’s unsettling sound design escalate Maliglutit to a visceral, lyrical experience.
Written by Kunuk. Photographed by Jonathan Frantz. With Benjamin Kunuk, Jocelyne Immaroitok, Karen Ivalu. (94 mins, In Inuktitut with English subtitles, Color, Digital, From VTape)
Pablo Larraín (Chile, 2016)
Saturday / 4.28.18
Introduction: Mark Eisner
Mark Eisner is author of the biography Neruda: The Poet’s Calling and editor and translator of The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems.
How many characters can one writer be? Larraín’s fictionalized portrait of the Chilean Nobel Prize–winning (1971) poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) in the postwar era posits him as an elected senator and an enemy of the state, a people’s poet and a poseur, a hedonist and a faithful partner, and a crime novel devotee who writes his own top cop (Gael García Bernal) into the story of his cat-and-mouse escape from the authorities. “In this fiction,” someone says, “we all revolve around the protagonist.” Underneath the magical realism are brooding undertones of Chile’s future (and Neruda’s grim end) at the hands of Pinochet.
Written by Guillermo Calderón. Photographed by Sergio Armstrong. With Gael García Bernal, Luis Gnecco, Mercedes Morán. (97 mins, In Spanish with English subtitles, Color, DCP, From Swank Motion Pictures)
Alison Maclean (US, 1999)
Saturday / 4.28.18
Introductions: Jane Ciabattari, Christian Kiefer, and Tom Barbash
Jane Ciabattari is a columnist for BBC Culture and Literary Hub and has contributed cultural criticism to The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Paris Review, and many other publications. Christian Kiefer is the author of The Animals, The Infinite Tides, and One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place Left to Hide. He directs the low-residency M.F.A. program at Ashland University in Ohio. Tom Barbash is the author of The Last Good Chance, Stay Up With Me, On Top of the World, and the forthcoming novel The Dakota Winters. He teaches in the writing programs at California College of the Arts.
“It’s a real challenge to make a film from a book you love fiercely, but Denis’s voice was our guide,” Alison Maclean said of adapting Denis Johnson’s book of stories, Jesus’ Son. “The delicacy with which this ensemble retains the essence of Johnson’s tales is a small miracle unto itself,” Betsy Sussler wrote in BOMB. “Maclean knows just when to break the rules of filmmaking—skipping back and forth in time, lifting the narrator’s voice from the book—and when to break the book’s form, creating a linear love story on which to hang a vision compelled by fracture. . . . [A] gem of a film.”
Written by Elizabeth Cuthrell, David Urrutia, Oren Moverman, based on the book Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Photographed by Adam Kimmel. With Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper. (107 mins, Color, 35mm, From Lionsgate)
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin
Jennifer M. Kroot (US, 2017)
Sunday / 4.29.18
In Person: Jennifer M. Kroot
“He loves the world but he does find it hilariously funny”: this is actor Ian McKellen’s description of his friend Armistead Maupin. Starting in the 1970s, Maupin was the Charles Dickens of San Francisco; his serialized Tales of the City used outrageous fictions to open the eyes of San Francisco Chronicle readers to the real city around them. It was a city of seekers, like Maupin, who had “ventur[ed] beyond our biological family to find our logical one.” Tales became six novels and a TV series. In his new memoir, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, and this film we meet the funny, thoughtful author whose goal is to create characters, “gay, straight, who function lovingly with one another.”
Photographed by Shane King. (90 mins, Color, DCP, From The Film Collaborative)