Update – SFiFF 55 – A Day in the Castro (‘The Third Man,” “House by the River,” “Twixt”)

I decided to plant myself in the magnificent Castro Theatre for series of special film programs running all day Saturday. The Castro is San Francisco’s Grande Dame of movie palaces and the most appropriate place to exhibit films from Hollywood’s golden age.

First up was a tribute to the late Bingham Ray. A legendary figure in the world of independent film, Ray was the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society for just a few months when he unexpectedly passed away while attending last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Ray loved and lived for film and, to honor his memory at this year’s Festival, a showing of Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” was scheduled. Ray often named it as his favorite film. It’s on many “best” lists, and deservedly so. What a pleasure to see this film in a crisp print and on the big screen.

Up next was “An Afternoon with Pierre Rissient,” another legend in world cinema. Rissient was the recipient of this year’s “Mel Novikoff Award,” an award given to an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public’s appreciation of world cinema. Rissient, a champion of unknown or unappreciated filmmakers throughout the world, spoke passionately of the lesser known but more deserved films he had come across in the decades since he first discovered film in a French cinema. I asked him to name a film that he felt had a reputation for greatness that was undeserved. His first response was “You want me to make people scream?” He then answered, “Vertigo.” Someone in the audience screamed.

After the interview and Q&A, a lesser known Fritz Lang film was screened. “House by the River,” released by Republic Pictures in 1950, is a gothic murder tale set in the early 1900’s (?) in an unnamed southern (?) riverside community. Starring Louis Hayward and Jane Wyatt, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric “B” Picture, with set design and cinematography that belies its low budget. Film buffs should look fast for Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer from the Our Gang comedies in a fleeting bit.

I ended my day at the Castro with a screening of Francis Ford Coppola’s latest directing venture – “Twixt.” Coppola has said in interviews that he’s only making “personal” films from now on – maybe too personal. While there are elements in this film that show the master has not lost his touch, this film borders on the incomprehensible. Is it a comedy? A horror film? A psychological drama? A fantasy? Your guess is as good as mine- and, apparently the cast’s, as three particpants in the film in attendance said as much in the Q&A that followed the screening. Actors Bruce Miroglio, Anthony Fusco, and Don Novello all had the same reaction after screening the film (only their second opportunity.) First, it was nothing at all like the film they saw a few months ago and Coppola was obviously still tinkering with it. Second, it was a helluva lot funnier than they remembered it. Along those lines, it’s always good to have Bruce Dern back on screen portraying one of his “slightly-off” characters.

Visually entrancing, wonderfully atmospheric and with a lead performance from Val Kilmer that almost redeems him from the trainwreck that is “The Fourth Dimension,” “Twixt” leaves too many threads dangling from the seams that are obviously fraying in this film. Its ending is abrupt and confusing. As Miroglio said when responding to an audience member’s comment that he really didn’t know what happened at the end, “Francis’ response would probably be – ‘GOOD!’ That’s a bit too personal for me.

…and so my day at the Castro Theatre ended. Three films – one bonafide classic, one rediscovered gem, and an interesting failure. Not a bad day for a cinephile…

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