Arts & Events

Movies in the Margin

By Gar Smith
Friday September 23, 2016 - 12:40:00 PM

Not every film makes it to the Big Screen. Not every film makes it into a local movie house. It takes a lot of promotional money to secure a spot on a commercial screen. Exhibitors must pay to promote the films with print ads. Without the promise of this publicity, theatre owners will not commit to showing a film. That is why, with hundreds of commercial screens in the Bay Area, the weekly viewing menu is dominated by fewer than 12 Big Studio films.  

(In the Bay Area, the last installment of the Star Wars franchise managed to lay claim to so many screens that the sequel was being projected more than 1,000 times a day. In Berkeley, The Force Awakens was being screened simultaneously at the Landmark Shattuck and the California Theater, whose box offices are located less than 351 feet apart.) 

Here, then, is a sampling of some of the current crop of "small screen" offerings—some of this month's "Movies in the Margin." 

Racing to Zero, local filmmaker Christopher Beaver's 2015 Environmental Film Festival award-winning documentary, was screened at the Roxy Theatre on September 16 and will move on to the New Parkway theater in Oakland for one-night showing on September 24. Racing to Zero chronicles San Francisco's historic attempt to ring in urban waste, I environmental and economic burden that made the front page of the September 18, Sunday San Francisco Chronicle


The Vessel. This tale of mystery and redemption in a small coastal village in Mexico, may be unique in the history of filmmaking. The movie, starring Martin Sheen as a local priest dealing with the aftermath of a fierce storm that washed 46 of the village's children out to sea, was filmed twice: once in Spanish, once in English. Subtitles would have been easier and much cheaper but Julio Quintana, the film's Cuban-American writer and director, opted to produce two mirror images in attempt to "create a sense of universality" in telling this tail of morning and miracles. 

Given the demographics, is not surprising that the film debuted on September 16 at the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco, the Eastridge in San Jose, and at the MAYA cinemas in Salinas, Fresno, and Bakersfield. 


Anna Magnani. On September 24, The Castro Theatre hosts a "Special Homage to a Diva of the Italian Cinema." That can only mean Anna Magnani. The retrospective is part of a grand national tour that began at New York's Lincoln Center in May and will wind up in Toronto in January 2017. Following the grand opening at the Castro, the Magnani filmfest will settle in at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive for ten-day run beginning September 24. 

Four of Magnani's most memorable and Magnanimous forays in film are featured, each in glorious 35mm restorations. The Castro event will included a special guest of honor, Lidia Vitale, the star of Solo Anna, a one-woman show devoted to Magnani. The four films are: 

Roma Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy award for its depiction of the WWII resistance against the Nazi occupation of Rome. Part of a trilogy, Rome Open City featured Magnani in a breakout performance as Pina, the girlfriend of a resistance fighter. This film, called "a watershed moment in Italian cinema" earned Magnani one of her first Best Actress awards. 


Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1952) follows Magnani as a working-class mother who pushes her daughter into auditioning at Italy's famed Cinecitta Film studio. This satire was actually filmed in the Cinecitta studio and features self portrayals by a number of famous directors and artists. When Bette Davis saw Magnani's performance, she declared Italian diva one of the greatest actresses she had ever seen. (Mignani was delighted at the news, having previously proclaimed that Bette Davis was, to her mind, the greatest actress of all-time.) 


The Rose Tattoo (Daniel Mann, 1955). Originally a Broadway play written by Tennessee Williams, The Rose Tattoo was brought to the screen in this award-winning production. Magnani, in her first English-speaking role, was teamed with Burt Lancaster. It was Williams himself who insisted on casting the Italian star and subsequently proclaimed her performance as "magnificent." Lancaster emerged from his encounter with Magnani's emotional ferocity and penned this lasting tribute: "If she had not found acting as an outlet for her enormous vitality, she would have become a great criminal." 


The Passionate Thief (Mario Monicelli, 1960) teamed Mangnani with an old friend, the Great Italian comic Toto, and a newcomer from the States—a young actor named Ben Gazzarra. A ditzy combination social satire and petty criminality, the film features Magnani as a blonde-and-bedeviled would-be actress who tries to navigate a wild night of singing, dancing, and larceny with a mismatched pair of nere-do-wells. One reviewer called this film: "fun and frothy . . . It's like a long night of champagne without the handover."