Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pauline Kael's Repertory Cinema Days

With a few exceptions here and there, the American repertory cinema has gone the way of Netflix, Hulu and VOD. However, for a few brief moments this coming Friday night at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a roomful of folks will be magically transported back to some 1950s-era repertory halcyon days at 2436 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

Making its Bay Area debut, the documentary short Ed & Pauline is all about the movie theater operation Ed Landberg opened in 1952 and expanded in 1953. Pauline Kael, who was married to Landberg for several years, helped program the Cinema-Guild and Studio's two screens for a time before moving east.

Co-directors Christian Bruno and Natalija Vekic stumbled upon the subject of their short while working on a feature about a fertile period of American moviegoing. They will both be in attendance for Friday's screening. Their film premiered at last year's Telluride Film Festival, but this screening, within a celluloid reel's throw of Berkeley, is bound to be special.

From the program notes:

Bruno and Vekic lovingly revisit a pivotal moment in Bay Area and U.S. film culture when Cinema Guild founder Ed Landberg and Pacifica Radio reviewer Pauline Kael helmed the first repertory theater in Berkeley in the ‘50s. This touching ode to movie love and the joy of discovering (and turning others on to) new directors, is graced with interviews with Ernest “Chick” Callenbach, Tom Luddy and other local luminaries.

The late Kael would no doubt approve of co-director Bruno's filmmaker bio. In it, he describes how he was forever stamped by an early cinematic experience:

Whatever plans Christian had for the future, they were dashed against the rocks after inadvertently attending a screening of Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana in high school. The tone, the mood, the weaving of fantasy from the threads of reality, all cast a spell that sent him on a journey - through the lens - ever since.

America's other most famous film critic, Roger Ebert, recalled in his book Awake in the Dark the "lifelong importance" of traveling to New York City in 1967 and getting to meet both Kael and Herzog. Ed & Pauline is paired at SFIFF with feature documentary How to Smell a Rose, about Les Blank and co-directed by Gina Leibrecht with... the late Blank. Encore screenings of this combo will be held at the festival May 2nd and May 4th.

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