3 Flicks You Won’t See at the Sonoma International Film Festival

On the heels of next Tuesday’s April Fool’s Day is the April 2 kickoff of the 17th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. Though tempted, I’ll avoid cinematic satire and direct readers to the 2014 Festival Preview Guide, which can be downloaded at SonomaFilmFest.org.
For your convenience, certain omissions to the guide are included below for your viewing pleasure. Please feel free to clip, print, forward and share these additions with out-of-town visitors who don’t know any better. Especially if they’re celebrities. And have a wonderful film festival experience!

Cat-tastrophe, USA, 247 min., Dirs. Mick Robbins, Henri Moreau

Just when you thought the Internet’s feline fixation had finally ebbed, a pair of local filmmakers decided to finally finish their opus, “Cat-tastrophe,” comprised entirely of cat videos ripped from YouTube. Let’s not ponder the inspiration for the endeavor (marijuana) but champion the perseverance of the filmmakers, who spent seven years assembling their film from over 750 individual cat clips. The result is the cinematic equivalent of coughing up a four-hour fur ball for four hours. Not since T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” and its infernal musical adaptation (memories!), has such a wuvable wasteland filled your mental litterbox with so little. Expect an endless barrage of purrfect puns to emanate from our local newsrooms, headlining editorials about a spaying and neutering filmmakers.

Dry, USA, 16 min., Dir. Kyle Rice

The SIFF has long supported student films, and the privileged young visionaries whose parents pay for them. Hailing from this year’s student category is local Sonoma State University film student Kyle Rice’s short film, “Dry,” which is comprised of a single shot of a freshly painted lavender-hued wall. “Dry” was intended as a statement about the banality of student film work but turned out quite the opposite after Rice set up his camera, hit record and left only to return to a hole kicked through his main subject. In his absence, Rice’s camera captured the daring escape of a bound and gagged kidnap victim from the apartment next door. The young woman busted through the sheetrock with her feet, writhed through the resulting hole and eventually managed to wriggle her hands free and ungag herself, at which point she looked into the camera and apologized for destroying the wall. Though critically heralded for the “breakthrough performance,” in class, the film received a D for defying its original premise and being interesting.

Theseus’ Ship Redux, Sweden, 122 min., Dir. Buntel Eriksson

A highlight of this year’s fest is a fully-restored, digitally-remastered edition of Swedish filmmaker Buntel Eriksson’s “Theseus’ Ship,” which boasts a complete reconception of the story matter (less love triangle, more bikini-clad espionage), re-shot scenes featuring an entirely new cast (middle-aged musings on mortality have been upgraded to the moral anxiety of juggling multiple sexual partners during Spring Break) and the swapping of the solo nyckelharpa soundtrack for a pulsing electronica score created by Euro-Pop phenom Ch3mTrailz. In fact, this release of the 1966 Eriksson classic is so utterly transformed it resembles the original version only in title, at least to the “redux” part. It begs the question, is it even the same film? An emphatic “Yes!” insist the film’s producers, who dismiss any suggestion that their version of the film is merely a remake posing as the original to avoid paying royalties. “We replaced every frame in an effort to preserve the integrity of Eriksson’s vision. So, yeah, it’s the same film, just totally different.”

Via SonomaNews

For My Wife on Her [Redacted] Birthday

Mentioning my wife’s age is verboten. Especially now that the square root of her age is more than the years our kid has lived on earth. So, even though today is her birthday, I can’t say her age. Be it here, there, in pixel or print – the surest way for me to wind up mummified in her precious Coyuchi sheets is to spell it out.
Suffice to say, her age ends in a zero. It’s always the ages that end in zero that cause the most anxiety. What’s odd is that the first two times this happens – 10 and 20 – it’s exciting. Graduating into double digits and later cresting adulthood is the whole goal of childhood, right? Thereafter the zeroes absorb youth and dreams with the voracity of a black hole.

Of course, this all changes when you acquire a second zero and turn 100. Then you’re some kind of hero. Perhaps more so if you drank and smoked the whole way there. When it comes to longevity, some find bucking conventional wisdom assuring, even forgiving. Others just like to drink and smoke. Be assured, centenarians who’ve avoided being killed by their vices haven’t reached a truce with them, they’re just dying of something else.

Also, they’re all single. That’s the part that no one talks about. One of the secrets of living a long life might be to go it alone. Drink, smoke, be single and live forever? Tempting isn’t it? Let us assume it’s lonely at the top of the longevity ladder lest we go mad with envy.

There must be dividends to growing old with someone, like, you know, always having someone with whom to marvel at the increasingly rapid passage of time. Ask any pair of octogenarians what it’s like to grow old together and they’ll just stare at you. Their enfeebled minds aren’t groping for an answer, but rather, their perception of time looks like “Koyaanisqatsi,” the time-lapse flick with day and night flicking off and on like a strobe light. You’re hardly a blip in their experience, a speck of dust on a single frame of film, which is whooshing by like so many clouds. How could they possibly stop that kind of ride?

That said, any old person will tell you that their self-image isn’t old at all – that they feel young on the inside and are often mystified by their wizened reflections in the mirror. In a recent kitchen conversation with my wife, a gaggle of her friends and at least one sister, the notion of one’s “internal age” came up. Mine is 19, my wife’s was somewhere in her 20s. This is good since one of us should at least be able to buy alcohol, if only metaphysically speaking.

Some of the other women claimed their internal age was actually older than their present age. This is the type of chatter that once led to our received notions of “old souls” and those who are “young at heart.” Sometimes there are variations – I once knew a guy who was “old at heart” as well as a “young soul.” Consequently, he didn’t date much, which means he’ll probably live to be 100, as long as he takes up drinking and smoking.

This is not the first time my wife has acquired a zero on her ever-increasing dance through the digits, though it is the first time I’ve been around to witness it. So, that’s something – the square root of her age is less than the years we’ve been married, which just means we got married relatively recently, or really late. I proposed to her in my column because I’m clever like that. Since then, I’ve published sundry valentines and sappy whatnots, but not until today, when the run date and my wife’s birthday coincided, have I penned her a birthday wish in the paper. So here goes:

Happy Birthday, April. I know you hate the number you’ve just reached but the fact of the matter is you’ve merely acquired a zero, which can neither add nor subtract from the awesome, beguiling totality of you. I’d rather watch clouds with you than ever see 100. With love, DH.

Via SonomaNews

The Lair of the White Worm Car & Arguing with Jimmy Schow

I’ve had snakes on the brain. While researching this year’s St. Patty’s-themed column, everything I read was trying to convince me that St. Patrick single-handedly drove the snakes from Ireland. He didn’t. Patrick drove out paganism, which scholars say the snakes symbolized. Since there aren’t any pagans or snakes in Ireland, it looks good for Pat. Of course, there never were any native snakes on the isle, apart from perhaps the slow-worm, which isn’t a snake so much as a legless lizard. The slow-worm apparently didn’t represent pagans – just lame reptiles – so it got to stay. Sláinte!

Snakes on a Wane

According to my research, the only time a snake and an Irishman crossed paths was when Ireland’s own Bram Stoker of Dracula fame published The Lair of the White Worm in 1911. I first became familiar with the work in a rarely seen film adaptation, which I saw with Jimmy Schow at Petaluma’s Plaza Theatre, circa ’88.

In a nutshell:

Lair of the White Worm

When Scottish archaeologist Angus Flint (pre-In the Loop Peter Capaldi) excavates a large reptilian skull in the ruins of a convent, he unwittingly draws the wrath of the mysterious Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who not only reveals herself to be a murdering seductress but the sole cheerleader for a snake worshipping cult that seeks to raise the D’Ampton Worm, a legendary paleolithic serpent, from the depths of the earth. The snake was thought to have been slayed by ancestors of Lord James D’Ampton (an impossibly young and tweee Hugh Grant) but Together, with a pair of virginal sisters, the Angus and James set upon destroying the worm before Lady Sylvia can release it. And probably mate with it.

The film was directed by none other than Ken Russell whose growing oeuvre included, among dozens of other titles, the rock opera Tommy, sci-fi freak fest Altered States and Gothic, a movie mash note to Byron and the Shelleys. Jimmy and I didn’t realize at the time that one man was responsible for all these films, which were required viewing in post-punk Petaluma of the 80s. In fact, we’d only seen Gothic the year before because Julian Sands, our hero from A Room With aView (who famously smooched our perma-crush Helena Bonham Carter), played Percy Bysshe Shelley. I wouldn’t read up on Shelley until college and by then it was too late – Shelley would always be Sands and Sands, who had since moved on to a dreadful supernatural franchise, would always be Warlock. Hence, Shelley = Warlock. All the resources of SF State couldn’t change this annoying association for me, so I finally decided to just change my major.

Lair of the White Worm Car

I recently streamed The Lair of the White Worm, from some (illegal?) site and found that upon the silver anniversary of its release, it still holds up. Albeit, it’s far campier than I was able to appreciate at the time – I took its cartoonish sexuality (which was entirely intentional on the part of the filmmaker) at face value. And why wouldn’t I, having witnessed the vampish Donohoe seduce a boy scout who snake-charmed her with a harmonica (sales of mouth harps subsequently spiked at down the street at Tall Toad Music).

1966 Jaguar XKE

Alfa RomeoNaturally, I fell in love with Donohoe’s Lady Sylvia. In keeping with his burgeoning car fetishism, Jimmy fell in love with her 1966 Jaguar XKE. The car was “cast,” if you will, for what we can pretend was its serpentine coach design, not to mention the fact that it was white. Jimmy, however, thought Russell had missed an opportunity – that the car should have been an Alfa Romeo since the company’s logo features the Biscione, a.k.a, the Vipera, a heraldic image depicting a large serpent swallowing a boy.

I cannot recall which Alfa he suggested to replace the Jag (Spider, Giulietta?) but Jimmy was adamant that it should not have been a Jaguar, even one as beautiful as that year of XKE. We disagreed and argued, as always, until he got bored and went home.

Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio_Badge_0001a

Jimmy persisted in his love of cars until his death in a rally race accident 20 years ago this March. I suppose this is why it isn’t odd that I should be thinking about him and this business about serpents and Alfa Romeos near St. Patrick’s Day. You see, while Googling Alpha hood ornaments to see if, after 25 years, maybe Jimmy was right and Ken Russell should’ve taken advantage of the Biscione, I learned that Alfa Romeo has another emblem. It’s been used on their racecars since the early 1920s, the so-called “Quadrifoglio,” which is a four-leaf clover.

I’m not one for sentimental synchronicities, nor do I deny that search engine algorithms can be serendipity-machines if you sprinkle enough fairy dust. But I do like it when one stumbles upon, if not meaning, a sense of metaphysical coherence to random recollections of a lost friend. Perhaps finding a four-leaf clover at the end of one’s reverie is the snake eating its own tale. I prefer to think that I’ve just been lucky.

Related: Roman Mars riffs on The Fancy Shape, a.ka. the “quatrefoil,” on 99% Invisible.