December 03, 2007

Flesh and the Devil

It's been a long time since I posted a proper entry here. I've been caught up in the social networking aspect of blogging, first on LiveJournal and then on Vox. But I miss Astrarium. I appreciate the way it quietly encourages me to work on the craft of my writing, to take an evening and put together a longer-form piece instead of surreptitiously spewing out a few sentences on Vox at the office on a work morning. Vox will still be there for random bits and bobs, but I am officially declaring Astrarium back from hiatus. Of course now that I've said it, I'll have to try to stick to it. My challenges include a job that drains my energy and the 10+ public service announcements I write every month for KALX. But I'm getting better at paying attention to my own rhythms, and I'm eager to continue sharing all the awesome things that I come into contact with in this fabulous Bay Area.

Though of course I need to talk about books and DVDs too. This week I ripped through Richard Preston's The Wild Trees, a nonfiction book that tells the story of a handful of modern-day explorers who were moved to find a way to get themselves to the tops of the tallest living organisms on earth: California redwoods. Preston is more well-known for writing about infectious diseases in books like The Hot Zone, but he brings his own passion for "skywalking" into the story, even joining his protagonists on research trips. The climbers discover an abundance of life thrives in the redwood canopies that no one ever dreamed existed, adding another layer of tragedy to the swath of destruction clear-cutting has left down the western coast of the United States. Luckily many of the giant trees the botanists in the story have found are on protected land, and Preston declines to give their exact locations in an effort to further keep them safe. It was all enough to make me want to go on a long hike.

However, the short days and frigid weather we are experiencing right now lend themselves more to an evening spent in front of the DVD player than any strenuous outdoor activities. Thursday night I curled up with That Obscure Object of Desire, Luis Bu˝uel's final film, made in 1977. A gentleman played by Fernando Rey tells his fellow train passengers the story of his recent ill-fated love affair, doing his best to explain to them how he has been wronged. The object of his affections, Conchita, is played by two separate actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. The switching back and forth between the two of them lends a surreal twist to the film as the characters play a complicated game of power and sexual desire. By the end of the film you wonder how reliable of a narrator our gentleman actually is, and what Conchita would say if she were allowed to tell her side of the story.

After all of that emotional ambiguity I was ready to see some interpretive dance Friday night. Dance Ceres was performing their new work The Limits of the Marvelous at Dance Mission Theater, vignettes somehow woven together with video. I normally take BART into the city for my weekend activities, but on this particular evening I was going to a party after the dance performance and wanted to have my car with me in case the night stretched long. What I didn't count on was traffic backed up so far on the bridge that I arrived in the Mission well after the show had already started. Too bad, really too bad. But I pep-talked myself into a Plan B: a stop at Frjtz for some crispy fried deliciousness, then on to the party. Except an offshoot of Critical Mass had just reached Valencia and the street was clogged with unlit fixies, their riders yelling obscenities at me as they went the wrong way in traffic. I adore Critical Mass, I support cyclists with my whole heart, but I was simply in no mood. I gave up, stopped at Starbucks for the most corporate cup of coffee I could find at that time of the night, and then swooped in on the party. A girl's gotta know when to fold 'em.

My evening on Saturday was infinitely more successful, due in no small part to the fact that I fully utilized public transportation. My long-time friends at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival have grown so successful approaching their thirteenth year that they now hold an annual winter event at the Castro Theatre in addition to their summer festival. After a day of programming that included vaudeville films and the entirety of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, the evening presentation was Greta Garbo's breakthrough feature Flesh and the Devil, directed by Clarence Brown. She and costar John Gilbert met and started an affair while filming the movie, and as the camera lingers on the looks exchanged between the two actors there's no mistaking the pure lust you're seeing onscreen. I cannot say enough about what a service the Festival does bringing these films to period venue the Castro, where I can easily imagine what it must have been like to see them in their day. I thrilled when I saw Garbo's and Gilbert's names on the marquee, and grinned madly at the first notes Dennis James played on the theater's mighty Wurlitzer organ. I gasped and cheered along with the audience during the film, and rose to my feet to applaud at the end. Running into my friends after the show, that was just icing on the cake. It made me feel like my life is magic.

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my Vox blog
Dance Mission Theater
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Posted by nightfall at December 3, 2007 09:25 PM