I Wake Up Screening: An Appreciation of PFA

I've often thought my ideal job would be to cover the Pacific Film Archive exclusively, to report on its film programs and no others, perhaps (in my fantasy scenario) to rig up some sort of apartment in the Archive where I could go to sleep and wake up thinking of movies and never, ever miss a showing.

Of course, that's everyone's fantasy who has ever visited the Archive. And besides, the PFA already employs people to do all the things I dream about, and they do them very well, with a dedicated thoroughness it would be almost impossible to match–so I've got to be content with traipsing guiltily into the place every now and then and, in the words of Jean-Luc Godard beholding Balthazar the donkey, "being astonished." Guiltily, because I can't be there every night for what is undoubtedly the richest, most rewarding film buff's experience in this part of the world, and one of the very few in the world deserving of the name "film archive."

The Archive does indeed put on its own film festival twelve months a year, but this year we'll have to be deprived of a couple of months. Have to be ready the next time the earth moves. To while away the downtime, let's play a game. It's for film fanatics only. Try to remember all the thrills, all the delicious little shivers of wonder, we've felt over the years at the Pacific Film Archive.

Here are a few, picked out of a hat: Seeing Louis Feuillade's legendary silent serial Les Vampires (1915), all ten episodes, and then later encountering PFA Director Edith Kramer dressed as Irma Vep at the Cine-Ball. Sitting all by myself in the auditorium watching Kenji Mizoguchi's exquisite, heartbreaking Oyu-sama (Miss Oyu) (1951), starring the great Kinuyo Tanaka, on a Thursday afternoon when time stood still. Meeting Pam Grier in the museum garden on the opening night of the Blaxploitation's Back! series (curated by the late Doris Worsham) in 1995. Meeting Samuel "Cinema Fist" Fuller in the same place in 1987, and getting an earful on New York tabloids of the thirties. The joy on the late William K. Everson's face as he introduced a film of English music hall performers. Getting a chance to see Misfortune's End, a rarely seen 1996 domestic feature from Vietnam by Wu Xuan Hung, and being impressed with its naturalism.

How many films have we been treated to that we could never have seen anywhere but the Archive? A few come to mind: Shohei Imamura's 1958 Endless Desire–and countless other rare Japanese films from the fifties and sixties. Willy Zielke's 1935 Das Stahltier (The Steel Beast), an impressionistic tribute to railroading. The sight of Monica Vitti stalking through London with a gun in her purse and revenge on her mind as La Ragazza con la Pistola (Girl with a Gun) by Mario Monicelli (1968). The Dennis Hopper retrospective in 1988. Films of Andy Warhol in 1990. Frank Borzage's homespun American optimism in Lucky Star (1929). Anything at all by Mike Leigh, but especially Meantime (1983). !@#$%* Cinema Suzuki, the tribute to director Seijun Suzuki's wacky career at Nikkatsu. And the list goes on. Try making your own. See you at the new PFA Theater.

-Kelly Vance

Posted by admin on September 01, 1999