In the vast, teeming universe of cinema, small-gauge filmmaking is possibly the least-respected province. After all, who works in 8mm and Super 8 these days, other than film students and idiosyncratic artists? Is it necessary for me to add that their (usually short) films brim with a passion and a distinctive voice utterly missing from the bulk of motion picture production?
Over the course of his nearly 15-year career, small-gauge daredevil Danny Plotnick has entertained, stunned, and offended audiences at countless alternative spaces and underground film festivals coast to coast. "I've always tried to break out of the ghetto of alternative film," Plotnick says, and his new instant classic, Swingers' Serenade, bodes well for crossover success. Shot on 16mm with a professional sheen, it's nonetheless as subversive as anything Plotnick's done. He and his coterie of crafty collaborators (Alison Faith Levy, Miles Montalbano, Jay Hinman, Chris Enright, and Kurt Keppeler) shot a script Plotnick found in a 1960 issue of Better Movie Making, one of the many magazines that catered to the popular home movie market. The hilarious Ed Wood-ish plot centers on an adulterous wife and an opportunistic door-to-door salesman, if you can believe that.
Boasting a swell score by Levy (Plotnick's wife), Montalbano, and a few other studs, Swingers' Serenade plays Oct. 1 and 2 at Artists' Television Access, followed by an Oct. 13 screening in the Mill Valley Film Festival and a slot in the Film Arts Festival in November. The ATA shows, to put it bluntly, are Plotnick's best shot at recouping his "investment." "The tricky thing about alternative film shows is that you can never have a run," he explains. "It's only one or two nights."
I asked Plotnick if the traditional audience for off-kilter film was shrinking as San Francisco gets pricier and more, shall we say, exclusive. "The core audience for this type of film still exists in the city," Plotnick replied, "although I wholeheartedly believe the city is being gutted of truly creative types." He laughed and added, "I'll spend a day fliering Valencia Street, so some of those people whom I grouse about on a daily basis will probably be at the ATA."
Hard hats and sushi were handed out at the S.F. Film Society's reception to unveil the San Francisco Film Center -- under construction at Building 39 in the Presidio. The fund-raising pledges proffered by board members notwithstanding, the highlight of the event was Artistic Director Peter Scarlet's impassioned speech in support of non-U.S. cinema. The Film Society is aggressively expanding its programming outside of the actual festival -- be sure to gorge yourself on the ravishing Max Ophuls series at the Castro, among other fall events -- and a Marcello Mastroianni retrospective is in the works for early next year.