All the President's Men
In those dismal years when Tina Brown was converting The New Yorker into an upscale version of People, and every other story had a Hollywood connection, regular readers east of the Mississippi could have gotten the notion that the Oregon border lay just north of Malibu. The current editorial bigwigs -- or at least the marketing department -- have rediscovered Northern California, as evidenced by "Political Pix: The New Yorker Goes to the Movies Film Festival," which pitches its tent at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Oct. 18 through 20. New Yorker film critic David Denby picked the six titles in the series, which kicks off with an invitation-only screening of Gregory La Cava's mind-blowing 1933 satire Gabriel Over the White House. (According to Public Relations Director Perri Dorset, the comp list will include "advertisers, politicians, friends of The New Yorker, and journalists." All I ask is a seat with a view of Mayor Willie watching a Depression-era fantasy of a corrupt president who gets a morality transfusion and starts defying his "sponsors.")
"Political Pix" plays New York's Lincoln Center the week before it arrives here and is timed to coincide with The New Yorker's Oct. 16 "Politics" double issue. I asked Dorset why San Francisco was picked to host the film series (the mag has staged literary events in Boston and Los Angeles) and not, say, the nation's capital. "A lot of Washingtonians will be traveling because of the election," she pointed out. Presumably, the opposite is true of the Dot-Com Republic of San Francisco, where we'll need every conceivable reminder of the Nov. 7 election.
The series ranges from The Manchurian Candidate to Medium Cool to Robert Altman's Secret Honor (I would have opted for a couple of hours of his Tanner '88 instead), and includes the documentaries Primary and A Perfect Candidate (which respectively profile campaigns of JFK and Ollie North). While The New Yorker will pick up all costs, the mag will reportedly let Center for the Arts keep the box office. At just $6 for a double feature, though, moviegoers will be the real beneficiaries.
The Grateful Dead Movie
Brent Meeske lost his mind at a Grateful Dead concert at Shoreline Amphitheater, but he wasn't blown away by the music or the mushrooms. It was the Deadheads, "a family of traveling wanderers," to use his description, who knocked him out. A few years later, Meeske's kinetic portrait of the Deadheads' last ride, The End of the Road, begged to be filmed on an unobtrusive DV camera.
"I shot it as one of the crowd, from the inside, as unimposing as possible," Meeske explains. That precluded a crew armed with lighting and sound recording gear, naturally. "Anything that would have removed the Deadheads from the group would have diminished the film, so sound quality and lighting were sometimes sacrificed because we wanted to keep them in their element." Somehow I doubt that will bother the army of mellow Jerry-worshippers descending on the Red Vic this weekend, or the Rafael Film Center on Aug. 9, for the fifth anniversary of the major dude's passing.
Meeske named his production company, Show Loris Films, for an animal that resembles "a tree-dwelling sloth, only much slower. I liked the stillness metaphor as a means of survival," he says. When I'm in the mood for stillness -- or sleep -- I put on Wake of the Flood.