Tongues Untied

Monica Lewinsky and George W. Bush are dissected in new HBO documentaries being screened in S.F.

The main distribution outlet for documentaries is television, but there are a couple of cities in America -- notably New York and San Francisco -- where people willingly pay to see docs in a theater. In recognition, HBO is mounting its first S.F. edition of "Frame by Frame," a series that the cable network began four years ago in NYC. The program, which runs Aug. 5-12 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is of particular interest because of the number of West Coast filmmakers who'll be present at their screenings.

The prolific Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) rehabilitate another humiliated woman, Monica Lewinsky, in Monica in Black and White (Aug. 12), while Alexandra Pelosi's Journeys With George (Aug. 10) reportedly humanizes a conservative-yet-compassionate presidential candidate named Bush. Flamboyant former S.F. street musician Thoth returns with Sarah Kernochan's Oscar-winning short doc Thoth (Aug. 8), and local boys Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein screen The Celluloid Closet (Aug. 9) with a segment from their upcoming HBO-funded portrait of life in a Fire Island summer house. All tickets are $5 and proceeds benefit the Film Arts Foundation; go to www.hbo.com/ framebyframe for screening info.

CandyThe long-running art-house stampede for Y Tu Mamá También and the arrival of the equally steamy Sex and Lucia (which opened this past Friday) suggest the 1960s are back. It was sex, you see, not cultural curiosity that fueled Americans' escalating appetite for foreign films in the '60s. With Hollywood slow to react to the Sexual Revolution, titillating overseas titles like Blowup and I Am Curious (Yellow) and starlets like Brigitte Bardot provided the nudity and soft-core sex that U.S. audiences craved. When Hollywood finally responded with Midnight Cowboy (directed by a Brit, incidentally) and The Killing of Sister George, adult art films from abroad, like Last Tango In Paris, pushed the boundaries even further.

Alas, once nudity and gratuitous sex became staples of American movies, the argument goes, our love affair with foreign films faded. So how to explain the warm reception for explicit pictures such as Intimacy and, a few years back, Romance? For all the semen jokes in our teen comedies, Hollywood has long ceased making adult films with sexual themes, so audiences have to look elsewhere. Blame the studios' timidity and the religious right's muscle, but the power in Tinseltown lies with actors and their agents. Outside of Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and possibly Johnny Depp, I can't think of a major movie star with the ambition and courage to make an NC-17 movie and risk a push off the gravy train. And if the people with box office clout aren't interested, why would a studio exec or producer be?

Hell's BellesWerepad co-founder and sub-B-movie fanatic Jacques Boyreau expands his dubious influence to bookstores this week with Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters. A delectable compendium of the graphic (in both senses) art of quickie masterpieces like Son of Blob, Trash is published by S.F. house Chronicle Books, which is hereby forgiven for its vapid coffee-table tomes. Boyreau signs copies and screens Poor White Trash Aug. 1 at the Parkway in Oakland; details at www.picturepubpizza.com. ... The MadCat Film Festival jump-starts the fall movie season with the world premiere of Brooklyn filmmaker Su Friedrich's The Odds of Recovery, a personal documentary about an unsettling excursion through the health care system. Also on tap is the local premiere of Sarah George's train-hopping doc, Catching Out, booked for a November run at the Red Vic. MadCat unspools Sept. 6-29 at El Rio and other cool venues (see www.somaglow.com/madcat).

 
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