Triumph of the Will

With the dough he spent on this film, he could have bought a BMW

There's nobody more pretentious than a Hollywood director passing himself off as a "storyteller," but somehow avant-garde filmmakers are the ones perceived as pompous artistes. The Mission District's James Hong has good reason to be full of himself -- his three-act experimental feature Spear of Destiny is ambitious, oblique, and deeply personal -- yet he offers neither highbrow jive nor self-serving platitudes. "I see making films as a pathological urge," Hong remarks dryly. "With the money I spent on this film, I could have bought a pretty nice BMW. It's a question I ask every day: 'Why did I do it?'"

His answer: "I think there are people like me who have been alienated by mainstream culture, and the film is sort of a response to that alienation." A parable of racism and impotence, Spear of Destiny centers on a mute Asian man (played by Hong) fresh out of a mental hospital and his whack Nazi roommate -- who claims his prize lance has mystical powers. "The spear is a metaphor for the underclass, for people who were left out of the dot-com explosion, for people [thinking they have] a little bit of power when they don't," Hong explains.

The director shot his opus on 16 mm film rather than video, which drove up the cost and makes exhibition dicey: It's hard to find 16 mm projectors these days with a platter large enough to accommodate a full-length movie. "My thinking is, if there's a break in the feature it gives people more of an opportunity to leave without being rude," Hong says modestly. Spear of Destiny premieres Saturday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Little Roxie Theater, 3125 16th St. (at Valencia), in an Other Cinema presentation.

They Made Me a CriminalFrom his 1938 screen debut in Four Daughters as a luckless, prickly musician unable to fit into mainstream society, John Garfield was a star. "He was the original rebel in film," says Robert Nott, a Santa Fe journalist and author of He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield. Born Julius Jacob Garfinkle on the Lower East Side, Garfield was the first leading man with edge and ethnicity, although most moviegoers now know him only as the archetypal noir "hero" of The Postman Always Rings Twice. "Like many originals," Nott writes in an e-mail, "he was obscured by a lot of his successors: Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Steve McQueen, even Robert DeNiro."

Garfield was blacklisted when he wouldn't name names for the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the stress of not working may have contributed to the heart attack that felled him in 1952 at age 39. "He came from an era where film actors often used a lot from their personal lives to color their performances, and sometimes they got the on-screen characters mixed up with their real-life personas," Nott says. The writer introduces and discusss Force of Evil, a 1948 Garfield classic, this Friday, Nov. 21, at the CinemaLit Film Series at 6:30 p.m. at the Mechanics' Institute, 57 Post (at Kearny).

Remember My NameS.F. State's Cinema Department established a $500 annual scholarship in memory of Gordon B. (Don) Thomas, an alumnus and filmmaker (Pedro + Tony?) who taught animation at the university until his death in June. ... S.F. State alums Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End) are in preproduction on Bee Season, based on Myla Goldberg's novel. It looks like they'll shoot the Fox Searchlight picture in Pittsburgh. ... More proof that the Bay Area is the film festival capital of the U.S.: Of the $250,000 that the Academy Foundation will hand out to 17 American festivals next year, 65 grand -- or just over a quarter -- is earmarked for the Mill Valley, S.F. International Lesbian & Gay, S.F. International Asian American, and S.F. Silent Film fests. ... Chronicle Books has partnered with Turner Classic Movies on postcards and flashcards, among other products. Far and away the pick of the litter is Picture Show, a book of iconic (The Outlaw) and forgotten (The Tender Trap) posters culled from the TCM collection.

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