Sleeping Sickness, Aunt Charlie's, and Dennis Hopper: Three Unmissable Films

Even though Noir City is over, there are plenty of film festivals to keep San Francisco cinephiles satiated through the rest of the rainy season. But apart from that, a number of stand-alone films (some of them with a single screening) cry out for attention. Here are our three picks for February and March.

The American Dreamer

Lost classics are ever so titillating, and short of the recovery of the original cut of Metropolis, it's not every day that a masterpiece surfaces. The American Dreamer, the 1971 documentary about Dennis Hopper during the making of The Last Movie (his successor project to Easy Rider) was considered to be a sunken treasure. Co-directed by Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson, it's an even better depiction of a film shoot gone awry than Lost in La Mancha (about Terry Gilliam's ill-fated version of Don Quixote). Shot in true '70s, cinema vérité, it shows counterculture bad boy at his creative peak even as everything was crashing down around him in — and it's almost never been seen.
The American Dreamer, Thursday, Feb. 11, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., at Alamo Drathouse, 2550 Mission Street, 415-549-5959,

A Tribute to Aunt Charlie's: Beautiful by Night
As gay bars shutter — the Tenderloin, the site of the beginning of the LGBT rights revolution, will soon be down to just two — Aunt Charlie's stands out. The carpeted, 29-year-old drag cabaret that serves some of the strongest drinks in San Francisco is the subject of James Hosking's film Beautiful by Night. A documentary about the Hot Boxx Girls, S.F.'s oldest working drag queens — formerly led by Vicki Marlane, whose name now graces one block of Turk Street itself —it's a night-in-the-life look at how Donna Personna (an original Cockette), Collette LeGrande (a Grand Duchess of the Ducal Court twice over), and Olivia Hart (the current Grand Duchess) keep the crowds entertained and pluck dollar bills out of the fingers of their admirers as they lip-synch their way through one of S.F.'s narrowest bars. Following the screening at the Tenderloin Museum, there will be an after-party featuring a drag revue with the girls themselves.
A Tribute to Aunt Charlie's: Beautiful by Night, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m., $11.54, at the Tenderloin Museum, 398 Eddy,

Cemetery of Splendor
If you've ever seen the the scenes in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady (2004) that involve the tiger in the woods or the illuminated tree, you know that he has an unrivaled eye for allusive beauty. The Thai director (who goes by “Joe” in the English-speaking world) has vowed that his latest film, Cemetery of Splendor, will be the last feature he shoots in Thailand, owing to the unsettled political situation since a 2014 military coup nullified the constitution.

The story of a platoon of soldiers who fall ill with a sleeping sickness that causes some of them to dream about fighting in the service of long-dead monarchs — which may relate to the fact that the clinic that's treating them sits atop a revered, mystical site — the film is an ambitious effort for an auteur who addresses controversial topics in an oblique, poetic way. A daring criticism of a country where speaking ill of the king is both illegal and taboo, Cemetery of Splendor is a gorgeous meditation on freedom and dissidence in a censorious, homophobic country.
Cemetery of Splendor, $10, March 17-20, at YBCA, 701 Mission, 415-978-2700 or

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