Friday, December 28, 2007


Documentaries celebrating the counterculture of the late 1960s have never been in short supply, even more so now that we’re bumping up against some crucial forty-year anniversaries, as well as impending (or imagined) mortality for the baby boom generation. Archaic footage of footloose-n-free Haight Ashbury, circa 1967-69, is a recurring staple of TV documentaries on the era, and this footage of freewheeling freaks was downright scandalous to middle America when it was first shown. One particular film that struck a deep chord at the time was Ralph Arlyck’s “SEAN”, from 1969, which followed a 4-year-old boy who happened to be Arlyck’s neighbor around the neighborhood. Born to hippie parents and living in a communal house near the corner of Haight & Cole streets, the 4-year-old Sean talked to Arlyck about smoking pot, speed freaks sleeping on his floor, and why he hated the cops. Sean was a streetwise, smart-alecky kid with a cool hippie haircut. He was hard not to like, and yet his young life seemed far more scattered & wild than most adults could stomach, then or now. It caused a stir and was shown at film festivals around the world; a few years later Arlyck, himself disillusioned a bit with the Haight and ready to grow up & move on, moved to rural New York and started a family.

In the mid 1990s Arlyck decided to revisit Sean in San Francisco and in the process revisit the “hippie ideals” he once had. 2005’s “FOLLOWING SEAN” picks up with a single, idealistic 31-year-old Sean and leaves him at 40, in the process of divorcing & raising his son, yet generally upbeat about his life and his life choices. Sean, as it turns out, turned out just fine. “FOLLOWING SEAN” is at times a powerful and gripping look into the nature of work and responsibility, and the generational differences between the hippie-era baby boomers and their progeny. Sean himself is an open-minded yet healthily cynical grown-up, who loves and respects his parents but mocks their bohemian pretensions & lack of responsibility just the same. The first 30 minutes of the film are outstanding, as good as documentary filmmaking gets. It reminded me a lot of “51 BIRCH STREET”, another great documentary from the past year that comes to grips with the decisions of one’s own parents. Alas, Arlyck doesn’t know how to elegantly extract himself from the story and keep himself from becoming the center of the film, so in addition to Sean, in the second half of the film you also get way too much of Arlyck’s naval-gazing look at his own choices, which aren’t particularly interesting. There are far too many irrelevant asides about the filmmaker’s wife, or father, or kids, asides that seemed like straining to me (or padding to make a 90-minute run length and to get it into theaters). This film, excellent as it is, could be much more powerful with about 20 more minutes of Sean reflecting on his life & his generation, and about 15 less minutes of Arlyck doing the same. A great rental for sure, or catch it on PBS like we did.

Celluloid Hut Rating: B.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


This CELLULOID HUT blog will be the fourth such blog I’ve helmed, each devoted to some obsessive corner of my psyche, each documenting new discoveries and old favorites, all the while aiming to convert any readers I might have into consumers of ephemera that I deem worthy of consumption. This one will be devoted to film. I currently pen another blog called HEDONIST BEER JIVE about craft beer, a passion that only snowballed once I started writing about it. Two previous blogs were devoted to underground music, primarily rock: AGONY SHORTHAND (which lasted well over three years) and DETAILED TWANG (which barely cleared a year). In the case of those two, I actually brought a little bit of previous knowledge to bear upon the subject, and was able to speak with marginal intelligence about what I was writing about. When it comes to film, I’m a mere speck buried within the teeming masses.

Who doesn’t love goin’ to the picture show? Who doesn’t have an opinion to share about every film they’ve seen? Me, I’ve watched a lot of movies in my day, and I don’t show any signs of stopping. I watch critics, friends, frenemies and enemies handing out letter grades to films with some negligible commentary, and sometimes I say, “I can do that too”. Thanks to the world wide internet and the $0 cost of entry, I WILL do that too. I’ll first tell you why I’m NOT “qualified” to write about the subject of film, and then perhaps reel you back in with a few words on why I might have something to add to the chorus.

First, I’ve never taken a film class of any kind. I’ve maybe read five or six books in my life about film in total, and that includes “The Psychotronic Encyclopedia” and Re/Search’s “Incredibly Strange Films”. I’ve never subscribed to a film magazine, save for 1 year of “Cineaste”, which I never read. I have never seen “On The Waterfront”, “Jean De Florette”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Strangelove”, “The Apartment” nor a single Werner Herzog film. I more often than not fall dead asleep during pre-1960 black & white films, even in a crowded theater, and especially at home. I lack virtually all of the critical vocabulary needed to talk about film intelligently. I once asked my wife after a viewing of “The Third Man”, during which I (of course) fell asleep, whom the third man was. I even fell asleep during “Wild Strawberries”, and I love Bergman. Sometimes I dig romantic comedies. Chick flicks. Those Jane Austen adaptations – can’t get enough of ‘em. I can barely grasp the differences between the various players on a film, and can only speak in vague generalities about cinematography, production, direction and sound engineering. I frequently forget names and entire plots of films I’ve recently seen, and only researching them on the web brings back the dim flicker of memory. In short, I’m a terribly unreliable and uninformed guide to film and film criticism, and you’re almost certainly better off spending five minutes of your week reading someone else’s blog or site.

I might still have some game, though. I came of age in the mid-1970s, and my parents were very early subscribers to cable TV. My late childhood and early teen years, when not spent immersed in music, were spent glued to 1970s masterpieces like “Chinatown”, “Midnight Cowboy”, “Annie Hall” and “Five Easy Pieces”. After going through the barren 1980s without watching movies much at all – but thankfully retaining my childhood tastes – I came out into the 90s and got way deep into lost classics of the 70s, Ingmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, early Robert Altman, Krzystof Kieslowski and into documentary film in general. A little Russ Meyer too. I’m actually able to talk about certain directors with a fair bit of intelligence. I once “acted” in a real live film made by a real live film director – it’s called SWINGERS' SERENADE, and it’s a blast. The 90s, with its bounty of foreign film and American independents, got me almost as hooked onto the moviegoing experience as I was in the seventies, and here we are just about in 2008, and I probably watch a film or three every week. Sure, I’m not alone in that sense by any means, but I like to think I’m watching the good ones, and doing a lot of catching up on the many, many classics that I’ve missed. I live in San Francisco, and thankfully have access to incredible yearly film festivals like “Berlin & Beyond”, “DocFest” and the San Francisco International Film Fest itself. When I talk about movies I’ve seen to folks I work with, I often get the “dude, you’re weird” look. That alone makes me think I might still have some game.

CELLULOID HUT will undoubtedly work like the other blogs I’ve helmed – it will feed the obsession. I’ll probably rent better films, I’ll go to more festivals and I’ll want to write about film more than I ever have. If you’re paying attention, you might even notice some sharpened critical faculties a year or two from now, provided that I stick with it. I do like to quit my blogs when the going gets tough - just ask the dozen or so stranded Agony Shorthand and Detailed Twang readers. Right now I’m sticking to my story that I’ll only post here when I have something worth saying, which could be only once a week or month, but you know how that goes. The first sign that someone is reading it, and I’ll then feel the tug of obligation to post more often. I’ll write like crazy. Then I’ll in turn get frustrated at this heavy burden I’ve put upon myself, I’ll flame out and cancel the blog, and then in a few months I’ll come out with my cooking blog, my weightlifting blog or my hockey blog or something. You’ll see. Until then – please bookmark CELLULOID HUT and tell your friends! We have a whole lotta movies to talk about, you and me!

Coming next: Some lists! Lists of films! Good ones!