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BAMPFA series touring 'Museums in Cinema'

July 07,2016 22:09

“I love the audacity of it, the way it's orchestrated in a single take,” says film curator Kathy Geritz of the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, who's screening “Russian Ark” as part of the “Guided Tour: Museums in Cinema” series that opened ...



Photo: Majewski Lech, Courtesy BAMPFA

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Charlotte Rampling in “The Mill and the Cross,” part of the “Museums in Cinema” series, screening July 20 in Berkeley.
Charlotte Rampling in “The Mill and the Cross,” part of the “Museums in Cinema” series, screening July 20 in Berkeley.

Photo: Majewski Lech, Courtesy BAMPFA

“The tsars were mainly Russophiles, but sometimes even they dream of Italy,” says the sardonic French marquis, floating past the Old Master Venetian paintings in the Italian room of St. Petersburg’s palatial Hermitage Museum.
He’s the fictional 19th century character who finds himself in a time-traveling reverie of his own as he wanders through the Hermitage in “Russian Ark,” the rich 2002 Alexander Sokurov film that summons 300 years of Russian history in one marvelous continuous 96-minute take involving 2,000 actors and extras.

Sokurov voices the part of the unseen narrator, a contemporary artist who accompanies the Frenchman on a tour through the museum, past and present. The people they encounter include a white-wigged Catherine the Great dashing out of a theatrical rehearsal to relieve herself, and the present-day director of the Hermitage, to whom the marquis complains about the lingering smell of formaldehyde.
“I love the audacity of it, the way it’s orchestrated in a single take,” says film curator Kathy Geritz of the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, who’s screening “Russian Ark” as part of the “Guided Tour: Museums in Cinema” series that opened this week and runs through August. “You are inside this amazing ballet of camera work and characters as the film flows through the history and culture of Russia and Europe.”
Geritz began planning this series, which encompasses a rich range of documentary, fictional and essay films, as the Berkeley museum was moving into its new Center Street home. She became more aware of the political and social issues involved in building and programming museums, and the myriad ways people think about museums and “question what they mean to us.”
In his expansive film about the Louvre, “Francofonia,” which screens Aug. 18, Sokurov merges documentary imagery and fictional re-enactments to tell the history of the place, from the founding of Paris through the Nazi occupation, and to muse on what we would be without museums.
“National Gallery,” a three-hour cinema-verite opus about London’s National Gallery by the documentarian Frederick Wiseman, will be introduced at its Aug. 7 screening by Lucinda Barnes, who retired last month as BAMPFA’s longtime chief curator and director of programs and collections.
Some of these films ponder museums as repositories of culture while others deal with what Geritz delightedly calls “the secret life of museums.”
She’s particularly taken with “Museum Hours” by Jem Cohen. It’s a meditative film about Vienna, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and a guard who ponders the Bruegel paintings, connects the bones and broken eggs in the pictures on the wall with the cigarette butts and lost gloves he sees on the street, and befriends a Canadian woman who doesn’t know a soul in Vienna except a cousin whom she hasn’t seen in years and who is now lying unconscious in a hospital bed.
Known for hunting and gathering street images for his essay films, Geritz says, Cohen has made a film that combines fiction with the documentary eye and feel of those movies.
“I love the way it shows art, helping people understand the world and each other,” the curator says. “By observing art, they become more observant themselves. Not just observant; they become more perceptive.”
Then there’s “The Mill and the Cross,” a beautiful, painterly 2010 film by Polish director Lech Majewski that uses CGI and actors to bring Bruegel’s 1564 masterwork “The Way to Calvary” — and the world of 16th century Flanders under brutal Spanish rule — to life. It screens July 20.

Michael York plays the patron to whom Bruegel describes the picture he’s sketching: the crucifixion of Christ, placed in a 16th century Flemish setting where red-coated Spanish soldiers bring the barely noticed Jesus to Golgotha, and a mob has gathered to be entertained by the public execution of thieves. Charlotte Rampling plays the Virgin Mary.
For more information, go to www.bampfa.org.

Reider back
in town

Sam Reider, a music whiz from San Francisco’s Urban High School who went from playing jazz piano to playing accordion and singing rootsy bluegrass-flavored music, spent the spring touring Azerbaijan with his band Silver City Bound on a U.S. State Department goodwill tour and played a benefit show for refugees in Istanbul with a group of Syrian, Turkish, Kurdish and American musicians.
The band, which takes its name from old Lead Belly blues, plays the Stanford Jazz Festival on July 30 and Freight & Salvage on July 31.
For more information, go to www.stanfordjazz.org or www.freightandsalvage.org.

Cabaret city

Kelli O’Hara, who won a Tony Award last year for her leading role in the Broadway revival of “The King and I,” makes her local cabaret debut Sept. 23 at the Fairmont’s Venetian Room to open Bay Area Cabaret’s 2016-17 season. Another Tony winner, Billy Porter, rewarded for his 2013 performance in “Kinky Boots,” closes the season May 14.
For more details, go to www.bayareacabaret.org.

Jesse Hamlin is a Bay Area journalist and former San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

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