Monday, April 10, 2017

Jason goes to SFFILM--Day 5

I skipped the festival on Saturday, since I have season tickets to the San Jose Earthquakes, and I've already missed the first two games. So I watched a feisty Quakes squad have a bit of bad luck but pull out a last minute draw with the Seattle Sounders in a game (this hometown fan believes) they should have won.

But I was right back at it again on Sunday, starting in the fabulous Dolby Theater for SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY.

First, let me just say that the Dolby Theater is awesome. It's mostly used by Dolby Labs and is completely state of the art, with bright, high-contrast images and spectacular sound. It's not often open to the public, so this was an amazing treat.

And the movie was just as much of a treat. An exciting and informative overview of the art, craft, experimentation, and history of movie music. Starting from the very early days, we all know the saying that "silent films were never really silent." At least a piano was played, sometimes a theater organ (usually a Wurlitzer.) And while I've learned quite a bit about silent film accompaniment over the years as an audience member, a little tidbit I learned is that the music was at least partly there to cover up the sound of the projector. I never really thought of that before.

Then we get into the sound era, and the classic Hollywood golden age scores. Another little tidbit I didn't know before--that famous 20th Century Fox fanfare? It was originally written for--and rejected by--MGM.

In a preview of something I'm looking forward to tomorrow, we got to see the famous shower scene from PSYCHO, with and without the music, to realize how tame that scene actually is, and how much terror the shrieking violins lend to it. Some thing with KING KONG--without the music, it's a cheesy and unconvincing movie, but with the music it's awesome.

Once the important of music is established, and some of the basic techniques (e.g., repeated themes) are explored, we get into the maestros. Too many to name, so I'll forget a few, but how about Morricone, Williams, Zimmer, Elfman, Reznor,...the interviews are fantastic, and show the creativity and vibrant boundary-pushing of the art. All the while, it's important that the movie never upstage the film. Somehow, if you come out thinking about what the movie was trying to do, it didn't do it. It's an art form that is subliminal. Or as Moby (I think it was him, the interviews kind of come at you fast and furious) points out, music is the only art that doesn't exist as a physical object. There are instruments, and there are recordings, and there are musicians, but the art itself is just subtle vibrations of air that vibrate your inner ear in a certain way. Fascinating stuff, in a marvelous state-of-the-art theater (seriously, I'm still kinda blown away by Dolby, and this was a great way to introduce me to the theater.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for the Q and A, because I had to run off to SFMOMA for MARIE CURIE: THE COURAGE OF KNOWLEDGE. A fascinating biopic exploring the work and life of the great woman of science, played splendidly by Karolina Gruszka. It starts off midway through, when she and her husband Pierre are awarded the Nobel Prize. Or rather, a year later when they finally agree to take a break from their work and go to Sweden to pick up the prize. Pierre is careful to give Marie credit not just for the work, but for coining the term "radioactivity." When they tell their young daughter Irene that Marie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize, Irene blurts out, "Well than I shall be the second!" (spoiler alert, she was!)

But the film delves equally into her private life. Her struggles even after the Nobel to be taken seriously by the all-male scientific community. The denial of a professorship, at the hands of a boorish dean who had previously called her "fuckable" (you're left to wonder...but not too hard...what she possible could have done differently to get his approval.) And her grief after Pierre dies suddenly after slipping in a rainy street and being run over by a carriage. This happens early in the film, but it had already been well established that they were the best of partners--in life and in science. There's a beautiful scene early on where they're in bed, he snuggles up behind her, he nudges her and asks, "shall we?" She smiles and says yes, and so...they sneak down to their lab to work!

Much of a the second half of the movie is devoted to her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, a married man and former student of Pierre's. The scandal--which included a severely anti-Semitic angle--was exploited by her enemies, but nevertheless she became the first person to ever win a second Nobel Prize, this time a Chemistry Prize to go with her Physics one (the only other person to win to Prizes in two fields is Linus Pauling, for Chemistry and Peace)

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the Curies did significant research and experiments in using radiation to treat cancer. In the movie, they show a collar with chambers for doses of radium. This is especially cool, because radiation oncology is the field I work in now (for a medical device manufacturer, not as a researcher or anything...but still cool to see a movie about the founder of my field!)

Then as a bonus, we got a panel discussion with three women of science talking about their careers and the ways sexism has--or hasn't--hindered their careers. The big theme's really annoying. They've generally been successful on the strength of their work and have plenty of motivation in just trying to solve scientific mysteries, but the little things, comments from colleagues and the like...that aren't a big deal individually but just get really annoying and tiring as they build up. Ya know...I probably shouldn't try to mansplain their lives. I just want to say it was really cool seeing smart, accomplished women talk. Also, learn about and check your implicit bias.

These women are really, really smart.

And finally, because I just can't get enough of powerful, inspiring women, I made my way up to the Castro for DOLORES. A great documentary about the most important activist you've never heard of (and if you're a public school student in Arizona, you'll never hear of--by law.) Dolores Huerta was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Not just Cesar Chavez's assistant, or his girlfriend (as one badly informed politician says in the movie.) No, she was very much his equal, and often the only one in the movement who would challenge him. She came up with "¡Si, se puede!" which Obama translated to English as his "Yes, we can!" motto (when giving her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he joked that she forgave him for stealing that.) Also, to tie it back to the start of this post, it's a pretty common chant at soccer games I've been to. She was a tireless organizer, speaker, activist, marcher. She tied the farm worker's movement to the civil rights movement, to feminism, to the environmental movement (an important point about pesticides is that we wouldn't be poisoning our crops if it were middle-class white people working in the fields.) This was before we had the word "intersectionality." Anyway, it would take way too long to explicate her total awesomeness, so instead I'll just encourage you all to see the film (PBS is releasing it in theaters this fall, and then on TV later) and wish her a happy 87th birthday, today!

Peter Bratt (director) and Dolores Huerta (superhero)

Total Running Time: 286 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,704

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