Saturday, March 5, 2011

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art...Director Haskell Wexler hailed @ "Exposed" film series!

Film buffs warmly received filmmaker Haskell Wexler last night at the Castro Theater at a screening of his feature "Medium Cool".

"I got emotional just seeing my film again on screen," he confessed to the audience with a touch of sentiment in his distinctive speaking voice later in the evening when the lights went up and he trotted on to the stage to take a bow.

The screening was part of a film series running in tandem with a major exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art titled:

Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera since 1870

According to the curators, the main thrust of the the provocative series is to cast a light on the - "shifting boundaries between seeing and spying, the private act, and the public image" - that challenge the viewer to consider how the camera has transformed the very nature of looking.

The series has attempted to accomplish this lofty feat by focusing on a collection of contemporary photographs, films, and video works (by both unknown photographers and internationally renowned artists) with the ultimate aim of examining the camera's most unsettling uses (including pornography, surveillance, stalking celebrity, and witnessing violence).

In a nutshell, the ambitious curators have sought to pose compelling questions about who is looking at whom and why.

The Wexler flick - which unfolded in a stream-of-consciousness documentary kind-of-style - turned an insightful lens on events leading up to the Chicago riots in the heady 60's.

The silver-haired auteur (a respected documentarian and cinematographer who worked Oscar award-winning films such as the drama "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf") fessed up at one point - during the informative Q & A session - that a handful of scenes (where a young mother searches for her son) were weak.

"The critics didn't like the end, either," he recalled to the rapt audience.

Of course, he was referring to a shot where a motorist takes a photograph of a tragic accident on the highway, as he drives by.

"We all end up in someone's film," he explained in his defense.

Wexler approached the project the way he did - in part - for economic reasons.

But, stressed bottom-line - that he blended fiction and reality in the storyline - for good reason.

"Everyone sees reality through their own lens."

Although, some of the footage is compelling, overall "Medium Cool" fails as a feature.

The drama is disjointed, sometimes lacks focus, and at times can't seem to decide what it wants to be in the final analysis.

The talented artist (with a knack for a celluloid language which consists primarily of images that often resonate profoundly) appeared to be making a commentary on the role of the news media one moment, while issuing up a cautionary tale about the horrors of "War" the next.

"Anyone who was anti-war was anti-establishment. And, the media was in on it," he asserted to the audience.

Some anecdotes caused the fans to roar.

"I wish I could remember some of the comments censors made about the nudity. The genitals bobbing up and down and that sort-of-thing," he wicked laughed in amusement.

The filmgoers - consisting of movie buffs and budding movie-makers - reacted with knee-jerk enthusiasm when he recalled being treated as the "enemy" by officials and Law Enforcement personnel on location in Chicago during the shoot.

"Because I wore blue jeans, I was the enemy."

I recall when I caught sight of the first promos for "Medium Cool" a few weeks ago at the Castro Theater, that they were so melodramatic in nature, when compared to today's standards.

How did Wexler come to name his project "Medium Cool"?

"One of the actors in the militant scene suggested it. He recommended that I also read Marshall McLuhan. But, I didn't understand McLulan's writing. I thought the title was great, though."

Some of the scenes in the flick are so darn jarring and out-of-whack.

The project is pretty dated now, too, and doesn't hold up in my humble opinion.

In contrast, "Blow Up" (Michelangelo Antonioni)  - a second feature on the bill - was still timely.

Too bad Wexler left the theater before the screening, he may have learned something about excellence in filmmaking.

Over the weekend, a smattering of films are slated for the SFMOMA event, too, including "Streetwise", "Pretty Baby", "Lost Highway", and "Deep End".

Check the programs at the Castro Theatre or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for details.

See 'ya there!