The Dadaists — or was it the Surrealists? — conjured the delirious idea of watching films as if they were dreams. It could be the dream of the main character, perhaps, which is as valid a way as any of appreciating Vertigo or Chinatown, or the dream of the filmmaker (Buster Keaton, David Lynch and Belá Tarr, notably, invite us into their heads).

This month’s array of cinematic temptations offers a wealth of disorienting opportunities to drift into bizarre flights of fancy. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a — heck, I wouldn’t presume to tell you what kind of ride you’re in for. Every film is ultimately your dream, after all.


Alice

The astonishing animator Jan Svankmajer was born in Prague in 1934, and the twisted and darkly funny world of his films is infused with an off-center Eastern European sensibility inevitably informed by the alternate-universe propaganda of Soviet-style communism. (It’s no surprise that he has adapted writers such as Poe, Goethe and Lewis Carroll.) The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series Animating Dark Dreams: The Films of Jan Svankmajer, running Nov. 8-29, 2012, features a new 35mm print of Alice (1989), as well as the Bay Area premiere of his latest feature, Surviving Life (2010), the story of a married man whose waking and dream lives overlap, mingle and meld. For more information, visit ybca.org.


A Girl Like Her

Do you still insist, at this late date, that nothing is more absolutely, unequivocally real than daily life? Then how do you explain Herman Cain’s campaign for the Presidency, or dog-grooming competitions, or Keanu Reeves’ career? Life is weird s—, man. The 11th annual San Francisco Documentary Festival, more familiarly known as DocFest (Nov. 8-21, 2012), is partial to films that locate the strangeness in everyday settings. This year’s typically wide-ranging lineup encompasses A Girl Like Her (about unwed mothers before Roe. v. Wade), Herman’s House (which traces the unlikely collaboration between artist Jackie Sumell and Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3 convicted in 1972 — and sentenced to decades of solitary confinement — for allegedly murdering a prison guard), and much, much more. For more information visit sfdocfest.festivalgenius.com.


Sunrise

The lack of dialogue may put you off silent films, but consider for a moment what’s gained by eliminating the annoying chatter that, in contemporary movies, tends to distract rather than reveal. Does it not evoke a kind of dream state, and speak to us as a missive from a world that exists on the other side of a veil (or screen)? Author, artist, photographer and bookmaker Peter Linenthal, the director (as near as we can ascertain) of the Potrero Hill Archive Project and producer of the annual Potrero Hill History Night (taking place this year on Nov. 3, 2012) presents three shows of silent movies at the New Potrero Theater on Fri., Nov. 9 and Sat., Nov. 10. The program includes 1930s home movies shot on the Hill, followed by F.W. Murnau’s pioneering (and still moving) 1927 feature, Sunrise. For more information visit potreroarchives.com.

San Francisco native Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, aka Natasha Gurdin, aka Natalie Wood, had three Oscar nominations before her 26th birthday (for Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass and Love With the Proper Stranger). The dream factory of Hollywood extracted a price for fame and fortune, one could say, for Wood drowned in a mysterious boating/drinking accident off Catalina Island 31 years ago this month at the age of 43. Another S.F. icon, events maestro Marc Huestis, marks the downbeat anniversary with an upbeat retrospective of Wood’s films and a rare, candid onstage interview with her sister, Lana. Glamour makes a comeback when Forever Natalie Wood takes over the Castro Theatre, Nov. 9-11, 2012. For more information visit www.castrotheatre.com.

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Portrait of Las Vegas

The brilliant and uncompromising experimental filmmaker and college instructor Craig Baldwin — an icon of the San Francisco underground who deserves a statue, or at the very least a permanent installation in his favorite Mission District taqueria — has programmed Other Cinema at ATA Gallery with unflagging verve and passion for literally decades. A Saturday night bastion of formally and thematically subversive and poetic film and video, Other presents mind-blowing new work by veteran and newly minted artists. The Nov. 17 show, Desert Rats, includes the latest heat-inspired offerings from S. F. faves Sam Green (Portrait of Las Vegas), Scott Stark (Bloom), Bill Daniel, Laura Kraning and others. When all else fails, there’s nothing like a little sunstroke to push your mind into an alternate dimension. For more information visit othercinema.com.

Author

Michael Fox

Michael Fox has written about film for a variety of publications since 1987. He is the curator and host of the long-running Friday night CinemaLit film series at the Mechanics' Institute,  an instructor in the OLLI programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State, and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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