San Francisco has a movie theater for just about any kind of celluloid experience: hip, upscale, bargain-basement, and corporate. But despite our plethora of film houses, we don't have anything like the Rafael Film Center. Its location in the low-key bedroom community of San Rafael would seem to mandate a corporate chain outpost; instead, its proximity to the thriving Marin County film scene and its association with the highbrow California Film Institute have resulted in a slate of programs so impressive that the theater has become the envy of its cosmopolitan cousins.
But the Rafael pulls out all the stops this month at its Fifth Anniversary Celebrations, with a glut of events that has movie lovers fairly frothing at the mouth. Perhaps most notable is "The Films of My Life," a series of screenings/lectures at which superstars of the cinematic world present their favorite flicks. Among the standouts are the April 29 appearance of George Lucas, who has a few things to say about Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and the April 10 outing (which we're personally stoked about) with local producer Saul Zaentz (Amadeus, The English Patient), who gushes over Jim Sheridan's masterwork My Left Foot.
Equally tempting is the April 28 tribute to visual effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion work in such pictures as Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, and the Sinbad series has made him an object of panting fanboy adulation. Harryhausen gets the Inside the Actors Studio treatment by protégé Phil Tippett, best known for his effects work on Starship Troopers.
Fans of Errol Flynn's dotty, flamboyant 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood should be equally amped for its April 18 screening, to be subsequently picked apart by visual effects historian Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt (who is reportedly so obsessed with the sound of Hood's arrows that he has sneaked a sample into almost every film he's worked on, including the Star Wars series). A live archery demo closes out the evening.
April's cinematic nightcap is "Banned Cinema," a 10-day array of controversial and censored films, including The Last Temptation of Christ, Salt of the Earth, and Henry and June, which runs concurrently with "Rafael Open House," a gallery of images and materials surveying the theater's five years of glory.
See Saul Zaentz this Saturday (and catch other events through early May) starting at 7 p.m. at 1118 Fourth St. (at A Street), San Rafael. Admission is free-$15; call 454-1222 or visit www.cafilm.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Two real "upbeat" guys
Stephen Elliott and David Amsden proudly present their depressing novels. Amsden's, Important Things That Don't Matter, is described in press materials as "darkly funny" and a "portrait of divorce." Elliott's is even scarier, since in spite of the author's miserable childhood (homelessness, abandonment, that kind of thing) he has titled his fourth book Happy Baby. The pair read at 7 p.m. at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Cole), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-8688 or visit www.booksmith.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
The Race Card
Painter Iona Rozeal Brown's got some fresh slang for the hip hop lexicon: "a3," or "Afro-Asiatic Allegory." It sounds academic, but her cheeky updated geisha girl illustrations of the concept are not the stuff of boring lectures. Inspired by the phenomenon of Tokyo's Ganguro girls, who obsessively darken their skin, Brown's paintings explore what happens when you reduce racial identity to something that literally runs only skin deep. "Bling Blasian Bling," a joint exhibition of works from Brown and Asian artist Stella Lai, opens tonight at 6 (and runs through May 8) at the Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 255-5971 or visit www.luggagestoregallery.org.
-- Melissa Lane
Primal Bass Therapy
If experimental music interests you, you'll dig Tetsu Saitoh, a double bassist who blends Asian folk with crazy tango and free jazz rhythms. But if you think it's hooey, check out this Saitoh quote from Jazz Hiyo magazine: "I think of it as ... a noise that emerges in a location where you have a view of the vastness of the Chinese or Eurasian continent. ... This is the kind of sound you produce to identify your tiny self in the universe." He appears with koto players Shoko Hikage, Brett Larner, and Ryuko Mizutani at 8 p.m. at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is $6-8; call 626-5416 or visit www.newlangtonarts.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser