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The thrill of writing thrillers, plus avant-garde community and glamorous backgrounds

Wednesday, Oct 16 2002
"The writer of a horror film generally has much more fun than the director, cast, and crew," S.F. screenwriter Ehren Kruger reveals in an e-mail interview. "The shoots are often all-nighters, the locations are fog-shrouded and dreary, the cast is wet, disheveled, and banged-up, and the mood on set is tense, claustrophobic, and humorless. So part of the metatextual fun of macabre screenwriting is envisioning the trials everyone else will have to endure in making the picture."

Kruger's latest, The Ring, recasts Hideo Nakata's 1998 hit Japanese frightfest, Ringu, in an American context. "I'm not a proponent of remaking good movies," Kruger writes, "but sometimes really interesting things result from transplanting stories we identify with one culture into another cultural setting (for instance, when The Seven Samurai begat The Magnificent Seven). And it seemed worthwhile to explore what Ringu's core theme of entertainment-as-executioner would look like when refracted through a Hollywood prism. Plus, the fact remains that millions of Americans just won't go see a subtitled Japanese movie, and it seems a shame to deprive them of experiencing the wonderfully creepy tale that Hideo Nakata and Koji Suzuki (who wrote the source novel) devised."

Kruger, who penned the paranoid suspense tale Arlington Road and has two other scripts about to go into production, asserts that a resonant thriller requires a scrupulous grounding in reality. "For me, it's only scary if it's reflecting a world I recognize. Movies that are truly scary -- thematically scary, not boo-and-gotcha scary -- tap into our deep-seated suspicions about the world around us and its plans for us, if any. They are movies that realize that the dread, doom, and foreboding of the walk down the hall is always more frightening than what's behind the door." The Ring opens Friday.

I Change I Am the Same Steven Jenkins, a familiar face in Bay Area art circles, has signed on as the new executive director of the S.F. Cinematheque. A longtime development consultant with numerous local nonprofit arts groups (and a talented critic and editor, to boot), Jenkins succeeds Steve Anker, who headed the venerable avant-garde film organization for 20 years (Reel World, Aug. 14). "What I really want to accomplish is to evolve the Cinematheque beyond its grass-roots sensibility," Jenkins tells me, "not in terms of programming but in terms of how it is perceived by the city and by the media arts community at large. I want to position the organization very legitimately as one that can go beyond the comfortable insider audience." The prospect of raising the Cinematheque's profile in a down economy doesn't faze Jenkins. "I'm eager to tap into previously untested potential funders," he says. "You're not going to see Philip Morris signing up anytime soon, but I don't see the corporations as the enemy."

The Cinematheque's recent move from Hunters Point to the new Ninth Street Media Arts building places it in the center of things, both physically and psychically. The results should become discernible early next year. While Anker put together the current calendar -- which features a November retrospective of renowned local filmmaker Lynn Marie Kirby and the Dec. 1 return of the combustible director Jon Jost after a decade in self-imposed exile in Europe -- an advisory committee will program the spring shows. "We're involving more voices from the community," reports Jenkins. "It's a model the Cinematheque hasn't employed for a good 20 years or so, but at this point we need that plurality of voices."

Ben-Hur Craig Barron and Mark Cotta Vaz's exquisite book, The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting (Chronicle Books), exposes one of the oldest but least-known aspects of moviemaking. The tome reproduces the visual sleight of hand that conjured, among countless other large-scale background scenes, Xanadu for Citizen Kane and the Emerald City for The Wizard of Oz. "This area of visual effects is trying to create a storytelling device," Barron explains. "The goal is to be invisible. If it's done well, you're not really aware that an illusion is happening."

Computer-generated digital imagery is all the rage, but Barron, who worked at ILM for many years and resides in the Bay Area, salutes an era when effects served the story, not vice versa. The Academy of Art College hosts a panel on Nov. 14 of matte painters and cameramen featured in the book, and Barron honors the behind-the-scenes craftsmen in a Dec. 14 talk at the Rafael Film Center. He explains, "Revealing how the illusion was created -- what was created by hand and what was set in live action -- you appreciate the magic that was involved."

About The Author

Michael Fox


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