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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Jan 21 1998
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The National Film Registry Tour
The Library of Congress National Film Registry Tour, which arrives at the Castro Wednesday evening for a nine-day run, is based on the holdings thus far in the library's much-publicized 25-films-a-year archiving. Things get under way with Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat (1915), a brilliantly photographed melodramatic shocker starring Sessue Hayakawa as a sexually predatory gambler and man about town. While in 1915 this charismatic villain's nationality, like the actor's, was Japanese, it was altered to Burmese in the titles for a World War I-era reissue, when Japan was an American ally. It will be interesting to see which nation will claim Hayakawa in the tour's print of this racially outrageous, daringly stylized movie -- far and away the usually ponderous DeMille's best work as a director.

Issues of race marble many of these classics: The African-American pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux's first feature, Within Our Gates (1919), screens Sunday afternoon, while Gordon Parks' autobiographical debut The Learning Tree (1969) shows Thursday. Other programs highlight particular genres (comedies on Saturday, westerns on Tuesday), while still others are limited to just one example (Sunday's Letter From an Unknown Woman, by Max Ophuls and starring Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine, is the lone romantic melodrama, and a great one). On Monday we find a clever combination of films representing what are most audiences' afterthoughts but many filmmakers' passion: three legendary experimental films followed by a documentary classic, Fred Wiseman's fly-on-the-wall High School of 1968.

The best programming decisions are the subtlest. It was an inspired move to follow Brando's tour-de-force "I coulda been a contender" film On the Waterfront (1954) on Thursday with Robert De Niro's role as Raging Bull Jake La Motta (1980), who opens his film many pounds gone to seed and practicing the same speech. And the extended John Huston tribute on Friday is particularly choice: The director's great war documentary The Battle of San Pietro (1945) is followed by two celebrated pinnacles of Hollywood anti-glamour: Huston's direction of a scruffy Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and Roman Polanski's direction of a scruffy Jack Nicholson -- and an archly villainous John Huston -- in Chinatown (1974). Over the years Huston, who worked hard and well when he wanted to, cultivated an image of lazy cynicism, an image San Pietro belies, Sierra Madre denies, and Chinatown does wonders with.

-- Gregg Rickman

The Library of Congress Film Registry Tour runs Wednesday, Jan. 21, through Thursday, Jan. 29, at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120. For a complete schedule, see Reps Etc., Page 70.

About The Author

Gregg Rickman

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