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The Lighthouse at the End of the World 

Wednesday, Jan 7 1998
Imagine a medical condition in which you retain your memories for only an hour or two at a time. The recent past disappears from your consciousness like water pouring from a pitcher. Family and friends become strangers. You don't even remember that you can't remember. One of the saddest movies I saw in 1997 was Hirokazu Kore-eda's Without Memory, a Japanese documentary about a man with this condition, called Wernicke's Encephalopathy. His memory lasts that hour or so, and then evaporates completely. The walls of his house are covered with little notes reminding him he has no memory. The movie had me spooked for months.

Spooked is good. Spooked is what I'm after from a movie. It's that little piece of even a not-very-good movie that unnerves you, and stays for a while, maybe forever.

On the other hand, sitting through a lot of other movies is like catching a bad case of Wernicke's Encephalopathy. The 95 minutes I spent watching the utterly forgettable Joe Eszterhas-scripted Telling Lies in America is gone as completely as if my short-term memory had been scooped out of my head with a spoon.

But as it happens, a lot of my favorite movies of 1997 have something to do with memory. In Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, one of the characters travels to the southern tip of South America to a lone lighthouse where, it is said, you can leave all your sad memories behind. In Titanic, an old woman remembers her first love, 85 years gone. Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm reconstructed the suburban decadence of the '70s, and L.A. Confidential gets James Ellroy's very dark '50s just right. (Telling Lies in America, by contrast, got 1961 all wrong.) In Irma Vep a director tries to remake a favorite film from his past and dismantles himself in the process. In Waco: The Rules of Engagement, our media-constructed memory of an event is shredded. In Conspiracy Theory a Vietnam vet discovers that his own past has been fabricated by the government. In Grosse Pointe Blank the main character crashes headlong into his past just when he thinks he's escaped it. And with the hilarious, go-for-broke Schizopolis director/star Steven Soderbergh seems intent on obliterating his own filmography.

Favorites of 1997
Angel Dust, Boogie Nights, Comrades: Almost a Love Story, Conspiracy Theory, Crash, The Delicate Art of the Rifle, A Drifting Life, Face/Off, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, Grosse Pointe Blank, Happy Together, Hard Eight, The Ice Storm, Irma Vep, L.A. Confidential, The Log, Lost Highway (first half), Mahjong, La Promesse, Rainclouds Over Wushan, The River, Schizopolis, Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, Six o'Clock News, Titanic, Waco: The Rules of Engagement

Maybe Next Year
I saw the following at film festivals in other cities; they'll hopefully show up in S.F. someday: Without Memory, Murmur of Youth, East Palace West Palace

Best Revivals and Retrospectives
The Yasuzo Masumura retrospective at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive; Contempt at the Castro; the Fassbinder retrospective at the Castro and the PFA; the "Indelible Images" series and Andre de Toth at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival; North & South Shaolin at the Four Star -- and kudos to the Four Star for digging up this and other great old kung fu films. (Full disclosure: The writer works at the Castro, so readers should read the foregoing with that in mind.)

Not Movies, Exactly
"Mach 1.67": Japanese director Sogo Ishii (Angel Dust) performed this indescribable event at the Vancouver Film Fest. He and a couple of cronies played live and scratch-mixed music to a multiprojector screening of his old films like Burst City and Master of Shiatsu. It was loud, percussive, profoundly psychedelic, and a whole new way to experience movies.

Convulsion-inducing Japanese TV: Anyone got a tape they can lend me?
The Wong Kar-Wai Shop, Hong Kong: All cult directors should be so lucky.
"50 Years of Electric Shadows": Movie memorabilia exhibit in Hong Kong -- Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death! Jackie Chan's MBE! The sword from The Sword!

The Lousy
Chasing Amy, In Love and War, Telling Lies in America, Office Killer, A Life Less Ordinary, Scream 2

Worst "Worst"
Owen Gleiberman's in Entertainment Weekly, in which he declares the worst movie of the year to be Irma Vep. Now, a lot of people didn't like Irma Vep and that's fine -- it's prickly and deliberately ambiguous in a way that annoyed a few folks. But Gleiberman not only disses the film, he disses the entirety of contemporary French cinema ("most of them suck"), as well as anyone who liked Irma Vep ("gullible members of the fashion-victim set" succumbing to "Hong Kong chic"). It's possible that Gleiberman, traditionally not a bad critic, has reached the sad point in a critic's career when lethargy sets in, and the new becomes threatening.

See Ya Later
Most notably, Sam Fuller, born the year the Titanic sank, dead the year Titanic didn't. Also: William Burroughs, King Hu (a key reinventor of the kung fu movie), Brian Keith, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Alvy Moore, Jack Nance, Robert Ridgely (the pedophiliac financier in Boogie Nights), Catherine Scorsese, James Stewart, and Tomoyuki Tanaka (creator of Godzilla).

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