SAN FRANCISCO — A Wilde time was had by all as the San Francisco Intl. Film Festival kicked off last weekend. While Thursday p.m. pic “Wilde” — the event’s first solo opening-night selection in many a moon, following years of multiple kickoff screeners — didn’t induce wild praise from attendees, no one doubted the suitability of a biopic on famed Irish wit and homophobia martyr Oscar for this particular city’s 41st SFIFF launch. The event continues at various Bay Area locales through May 7.
Brit costumer and Sony U.S. pickup “Wilde” filled the 1,500-seat Castro Theatre to somewhat cranky overflow point, but any annoyance at the delays was assuaged by title-role star Stephen Fry’s pre-unspooling remarks.
While noting the late subject’s fondness for S.F., Fry cautioned “There are some things in this film that will shock you … (such as) a naked flame against an actual cigarette. Yes, there is full-frontal smoking.” Co-star Tom Wilkinson (“The Full Monty”) was also on hand — neither naked nor flaming — as was director Brian Gilbert (“Tom & Viv”).
A fairly mobbed afterparty was held at the South of Market production facility Custer St. Studios, complete with “decadent Wildean” theme rooms based on “Salome,” etc. Though ’98 sked is short on notable world preems, immediate hits were Czech vet Juraj Jakubisko’s epic “Ambiguous Report About the End of the World,” Eliseo Subiela’s Argentine fantasy “Little Miracles,” French musical (and summertime U.S. Strand release) “Jeanne and the Perfect Guy,” plus docs “Saltmen of Tibet” and “Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember, Yes I Remember.”
Bookending the initial weekend were two tributes to sometime local resident Nicolas Cage — the first a Wednesday AIDS research-benefiting gala that drew Sharon Stone, Robin Williams, Peter Coyote, Tom Waits, Cheech Marin (now a local staple via “Nash Bridges'” area shoot), Barry Levinson and lots of high-ticket oglers.
On Sunday, the proletariat got their chance with Cage, who accepted his Peter J. Owens Award for “an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity.”
Another Hollywood survivor showcased last week at SFIFF was erstwhile blacklistee John Berry, who provided lively comment on three retrospective features: The late-’40s noirs “Tension” and “He Ran All the Way” (starring fellow Red Bait-era target John Garfield), as well as a ’57 French film he made in exile, “Tamango.” Latter, a slaveship saga toplining late African-American icon Dorothy Dandridge, was screened in advance for local press. They compared it favorably to the recent “Amistad” — suggesting a specialized re-release might be in order.
Citing work-commitment conflict, Sean Penn failed to appear to intro his own “Indelible Images” sidebar choice, the Russian epic “Come and See.” But Joan Chen (also repped at SFIFF by her directorial debut “Xiu Xiu”) is expected to intro Bertolucci’s ’70 “Spider’s Stratagem” tonight, and star Jeremy Irons was confirmed as a guest for the official closer, locally-based helmer Wayne Wang’s Hong Kong drama “Chinese Box.”