With summer drawing to a close, the festival calendar empty, and few new releases coming to our ever dwindling East Bay cinemas, it’s time once again to appreciate the many riches offered by Pacific Film Archive. This coming weekend provides a perfect example of what the Archive does best: bring to light films few have ever seen, and highlight better known features that have been overlooked or forgotten over the years.
Screening at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, 1968’s Al Momia (The Mummy) was the first feature helmed by Egyptian director Shadi Abdel Salam. Its title might suggest chills and thrills — and Al Momia does feature some unsettling imagery — but the film is, at heart, a Nasser-era indictment of the antiquities black market that had been funneling Egypt’s historical legacy into the hands of wealthy westerners (characterized in the film as “city people”).
In an effort to stop the traffic, a council of very important men (and yes, they are all men) assign handsome Ahmad Kamal (Mohamed Khairi) to discover who’s been ransacking pharaonic tombs. Kamal eagerly accepts the job and soon finds himself encountering artifacts dealer Ayoub, his middle-man Mounad, and a local tribe — represented by Wannis (Ahmed Marei), son of late plunderer-in-chief Salim — who’ve been living for generations off the ill-gotten funerary gains.
Shot in remote Upper Egypt, Al Momia is a visual feast of blowing winds, swirling sands, and characters darting surreptitiously in and out of age-old buildings constructed by their ancestors. While Wannis struggles to come to terms with the decidedly mixed legacy left him by his father (and the responsibilities that have come with it), Ahmad begins to tighten the noose around the black marketeers.
Restored in 2009 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in association with The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Egyptian Film Center, Al-Momia provides a unique glimpse of Egyptian history filtered through a lens of late ‘60s Arab pan-nationalism. A score by A-list Hollywood composer Mario Nascimbene is only one of the many pleasant and intriguing surprises to be discovered in this long-lost feature.
Camp classic, searing expose … or both? First time viewers of 1963’s Shock Corridor (screening 7 p.m. Aug. 27 as part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller) may find themselves suffering from whiplash as the film veers from over-the-top dance sequences to gritty psych ward dramatics, but it’s a journey well worth taking.
Written, produced, and directed by famously irascible WWII vet and newspaperman Fuller, Shock Corridor stars Peter Breck (television’s The Big Valley) as Johnny Barnett, an ambitious journo desperate for fame, fortune, and — most importantly — a Pulitzer Prize. He thinks one awaits him within the walls of a local mental hospital; with the assistance of psychologist Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn) and gal pal Cathy (Constance Towers), he intends to gain admittance as a patient and solve the murder of an inmate.
Fuller’s film is a frenetic, fiery blast of barbed dialogue and shocking imagery, but the film’s serious message is occasionally undercut by scenes of Cathy’s work as an exotic dancer. These scenes were certainly bold for the early ‘60s, but today they look more than ridiculous — especially when we see Cathy perform with a massive feather boa shrouding her entire head and face. Nonetheless, this powerful attempt to cast light on the iniquities of the psych ward is never boring, and boasts a sterling cast including the incredible Larry Tucker and the electric Hari Rhodes. Once seen, Shock Corridor is never forgotten.