Channel surfing

The 1994 Dallas Video Festival mixes equal parts ineptitude and brilliance

Curious. (Nov. 18, 10 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) The reunion of the Velvet Underground last year brought about the rare chance to have Lou Reed, Moe Tucker, Sterling Morrison, and John Cale speak about the band without feeling as though they were discussing dead issues. The impact of the VU's music on a generation once removed from the late '60s brought them together--almost as a reward for "paying the rent" all these years, Tucker says--and together they tell a fascinating story about their earliest days as part of Andy Warhol's gang of artists, poseurs, freaks, and hangers-on. This documentary, originally broadcast as part of a daylong BBC retrospective on the VU (imagine NBC showing 20 straight hours of lost and rare Clash footage and you get the point), provides remarkable insight into the music: Reed discussing the genesis and intentions of songs like "Heroin" and "I'll be Your Mirror," Cale pondering the definition of decadence, Morrison on Warhol and the Factory, Tucker's admission that she often wished she was in the audience of VU shows. It's absolutely riveting. (RW)

Dennis Potter Interview. (Nov. 17, 7 p.m., Video Box.) Probably the most acclaimed writer of television dramas since Paddy Chayefsky, working-class English fantasist Dennis Potter died this year of cancer. Before he kicked off, though, he gave this final TV interview, and his warmth, intelligence, and mordant sense of humor come through as palpably here as they did in his best dramas (which include "Pennies from Heaven," "The Singing Detective," and "Lipstick on your Collar"). It's not terribly accessible to the uninitiated, but for fans, it's indispensable. (MZS)

Dialogues with Madwomen. (Nov. 19, 1:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) A hit at Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival in February, this deeply personal documentary by San Francisco-based filmmaker Allie Light combines interviews and fictionalized recreations to tell the story of seven different women who all experienced severe clinical depression. What's amazing is how all of the women's stories are linked to the sorrows and humiliations women routinely endure from cradle to grave. What Light ultimately says--and this is bound to spark debate--is that the seeds of female depression are sown in the way our society socializes men and women. Director Susan Raymond in attendance. (MZS)

Dottie Gets Spanked. (Nov. 17, 8:45 p.m., TV Lounge.) I'm tempted to complain that this short film by Todd Haynes (Poison), about a little boy growing up in an Eisenhower-era suburb who develops an obsessive crush on a Lucille-Ballish sitcom queen, has already had plenty of exposure locally, both on KERA Channel 13 (where it was screened in conjunction with the "American Family" series) and at this year's USA Film Festival. But it's so damned good that I'm urging everybody to see it anyway. It melds family drama, broad slapstick, playground confrontations, dreams and nightmares, and pop culture japes into a completely original and beguiling whole. If David Lynch had directed an episode of The Wonder Years, the result might look something like this. (MZS)

Elvis '56. (Nov. 18, 9:10 p.m., Video Box.) "I get lonesome right in the middle of a crowd." These words are spoken by a 21-year-old Elvis Presley, a kid on the verge of becoming a star on the verge of becoming larger than Legend. But the Elvis of this piece is not the King, but a pawn--of television, Colonel Tom Parker, burgeoning fame, and of the life he could have never expected growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi. It's an odd thing to see Elvis perform as a young man; watching this is like looking at someone's baby pictures, trying to recognize the old man underneath the child. But this is when Elvis was at his very best, a white boy with the voice of a black man blending country and R&B till it became rockabilly--the accidental revolutionary who scared the bejeezus out of a nation just by shaking his hips and sneering his lips, the sex symbol who often looked more scared then provocative. (RW)

The Fire This Time. (November 19, 3 p.m., Video Box.) Randy Holland made this interesting but not quite inspired documentary about the historical roots of the 1992 L.A. riots. It tells you what you didn't know in order to confirm what you already suspected. Its chief virtues are deft editing and some well-preserved archival footage. (MZS)

For a Deaf Son. (Nov. 19, noon, TV Diner.) You might have seen this locally produced documentary about a deaf child before--it did, after all, garner plenty of well-deserved kudos for its director, KERA's Rob Tranchin, the subject's father. It chronicles the Tranchin family's struggles to raise their son and adapt to, and learn from, his condition. It also delves into the thorniest political issue facing the deaf--whether teaching the deaf how to verbally speak, rather than use sign language, causes as many problems for the hearing-impaired community as it solves. The film is impassioned and sometimes very emotional, but it never panders. Its admirable economy of style serves as a fitting analogue for sign language, in which a single gesture can speak volumes. That this project could be made under the auspices of a major market television station is astonishing. Rob Tranchin inattendance. (MZS)

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