By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
The 1994 Dallas Video Festival is as eclectic and erratic as the medium itself. The good stuff is some of the best you'll see anywhere in any medium, and the bad stuff is damn near unwatchable.
But that's what makes this Festival so invaluable, not just to the audiovisual scene in Dallas and the nation (it's one of the most open-minded and diverse selections anywhere in America), but also to the city at large.
There's something electric in the air when you walk into the Dallas Museum of Art and start wandering among the buzzing monitors and bustling viewers; you just know that at some point, with no advance warning, you're going to see something that surprises and delights you. As the Festival's longtime artistic director, Bart Weiss, has explained, he and his cohorts don't program things merely because they happen to like them--they choose titles based on how much discussion they'll provoke for good or ill.
What follows is not a comprehensive list, but a sampler. There are so many different titles this year, including ongoing multipart installations, mixed-media showcases, and performance art works, that a complete and thorough listing would require clairvoyance. (And several of the most potentially interesting items on the schedule were not ready for screening at press time, either because the mail was late, advance copies weren't available, or the artists themselves were pushing their deadlines as far as possible.)
The following titles were selected purely on the basis of availability for advance screening. The 1994 Dallas Video Festival takes place from Thursday, November 17 through Sunday, November 20. Works are screened in a variety of auditoriums and waiting areas scattered across the building's northwest corner; they are referred to in the schedule both by their proper, everyday names ("Fleischner Courtyard," "Horchow Auditorium") and in the festival's own information-age pseudoslang ("Video Box," TV Diner," "TV Lounge," "Interactive Zone").
To ensure that you don't miss out on any fun and provocative stuff that wasn't listed here--like kid videos on Saturday morning, ongoing installations, live multimedia performances, and other spectacles--pick up a schedule at the Museum or at the Video Festival's offices; call 651-8888 for details.
After Goodbye: An AIDS Story. (Nov. 19, 4:30 p.m., TV Diner.) Anyone who missed this hour-long documentary about Dallas' Turtle Creek Chorale produced by KERA-TV when it first aired last year gets a second chance. Friends and family members of the 60 Chorale members who'd died as of the production time recount their sense of loss. Although the film boasts testimony from the world-renowned Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and best-selling author Peter McWilliams and narration by Ruby Dee, the most revealing comments in this tight, nicely paced show are by Dr. Tim Seeling, the Chorale's artistic director. "Everything about me wants to reject the role of father figure," Seeling declares, "but I've found since joining this organization that (the singers) need me to be 10 percent director and 90 percent symbol of love." (JF)
Animated Women. (Nov. 19, noon, Horchow Auditorium.) Produced for public television, this collection of three short pieces about women animators is indispensable for connoisseurs of the form. Profiled are the abstract, Native culture-influenced work of Faith Hubley; the dark, grainy, realistic dream plays of Ruth Peyser; and the jaunty visual pinball machines of Joanna Priestly, whose rapid shifts in perspective and goony, prancing characters recall the heyday of the Fleischer Bros.' Betty Boop and Popeye. (MZS)
Appalshop #1 and #2 and #3. Funded by a 1969 federal grant, and organized as a loose artistic collective by a husband-wife filmmaking team from Connecticut, Appalshop has been chugging along for a good quarter-century now, producing an amazing variety of short and medium-length documentary pieces that chronicle the changing face of the Appalachian society. The Dallas Video Festival's sampling of Appalshop's best work is one of the truly great items on the schedule, so try to catch at least one of the following anthologies: Appalshop #1: Defining Folk Culture. (Nov. 17, 8:45 p.m., Video Box) offers three up-close looks at the region's poor whites and the many rituals they embrace in order to survive a harsh existence. Rick DeClemente's Chairmaker (1975) details the life and work methods of an 80-year-old man who lives by himself in a decrepit mountain shack and constructs furniture by hand. John Long and Elizabeth Barrett's Nature's Way (1975) provides insight into folk remedies Appalachians create from herbs, plants, and other natural materials. Scott Faulkner and Anthony Sloane's Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category (1975) is a longer-form piece about the life of an 83-year-old mine worker, union agitator, and folk singer that immerses you so deeply in the region's textures and sounds that you can almost smell the coal dust. Appalshop #2: Women in Appalachia. (Nov. 18, 9:50 p.m., TV Diner) consists of two long-form pieces. The first, Mimi Pickering's The Life of Sarah Ogan Gunning (1988), is an alternately inspiring and heartbreaking documentary about the legendary folk singer who was much admired during her lifetime but never found financial success. Elizabeth Barrett's outstanding labor documentary Coal Mining Women (1982) chronicles female advances in one of the ultimate man's worlds. Appalshop #3: Identity Crisis. (Nov. 19, 8 p.m., TV Diner.) Herb E. Smith's Strangers and Kin (1984) is a look at hillbilly stereotypes that opens with a clip from Deliverance to get the discussion going. It's followed by Woodrow Cornett: Letcher County Butcher, a disgusting but riveting look at a man who butchers hogs for a living. (What sick mind at the Festival arranged this program around the "Squeal like a pig" motif?) (MZS)
A.R.M. Around Moscow:. (Nov 20, 2 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) This documentary by Jeanne C. Finley and Gretchen Stoeltje concerns Ron Rollband, an entrepreneur who, four years ago, created the international dating service A.R.M. (American-Russian Matchmaking). Four times a year, Rollband shuttles hundreds of American men to the former Soviet Union to meet Russian women eager to leave their homeland. (Rollband, himself the husband of a peroxided Russo-waif at least 20 years his junior, is the first to admit, "Many of these men are over here to find their mothers.") While the piece drags badly once it follows two couples back to the United States, footage of the selection process--documented in a series of brutal, anonymous cattle calls known as "banquets"--contains some hilarious peep-hole moments. The men are pursuing women accustomed to less, thinking they'll be happy forever that way, while the females see these guys as tickets out of an uncertain economic future. If only camerawoman Finley had recorded the fights after the couples really got to know each other! (JF)
Armond White presents Change the Style. (Nov. 19, 7:15 p.m. Horchow Auditorium.) One of the most original and infuriating pop culture critics in America today, Armond White--who writes for the nation's largest black weekly, New York's City Sun--has taken a number of gleefully inflammatory positions over the years. (He believes The Color Purple is the most significant movie in the entire history of African-Americans on film, and insists that The Fabulous Baker Boys was an inherently black story told in cynical whiteface.) He'll anchor a panel discussion revolving around yet another of his patented confrontational and hard-to-prove theses: that music videos represent African-American society more accurately than any movies from the so-called New Black Renaissance. (MZS)
Beljiquiero: Portrait of a Serial Kisser. (Nov. 19, 8 p.m., TV Diner.) This Brazilian-produced short introduces us to a squat, bug-eyed fellow named Jose Alves de Moura, a.k.a. "the psychokisser," who travels across his native country getting into various high-security public functions and planting a big fat smackeroo on the lips of anybody he comes into contact with, including Pele, Pope John Paul II, and Frank Sinatra, who shoves de Moura away so violently that it's a wonder The Chairman didn't snap his own spine. De Moura is irrationally exciting to watch, but he's also disgusting, not to mention certifiably insane. Like Harpo Marx, he presents himself as an innocent, love-happy gnome, which means you alternate between adoring the guy and wanting to zap him with a Taser. (MZS)
Black Is, Black Ain't. (World premiere Nov 19, 5:15 pm, Horchow Auditorium.) I hold much admiration for the late Marlon Riggs--for the charming way he could be gentle and outspoken at the same time, and for his benevolent view of human nature, which could have easily turned venomous given his unenviable status as both an African-American and a gay man in a society which respects neither. But his work has often left me cold. Tongues Untied and No Regrets squandered creativity on the novelty of their missions--groups of homo black men snapping their fingers and airing their joys and fears in your face--and left little but bumper-sticker rhetoric for second helpings. Color Adjustment, his survey of the evolving image of blacks on American television, was at once leaner and more muscular, building a visceral mood of injustice from broadcast images of American pop culture.
His final film--completed by associates after AIDS took his life last year, and
making its international debut at the Dallas Video Festival--is his most ambitious and courageous work. It's a terse, confident video essay that lifts the robes of the civil rights movement and invites us to peek at the wounds beneath. It's a call for the African-American community to stop emphasizing Anglo racism and start discussing the internal sexism, homophobia, skin-color prejudice, and class conflicts that reign in black America--and are seldom acknowledged by its leaders.
These are the same ills that threaten to capsize the entire American ship, but it's black people Riggs weeps for here. Using (thankfully) less poetry, talking heads, and famous quotes this time out, Riggs guides the viewer through a series of conflicting opinions about the role of history, identity, and gender in black life. Black Is, Black Ain't maneuvers deftly between the personal and the political, with Riggs including scenes from his rural Louisiana roots and taping commentary from what would turn out to be his deathbed. Although he didn't survive to complete the project, the producers have crafted a final version which reflects the awesomely perceptive mind we have lost. Bob Ray Sanders will moderate the discussion afterward. Marlon Riggs' grandmother, Katie Hendrix, will be in attendance.(JF)
Come on Down and Out!. (Nov. 18, 7 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) All you really need to know about this English-produced game show spoof, which pits homeless folks against each other to win a brand new house, is that when it aired, audiences and political groups mistook it for a real game show and went into conniption fits. The show itself is too long and full of obvious jokes. It might have made a brilliant "Saturday Night Live" skit, but as a half-hour short subject, it wears mighty thin. Discussion will follow with Dallas Morning News social issues writer Jonathan Eig, the Union Gospel Mission's Rev. Bill Thompson, and activist John Fullenwider of Common Ground. (MZS)
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)
From Bloomers to Blush. (Nov. 17, 7 p.m., TV Diner.) See "Rushes" this week.
Genocyber. (Nov. 18, 10 p.m., TV Lounge.) The latest of the Video Festival's yearly efforts to sell stateside viewers on anime, or Japanese animation, isn't memorable: it's yet another futuristic cyberpunk epic about a young person chosen to carry a cosmic burden of extraordinary psychic power, which allows that same young person to change physical form and whoosh around the city, destroying cars, buildings, and human flesh at whim. Genocyber certainly has enough spectacular ultraviolence to make Stallone films look like Fred Astaire musicals in comparison (a headless body splatting against a wall is a keeper). But it lacks the demented energy that made Akira and even the repulsive Legend of the Overfiend so eye-catching. (MZS)
Godard's The Children Play Russian. (Nov. 19, 8:15 p.m., TV Lounge.) French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard has worked in video for years; he made this collage piece as part of a series of films by Westerners about the new Russia. Unfortunately, it's so dense and multilayered that sitting through it is like watching 500 channels of TV all at the same time. It has something to do with Motion Picture Association of America chief Jack Valenti plotting to invade Russia and replace its culture with American junk; Godard uses excerpts from 19th-century Russian novels, early Soviet films, and random clips from Western TV to recast the tale as yet another invasion of the motherland. The above is merely a guess, mind you. Godard never cared much for classical storytelling, and this time out, he doesn't seem to care much about explaining himself, either. Perhaps this should have been entitled Godard Plays with Himself. (MZS)
Good Stories Well Told. (Nov 19, 4 pm. TV Lounge.) The undisputed highlight of these four lackluster narrative shorts from Texas and California is Randy Clower's Circus of the Sexes, Part 2, in which a woman idealizes her late grandparents' relationship even while she indulges in an adulterous affair. Artists in attendance. (JF)
I Am the Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary. (Nov. 19, 3 p.m. Horchow Auditorium.) Produced and directed by Alan and Susan Raymond, this look inside a predominantly African-American school lets the camera loiter, picking up real people in comical, troubling, sometimes heartbreaking situations, then lets you put it in your own context. The result is the best examination of the promise and perils of public education since Fredrick Wiseman's 1970 classic, High School. It has already aired repeatedly on cable, but if you missed it, here's another chance. Director Susan Raymond in attendance. (MZS)
Interrotron Stories. (Nov 17, 9 pm, TV Diner.) If Florida crime reporter Edna Buchanan scripted America's Most Wanted for VH-1, you'd get Interrotron Stories, this true-life crime series produced, written, and directed by the talented documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time). Morris teases you along with dramatic reenactments featuring distortion effects and fast-cut editing, and cameras which can never stay still even when they're aimed at a talking head. The first episode, in which a jittery former postmaster defensively recounts his role in the murder spree of one of his employees, is riveting. After that, things cool down fast. The show is a slick product, so it isn't nearly as much fun as, say, Real Stories From the Highway Patrol, which knows it's brainless and seeks only to disgust or amuse you. (JF)
The London Advertising Awards. (Nov. 20, 1 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) This assortment of the best TV spots from around the globe features a few you've no doubt seen before (including Pepsi's irritatingly knowing "Return to Woodstock" commercial). But it's worth seeing for the alternately thrilling and hilarious items from non-English speaking countries--especially a preserve-the-rainforest public service announcement from Brazil in which the birds and animals of the tropics come alive and shower a woodchopper with the crassest insults this side of a Sam Kinison routine. (MZS)
Marleneken. Part 1: (Nov. 17, 7 p.m., TV Lounge.) Part 2: (Nov. 18, 7 p.m., Video Box.) This final fictional feature by German director Karin Brandauer is a mammoth, epic work that reaches for greatness and only rarely succeeds. It's about a West German woman crossing the border to the East to see her sister and mother, from whom she was separated for virtually her entire life, and it mixes present-day political commentary about modern Germany and Europe with sepia-tinted childhood flashbacks that flare up when the heroine free-associates. In the sheer breadth of Brandauer's ambitions, the film comes on like a Teutonic Remembrance of Things Past, or a reality-based companion piece to Wim Wenders' classic Wings of Desire. But it's slow and patchy in places, and the main character is so internalized that her emotions are sometimes impenetrable. (MZS)
Memory. (Nov. 19, 7:45 p.m., TV Lounge.) Amazingly pretentious and muddled, this abstract dance-centered piece by Puerto Rican-born videomaker Edin Velez recasts the voyage of Columbus as a psychedelic music video full of twisting bodies, weird dissolves, and irritatingly elliptical dialogue. Skip it. (MZS)
The Misfits: 30 Years of Fluxus. (Nov. 18, 8:30 p.m., TV Diner.) Danish filmmaker Lars Movin put together this retrospective look at the New York-based group whose provocative public stunts (including holding a "music concert" in which a man in a tux bashed an expensive violin against a podium) cemented their status as forerunners of today's performance artists. Their ranks included Yoko Ono, video pioneer Nam June Paik, prankish atonalist John Cage, and many others. The mix of interviews, reminiscences, modern footage and archival images is fascinating, but the project could have stood a bit of pruning--and considering that Fluxus is, at best, a footnote to 20th century art, a decidedly less self-important tone. (MZS)
Moments in Time. (Nov 19, 6:30 pm, TV Diner.) This ragtag collection of shorts includes two pieces about the late Ron Vawter, the internationally recognized experimental theater actor who died of AIDS shortly after he played a member of the sleazy law firm in Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia. One is shot in Brussels, where he languished during his last days with the disease. Following are a series of PSAs designed to raise determination and consciousness among American Indians. John Willke and Melinda Levin in attendance. (JF)
No Resistance. (Nov. 19, 8:15 p.m., Video Box.) Every film student and film fan in the Dallas area should see this super-low-budget cyberpunk thriller: like El Mariachi, it's an object lesson in how efficient direction, a smart script, an original premise, and absolute artistic conviction can transform a piece of shoestring schlock into something special. Set in the dystopian near future in Houston, Texas, and shot mostly with a handheld video camera, it's another one of those outsider-trapped-between-warring-forces movies, like The Maltese Falcon, Yojimbo, Miller's Crossing, and Fresh, that embroils its protagonist so deep in plot complications that you can't even imagine how he could ever escape. When he does, you're both astounded and grateful.
The hero, Dij (David Rains), a homeless, snarling, coke-addled, pink-haired veteran of the Russian-American war, is an information-age gunslinger who wanders the mean streets armed with his trusty laptop computer and a pair of sunglasses through which he can see both the world around him and the flickering data summoned through his keyboard. He'll do just about anything for a fee: erase your phone bill in exchange for 35 percent of its cost, break into a hospital's computer network so you can turn off mama's life support and collect her fortune, you name it.
Because he doesn't talk much and keeps mostly to himself, Dij at first seems to be a scuzzy, amoral nomad. But he has a code of ethics--it's just buried so deep inside his cynical soul that we can't readily see it. I don't want to give the plot away: suffice it to say that Dij gets caught between warring street gangs, corporate thugs, and other baddies who want a deadly military secret he accidentally came in contact with, and he has to play them against each other, using only his wits and computer skills, if he hopes to come out alive.
The almost nonexistent production values aren't camouflaged. It's obvious that director Tim Thomson shot this feature anyplace people would let him and stocked the cast with friends whose performances range from wretched to just barely competent (except for the star, whose surprisingly nuanced tough-guy turn recalls Emilio Estevez in Repo Man). But aside from a couple of dull musical montage sequences, Thomson keeps things moving inexorably forward, letting every scene carry its proper weight, choosing his camera angles to pump up suspense and advance the plot rather than dazzle us with film-schoolish faux sophistication. No Resistance is the most original sci fi flick I've seen in some time--living proof that art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. It's a puny laptop with the power of the Pentagon's mainframe. Screened with Thomson in attendance. (MZS)
Orion Climbs. (November 19, 1:30 pm, Video Box.) The latest from video artist Michael C. Reilly, whose short subject Glass Jaw--about his recuperation from a traffic accident--was one of the very best items on last year's schedule. Reilly again uses his favored medium, Pixelvision, a black-and-white camera developed by toymaker Fisher-Price--this time to film himself and acquaintances discussing manhood, childhood, families, fate, and the universe. Reilly overlays words, letters, astronomical maps, floating globes, and other items, creating a star map of colliding ideas that mirrors his interview subjects' quest to put their musings into a lasting context. It's impossible to describe Reilly's visual brilliance in words (although he might be able to--his written narration is amazingly graceful and spare). His short subjects are like Morse code blips from our collective subconscious bounced off a satellite, then etched onto the pages of a poet's notebook. You don't so much watch them as feel them. (MZS)
Penn and Teller's Invisible Thread. (Nov. 18, 9 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) I'm always happy to see this team of postmodern geek-trick magicians strut their stuff, but considering there are hundreds of videomakers desperate to be included on this festival's schedule, what is this project--which first popped up on Showtime in 1987--doing on it? Hey, folks, I've got a keen compilation tape of the old Filmation "Spider-Man" cartoons at home. Can I enter it in next year's festival? (MZS)
Performance Transformance. (Nov 18, 10:10 pm, Video Box.) The late composer Jerry Hunt is profiled in two of three parts of this performance art program. Telephone Calls to the Dead features some of Hunt's inexplicable noise tracks mixed with blue-screen video effects, as well as a deteriorating Hunt discussing armadillos outside his rural North Texas Home. Transform: stream (core) features Hunt's disembodied head against a black backdrop, channeling poltergeists. If you knew of Hunt, nothing you see will surprise. (JF)
Pie in the Sky: The Lottery and the IRS. (November 17, 7:30 p.m., Fleischner Courtyard.) Cronyism is its own punishment. I say that because this piece by local musicians Amy Selton and Kim Corbet (who is also a KERA disc jockey) is so clumsily directed, overlong, and unfunny that the only justification I can see for including it in this year's schedule is that the Video Festival's artistic director, Bart Weiss, has a cameo in it.
Corbet and Selton play a Dallas married couple who dream of winning the lottery, then actually do win it--and that's all there is. Stir in footage of Selton and Corbet lounging around the house acting self-consciously kooky and slobbish, repetitious fantasy sequences and musical interludes, and sub-Mad magazine jabs at greed, class, and Texas stereotypes, and you're in for one hellishly long haul. There's a place for dull home movies in this world, but it's not at a citywide video festival--unless you consider an image of the bearish Corbet taking a dump the height of art. The schedule lists it as one part of a multimedia event that will include an improvisational live music performance by Corbet and Selton. They're fine musicians and smart folks, so let's hope they crank the volume and stand directly in front of the screen. (MZS)
Road Stories. (Nov 19, 6:45 pm, Video Box.) A pair of lesbian lovers--Smith grads with foreign-language degrees--discuss the sorrows and frustrations of their new career--trucking--in That's Alright, Mama. Local videomaker Rhonda Richards' Harley Davidson: Beyond the Bike takes us to the 50th annual Black Hills Motor Classic in South Dakota to discuss the difference between "bikers," "motorcycle enthusiasts," and "well-groomed scooter tramps." Richards in attendance. (JF)
Russian Striptease. (Nov 18, 8 pm, TV Lounge.) "A society is only democratic if it stays out of the bedroom," declares one Russian government official in Russian Striptease, a documentary about the explosion of prostitution and sexually explicit performances and materials in a country crawling toward the mirage of free-market salvation. The filmmakers interview the founder of a new school for strippers and intercut his comments with scenes of the staff impatiently trying to coach bashful Russian girls out of their bikinis during auditions. One of the young women who gets accepted is followed home to the decrepit farm of her senile grandfather, whom she has pledged to support forever without disclosing her lucrative new profession. But even the old man indulges in the new freedoms, cackling lustfully as he watches a topless beauty pageant on TV in which contestants compete for the title of "Miss Breasts." Russian Striptease is a fascinating look at a repressed nation whose citizens are finally getting a taste of the media permissiveness conservative American commentators say is ruining the United States. (JF)
Satya: A Prayer For the Enemy. (Nov 19, 5:30 pm, Video Box.) When China invaded Tibet in 1949, the crushing fist of Mao came down on its Buddhist temples. The nuns were especially brutalized, since they were women who shaved their heads and refused to listen to Mao's wisdom about the family. Eerie, occasionally beautiful, and ultimately despairing, this work by Ellen Bruno uses a handful of horrifying personal testimonies from Tibetan Buddhist nuns to portray the dreamlike reverie of a fictional nun who narrates. Around these tales the solemn inner voice of a captive nun castigates itself for holding bitterness toward her captors and torturers. Word of warning--after this one you'd better hang around for Talking Trash at 7 pm. You'll
need a pick-up. (JF)
The Soul of Stax. (Nov. 19, 6 p.m., TV Lounge.) Philip Priestley's documentary of Stax Records begins with a compelling image: an enormously afroed Jesse Jackson introducing Isaac Hayes to a ravenous crowd, the theme from Shaft pulsing in the background. As Jackson exhorts the performer, Hayes sheds a floppy hat and a flashy coat to reveal his naked head and a glistening torso covered only in a few gold chains, and you wait for the man to start singing about private dicks and sex machines in front of the Rev. But that doesn't happen: just as quickly as it starts in Los Angeles at a 1972 Hayes concert, the piece flashes to Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton talking about their little Memphis record label, the place where gospel and R&B and soul and rock blended into an interracial groove that served as the sound track for much of the 1960s. Documentaries are usually as interesting as their subjects, and the Stax story is one of the most fascinating in music history, a rare enterprise where black and white musicians came together in the South to create some of the most immortal music ever heard. From Otis Redding to Sam and Dave to Booker T. and the MGs to Hayes his own bad self, the Stax sound remains as powerful now as it was then, when it played in the background as Watts burned and black leaders fell to the bullets of assassins. As Booker T. Jones says, "We ended up doing with our music what a lot of the people were feeling...We were like a mirror." Between the rare live footage (the version of "Green Onions" included here is phenomenal, almost punk in its raw execution) and the backwards-glancing interviews with many of the house musicians and songwriters, The Soul of Stax is the essential primer--a great place to start, but by no means the final resting place for music best understood when heard. (RW)
Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. (Nov. 19, 10 p.m., TV Diner.) As part of the "Red Hot + Cool" AIDS awareness series begun a few years ago with pop versions of Cole Porter standards, this hip-hop-and-jazz installment is perhaps the most interesting, if not the most problematic. Fueled by the music of some of the best hip-hop artists paired with jazz legends (MC Solaar with Ron Carter, Digable Planets with Lester Bowie, the Last Poets with Pharaoh Sanders, etc.) and individual performances from the likes of M'chelle N'Degeocello, this hour-long piece is a music video despite itself--a work in which the music seems secondary to its message. Which is that AIDS is going unchecked in the African-American community because the government wants it that way; as one performer says, information about the disease and its prevention is unavailable in the community because "that's the last thing the government wants to do." (Or, as Cornel West says in anguish, "There could not be another dimension to the social misery of the black community.") And so Stolen Moments ultimately is an exhilarating, chaotic, baffling, brilliant, sad piece--full of shit, full of life, full of hope, full of deep sorrow and conspiracy theories and some wonderful music fighting to be heard over the words of artists who insist on believing it's still Us Against Them instead of Us Against It. (RW)
Stories No One Wants to Hear. (Nov. 19, 1 p.m., Video Box.) This is an intriguing collection of four stories told by women who survived incest as children. Videomaker Mora Alper keeps things spare and direct, concentrating almost exclusively on the stories as they're told verbally by the women, and breaking things up with haunting fragments of off-kilter imagery. An epilogue scrawls up the screen at the end letting you know how many, if any, of the women's friends and loved ones believed or even acknowledged their experiences, leaving a deeply unsettling aftertaste. (MZS)
Stuff from Erik Saks. (Nov. 20, 4:45 p.m., TV Lounge.) Very unusual and definitely not for everybody, but well worth a look, this assortment of postmodern public service announcements combines collage and animation with plenty of wit and courage to create pieces that work both as propaganda and as art. (MZS)
Talking Trash. (Nov 19, 7 pm, TV Lounge.) Bouncing right along to give the American pop culture-hating French a swift kick in the pants is Euro-Trash, a program produced by Great Britain's Channel 4. The hosts are a pair of French media faves--TV star Antoine de Caunes and fashion designer-turned-impish gay hero Jean Paul Gaultier. The inane patter between de Caunes and Gaultier was written by Brits, who've recast them as entertainment program co-hosts launching a Francophilic culture war against the U.K. (the real target, of course, is French pomposity). Their weapons? Items from the tacky, seamy junk drawer of European pop culture, including profiles of a dead, Shaun Cassidy-esque '70s French pop music idol to a German porn movie featuring women and men in dinosaur costumes (Jurassic Fuck, we're told, was retitled Attack of the Pornosaurs after Spielberg got wind of it).
Glennda and Camille Do Downtown was an episode of a show produced for New York's cable access and hosted by drag queen Glennda Orgasm. Glennda's guest is attack scholar Camille Paglia, who has labeled her own brand of progressive politics "drag queen feminism" in honor of the spirit of independence and pagan artifice she adores in transvestites. Gangly Glennda and squirrelly Camille look like the leads in a Hal Hartley film produced by Queer Nation, walking and talking in rhetorical circles (and not very enlighteningly) on the subject of art and pornography (they're the same, both agree). In an incident which clearly wasn't staged, Camille and Glennda crash an anti-porn protest by a group of college-age women. "Give us more porn!" our heroes shout. "Why were you fired from Bennington?" demands one protester of Paglia. "A fistfight," Camille sputters. This one's a must-see. (JF)
The Texas Show. (Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) This collection of recent work by Texas film and videomakers is dominated by overlong personal pieces that are noble in intent, but which grow grating and repetitious and soon lose the viewer. But it's worth seeing for Randy Clower and Sky Callahan's hilarious "Circus of the Sexes, Part 1," about a one-night stand that leads to a truly bizarre revelation; J.B. Hoffecker's "Little Women," a series of four beautifully wrought visual poems about being female in America; David Jahns and Bob Cook's extraordinarily well-directed short drama "Listen," the haunting story of a meek fry cook who lives upstairs from a young woman whose boyfriend beats her; and Mary Megan Kennedy's "America's Queen of Queens," an overlong, somewhat heavy-handed documentary about children's participation in the beauty pageant racket that contains footage so heartbreaking and revelatory you simply have to see it to believe it. Artists in attendance. (MZS)
This Land, This Texas. (Nov 19, 2:30 pm, TV Lounge.) Two documentary shorts celebrate three Texas mainstays--big cars, crazy people, and tornadoes. Cadillac Ranch celebrates the 20th anniversary of the infamous roadside installation in which Cadillacs were buried nose-first in the ground, hosted by the demented, Einsteinish Chip Lord. Martin Lisius' Beneath Stormy Skies reproduces excerpts from Martin Lisius' 20-minute documentary about the impending threat of a major tornado in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, completed this April just a month before cyclones ripped through southern Dallas County. Martin Lisius in attendance. (JF)
United States of Guns. (Nov. 19, 3 p.m., TV Lounge.) Swedish TV bankrolled this surprisingly thorough and evenhanded look at our obsession with firearms, providing plenty of, er, ammunition for both Second Amendment fanatics and disarmament agitators. The segment dealing with the L.A. jewelry shop owner who's killed five attempted robbers in close-quarters gun battles is both repulsive and vicariously exciting. (MZS)
Velvet Redux. (Nov. 20, 6:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) There exist a handful of great concert videos and hundreds of average ones, so it's only fitting that one documenting the Velvet Underground reunion tour should fall somewhere in between: this was a band that never quite fit in, one that glorified junkies while everyone else was still trying to figure out how to roll their first joint. But if the music Lou Reed, John Cale, Moe Tucker, and Sterling Morrison made 15-plus years ago was ahead of its time then, it's timeless now: the performances of "Sweet Jane," "Femme Fatale," "Venus in Furs," and all the other "classics" are tremendous, proof that the band broke up far before it had reached its expiration date. But, like so many other concert videos, it's just sort of there, better heard than seen. The distance of the video screen tends to make such affairs cold and impersonal, staged spectacles of which you're not a part. And, for a band that split again so violently after this brief European tour, there doesn't seem to be much tension there. In fact, Lou smiles so much and makes so many goofy jokes (like the reference to "going to Velvet Underground concerts" in "Sweet Jane") that it seems kinda fun for him. (RW)
Visual Performance. (Nov. 20, 4 p.m., TV Lounge.) The two highlights of this four-piece program of performance art and music video-style pieces prove you can use the crudest of materials and still make a wonderfully entertaining short. Joe Gibbons' Pretty Boy features the filmmaker trying to pick a fight with what appears to be a Ken doll, lambasting him as a "narcissistic son of a bitch" for his primping habits and ultimately discovering the doll's kinky side. Mark Smith and Doug Skinner's Cocktail Party features the filmmakers recalling an evening with two ladies they ruined by being a bit too ambitious with the mixed drinks. The sequence is filmed with Mister Rogers-style handpuppets. (JF)
When Billy Broke His Head...And Other Tales of Wonder. (Nov. 19, 1 p.m., TV Diner.) This documentary by Minneapolis writer and activist Billy Golfus, a former DJ who suffered brain damage and partial paralysis in a car accident, charts the man's course from embittered drifter to unlikely political candidate (he ran for the city's park board and lost). Like Roger and Me, it shifts between propaganda, clowning, and road-movie ramblings, eventually taking us cross-country and introducing us to some of Golfus' disabled pals and heroes, revealing an intricate community that exists beneath the sightlines of most able-bodied folk. Although it's overlong and sometimes unfocused, When Billy Broke his Head is a delight. Its chief virtue is Golfus himself, a shambling, quick-witted troublemaker with charisma to spare. Ruth Leitman in attendance. (MZS)
Wildwood, New Jersey. (Nov. 20, 3 p.m., TV Lounge.) The title location is billed as "the last great American blue-collar seaside carnival town," and Ruth Leitman and Carol Cassidy clearly love it. They explicate both the dynamics of Wildwood and the concerns of its young, tough women with great care and humor. But while the film is beautiful to look at (like a Bruce Springsteen song come to life), there's too much of it. (
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