Test Pattern

The gloriously, infuriatingly eclectic Dallas Video festival continues to entertain--and bore

The nature of any festival, whether it's centered on food or film, is usually hodgepodge--an eclectic confluence of the sweet and the bitter, the fatty and the lean.

It's no surprise that the 9th Annual Dallas Video Festival possesses that sort of erratic appeal, but it can be annoying at times. Professional documentaries share the stage--or more precisely, the cathode ray tube--with the kind of trash you might expect now that the camcorder has become more common in households than the typewriter. Video isn't as much a medium of art as it is one of accessibility. Consequently, it is characterized by wildly unregulated craftsmanship.

Some of the Dallas Video Festival's entries are exciting, while some barely allow you to keep your eyes open--even though they're only nine minutes long. That's the blessing and the curse of video, and here it lives in all its glorious, infuriating kitschiness.

The following titles, all showing at the Festival, were selected for review mostly on the basis of advance availability. The list is far from comprehensive, although it approximates the same randomness of a trip to the festival itself.

The Dallas Video Festival runs from Thursday, January 4 through Sunday, January 7. All of the videos will be screened at the Dallas Museum of Art. Some of the DMA's rooms have been renamed for this event: the Video Box, the TV Diner, the TV Lounge, and the Interactive Zone.

In addition to the videos reviewed here, many other works will be screened, and the Festival will also sponsor special events, such as an appearance by Steve Allen, who will comment on the devolution of the late-night TV talk show. A complete program is available at the Dallas Museum of Art or through the Festival; call 823-8909, or send a fax to 821-9103. The Festival's Web site is located at http://www.videofest.org.

The list is alphabetical by program title. The reviewers are Arnold Wayne Jones, Jimmy Fowler, and Robert Wilonsky. A indicates a program or video that the Dallas Observer recommends.

Americans: The Battle Over Citizen Kane. (January 7, 1:45 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) Americans is easily the centerpiece--both in craftsmanship and subject matter--of the entire Festival. Rather than offer a mere biography of Orson Welles or William Randolph Hearst, Americans starts by examining the film Citizen Kane, Welles' thinly veiled biography of Hearst, and assumes that the film says as much about the great director as it does about Hearst. Interviews with those who were there during the making of Kane, including film editor Robert Wise (who later directed The Sound of Music and many other films), shine a light on how Welles re-wrote Herman Mankiewicz's script with himself in mind. Hearst's mother didn't die when he was young, for example, but Welles' did.

The documentary generally lionizes Welles, and though it falls short of trashing Hearst, he hardly comes off better than in Kane. The public dissection of the private lives of two notoriously flamboyant Americans proves to be a great contrast to the life and work of Quentin Tarantino (also profiled at the Festival; see Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood's Boy Wonder), who simply can't hold a candle to Welles for sheer flashiness. (AWJ)

Ben Spock--Baby Doctor. (January 7, noon, Video Box.) While not necessarily the first title to jump out from the Festival's program, Ben Spock--Baby Doctor is actually a must-see for post-baby boomers. Journalist-filmmaker Robert Richter's profile places the controversial, Yale-educated pediatrician who began his practice in the 1930s within the context he deserves as a humane, rational voice in the often cold, clinical universe of pediatrics and child psychology. The turn of the century saw concepts about infant and child development from Jung and Freud filter down from the researchers to the caregivers, who, in turn, passed on some rather dubious advice to parents--don't demonstrate too much physical affection for your child, for example, and punish masturbation harshly, lest your offspring be riddled with neuroses. Spock came along with his dime-store paperbacks and told parents to relax, trust their own instincts, and above all, attune care to the personality of the child, not some abstract model of mental health.

Dr. Spock's public stance against the Vietnam War was received less warmly, but he articulates it here with the same commonsensical philosophy that made his books so popular: "As a doctor of children, aren't I supposed to be against everything that harms them?" (JF)

Carmen. (January 6, 9:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.) Laurie Anderson's short take on Bizet's opera, set in a cigarette factory, tracks the prosaic life of a modern-day heroine from Seville, where television has replaced the bullfight as the central entertainment medium. Although musical highlights from the opera play over Anderson's images, the whole project comes off as simply campy and hip, not to mention dull, with none of the passion of the real Carmen, nor enough wit to be anything more than a lame exercise. (AWJ)

Death and a Salesman. (January 7, 6:15 p.m., Video Box.) Brief and often funny in a base, guilty-pleasure way, this comedy--about a used car salesman trying to sell an automobile to the Grim Reaper--serves merely as a forum for an endless succession of jokes about death. What's really remarkable is how effortlessly it illustrates that references to dying permeate our daily conversation. "Don't buy that car, it's a death trap," the salesman says, and on and on. Salesman is a slight, fun video, with no greater goal than to entertain for a few minutes. It succeeds. (AWJ)

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