Pixel Pleasures

The tenth annual Dallas Video Festival shows why video is eclipsing film as the mass art medium

Church of St. Coltrane. January 9, 9 p.m., TV Diner.

Daddy Says So. In an era when Christian conservatives dominate American grassroots politics, the six-year-old evangelical Christian men's movement known as Promise Keepers is the unique feather in the peacock tail of fundamentalist activism. Founded by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney and touring sold-out stadiums in every major American city, Promise Keepers mixes just enough weepy talk-show confessionalism into its right-wing agenda to confound potential critics. Pundits determined to nail PK for its flashes of sexism and homophobia are disarmed by the group's penitent, "men are pigs" rhetoric and its radical embrace of favorite liberal causes--namely, racial reconciliation.

Documentary filmmaker Niklas Sven Vollmer understands that the traditional secular humanist barbs won't work when critiquing Promise Keepers, so he lets the facts--not to mention the Promise Keepers--speak for themselves. Daddy Says So is an engrossing exploration of the many contradictions that Promise Keepers represents. Vollmer takes a camera to one of PK's 1995 stadium revivals and talks to everyone he can find. As expected, the PK leaders spout hyper-humble soundbites at press conference appearances; they're echoed by the ticket-buying faithful, who support these sentiments with more stirring sincerity. The title Daddy Says So isn't some smart-aleck outsider's diagnosis, but a direct quote from a speech by a fiery African-American pastor who finds his status in the household compromised by a son who can't understand why he has to take out the trash. The reason? "Daddy says so." The speaker then turns the command on a stadium full of Christian men: "Why should we do God's work? Because Daddy says so." Vollmer doesn't have to interject secular criticisms into his documentary--the daddy complex that burdens most of the participants here speaks for itself. (JF)

Daddy Says So. January 12, 5 p.m., TV Lounge.

Herbert's Hippopotamus. Ever since the '90s began, right-wingers like George Will and Charles Krauthammer have lined up with leftier social critics like Camille Paglia and Elinor Burkett to lambaste the so-called "PC thought police" for their rabid vigilance against insensitive language, legislation, and behavior. Problem is, the political correctness of the right wing is just as prevalent and probably more dangerous because it has gone largely unrecognized. Documentary filmmaker Paul Alexander Juutlainen dips back to the California student protests of the '60s to uncover a once-infamous radical leader whose reputation, then and now, suffered a PC campaign of distortion spearheaded by conservatives as various as the Pope, then-California governor Ronald Reagan, Navy leaders, and the American Legion.

Herbert's Hippopotamus is Juutlainen's engrossing, insightful, and finely detailed attempt at character reparation, both for Herbert Marcuse and the radical student movement that has been characterized as monolithic anarchy by revisionist conservative pundits. To be sure, the political philosophies espoused by University of California at San Diego professor Marcuse threatened many people in power--he had a dread of the state's arbitrary exercise of force, the dehumanizing effects of materialism, and the tyranny of the majority. These concerns were based on his memories of a Nazi Germany he fled in the 1930s. The 70-year-old European expatriate made international headlines for his late '60s participation in American and European student demonstrations, labor strikes, and Vietnam War protests. His most famous disciple and staunchest supporter was a former student named Angela Davis, who would make the cover of Newsweek as a black radical and later be acquitted on federal charges of kidnapping and murder.

The company Marcuse kept infuriated his powerful enemies more than anything; the lies they printed and spoke about him were a premeditated campaign designed to establish guilt by association. He was frequently labeled a Communist by reporters and detractors when in fact he never joined the Community Party, publicly disagreed with Angela Davis' decision to do so, and railed against Stalin's brutality. He was often characterized as an advocate of violence, when one TV interview after another made clear he only supported it in self-defense. One Legionnaire even compared him to a Nazi, absurd in light of his terrifying escape from a democratically elected Hitler.

Herbert's Hippopotamus features a long cast of '60s survivors who give fiercely partisan--though often humorous--defense of their youthful political activity. They are united in their affection of Herbert Marcuse, as much for his self-deprecating humor as his idealism. (One former student relates how Marcuse declined an interview request from Playboy, which included a promise of hefty payment; Marcuse called the magazine and said he would accept the offer only if he was also photographed naked as that month's centerfold. Playboy didn't bite). In case you're wondering, the title Herbert's Hippopotamus alludes to the subject's favorite animal, whose image he displayed in dozens of figurines in his office. He believed the clumsy gait and homely face of the hippopotamus, an indispensable mammalian link between land and water in its own ecosystem, belied its importance as a species, and that comic contradiction inspired him. Herbert's Hippopotamus will lead you back through the contradiction and subtleties of liberal student activism during the '60s. (JF)

Herbert's Hippopotamus. January 11, 5:45 p.m., Video Box.

In Harm's Way. Tolstoy said all happy families are pretty much the same, but that unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. In the Eisenhower era, there was nothing more important that being the same as everyone else, and that meant happiness, dammit! In the artificial culture that resulted from this ethic there were no shades of gray, at least as far as the media were concerned. Horrors may be present, but that's no reason to discuss them, especially in front of impressionable minds; the warnings about the dangers of the real world were often so remote and polite that children couldn't tell what they were being warned against. (The motto "Never take candy from strangers" implies that there's something wrong with the candy, not the stranger himself.) Twisted perversities that could befall unsuspecting innocents remained obscured behind a facade of Tollhouse cookies and station wagons. But behind this exterior there was sex going on: naked magazines and public masturbations are only some of the oddities filmmaker/narrator Jan Krawitz encountered in her preadolescent days, at the same time that the most risque things you'd see on TV was the occasional ogle of a pretty girl by some Wally Cleaver clone.

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