Pixel Pleasures

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

Socialism or Death. January 11, 3:15 p.m., Video Box.

Vatican II. I grew up in a post-Vatican II world--that is, after the congress of bishops changed the way Catholic doctrine was expressed, from using the vernacular instead of Latin at Mass to embracing Protestant brothers. I had heard of the liturgical differences from my mother, but never experienced them myself. After watching Vatican II, I have a newfound appreciation for why my prep school vocal group was allowed to sing rock songs (and traditional hymns with rock arrangements) during liturgies. This four-part video, of which only part one is screening at the festival, is full of humor and human interest, and it's told in a dramatic and compelling way. You don't have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to appreciate this testament to the religious glasnost that the Second Vatican Council represented; you just have to have an interest in the scope of its importance, and revel in watching history in rerun form. (AWJ)

Vatican II. January 12, 2 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.

30 Minutes in the Wrong Body.
Come on Down and Out.
I'm from Hollywood.

Parody approaches painful levels in a trio of films--one of which is about a living parody. 30 Minutes in the Wrong Body appears to be a documentary about a man with an identity crisis, but the audience soon realizes it's a put-on: He doesn't want to be a woman, but an African bushman. The tone is so consistent, you almost believe it, although the film runs out of steam along the way.

Better is Come on Down and Out, a fake British game show where three homeless contestants compete for the grand prize: a free house to live in. The show mixes the sociology of apathy with some shockingly bitter segments. (In a Candid Camera take-off, the producers horrify a mother by taking away her baby and have a panhandler arrested, and let the audience vote on who is more sympathetic.)

Andy Kaufman's life and career didn't make sense to most people--he was a walking parody of the human condition--and the documentary I'm from Hollywood recounts how he finished his brilliant work on what was seen as a down note: his self-destructive obsession with professional wrestling. Was it all an act, or was Kaufman truly insane? To hear interviewee Robin Williams tell it, Kaufman was a tragic figure who spun out of control. But if comedy is tragedy plus time--and Kaufman considered the world his audience and his work one extended gag--perhaps he considered his descent into madness over such a long period of time the capstone to a comedy style only he was willing to explore. Maybe his death was his last great joke, a punchline for which he could never hear the laughter. (AWJ)

30 Minutes in the Wrong Body. January 11, 4:15 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.
Come on Down and Out. January 11, 4:15 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.
I'm from Hollywood. January 10, 10 p.m., Video Box.

I, Doll: The Unauthorized Biography of America's 11-1/2" Sweetheart
Jodie: An Icon
Nico Icon

In 1943, long before Jodie Foster, Nico Icon, or the Barbie doll had been born, Gerald Johnson said: "Heroes are created by popular demand, sometimes out of the scantiest material." That could be the motto of three films screening at the Festival, all investigating the public's need for celebrity and the odd ways they go about satisfying that need. The lesbian community, for example, has never had the kind of sexual role models that straight society has, so it seems only natural that they would find one, even where it may not exist, and derive a raging fetishism out of it. For the maker of Jodie: An Icon, Jodie Foster fits the bill nicely . Through interviews and clips, director Pratibha Parmar posits the notion of Jodie as androgyne who, despite being secretive about her sexual orientation, has become a lesbian-presumptive sex object. Based mostly on Foster's early butch roles (when only she, Tatum O'Neal, and Kristy McNichol played tomboys), the thesis is well-supported, especially in acknowledging the great amount of guesswork involved in selecting a gay hero out of a predominantly heterosexual culture.

At least Foster's talents were--and are--obvious and accepted outside the subculture that idolizes her. That can't be said of Nico Icon, the German singer who gained notoriety in Andy Warhol's Factory, where most people were famous merely for being famous. Nico Icon tries to dispel the notion that she was some kind of untalented hanger-on, but it becomes painfully clear that Nico allowed herself to become a freak by pandering to those who would make her one.

There's nothing especially freakish about Barbie, unless you consider her physical attributes--were she real, she'd be 5'10", weigh 110 pounds, and have measurements of 39/23/33. I, Doll humorously explores what Barbie's cross-generational (and cross-gender) popularity has to say about American culture and the icons it embraces. In doing so, director Tula Asselanis illuminates a bizarre subculture of Barbie worshippers. There are moments of genuine magic in this video--the suggestion of Nicole Simpson as a live Barbie doll, the analysis of the role accessories play in Barbie's success--tongue-in-cheek one minute, scarily serious the next. Barbie, because she has it all--something even Gloria Steinem couldn't achieve--has been as much an anxiety for little girls who can never live up to her perfection as she has been a toy. It's not a topic you might think is very important; that it makes you reconsider that position attests to its wisdom. (AWJ)

I, Doll: The Unauthorized Biography of America's 11-1/2" Sweetheart. January 12, 3:30 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.

Jodie: An Icon. January 10, 9 p.m., TV Lounge.
Nico Icon. January 11, 9 p.m., Horchow Auditorium.

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