Short takes

What follows are brief reviews of some highlights from the Dallas Video Festival, arranged chronologically. The festival runs from Thursday, March 25, through Sunday, March 28, in four different areas--the Electronic Theater, Video Cabaret, Video Lounge, and Video Box--at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard. Installations of video art are on display through April 3 at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney. For ticket and other information, call (214) 999-8999. This list is not comprehensive; consult the festival's program for descriptions of events not listed. Capsule reviews were written by Dallas Observer staff writers Zac Crain, Jimmy Fowler, Scott Kelton Jones, and Christina Rees.

Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law
Thursday, March 25; 7:00 p.m. in the Video Lounge
Possession Is Nine-Tenths of the Law is almost interesting despite itself, one of those so-bad-it's-good films you wouldn't go see in a theater, might rent, and definitely would watch if it aired on USA Up All Night. Possession has its moments, but it's hard to tell just what it wants to be--all-out spoof or subtle dark comedy--mainly because the acting is so wooden that the characters are almost indistinguishable from the sets, the transition scenes barely a step above those in most X-rated fare. Either way, it's doubtful that anyone really wants another X-Files-tinged parody at this point. And no one needs one. (Zac Crain)

Letters Not About Love
Thursday, March 25; 8:00 p.m. in the Video Box
This is one of those films that just fester in festivals. It's experimental, lacking both a traditional narrative and a protagonist. It just aches Art--with a pretentious, preening capital A. And it flirts with tedium every second of its 59 minutes. With these three big deficits going for it, is it surprising that Letters Not About Love was selected Best Documentary at last year's South by Southwest Film Festival? Nah. Festival judges just love to be bored by big ideas, as long as they're presented in a fresh, new way. And the idea behind Letters is novel--at least for a documentary. This film is about words, specifically the words found in five years' worth of written correspondences between two poets: American Lyn Hejinian, living in California, and Ukrainian Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, living in what was then the Soviet Union. In each section of the film, the poets ruminate on a subject ("grandmother," "poverty," "home," "violence"), their words voiced over by Lili Taylor and Victor Nord while odds and ends of footage play like a stranger's long lost home movie. The images are never personalized or explained. The film exists as a visual subtext to the narration. And although the idea of a cinema of words may be interesting to contemplate, in practice it's more like watching slides of what your aunt did on her summer vacation while listening to National Public Radio. Sure, it's educational, but it's not exactly big-time fun. (Scott Kelton Jones)

Divorce Iranian Style
Thursday, March 25; 9:00 p.m. in the Video Box
Phone sex, polygamy, arresting your husband for impotence, shacking up with a 9-year-old schoolgirl, and rounds of family fisticuffs? Nah, it's not Jerry Springer. It's Divorce Iranian Style, a look at marital woes in Salman Rushdie's least favorite vacation spot. Filmed in gloriously yawning BBC style, this ain't exactly as riveting as American afternoon yak-fests. However, it isn't without its chuckles if you dare to stare long enough. Iran is a country where men can file for divorce because their wives have a "telephone relationship" with another man and women can be court-ordered to make themselves more attractive and tempt their husbands. Yet a woman can't get an easy divorce even if her husband takes a "co-wife"--in the parlance of the people--as long as he's not so insidious as to make them share the same home. All in all, it's interesting to see how strange the social system is in different cultures. But really, didn't we figure out that Iran sucks back in the Carter administration? (SKJ)

London International Advertising Awards
Thursday, March 25; 10:00 p.m. in the Electronic Theater
As advertising agencies get better at mocking art and nailing the psychology of man, their 30-second spots that interrupt our beloved TV shows are getting better than the shows themselves. I haven't seen a bad Volkswagen commercial in years, and I'd rather watch a Beetle ad than Just Shoot Me any day. Sadly, commercials result in some of the most impressive short filmmaking in the world. From Australia to Norway, Germany to Scotland, Canada to Hong Kong, these are the most inventive, hard-hitting, or humorous (not to mention expensive) slices of TV time out there. The winners are separated into categories--automotive, personal service, public announcement, cinematography, etc. Sure, you'll recognize a few--the Budweiser frogs, some Nike ads--but most of them will be unfamiliar, and you may be surprised at how racy or edgy those foreign ad agencies can get. Nudity, profanity, violence--the kind of stuff our own FCC would never allow. (Christina Rees)

Saddle Sores
Thursday, March 25; 10:15 p.m. in the Video Box
"Biological infestation and human desire make for great drama," says Vanalyne Green, a very nice, very articulate woman who also happens to have contracted herpes from a short relationship she had with a cowboy. He didn't tell her he was infected, denied that he had the disease, and afterward claimed she had put him in danger. Saddle Sores is a 20-minute video documentary made by Green about the rush of emotions she, a very un-promiscuous woman, had to deal with upon being infected with "this tacky little incurable disease that doesn't even have celebrity status anymore." Green's poetic narration takes us to the heart of her relationship with the man she calls Cowboy Bob, a situation that was probably all physical to begin with. Green interviews the friends who commiserated with her after the breakup and the infection; one of them reminds her she was interested in Cowboy Bob pretty much because "he looked good in those Wranglers." Eloquent, self-deprecating, and poignant, Saddle Sores feels as if it must have been a great exorcism for Green. Even if you don't have herpes, you'll get a little contact thrill watching Green dot reproductions of Frederic Remington's painted cowboys with little red spots. This marvelous first-person confession wouldn't have the same immediacy if it were shot on film. (Jimmy Fowler)

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