Naked eye

Turn on and tune in to the Dallas Video Festival

March 23, 9:15 p.m., Video Cabaret

No Early Birds What's the difference between a piece of junk and a valuable curio? About a hundred bucks, if you know how to shop. Videomakers Michael Bayer and Stan Steen tag along as treasure hunters sort through Austin's garage sales, searching for dreck to spin into gold. "Early birds" are garage-sale pros who rise before dawn to beat the rabble to the best swag, which they hope to mark up and resell at their own junk shops. (A hint from the pros: Welders and musical instruments are good buys, but avoid used shoes and sexual devices. And Austin has an oversupply of futons -- surprise, surprise.) The yard-sale subculture is ripe material for a diverting 15-minute feature. Unfortunately, No Early Birds runs for nearly an hour as the camera trails one hippie's leisurely bike ride through Austin and another pro's frantic drive from yard to yard. How much entertainment can you get out of one woman's hunt for a dominoes-themed wall clock? Not quite that much. (P.W.)

March 25, noon, Video Cabaret

The Dallas Video Festival is ssssssmokin' ...
The Dallas Video Festival is ssssssmokin' ...
Getting lost on Utopia Parkway
Getting lost on Utopia Parkway

On the Ropes Here's a reason why the Dallas Video Festival exists: Without such a forum, a film as magnificent and intimate as Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan's Oscar-nominated documentary might never screen here. (Though it airs on The Learning Channel in April.) Another in a long line of up-from-the-slums docs about kids using sports to overcome shitty childhoods and horrific environs -- in this case, the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn -- On the Ropes is also the most personal. Hoop Dreams, for all its bravado and brilliance, always felt as if a speech or a musical number was about to break out; that, and you could never shake the feeling someone was there holding a camera. Here, when Tyrene Manson -- a twentysomething with a shot at the Golden Gloves title -- goes to see her court-appointed lawyer after getting popped for crack possession (and it wasn't hers, which makes this film doubly heartbreaking), you feel not a little ashamed for intruding on her private pain. Only one of the fighters here, the Mike Tyson-in-training-wheels George Walton, has a future in the fight game, and he's torn between the man who got him to the pros (Harry Keitt, who runs the neighborhood gym-asylum after his own stint in the big house for shooting his cousin) and the slick, dim manager who promises him bigger and better (Mickey Marcello, who wears his mustache like a warning label). The third kid, Noel Santiago, is the wild card: He can't fight (the kid loses two of three bouts), doesn't want to go to school, and is as close to ending up on the streets as concrete. A riveting piece of work, even without the happy ending. (R.W.)

March 25, 4 p.m., Videotheque

Outrageous Commercials What is it about foreign commercials that renders them more watchable than most American television programming? Oh, yeah -- the nudity and the swearing. Wouldn't want to spoil any of them, but this randy, dandy collection is worth checking out if only for the German ad for a learn-to-speak-English business. Let's say only that the joke has to do with a family in a car, rap music, and the phrase "I wanna fuck you in the ass." If that sounds like your idea of a comedy concoction, then buckle up. (R.W.)

March 25, 10:15 p.m., Video Cabaret

Peter, Paul & Mary: Song Is Love Does anyone really need to see a performance by Peter, Paul & Mary, much less an entire tour? If Song Is Love answered that question honestly, there would be only enough film to contain opening and end credits, and perhaps the Bob Dylan-sung original version of one of the band's hits. The best that can be said about this Tobe Hooper-directed peek behind the curtain from the band's 1969 tour is that all of the footage is culled from 30 years ago, and not from any time after. If you're going to see an absolute lack of talent, charisma, and overpowering whiteness, it's best to see it at its peak. The worst that can be said, and this is truly unfortunate, is that Hooper didn't make this into Texas Chainsaw Massacre instead. (Z.C.)

March 26, 4:15 p.m., Videotheque

Plano, Texas: A Cultural Study of Suburbia Ignore the pretentious title. At its best, Plano, Texas offers a glimpse at the divide separating the 'burb's chiva-snorting children and their clueless, frightened parents. At its worst, Travis Marriott's documentary is a trite, one-dimensional commentary on the evils of materialism and its effects on spoiled teens. Why did Johnny O.D.? Because Mommy and Daddy made him play soccer and drive a big ol' SUV, poor kid, but didn't give him enough l-o-o-o-v-e. Plano occasionally touches on untold aspects of what has become a familiar story -- the social divide separating east and west Plano's youths, a detective's exasperation at trying to convince parents that, yes, their kids do use drugs -- but it never develops these threads, sticking instead with the hackneyed isn't-affluence-bad? angle. Roughly edited and poorly recorded, Plano is overly heavy at first on the city's economic history, but picks up in its latter half, as it cuts back and forth between the anguished parents of one of the city's heroin victims and a handful of stoner teens who knew him. Listening to both sides, it's clear that despite nearly a score of overdose deaths over the past few years, neither side is really communicating with the other. (P.W.)

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