Fest intentions

USA Film Festival: Amargosa, Committed, The Devil's Swing, Dropping Out, Hamlet, Lush, The Natural History of the Chicken, Split Decision, The Target Shoots First, Steal This Movie

The Target Shoots First
Saturday, April 29, 8 p.m.No matter that this appeared at the Dallas Video Festival two years ago. Only now is Christopher Wilcha's documentary about his tenure at Columbia House making the rounds, so much so that music-biz and rock-crit colleagues have begun hording it as a bootleg, a sacred totem. Less a scathing behind-the-scenes at the mail-order corporation (co-owned, despite the name, by both Sony and Time-Warner) than a question mark at the end of the sentence "Whither alternative rock," Wilcha's film begins as Nirvana's Nevermind is starting to work its way down the charts. Needing a job (the band's done, school's out), Wilcha goes to work in the Manhattan offices of Columbia House, where he brings his video camera and films the mundane day-to-day bullshit, all of which adds up to a prescient peek at a confused industry trying to reinvent itself in flannel and ripped T-shirts. When Wilcha moved into Columbia House in 1993, the record club's sales were dying: Mom and Dad had stopped buying Neil Diamond records, while the kids were out at their local indie stores buying Sub Pop product. What's a multinational to do but get, uh, hip? So it's up to Wilcha -- who winds up in the merch-marketing department -- to teach the old farts how to sell young. Meaning, he has to rewrite the catalog to figure out how to sell Beavis and Butt-head compilations and Alice in Chains discs for one low, low price. As it turns out, Columbia House isn't such an evil place: The consumer ends up spending about eight bucks a disc after penny deals and freebie giveaways get you in the door. The real victim, if that's the right word, is the artist, who receives discounted royalties through the record club's sales...and, hey, tough luck, Garth. Wilcha's film succeeds not because it blows the lid off the bulk-sales biz or because the filmmaking is first-rate or because Wilcha's a riveting narrator, but because it serves to remind us of the exact moment "alternative" became commonplace, mainstream, irrelevant. And, let's face it, it is kind of thrilling in a naughty, voyeuristic way to watch the way nine-to-fivers live and work; no doubt you could make this kind of movie about your job. You know you want to. (R.W.)

Steal This Movie!
Monday, May 1, 7 p.m.
Courtney Love plays Joan, wife of Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, in Beat, part of the Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
Courtney Love plays Joan, wife of Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, in Beat, part of the Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
Carefree or a menace to society? Heather Graham is Committed to not letting her man get away, Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m.
Carefree or a menace to society? Heather Graham is Committed to not letting her man get away, Thursday, May 4, 7:30 p.m.

Details

Tickets available at the box office at 1 p.m. each day, or call (214) 631-2787
April 27-May 4

AMC Glen Lakes,
9450 N. Central Expressway

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By the time I met Abbie Hoffman in the fall of 1987 -- at a music conference in Manhattan, where he delivered the keynote address with help from Billy Bragg -- he was a cuddly vestige. The '60s were well past him, yellowed pages in a scrapbook and a dozen FBI files; the '90s were just around the corner, though Hoffman wouldn't live to see them. I don't recall what he said (he was, at the time, promoting his new book, Steal This Urine Test), only what he wore (a shirt cut from the American flag) and what he looked like (a color picture slowly fading into black and white). And his handshake was soft; his smile gentle and welcoming. By then, Hoffman was nothing more, nothing less than a celebrity -- a survivor, really, who went underground 15 years earlier and crawled out of the sewer as a beloved icon. Those who knew what he stood for in the 1960s (liberty and justice for all, be they male or female, black or white, American or South Vietnamese) admired his beliefs. Those who knew what he suffered through in the late '60s and 1970s (nearly 50 arrests, the last of which forced him to go into hiding for more than five years) couldn't believe he still existed at all -- or that he would not exist come April 12, 1989, when, at the age of 52, the Yippie founder overdosed on Phenobarbital and alcohol at his home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Director Robert Greenwald (previously known as the man who made Xanadu) wants to know, more than anything else, how a man so vibrant and powerful as Abbie Hoffman could commit suicide after decades of government harassment; how could he give up after so many years of refusing to cave in? The answer is not a difficult one: Hoffman, a manic-depressive diagnosed with bipolar disorder, found strength in his own torment. He was happy only when he was stirring up the shit, when he was giving Nixon and Hoover the finger, when he was standing trial, when he was falling in love, when he was on the run. Greenwald presents us not with the Yippie icon, but with the tragic hero; his Abbie is a beautiful mess, a tortured soul, a revolutionary who sought to bind a nation while he fell apart. Steal This Movie! is hardly flawless -- it plays like JFK-lite, with Greenwald as Oliver Stone's less talented younger brother tossing out camera tricks and conspiracy theories as if he's afraid he'll disappoint otherwise -- but it's compelling nonetheless. Perhaps this is because as Hoffman, Vincent D'Onofrio is never less than persuasive; as always, he demands you watch him, because he never wastes a single word or movement. Look away, and you will miss his casual genius. He acts the way most people breathe, with such little effort that even his outbursts seem natural, frank. As wife Anita, Janeane Garofalo finally lands herself a part that doesn't demand that she wisecrack and smirk -- even though Anita is often forced to play the Penthouse wife, only too happy to put up with her husband's shit. (Garofalo and Jeanne Tripplehorn, as Abbie's "underground" girlfriend Johanna Lawrenson, are often shown together, consoling their lone lover. If nothing else, Greenwald does show us the Abbie Hoffman who thought the world revolved around him, whose power often morphed into m

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