Tale of the Tapes

With headliners like Mike Judge and an impressive list of films, the Dallas Video Festival once again wins by knockout

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Awards 2000

We're suckers for these compilations, if only because we long ago stopped believing that art and commerce were separate entities; better to fess up now and enjoy these, ahem, "shorts" for what they are--usually, the most enjoyable part of watching prime-time TV these days (better a FedEx ad featuring the Munchkins than 30 minutes of Geena Davis). This collection of last year's finest features the usual suspects (Visa's water-ballet Olympic spot, Maya Angelou's New York Times ad, the Mountain Dew spot in which a BMX'er chases and catches a cheetah), and the standard gaggle of foreign-made spots that make you go hmmmm, among them an Argentinean advert promoting a copying-and-color-separation service by way of multiple homicides and a shoe-polisher spot that makes it appear as though a man is buffing, well, himself. Of course, you get four Budweiser "Whassup?" ads, one of which (using call waiting) is rarely shown. These spots took home the Grand Prize award; that is correct. (RW)

Robbie and Sarah prepare to say their farewells to each other and American High.
Robbie and Sarah prepare to say their farewells to each other and American High.
The Hills of Arlen, Texas, welcome their creator, Mike Judge (inset), to the Dallas Video Fest, where he will receive the Kovacs Award this year.
Fox Broadcasting
The Hills of Arlen, Texas, welcome their creator, Mike Judge (inset), to the Dallas Video Fest, where he will receive the Kovacs Award this year.

Thursday, March 15

American High

Fox TV canceled this R.J. Cutler-created series last year after only four episodes appeared in a two-week span. In these pages last August, Cutler blamed the demise of American High, which followed around 12 high school students in Highland Park, Illinois, on programming decisions (it had what Cutler called "the world's shittiest time slot," as it aired opposite CBS' Big Brother, which had as its lead-in Survivor), panic, and network-exec turnover. Fox's loss has turned out to be PBS' gain, and you can only hope that public television knows what to do with a series that feels like The Real World's smarter, snappier kid brother. The show existed to prove that reality television, when done with class and conscience, could indeed be powerful and personal: We saw the pain spread across Sarah's face when she discovered her boyfriend, Robbie, had gotten into the University of Colorado, meaning he was about to leave for good; we sighed when jock Kiwi failed to notice how much his beautiful best friend, Anna, was in love with him; and we ached watching Allie cope with her parents' painful divorce. If nothing else, American High existed to prove to adults how little we know about today's teens. The video fest is showing two remarkable episodes: the debut and a later show about prom night. (RW)


Don't let Kovacs Award recipient Mike Judge near the screen when Boxes is showing; he might be tempted to wonder why director Rene Besson and writer James Portolese felt it necessary to remake his 1999 film Office Space, only with no money (it cost $300 bucks, so they insist), no laughs, and no appeal. Judge's movie captured perfectly Still Life in the Cubicle: inane, cliché-obsessed bosses droning on and on about memos and motives; dull-eyed co-workers with nowhere to go but sideways; efficiency experts whose titles seem somehow ironic; and machines that work just long enough to break down and frustrate. Besson and Portolese mine the exact same material in the exact same place--in a maze of cubes, beneath the life-sucking fluorescent lights--but without the charm or chuckles or, for that matter, the point. The poster for Office Space had more to say: "Work sucks." Yeah, especially when it's your job to watch Boxes. (RW)

Store Wars

It's hard not to be annoyed by most everyone in Micha Peled's engrossing documentary about how tiny Ashland, Virginia, is torn by Wal-Mart's decision to try to open a store there. The argument for it: People need to shop. Against it: Yeah, but it's big and corporate and evil! Sure, the company appears clueless at times, like when it buys a full-page ad in the local paper that misrepresents a professor's study about how a Wal-Mart opening affects small local businesses. (Hint: Business don't get bettah.) But when the passel o' Ashland idiots claim they're against a Wal-Mart because they want to keep the hamlet's small-town heritage, then meet to discuss anti-WM strategy at a friggin' Hardee's...well, the anti-chain gang loses what little credibility it may have built up. (EC)

Show World

HBO likes to portray itself as the network of class and quality--home to The Sopranos, The Larry Sanders Show, Boycott, and all things Emmy-worthy. But the cable outlet fills its late-night hours with poor excuses for soft-core porn; this week on Real Sex 59, couples who get off watching G-String Divas. Rosalee Tsoo's 26-minute doc, taped in front of one of New York City's best-known titty bars, plays like Real Sex intros and outtakes--those perv-on-the-street interviews ("What's your idea of fantasy?" "What turns you on?" "What kind of woman are you trying to meet?") that break up the monotony of watching old folks grope old folks on a New Age kibbutz. This is all Q&A, blahblahblah street-corner confessions: One woman admits to taking part in a circle-jerk (with vibrators, no duh); another guy asks Tsoo, "Can I sniff your fart?"; most often, they ramble, insult, and threaten. (RW)

Friday, March 16

Divine Trash

Here's one of your last big-screen chances to catch Steve Yeager's light-hearted, engrossing documentary about the early career of director John Waters up to the filming of Pink Flamingos. Its wide variety of sources--new and stock interviews with Waters, the late Glenn "Divine" Milstead, shlock movie influences the Kuchar Brothers and Herschel Gordon Lewis, Waters' parents, and Divine's mom--provide the texture that the best documentaries have, when the testifiers provide little moments of character beyond the subject they testify about (watch Divine's mother insist poignantly that her son was a role model for fat people and gay men). Waters emerges with his usual contradictions intact--a kind-hearted, articulate, and unusually charming man who, as a director, juxtaposed images of Christ's crucifixion with Divine groaning in pleasure as rosary beads are shoved up her ass in Multiple Maniacs. Divine Trash may be the most entertaining Waters flick he never made. (JF)

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