Tale of the Tapes

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

Matisse & Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry

If nothing else, this examination of the "gentle rivalry" between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso during their mutual quest to become the greatest avant-garde painter in the world (or Paris, at least) proves that even seemingly bulletproof ideas can end up with a slug between their ribs. It never gives itself a chance, missing the mark so wildly and so often, the fact that a mark ever existed becomes a distant memory. Taking the Ken Burns pan-and-scan approach to filmmaking, Matisse & Picasso reduces the works of two brilliant artists to the level of auto-paint king Earl Scheib. And as it turns out, Matisse and Picasso's rivalry is so gentle--the film's treatment of it is, anyway--you have to wonder if the filmmakers actually know what the word means. (ZC)

TV Dream Homes: The Drawings of Mark Bennett

Still Life With Animated Dogs: sounds better than living with the real thing.
Still Life With Animated Dogs: sounds better than living with the real thing.
Tonight on Real Sex 69: a screening of Show World, which isn't so...revealing.
Tonight on Real Sex 69: a screening of Show World, which isn't so...revealing.

In just over a quarter of an hour, filmmaker Paula Ezell takes you from pity to amusement to affection for soft-voiced Mark Bennett, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, native who shot to international art-world fame with his spare, precise blueprints of the homes of family TV sitcoms, including I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, The Munsters, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. Bennett was down and out in Los Angeles when an agent from the Mark Moore Gallery asked to represent him after seeing a restaurant exhibit. It was his own miserable childhood, Bennett elaborates in his Tennessee twang, that had caused him to obsess over the details of sitcom dwellings till it became "almost religious." His creative pinnacle--a map of the United States charting the wanderings of The Fugitive that hangs on the wall of New York's MOMA. (JF)

Black Indians: An American Story

Generations of Americans descended from both Native Americans and African-Americans finally get their story told in this documentary from Chip Richie; it's just too bad it feels like such a drab effort. A potentially rich history, one overflowing with the shared struggles of these two people and the children they created under years of oppression, is given a Cliffs Notes treatment. Over the course of many interviews with people who share this mixed ancestry, Richie focuses only on the ostracism they encountered from both African-American and Native-American groups--Black Indians forgets to present its subjects as people themselves. (BM)

One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich

French filmmaker Chris Marker could have retired years ago and sealed his name in film history on the strengths of his poetic works La Jetée, the source material for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, and Sans Soleil. You can add his latest effort, a documentary of the life and art of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, to that list of fine achievements. Shot during Tarkovsky's last year in Paris as he slowly succumbed to the cancer that would claim his life in 1986, One Day offers a superb analysis of Tarkovsky's lyrical cinematic vocabulary. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more thorough explication of Tarkovsky's vision than the one provided by Marker here. It's a caring portrait of an auteur who remains underappreciated in the United States. (BM)

Hill Stomp Hollar

Bradley Beesley's documentary would work even if you never heard R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, or Cedell Davis speak. As long as you could still hear them sing and play, listen to their whiskey-soaked words come out of their gummy mouths while they pick and grimace their way through finger-licking, boot-kicking, backwater, backwoods, backroom, back-porch blues, you don't need anything else. Fuck Stevie Ray Vaughan: The real blues comes from the hill country of Mississippi, and as Beesley's film shows, at least a few people--namely the tiny, two-man staff at Fat Possum Records, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion--know the truth. It really doesn't get much better than this. (ZC)

Suits: The Clothes Make the Man

This charming but way-too-long doc shows us a year in the life of the Art Guys, Houston's beloved performance artists. Their gig this time: They sell corporate sponsorships/logos on their Todd Oldham-designed suits and wear them at public events for a year. It's supposed to be a statement about how artists become commerce, or commerce becomes an artist, or somesuch. I don't know. But it sure is fun (if redundant) to travel the country with these guys as they show off their duds. (Highlights: the fashion show in Times Square and rapping in New Orleans.) Although...it is extremely embarrassing when the Art Guys are shown marching in the sparsely attended downtown Dallas St. Paddy's Day parade. Psst...Guys, the one on Greenville Avenue is the happening one. And, Guys, cut this to 40 minutes, then you've got a winner. (EC)

Stalin/Eisenstein

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl chronicled the relationship between a right-wing dictator (Adolf Hitler) and his country's most important filmmaker; this does the same for left-wing tyrant Joseph Stalin and Sergei Eisenstein, whose collaboration lasted much longer (almost 20 years) but was finally, dramatically severed. The brilliant Russian writer-director, who truthfully comes across as a bit of a wuss here, could no longer tolerate the direct orders of Stalin, who personally previewed every movie before allowing it to screen in his country. There were omissions of truth, addition of propagandistic lies, and above all, the edict to tone down his emotionally stirring "montage" style in films such as Battleship Potemkin. (JF)

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