Tale of the Tapes

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

True Fans

It's obvious that Dan Austin thought he had a Big Idea when he and friends decided to bicycle across America to the NBA Hall of Fame, where they would present to its administrators a basketball. Not just any basketball, though, Austin tells us in his Radio Guy voice and overwritten narration. No, this would be a ball signed by heroes, true heroes, the sort of heroes one meets when one is out on that great highway of life, where all of your day-to-day concerns fade as you hug that white line. Yes, it's that pretentious. And because of the overbearing narration, we never get a sense of Austin or his friends or the "heroes" (read: any of the odd folks they meet don't look like they chill at Austin's fave SoCal beach). (EC)

Beaver Trilogy

The big hit at last summer's New York Video Festival was this recently assembled dramatic triptych from the archives of Utah professor-occasional maverick filmmaker Trent Harris. The story: In 1979, Harris videotaped a guy named Larry Huff he accidentally met in a TV station parking lot, then accompanied him to a mortuary, where the makeup artist bedecks Huff in pancake base and long blond wig for a drag tribute to Olivia Newton-John at a local talent contest. In 1980, Harris shot almost the same piece starring a pre-Fast Times at Ridgemont High Sean Penn in Olivia's golden tresses. Fast forward to 1985, when Crispin Glover gives a typically overwrought but hypnotic performance in an altered scenario, this one recorded on film and edited to look like a network TV movie about following your dreams. The result? The shorts are shown together to mountains of oblique critical praise but provide an actual viewing experience that alternates between oddball and laborious. (JF)

Sunday, March 18

Compilation: Jewish History Revisited Plus

The four shorts gathered for this compilation program are ambitious efforts whose big themes are hindered by limited means. Diane Nerwen's In the Blood examines how the attitudes of contemporary American Jews toward Germany, its language, and its people have been shaped by knowledge of the Holocaust: Respondents two generations removed from World Ward II recall tales of visiting Germany and immediately feeling like unwanted outsiders. This interesting cultural dynamic is, unfortunately, undermined by the short's visual approach: a collage of first-person documentary images, newsreels, and movie excerpts cut and pasted together that reaches for a poetic lyricism but never feels like more than a haphazard experiment. Ever more perplexing are Jay Rosenblatt's Worm--a brief that tells the story about a boy remembering the day it rained worms--and King of the Jews, the tale of a young Jewish man who grew up absolutely petrified of Jesus. King takes a unique approach to examine Catholic anti-Semitism but does so in a manner that recalls Ira Glass' creepy, monotone melodrama, "This American Life." Rosenblatt's Nine Lives, however, earns a half-hearted chuckle for being the wild card in the lot, a riff on James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with a cat as its dreaming narrator. (BM)

Still Life With Animated Dogs

"I think we are all born with a predisposition to connect with nature," animator Paul Fierlinger says late in this brief, moving tribute to various dog companions he has had throughout his life and the valuable lessons they taught him. "To be in awe of nature and let go of all other thoughts is to become connected to God." Written, narrated, and animated by Fierlinger--whose simple drawing style here is reminiscent of James Thurber's New Yorker cartoons--Still Life tracks Fierlinger's series of pets from his bitter, younger days in Cold War Czechoslovakia to middle-class America. "To live under totalitarian rule is to live without a past and without a future," he says of life behind the Iron Curtain, where a dog named Roosevelt taught him how to deal with heavy-handed authority: "Get sneaky and do everything under the table." Fierlinger's language here comes across like a prose poem that is beautifully measured, deceptively complex. His memories of his dogs--and the observations of humanity they led him to--are heartfelt and sentimental without being maudlin. Of course, that's the way any honest expression of gratitude and love should be. (PW)

Figures of Speech

One of the few films to emerge from Sundance with much b-b-b-buzz was Richard Linklater's Waking Life, in which actors talktalktalk about the meaning of life. Only, you never actually "see" the actors: They've been animated by artists who use computers to render humans as living-breathing-moving-morphing paintings that shift shapes according to words spoken or emotions hinted at. The technology will no doubt be the filmmakers' play toy for a long time; even if the story's weak and the dialogue's dodgy, you'll be wowed by the dreamscape unfolding. Tommy Pallotta and Bob Sabiston's 30-minute short Figures of Speech doesn't even bother to offer a narrative; rather, they went out and interviewed folks in Austin, Texas; Flagstaff, Arizona; and San Francisco, California; let them ramble on and on about boys and hurricanes and acting and other bits of life's errata; and then brought them to vivid, animated life using this new wowee technology. The result is hypnotic, even if it is a strictly BYOB (Bring Your Own Bong) affair. (RW)

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