The USA Film Festival follows Robert Redford's Sundance Festival in Park Cities, Utah, by about three months. If you were to rank the importance of the USA Festival against Sundance among industry types and star-gazers, that distance would seem more like three million light years.
And yet, as evidenced at the last two Sundance gatherings, there's something sinister afoot in the world of American independent filmmaking. And despite Robert Redford's good intentions, Sundance has more blood on its hands than any other suspect. Blood from big studio holdings like Miramax and Fine Line, whose cockfight mentality last year caused near-public fistfights between company heads and filmmakers detained against their will over the gentle-spirited Shine; from the hardworking filmmakers whose subtle efforts are annually ignored for the remainder of the festival if their initial screenings don't generate buzz; and from moviegoers, who've plunked down their hard-earned money on films like The Brothers McMullen and Clerks and Girlstown only to discover that what has been feted at Sundance with audience and jury awards is the promise of talent by first-time filmmakers, not the clear expression of it.
Dallas movie fans should be grateful that the USA Film Festival isn't Sundance. Robert Redford protests every year that commercial considerations are nonexistent in the selection of movies, but major studio money, in cahoots with the entertainment press, has performed its usual feat of incitement, transforming a talent search into a philistine mob.
Meanwhile, in his third year as artistic director, Alonso Duralde has applied the standards of one gourmand's palate to the movies submitted for his approval. Sure, a few decisions are pragmatically market-driven, such as the irrelevant preview of the Tommy Lee Jones disaster flick Volcano or the screening of a God-awful Mia Farrow comedy Reckless that was pulled from national release two years ago. Both stars make appearances in Dallas pretty much because the Festival fit into their promotional tours (Farrow to sign her new book). Still, the festival is elitist enough to win Plato's approval, while Phil Gramm would wax disparaging. But above all, the 1997 USA Film Festival is intensely satisfying. The biggest victory to report here is the sheer festivalness of the 1997 USA. The breakdown goes like this: one imminent major studio release, 13 independently distributed features, and a whopping 26 features with no U.S. distributors.
In short, the combination of modest expectations and Duralde's droll eye for selection ensures the USA Film Festival serves the moviegoer, not the industry. It's a dirty little secret that the biz won't admit, but fly-over country has a unique vantage point that the coastal capitals of entertainment don't share. Pauline Kael once said that no good film criticism comes out of Los Angeles and New York, because the writers there are hopelessly co-opted by the glamorous hospitality of film companies before they have the chance to develop a vision of cinema.
With the understanding that Park Cities, Utah, has become a captured moon of the industry capitals, Kael's axiom will soon apply to film festivals. Virtually ignored, The USA Film Festival is in a unique position to remake itself as both critic and maverick on the American festival circuit. Duralde slyly gleans what the big boys have left behind; his 27th Annual USA Film Festival is an armful of overlooked treasures chosen to suit the film lover, not the distributor.
Note: The 27th Annual USA Film Festival runs Thursday, April 17 through Thursday, April 24. All screenings are at the AMC Glen Lakes theatre, 9450 North Central Expressway at Walnut Hill Lane. All tickets, available exclusively through Ticketmaster, are $6.50 ($5.50 for Festival members), except for closing-night tickets to Volcano/Master Screen Artist Tribute to Tommy Lee Jones, and Cabaret/An Evening with Liza Minnelli, which cost $20 ($18 for Festival members). Seating for all programs is general admission. Call 821-NEWS for more information. Observer film critics Jimmy Fowler and Arnold Wayne Jones wrote the following reviews. denotes a film that the Observer recommends.
The Graduate. With only his second film, Mike Nichols took a gem of a script (by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham) and crafted a modern classic, as timely today as it was when first released 30 years ago. Despite being best remembered for the notorious May-December affair between recent college graduate Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and the spidery Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), The Graduate is really about something else entirely: youthful alienation, of which the affair is merely a symptom. Even before Woodstock, this was a powerful theme, one that held a generation captive to free love and drugs as means of escaping the war in Vietnam and the South's Jim Crow laws and opening the door to what liberalism would become. Even in 1967, these were radical issues for American cinema, but The Graduate was a phenomenal popular success (second only to The Sound of Music for all films released in the '60s). What accounted for such obvious crossover appeal? Probably its centrist, all-American approach: The film may be about the alienation of youth culture, but its hero is cut from the cloth of Wally Cleaver and Opie Taylor. Ben Braddock isn't a long-haired, pot-smoking, parent-hating rebel; he's a middle-brow, upper-middle-class, buttoned-down college boy, the kind who never had to worry about going to Nam and didn't know a downtrodden minority aside from the family maid. The effect of this canny little twist was to confer The Graduate currency among all viewers: Stolid young folks were given a license to radicalize, and the radicalized kids saw in The Graduate a metaphor for middle-class indifference, hypocrisy, and apathy. (Ozzie and Harriet went to see the film as a domestic drama, and its reputation as a tremendous inside joke only grew.) From Ben's confusion about love and life, and the cryptic promise of "plastics," The Graduate explored themes of sexuality without showing sex, of finding a life-direction without getting preachy. This anniversary reissue reminds us of the commonality that young people have always shared, whatever their generation. (AWJ) Buck Henry in attendance.
Friday, April 18, 7 p.m.
Rod Serling: Writer. Even before The Graduate gave a single image to youth culture's sense of urban alienation, Rod Serling had given that theme a peculiar, singular, psychic vibration. The Twilight Zone, his phenomenal anthology series, largely reflected the uneasy confusion that both preceded and followed the assassination of John Kennedy, and a zeitgeist was born. Even before The Twilight Zone, however, Serling was already the most respected writer working in TV. His scripts for such Playhouse 90 dramas as Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Comedian, and Patterns are contributed heavily to the Fifties' reputation as the "Golden Age of Television." This lively and informative documentary on Serling's surprisingly brief life (he died in 1974, at age 50) intelligently and scrupulously documents his prolific career. No scriptwriter outside Broadway was as famous as Rod Serling. (It was later that his staccato delivery and ever-present cigarette would make him an icon.) In today's era, series "creators" like Steven Bochco (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue), David Kelley (Chicago Hope, Picket Fences) and Matt Williams (The Cosby Show, Roseanne) trade on their prominence as producers--"handling" stars, putting together packages, and marketing a look; Serling actually had the talent to say something. Whatever the plot of his stories may have seemed (from fanciful Twilight Zone episodes, 92 of which Serling wrote himself, to tales of over-the-hill boxers and troubled executives), at its heart his writing was about himself. His life experiences--from shell shock in World War II to his nostalgia for his hometown--weaved their way throughout all his plots, and the complex characters he created are merely pieces of the mosaic of his psyche. Milan Kundera wrote: "A writer destroys the house of his life and uses the stones to build the foundation of his writing." Adhering to this philosophy, Serling was, and remains, the patron saint of commercial dramatists, an inspirational genius whose dialogue, use of metaphor, and timeliness with issues transformed a medium. Rod Serling: Writer is a suitable eulogy to his consuming talent. (AWJ) Filmmaker Colin Strayer in attendance.
Friday, April 18, 9:10 p.m.
Skidoo. Perhaps the brashest, most rewarding conception the Festival dares to expose is how really awful movies are just as easy to come by as good ones (even more so). Thus was born the annual program "Bad Movies We Love," an inspired celebration of the crass and campy. Audiences would be hard-pressed to uncover a film more deserving of the label "bad" than Skidoo. Camp--the appreciation of something so bad, it's good--was the bastard offspring of the auteur policy of film criticism, a philosophy that gained currency in the 1950s, when French critics began watching pre-WWII movies in repertory. It naturally followed that once we learned to value the work of prior generations of filmmakers for their inherent worth, we'd also learn to appreciate wretchedness for what it is. The one constant about true camp is that it can't be wholly intentional (Airplane! isn't camp; Airport is.) Skidoo is a dreadful little "comedy" starring Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Austin Pendleton, and a slew of other actors who had all seen better days. The film is little more than a series of escapades a la the druggie, hippie comedies from the '60s. Most of those movies weren't very good, of course, but at least they featured people who knew what the counterculture was about, and what the generation wanted. No self-respecting acid-head would ever have an acid trip as dull and awful as the one in this movie. Skidoo doesn't even have the good taste to give itself a hip title. I'm opposed to the term "guilty pleasure"; if you enjoy a movie, you should never be ashamed to say so, and there's no disgrace in liking "bad" movies. I found the camp of Skidoo tedious, but others, without shame, found it hysterical. That's why a program like this is a wonderful addition to any celebration of film. (AWJ) Austin Pendleton in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, 7:10 p.m.
Reckless. Director Norman Rene and writer Craig Lucas enjoyed a fruitful collaborative association prior to Rene's death in 1995. Together, they made two sincere and mature parables about AIDS and homosexuality: first the beautifully simple Longtime Companion, then the more metaphorical Prelude to a Kiss. Sadly, their swansong is this misguided stab at comedy, the unfathomably named Reckless. Mia Farrow plays a nagging housewife who is astonished to learn, on Christmas Eve, that her husband (Tony Goldwyn) has paid a hit man to kill her. After she escapes execution, her travels and the people she meets serve as the plot. There's the slightest indication that something wild and unhinged will happen to this mousy, beset housewife, but the plot twists seem neither real nor fun, and the gummy sense of comedic timing never generates anything more than mild amusement. (AWJ) Mia Farrow in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, 7:10 p.m.
Eye of God. As one of the most rewarding films to see at the festival, Eye of God is a structurally inventive, thematically rich tale of murder, religion, and the slow desiccation of small-town America. Set in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, Tim Blake Nelson's story begins with a murder investigation involving a disturbed 14-year-old boy (Dallas native Nick Stahl) and an unknown victim. Through an intricate series of flashback and parallel time lines that intersect like the lines of a Spirograph, we learn about Ainsley (Martha Plimpton), a local girl whose pen-pal relationship with Jack, a prison inmate (Kevin Anderson), reaches fruition when he is released from jail and seeks her out. What starts out as charming romance grows more sinister as Jack uses his born-again religious fervor as a club against his new wife, first seducing her with tenderness, then dominating her with his warped view of what a "proper Christian house" should be. Equal parts The Stepfather, A Place in the Sun, and explication of the parable of Abraham, this peculiarly humane, cyclical tale of sacrifice in the age of modernity is intelligent, sincere, and quietly moving. With exceptional performances from Hal Holbrook, Richard Jenkins, and Margo Martindale, Eye of God raises the bar for what independent films can--and should--be. (AWJ) Mary Kay Place, Nick Stahl, and writer/director Tim Blake Nelson in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, 9:30 p.m.
I Was a Jewish Sex Worker. The Festival warns that at this midnight showing, "no one under 18 will be admitted" for good reason. This shortish, revelatory documentary by Phillip B. Roth is more sexually explicit than the controversial Crash, and also significantly more entertaining. Roth is a homosexual Jewish filmmaker from New York whose other short films--Boys/Life and 25-Year-Old Gay Man Loses His Virginity to a Woman--have met with some success on gay cable TV, and there's an incredible personal aspect to his filmmaking that you rarely get in movies, even at festivals. Roth is confused about sex and life, and that he is willing to candidly discuss his profession, euphemistically called a "full-body masseur," earns him credit for honesty. Beyond the sexual cataloguing--there's lots of it--is a raw, uncompromising glimpse we get of the charismatic women that his family has turned out: a plain-spoken grandmother, a delightful aunt, and a tolerant mother. Godard said "Film is truth as 24 frames per second." If that's so, there's a "truth" to the content of this film, if not the form. (Many of the scenes from his life are staged, or re-staged, for the camera.) For Roth, reality is reflected through the prism of his filmic artifices, and a greater truth emerges from it. This is the kind of clever, introspective interview-intensive self-documentaries that many other films think they are about, but don't have the teeth to really say. (AWJ) Phillip B. Roth in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, midnight.
It's in the Water. It sometimes seems that Dallas area filmmakers are unusually preoccupied with homosexual issues: To Gay TV: The Movie (also screening at the Festival this year) and last year's hit Late Bloomers, add It's in the Water. Like Only in America at the 1996 Festival, It's in the Water thinks that its soap-opera ethic, lazily drawn cookie-cutter stereotypes, and toothless satiric riffs amount to something more than a pedestrian caricature of foo-foo Highland Park society. They do not. Characters that are one-dimensionally pompous are too-easy targets for the script's flaccid wit, and the plot--about a rumor that homosexuality is caused by a tainted water supply--lacks a frenetic kick. The closest this limp satire, painted with broad brushstrokes, comes to psychological development is suggesting that upper-class women are the product of a daddy-obsessed, mommy-dominated upbringing. Ho-hum. Almost lost in this are two notable performances: Keri Jo Chapman, who has the same straightforward appeal of Sandra Bullock, and John Hallum as Spencer, a bitchy queen whose lover is dying of AIDS. (AWJ) Director Kelli Herd in attendance.
Sunday, April 20, 5:10 p.m.
Good Luck. A few years ago, one of the treasures of the Festival was Joe's Rotten World, a daft and offbeat social comedy written and directed by Richard LaBrie. When the Festival announced that LaBrie had another entry this year, expectations were high. Unfortunately the product, Good Luck, has none of the personality or wit LaBrie showed in Joe's Rotten World. The story is fairly routine--a preprogrammed "uplifting" tale of a self-pitying, blind ex-jock (Vincent D'Onofrio) and a paraplegic (Gregory Hines) who team up to enter a whitewater rafting competition; fuzzy male bonding ensues. The few moments when Good Luck enters the realm of absurdist romp are fun, but these unhinged moments give way to the greater goal of the script (by Bob Comfort): to be a feel-good entertainment without much invention. (AWJ) Gregory Hines, Max Gail, and Richard LaBrie in attendance.
Sunday, April 20, 7:15 p.m.
Short Stuff. The short film compilations are one of the high points of the Festival--last year's best entry, Breathing Lessons, went on to win the Oscar last month for documentary short. This year you can savor Dear Diary, Dreamworks' Oscar-winning live action short. The writer/director is David Frankel, whose previous film (Miami Rhapsody) and short-lived television series (Grapevine) feature the same insane pacing--there's not a slow moment in the whole thing. Bebe Neuwirth stars as a publishing executive whose incredibly weird day inspires her to record events in her diary, which are then acted out with staccato speed and lots of humor. The quality of the shorts, unfortunately, tends to go downhill from there--but two films manage to offer worthwhile delights: Inside Out, Jason Gould's largely autobiographical indictment of Scientology, media, and love in the '90s; and Static, a somewhat predictable but entertaining tale of a soldier standing over a triggered, but yet-to-explode, landmine in the Kuwaiti desert. (AWJ) Michael Goorjian, director of Liber Nox, in attendance.
Sunday, April 20, 9:15 p.m.
Rubber Carpet. Tula (Judy Coffey) and Ansel (Jonathan Wilson) are trying to work out the niggling details of their relationship, like whether to put up with a neighbor known only as "Clapton-fuck" because of the white-noise generated by his continuous playing of "Layla," and whether Ansel can sell any of his art, such as "Piss-muffin," an indictment of large bakeries. In this skewed comedy, writers John May and Suzanne Bolch explore the slapdash philosophies we cobble together to make some sense out of our lives. In its very personal view of romantic life, I couldn't help but think of Rubber Carpet as the Canadian version of Clerks: part sight-gags, part self-pity, all fun. (AWJ) Director John May in attendance.
Monday, April 21, 7:15 p.m.
David Searching. The implied contract between low-budget filmmaker and low-budget audience is this: in exchange for the filmmaker providing interesting themes, important but under-exposed topics, and creative techniques, the viewer agrees to overlook a certain lack of polish. David Searching breaches this agreement, and the result is a film that doesn't work regardless of its poor editing and tinny soundtrack. Anthony Rapp plays David, a struggling New York documentarian whose magnum opus is a two-hour film of talking heads--people across the country offering their answer to the question "What do you consider to be an absolute truth?" If such a documentary sounds pompous and boring to you, you've pretty much stumbled upon one of the fatal flaws that doom this movie. The misunderstood and underappreciated filmmaker is fast becoming a tiresome and abundant archetype in independent films--at the Festival alone, no less than eight features concern people on the periphery of the movie business. How could the writer-director, Leslie Smith, conceive of a sympathetic character whose excess of ambition is only matched by his arrogant presumptions toward art, and then never expose his hubris for what it is? The reason must be that Smith believes in David, and his blind devotion to him tanks the film. (AWJ) Anthony Rapp and director Leslie Smith in attendance.
Monday, April 21, 9 p.m.
Ben Johnson: Third Cowboy on the Right.
Ben Johnson was the quintessential "background" cowboy. As L.Q. Jones says in an interview here, the stars were all that changed in the Hollywood Westerns of the '40s, '50s, and '60s; the supporting cast remained more or less the same. The likes of Johnson and Ward Bond and Warren Oates anchored these movies; they held the frame steady while the larger-than-life personalities of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, or William Holden bounced around their heroics. Johnson received his greatest success in two dissimilar movies: as the lead (his only one) in Wagonmaster, and for a supporting performance of uncommon depth in The Last Picture Show. The latter film makes for the best anecdote related to Johnson: how he refused director Peter Bogdanovich's offer of the role because the dialogue was too "dirty," how Bogdanovich cajoled legendary director John Ford into convincing Johnson to take it; and how Johnson eventually went on to win the Oscar for his performance, one of the most deserving awarded in the '70s. (Johnson died last year, after a beautiful, final bow in The Evening Star.) (AWJ) Writer Tom Marksbury in attendance.
Monday, April 21, 9:10 p.m.
Cabaret. This racy, raunchy, frank, dark musical, set in Weimar-era Germany, centers on a flighty American singer, Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), and the men in her life (Michael York, Helmut Griem). The director, Bob Fosse--who had only one previous film (Sweet Charity) to his credit--set most of the musical interludes in a dank, seedy cabaret presided over by the Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey), a cadaverously eerie, androgynous mole. Did this really exist, or was it a metaphor for the sloth and corruption that let Hitler rise to power? You could argue either way, but one thing was certain: Cabaret revolutionized the movie musical. Its brooding, serious themes ruined the splashy MGM-style family entertainment that dominated the genre. (In the 1960s alone, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Oliver! all won Best Picture Oscars.) (AWJ) Liza Minnelli in attendance.
Tuesday, April 22, 7 p.m.
Scream, Teen, Scream. Scream, already the all-time highest grossing horror film (or slasher flick, to be specific), has been rereleased to push the film's gross to the $100 million mark. It is, we've been reassured in mysteriously glowing reviews from major critics, a spoof of slasher flicks. This reminds me of an SCTV segment with Dave Thomas as Phil Donahue and Catherine O'Hara as a panelist on his show. O'Hara insists that she's not a stripper--she just performs critical parodies of strippers. "But do you take off your clothes in front of strangers for money?" he asks. "Yes," O'Hara confirms, "but you're supposed to watch me and think, 'That's what a stripper does.'" The ironic distance Scream placed between itself and its subject matter wasn't big enough to crawl inside for a nap, which is the only distance I really wanted after the retarded opening sequence with Drew Barrymore. Scream is a dumb teensploitation exercise masquerading as a smart commentary, while Scream, Teen, Scream!, the shot-on-video parody by director Joshua Rosenzweig and writer-drag actress Jackie Beat, is spry and unsmug, snapping cliches together into new shapes as colorful as Lego sculptures. With Wigstock and the role of Helen Lawson in a recent New York theatrical version of Valley of the Dolls under her Gucci belt, Beat has acquired enough discipline and on-camera savoir faire to know the difference between bad acting and a skillful impersonation of bad acting. Divine eventually nailed this cold until, by the time Polyester rolled around, he was capable of giving a genuinely affecting comic performance that didn't rely on making fun of Francine Fishpaw, his swept-away housewife. In other words, Beat practices drag as characterization, not as commentary, which is the only hope to save this venerable art form from an eternal table wait in Wong Foo's restaurant. Beat, Alexis Arquette, looking like Nigel Tufnel in Pat Benatar hotpants, and Robert Ring star as a trio of comely teenagers celebrating on the same Halloween night when The Apricot Hankie killer is on the loose. Scream, Teen, Scream! is a more successful parody than Wes Craven's tedious hit, if only because it honestly plays around with the brittle bones of the fossilized thriller form, like tracking shots into screaming faces and "slasher cam with breathing soundtrack," where Scream actually believed it could scare you. Scream, Teen, Scream! has twice the brains, all the laughs, and not a single pretension under its neatly sculpted red nails. (JF) Alexis Arquette and Jackie Beat in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, 10:10 p.m.
Salon Mexico. Gorgeously photographed by Carlos Markovich, Salon Mexico deepens the mythology of love surrounding the Mexican ballroom culture, which was elaborated four years ago in the perversely funny, melancholic Danzon. The lure of the tangos and flamenco rhythms propelled a woman on a search through life-altering obstacles to find a legendary dancer. Salon Mexico, a richly visual, kinetic romantic tragedy from Mexico that achieves a Bertolucci-quality visual splendor--reportedly at a budget that the Italian master himself might require. But to these eyes, this story of a double murder (or was it double suicide?) inflamed by sexual possessiveness strongly resembles Mike Newell's 1985 Dance With a Stranger, right down to Maria Rojo's tightly wound, Miranda Richardsonian portrayal of a deeply passionate woman whose class shame aggravates a murderous rage. Rojo is a salon dancer and sometime petty thief who steals a man she cannot handle. The murders of her and her lover, committed either by each other during a confrontation in a dressing room, or by a third party, are investigated by a slick-haired, tough-talking detective. The dots are connected by Blanca Guerra as Rojo's chief sexual competitor, who recounts the triangle that culminated in a bloody duet.(JF)
Sunday, April 20, 7 p.m.
Letter From Waco. "For most people, Waco is famous for two things," says filmmaker Don Howard. "It's either the home of Dr Pepper or David Koresh." A wacky companion piece to the controversial documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement, Howard's cheerfully self-deprecating love letter to his hometown, Letter From Waco, finds the director/narrator combining the edgy folksiness of Jean Shepherd with the pop-cult archivalist instincts of Atomic Cafe's Jayne Loader, applied to Errol Morris' suspense goals. Letter From Waco manages to keep a lot of different balls in the air, a tribute to both the rich history of a town that even Texans are loath to claim and to Howard's clear-eyed understanding of how personal and civic histories connect. Waco was described at the turn of the century as "the old South slamming up against the wild and wooly West," and this charming first-person essay achieves the near-impossible--makes you want to visit a not particularly scenic city with a fresh knowledge of what formed the surroundings. (JF) Don Howard in attendance.
Tuesday, April 22, 7 p.m.
Naked Acts. Following hot on the heels of Cheryl Dunye's Jesse Helms-approved feature Watermelon Woman, writer-director Bridget Davis' sparkling Naked Acts explores media representations of black women in a more intimate way. Whereas Dunye created a search for a fictional black actress of the '30s, Davis directs her drama from the point of view of Cicely, an ambitious black film actress who's peeled off the 57 pounds that kept her from succeeding in auditions. She's such a hit, in fact, that a producer asks her to do a nude scene as part of a role, and Cicely finds herself an unlikely and not altogether willing pioneer for her race and gender. Naked Acts implies that there may be an upside to the dearth of erotic images of black women in the media--the fact that they're allowed more room to navigate their body images than white women, who're assailed with impossibly thin and beautiful ivory bodies from TV, movies, and magazines. Naked Acts stays focused, dragging in cultural baggage only when it accentuates the powerful inner struggle that Cicely is conducting over whether to show her body. (JF) Bridget Davis in attendance.
Saturday, April 19, 5 p.m.
Battle for the Minds. Last year's decision by the Southern Baptist Convention to boycott Disney because of its same-sex domestic partner benefits and to convert Jews to Christianity because, well, the Bible says so, was met with a good deal of bemusement by the American media, which has generally accommodated the religious right's viewpoint (Joe Klein, please take a bow) since Dan Quayle's highly effective family values campaign was launched. Steven Lipscomb's powerful documentary Battle for the Minds is required viewing for anyone who's alarmed by the fundamentalist dogma that has seized the Southern Baptist Convention with renewed fervor since the Republican Revolution. Lipscomb trains his eye on a woman who suddenly realizes that, after a lifetime of being a devout Baptist, she's suddenly something of a heretic for her views that women should be ordained as Baptist ministers. But is she fighting against a bureaucracy of ultra-conservative males that has ascended relatively recently, or the Bible itself, which can be plundered to support all manner of sexist propositions? Battle for the Minds is affecting because it doesn't assume the moral superiority of this woman warrior's quest for gender parity in the church; her conflicted heart is eloquently explored in Lipscomb's thoughtful analysis. (JF) Steven Lipscomb in attendance.
Tuesday, April 22, 7:15 p.m.
Afro Promo. Curators Jenni Olson and Karl Bruce Knapper have figured out that the best way to score political points from discussion of ethnic representation in American movies is not to examine the movies themselves but the trailers, whose stereotypes are compressed and intensified for hilarious consumption. Afro Promo tours 30 years of African-Americans in American commercial cinema during 75 minutes. You're left with the impression that while the names have changed, the identities really haven't. The jump from Shaft to Boyz N the Hood is really the difference between high camp and Greek tragedy, and they own lots in the same neighborhood. Besides reveling in the joys that only movie trailers can provide, Afro Promo smartly reminds us of a lesson we forgot somewhere in the '80s--free market capitalism, of which the film industry is a prime example, doesn't dare insult audiences by speaking over their heads, so it aims everything at crotch level.(JF)
Sunday, April 20, 5 p.m.
The Postman Always Rings Twice. At the time of its release, this was considered one of the defining films of the '40s, especially with what was at the time considered its blatant sexuality (which, by today's standards, is tame). Lana Turner plays Cora, all in white, hair in a turban, eyebrows perfectly plucked as always; John Garfield plays Frank, a funky lug, shirtless whenever it can be managed, pining overly over Cora at the Twin Oaks diner, right under the nose of her old husband, Nick (Cecil Kellaway). The only way out is to kill off Nick and make it look like an accident. For its era this was saucy stuff, but modern audiences will likely have a problem understanding why Cora's attorney, played by Hume Cronyn, is so obtuse, or why the courtroom scenes are so stagy and unbelievable. (AWJ) Hume Cronyn in attendance.
Wednesday, April 23, 7 p.m.
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The Rainbow Man/John 3:16. "The Rainbow Man," whose real name is Rollen Stewart, is one of those odd characters who is wholly a product of the 20th century and stands as a metaphor for the residue--and impact--of television: a man famous for being famous. He's the rainbow-fright-wigged superfan who appeared at innumerable sporting events in the '70s and '80s, popping up like some live-action Where's Waldo game. Slowly, he began to change his campaign from friendly boosterism to evangelical mission; after several years, it wasn't the wig that turned up, but bedsheets pointing sports fans to the favored born-again quotation, John 3:16. If documentaries are cinematic journalism, then director Sam Green has a real problem; there's no story here. (AWJ) Sam Green in attendance.
Wednesday, April 23, 9 p.m.
Forgotten Silver. New Zealand's saucy bad-boy director Peter Jackson, known for his raunchy, abstract, syphilitic horror-comedies (The Frighteners, Dead-Alive, Heavenly Creatures) turns a reserved, straight-faced eye on a fictional early filmmaker, Colin MacKenzie, in this fanciful and dead-on accurate mockumentary. MacKenzie's "contributions" to cinema, according to Jackson, include the first tracking shot, the first use of color, the first synchronized sound--hell, Colin even made his own celluloid film! Artistically, he was history's first super-auteur. As in Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run and Zelig, Jackson constructs a virtually seamless narrative parody of Ken Burns, and adds a dollop grossness to his over-the-top catalogue of Colin's "innovations." He even comes up with Colin's unfinished masterpiece, the Holy Grail of all documentarians--a splashy, ahead-of-its-time rendering of Salome. With commentary by "legitimate" sources such as Leonard Maltin, ask yourself when it's over: If the Observer hadn't told you it was a fake, would you have guessed? Forgotten Silver screens with the narrowly focused (and true) documentary, The Wild Bunch: An Album Montage. Director Paul Seydor's curt, concise style makes for a pithy, no-bull analysis of the on-set creativity that went into making Sam Pekinpah's revisionist Western classic The Wild Bunch. (AWJ) Paul Seydor in attendance.
Wednesday, April 23, 9:15 p.m.