It's again that time of year, when we gather to praise Bart Weiss for keeping afloat the Dallas Video Festival against all odds (the odds being, in this case, a city in which culture means Mark Cuban). In its 13th year, the DVF has yet to make Weiss a rich man; indeed, Weiss makes his living teaching videomaking. The festival is his passion, not his paycheck. And, after all this time, it remains his vision: There is no committee, no jury behind this. Weiss alone decides which submissions -- and there were between 350 and 400 this year -- make it into the festival and which do not. The reason, Weiss explains, is a simple one: "Everything in the festival I like, and there's a reason for showing it," he says. "It's a quirky reflection of the quirky kind of person I am and the broad tastes I have."
Indeed, this year, the festival's programming runs from documentaries, of which there are so many (from gangs to ganja), to animated shorts to adapted works of fiction to things that are barely describable (even conceivable). After all, what does one say of a short film in which Jimmy Olsen runs around in a red wig and sticks it to Perry White, quite literally? It's almost beyond words. And this year, you can see everything entered: The films not selected will be available as streaming video through broadcast.com during the festival's run. After having sat through what did make the cut, the mind reels at what the detritus consists of -- hours of static and Swedish porn loops, perhaps?
Thirteen years into the Dallas Video Festival, we've begun, perhaps, to take what Weiss does for granted. Certainly, he's not in an easy spot: Now that it costs only a few bucks to wire our homes with DVD players, DSL lines, and satellite television, it's possible to host such a program in our homes every week or every night. The notion of going to the Kalita Humphreys Theater to watch television almost seems anachronistic, if not a little beside the point. Then, we pop in something like Artist or The Source, and we're reminded of what we're missing out on, of why the DVF remains so important 13 years on. After all, they ain't showing Xanadu at the DVF -- this is art, even if it's spelled with a lower-case "a" much of the time.
Dallas Video Festival
March 22 - 26
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
DVD, Don't Look Back, and short films and videos
McKinney Avenue Contemporary
3120 McKinney Ave.
"There's something about the whole of this that's bigger than any of the individual works," Weiss says. "Our program book is like a what's-happening-in-the-video-world reference book. And the fact is, there's still a lot of this stuff that doesn't get recognition or placed in the right context. That's what we try to do."
This year's festival begins with The Texas Show on Wednesday (it was not ready for review), followed on Thursday with the presentation of the Ernie Kovacs Award to Martin Mull, certainly the whitest man in show business (he's nearly transparent). Appropriately, the festival will screen clips from Mull's The History of White People in America, as well as clips from Fernwood 2-Night, in which he reprised the Barth Gimble character introduced during his brief stint on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1975. The choice of Mull is commendable -- Fernwood would be considered daring even by, especially by, today's standards -- though the fest would be wise to steer clear of too many Roseanne clips. Or, for that matter, anything from The Jerk Too, How the West Was Fun, and Ski Patrol (the man has made some dreck, but who hasn't?). Still, he ain't no Pee-wee Herman.
What follows are brief reviews of some highlights from the Dallas Video Festival, arranged alphabetically. The festival runs from Wednesday, March 22 through Sunday, March 26, in four different areas: Videotheque, Video Cabaret, Video Box, and Video Lounge at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. There will be screenings of DVDs, including D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back and a series of short films and music videos, at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave. For ticket and other information, call 1-800-494-8497 or visit the festival's Web site at www.videofest.org. This list is not comprehensive; consult the festival's program or Web site for descriptions of events not listed.
Acquaintance They smoke, they sit, they eat, they jam, they mope...Brian Torrey Scott documents the pointless lives of purposeless people in Acquaintance, a film that reveals how long 22 minutes can actually last. Scott's project is a hideously drawn-out non-story that creeps through a vacuous lack of interaction among a group of twentysomethings toward a totally inexplicable conclusion. One of the main characters, David, explodes in 2-year-old-tantrum-like rages, out of nowhere and seemingly without provocation. Perhaps it's the conflict between action and inaction, or simply a sharp contrast between the ho-hum qualities of real life and the occasional bit of drama, but David's goofy outbursts aren't set up to be meaningful. This film takes cinema verité on a long road to nowhere. It has a Blair Witch Project feel with smoother, hand-held cinematography, but no plot at all. That makes it even scarier. (Annabelle Massey Helber)
March 24, 8 p.m., Video Box
Animated Stories Compilation Mr. Footface, "star" of Philip Holahan's Stubble Trouble, is an original character crafted of Mr. Potato Head facial features glued to the bottom of a human foot. It could fall flat, but it doesn't. Instead of relying on endless sight gags, the film is well-shot with a solid, albeit silly, story. Elevator World speaks to "spatial harmony and aesthetic balance" in a CG-animated piece that looks like film-school students' work. Utopia Parkway is an elegant, avant-garde film featuring nice 3D animation sequences by Joanna Priestley, with a nod to visual artist Joseph Cornell. Macabre and gut-wrenching, Jeff Varrington's The Flocculus is shot in surreal monochrome with all the suspense of an Outer Limits episode. The filmmaker explores oozing, dripping, bulbous masses hanging from the chins of morose factory workers in a kind of World Health Organization outpost for the sadly disfigured. Don't try to eat anything while watching this film, but do appreciate its hip, bleak mood and original story. Also among the animated shorts are The Life of a Student, with Christopher Brady-Slue's fine-art-quality animated pencil sketches; Halls of Wonder: Celestial Reveries; Dream; and Kafka's Bugaboo, a curious retelling of Kafka's Metamorphosis with animated insects. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 3:45 p.m., Video Lounge
Assistant Manager with Everything Must Go Two very different takes on the working class are paired in these short videos shot in Austin. "Very different," as in one stinks, and the other isn't half-bad. Video fest press materials describe Webster Lewins' Assistant Manager as a "dark comedy," which it is, one supposes, if by "dark" you mean "mean-spirited" and by "comedy" you mean "asinine." Assistant Manager is the tale of middle-aged Jimmy, who aspires to become assistant manager at a burger joint. What sort of man dreams of such a promotion? Why, a goober-talking feeb who can't even put his boots on right. Isn't that a hoot? Think Farrelly brothers, but with less humor and maturity. The shortcomings of Lewins' one-note "joke" are almost made interesting by pairing it with Everything Must Go. Heather Courtney gives us an endless night in the work lives of two clerks at a 24-hour dollar store. Guess what? People forced to work at shitty jobs sometimes have brains enough to know they have shitty jobs. Some adjust, and some even have the wits to rebel, if just for one night. Courtney's 15-minute short isn't exactly Norma Rae, but at least it features real people. (Patrick Williams)
March 25, 10:30 p.m., Video Lounge
Artist What a hoot it would be to research every single film clip concerning art and artists as depicted by Hollywood and compile it into a single work. Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg did it with Artist, an appealing video that groups famous film portrayals of artists (Charlton Heston's Michelangelo and Kirk Douglas' Van Gogh) with witty discourse on art in film (Richard Burton's art critique in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Anne Bancroft's confessing to Dustin Hoffman she used to be an art major in The Graduate). It's a riveting piece of work for film history fans and art lovers. Moffatt and Hillberg have thrown in television clips as well, from Frasier and Britain's Absolutely Fabulous, for example. Their montage of music and footage proves that everyone's an artist and everyone's an art critic through the highs and lows of mass media. The pacing is perfect, and vintage scenes are loosely grouped by topic. Hold your breath for the destructive conclusion. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 2:30 p.m., Video Lounge
BINGO! the documentary "How can you tell when you're middle-aged?" asks a wheezing, cig-puffing bingo fanatic. It's when you're too old for karaoke and too young for bingo. Filmmaker John Jeffcoat turns a gentle, intelligent eye on the low-rent gaming set who have made bingo, a modern variation on an ancient lottery, into a $6 billion industry with 37,000 games operating nationwide. Jeffcoat's camera ranges from seedy halls in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland to an elaborate all-bingo sea cruise. (Too much cruising, not enough bingo, complains one woman, sitting in a tropical pool.) Jeffcoat easily might have lampooned or condescended to his interview subjects. Instead, he lets the players and operators speak for themselves about the game that is an obsession for some, a cure for loneliness and boredom for many. Surprisingly articulate and self-aware, the players know exactly what the game offers them -- a cheap rush and a reason to get out of the house: "I don't have to go play bingo," says one, "but I don't really have anything else to do." (P.W.)
March 23, 7 p.m., Video Lounge
Bionic Beauty Salon Imagine a sort of retelling of the Frankenstein myth through the 1970s television classic The Bionic Woman, and you'll get a whiff of the plot of Gretchen Stoeltje's film. It starts out simply, but quickly gets complicated with heavy overtones of feminism and Oprah-esque discussions of power, self-image, popularity, and fat. Still, this film handles the debate via a parade of thoughtful young women who, if they are spouting scripted dialogue, seem very natural in their feelings and delivery. These 14-year-old philosophers talk about impending womanhood, makeup, makeovers, high school, and whether it would have been better to have been born a boy -- all fascinating stuff. The film intersperses Barbie stop-action with clips from episodes of The Bionic Woman, as well as close-ups of the adolescent actors. The only weird parts involve a woman who's an out-of-place protagonist having a soul-searching discussion with a pair of lips seen in a compact mirror. She's trying to pull herself together, appearance-wise, and relying on the superficial pronouncements of an Ivana Trump soundalike. This part bogs down somewhat, but the teens steal the show and make the strongest statements. As one insists, "Everyone would like to be someone else." (A.M.H.)
March 26, 4:45 p.m., Video Lounge
Circle's Short Circuit If this isn't the hottest ticket among festgoers in search of a true art film, it oughta be. Caspar Stracke's oddly muddled mess of four films-within-a-film points up how brilliantly performance art can work on video. Stracke employs every visual trick and special effect in the video book, but the quixotic mélange works -- and works hard. The basic theme of Circle's -- how the telephone was invented and how it affects the masses -- is explored at first through the pompous narration of a professorial woman who could be Annie Lennox's ugly stepsister. She drones on and on about Alexander Graham Bell ("I like to call him A.G.B.") and finally asks the burning question: Did schizophrenia invent the telephone, or did the telephone invent schizophrenia? Stracke then takes off on mental illness, drag queens, and martial arts using startling and creative visuals. In one sequence, heightened by experimental techno music, a cadaver's ear floats in and out over text and graphics of sound waves. You'll rave. (A.M.H.)
March 25, 9:30 p.m., Video Box
The Clash: Westway to the World Director Don Letts' documentary on The Clash is much like the recent reissue of the group's back catalog: The band's music sounds better than ever, but little is added to its history, and 1985's sans-Mick Jones Cut the Crap safely disappears. But Letts makes an old story seem fresh, thanks to his lengthy personal relationship with the band (dating back to his stint as a DJ at London's 100 Club, where he helped turn the group on to reggae), as well as almost unlimited access to both The Clash's memories and seemingly every scrap of film featuring any and all members of the band -- tours with the Sex Pistols and The Damned, Jones learning to play guitar in his bedroom pre-Clash, slopping paint on their clothes before their second gig ever. By telling the story almost exclusively through the band's own point of view -- save for a few extraneous comments by British journalists and photographers -- Letts does wring a bit of fresh insight from the group. It's doubtful that another director would be able to get Jones to admit he was as instrumental to his expulsion from the group as anyone else, or that more than two decades later, bassist Paul Simonon still resents the fact that he wasn't able to accompany Jones and Joe Strummer on their songwriting holiday to Jamaica. As Simonon recounts the story, he says more with increasingly extended pauses between words, his face falling a little more with each one. Simonon's story is possibly the most relevant now, because he's never come to terms with the group and how he fit into it, the years between then and now turning wine into vinegar. Though he remained in the band even for the regrettable Cut the Crap, he comes off as angrier than either drummer Topper Headon or Jones, both of whom were fired by Strummer. To hear him tell it, he was the one who never had his songs taken seriously. He was the one responsible for the band's early spray-paint-and-stencils look (which Strummer refers to as "either quite striking...or fairly ridiculous"). He was the one who grew up with black friends and reggae, both of which influenced The Clash from the beginning. He was the one who should have become a rock star via The Clash, mainly because he was the only one interested in the job, defiantly standing at the front of the stage because he "couldn't be Pete Townshend at the back." Even Headon, impossibly skinny and almost indecipherable after a few decades of hard luck and drug abuse, has made his peace with The Clash and himself, admitting, "Even if I had it to do over, I would have probably done the same thing" -- referring to the heroin addiction that led to his dismissal. It doesn't appear as if the same can ever be said about Simonon. (Zac Crain)
March 25, 7 p.m., Videotheque
Did We Go? To the moon, that is, and the answer is: Really, don't be a moron. Aron Ranen and Ben Britton's mockumentary -- and if it's meant to be taken seriously, these fellas are in the wrong business (or I am) -- can find only one man, simply named René, to support their "claim" (wink, wink) that all of NASA's moon landings have been hoaxes. René comes armed with moon-landing photos and insists that the shadows go every which way; that, and he claims the rocks on the moon are lettered, as if by a prop department (one allegedly bears a striking "C" on its surface). The author of a book titled NASA Mooned America, René's just about the most interesting thing in this shot-on-video film; would that the filmmakers stuck to telling his story (his Web site reveals he's also a would-be detective novelist, a former member of Mensa, and "a bright kid from the slums" -- we want to know more). As it is, they're more concerned with asking Buzz Aldrin whether he went to the moon. For, ya know, some chuckles. Shows with Moon 1969. (R.W.)
March 23, 9:45 p.m., Video Cabaret
Driver 23 As a one-man metal band, Dan Cleveland is kind of a real-life version of Tenacious D, except that Cleveland doesn't play for laughs and isn't in on the joke that he obviously is. Equal parts This is Spinal Tap and American Movie, director Rolf Belgum's rockumentary, for the most part, depicts Cleveland as the ultimate lost-in-his-own-world washout, the kind of guy who is hilarious mainly because he takes it all so seriously. He actually believes that what he's doing will one day pay off. To him, it's not a question of how but how soon, and that's part of (OK, all of) his charm. Somewhere along the way, Belgum starts to believe a little too, and you can't help but be sucked in by Cleveland's it's-not-an-act act as well. Sure, he's a horrible musician, and his chances of success even on a camp level are slim if not nonexistent. But you almost hope he pulls it off, if only for his own sake. (Z.C.)
March 23, 9 p.m., Video Box
Faded Glory: The Von Erich Story It's astonishing no one has yet turned the Von Erichs' tragic tale into a big-screen biopic; after all, theirs is a story shot through with enough drama and trauma to level any audience. Or maybe it's possible that no one will believe their tale, as fact or fiction. For a brief, shining moment, Fritz Von Erich and his boys (Kevin, Kerry, Michael, and David) ruled the wrestling world with an Iron Claw, only to succumb to drug abuse, suicide, and a thousand pounds of pain. Rusty Baker's documentary does an admirable job of presenting the short-hand tale of the Von Erichs, using home movies and footage from matches (even Kevin's very first in 1976); and it's gripping to hear Fritz, now dead, speak from beyond the grave about the two things he loved most in this world -- his sons, and beating the hell out of anyone who dared step into the squared circle with the meanest wrestler in Texas. "I think that Kevin was the most respected wrestler in the world," Fritz says of his oldest. "He would never give up, never submit." Indeed, Kevin is the last of Fritz's four sons (Jackie died when he was a child, electrocuted in a trailer park) -- the sole survivor of an ill-fated clan. Sometimes, this family's story is too sad even to contemplate. (R.W.)
March 26, 3:15 p.m., Videotheque
Food, Drink & Life Compilation If one hilarious parody can get you in the mooood, it could be Coldcuts from Elroy, a slice-of-life-and-death melodrama set in a small town. Mark Miller's opus tells the tale from the fat kid's point of view and celebrates the glories of beef on and off the hoof. Shot in Travis County, Coldcuts is a trailer-trash documentary without apology. The Appointment is a hopelessly torturous exercise in frustration tolerance, featuring an anal-retentive woman who even makes up her bed in a hotel room. She compulsively straightens everything in the room, then furiously destroys it, looking for...something. Filmmaker Deborah Korkuris succeeds in creating a frantic mood, but the ending is fairly hokey. Other titles in this series include bloody slaughterhouse images in Best in Beef; Teenage, a sad commentary on Kosovo refugees; a cynical homage to filmmaking, Coca-Cola, and American merchandising called Enjoy; and Anne McGuire's All Smiles and Sadness, which sets a new standard for the low-budget film featuring live theater performed without sets in somebody's basement. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 1 p.m., Video Box
Grass Director Ron Mann's archival history of weed, Mary Jane, skunk, boo, mezz -- you name it, we'll smoke it -- is damned entertaining, to a point. See, perhaps we made the mistake of actually watching it stoned, which seemed a good idea at the time; I believe the words we uttered while passing the pipe were, "Dude, an homage, cough cough." But Mann's film, which consists largely of ancient footage of knee-jerking dimwits promoting marijuana as the devil's tobacco, grows a little long-winded toward its middle half -- sometime after the requisite screening of Reefer Madness clips. Narrated by Woody Harrelson (who else?), Grass is a gas most of the time, especially early on; Mann unearths some gems, none more valuable than footage from a 1930s film titled High on the Range. It's informative too, for those looking for a little history on the shrubject (say, how the government's crackdown on potheads led to the Great Heroin Scare of the 1940s, and so forth). But like Mann's best work, including 1988's Comic Book Confidential, Grass loses momentum; it gets repetitive seeing propaganda clip after clip of some wigged-out doper going on a criminal rampage after smoking out with his honey. We got the joke: Weed doesn't make you dangerous; it makes you sleepy. So does a lot of Grass. (R.W.)
March 25, 10 p.m., Videotheque
Hell for Leather A group of leather-clad Hell's Angels -- we mean that literally -- torment London with operatic arias and flatulence (there's a difference?) in this wry, overblown retelling of Satan's fall to earth. The Lord of the Flies and his cheerful minions tool about on their bikes, hunting down sinners and dishing out punishments -- or is it rewards? -- to weak-willed reprobates while a falsetto-singing God whines from on high. The Lord, apparently, is a eunuch, while Satan's bunch is infernally cursed with bad teeth (this is England) and overactive libidos. Bad teeth or no balls -- which is a better way to spend eternity? Guess, and remember that in heaven you can't even cut a fart without making some sissy angel cry. Blessedly brief for an opera, this short video shot for Swiss television and subtitled in German and French makes for a fairly hilarious half-hour provided you remember that it's a joke, not a religious treatise. (P.W.)
March 26, 7:30 p.m., Video Lounge
Hellhounds On My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson If nothing else, Robert Mugge's tribute to bluesman Robert Johnson clearly spells out his continuing influence on musicians ranging from the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir to Keb' Mo', both of whom perform on Hellhounds On My Trail, along with a variety of other guests, including Johnson's stepson Robert Lockwood Jr. Other than that, it's a fairly adroit historical document, a look back on a man that very few people actually ever saw in the first place, since he died more than 60 years ago. As a testament to his work as a musician, Hellhounds On My Trail hits the mark. As a look into his life, well, even a Behind the Music on Leif Garrett is more interesting. Fortunately, Mugge decided to concentrate on the former. (Z.C.)
March 24, 9:30 p.m., Videotheque
History of Glamour Theresa Duncan has written and directed a really nice animated film that documents the life of fictional heroine Charles Valentine, a femme fatale with a man's name. Valentine's rise to the top of the fashion world is wittily chronicled through excellent writing, decent original music, good graphics, and a funny story. Her family history -- she comes from a long line of white-trash beauticians in Antler, Ohio -- is interwoven with her adventures in New York City. Sources close to Valentine are interviewed, documentary-style, and the celebrity herself explains it all throughout the film. One crack-up scene involved the cover girl's bashing an art museum -- called the Googenheim -- during a conceptual art happening. A couple of animated sequences are brilliantly executed, like the start of a rainstorm as seen through a car windshield. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 4:45 p.m., Video Lounge
Image Blend Compilation A standout in this compiled series is Framed by Curtains, which explores movement and muse with typically Asian sensibilities. But Eder Santos, the filmmaker, doesn't have a particularly Asian name. He starts out with a retina-burning art montage of white drawings on a black background; these images recur throughout the piece. Subtitles ask political questions, sidewalks dissolve into static, and people interact with subway cars and bullet trains in this film filled with beautiful, blurred images. The Curve of the World begs the question: What's the constant fascination with cameras in bushes? The Wobble Dobble Series is lively and spontaneous. Lost in Translation is an ambitious production by Australian Film Television and Radio School. And noteworthy if only for its full frontal nudity is My Father's Leg. Other titles in this series are Burning Contour Matrix; Confluence/Pensieri Rossi; and Four Storeys/Trip. (A.M.H.)
March 25, 8:45 p.m., Video Lounge
The Jazzman from the Gulag Eddie Rosner was the white Louis Armstrong -- that, or Armstrong was the black Eddie Rosner (at least, this enlightening documentary posits as much). Either way, it didn't help that Eddie Rosner was the Jewish Eddie Rosner, playing "degenerate music" (jazz) when the Nazis invaded Poland. A prominent big-band leader and trumpet player during the late 1930s and early '40s, Rosner had the world by the balls, until the Nazis bombed Warsaw and rendered it an unlivable shell. But Rosner persevered: Thanks to a Communist general, who was both vodka-drunk and a jazz fetishist, Rosner and his band became "the first jazz band of Russia"; Stalin was the band's biggest fan. But after the war, Rosner was denounced as "a peddler of depraved Western music" -- the fate of the German in post-war Russia, especially one who thought jazz had won the war. In 1946, Rosner landed in a Russian prison on charges of espionage; so much for the conquering hero. Pierre-Henry Salfati makes excellent use of archival footage, much of which is strikingly clear -- it belongs to a better yesterday. (R.W.)
March 24, 8:30 p.m., Videotheque
M. C. Escher: Metamorphose If you can get past the sappy narration and melodramatic score, this Netherlands production of the story of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher's life is fairly interesting. The film overlays actual sites that inspired Escher onto his artwork in a tricky series of dissolves that provide unique insight into the artist's influences. Known for distortions, multiple perspectives in a single work, and trompe l'oeil in woodcuts and lithographs, Escher lived from 1898 to 1972. The ebbs and flows of his career mirror world history: He lived through World War II and watched his favorite teacher hauled off to a concentration camp. This film uses excellent vintage film footage with old interviews with Escher, and there is selected use of animation to highlight Escher's penchant for metamorphosis in illusion. He often used opposites -- black and white, devils and angels -- morphing out of one another, and his training as an architect is reflected in much of his work. (A.M.H.)
March 25, 6 p.m., Video Box
Mixed Bag Compilation Una Knox's Exquisite Corpse references surrealist visual artists in a creative exercise in which the video screen becomes her canvas. Her split-screen technique balances strangely cohesive images -- some abstract, some realistic, some surrealistic. The music and narration work perfectly with the rhythm of the changing images, and Knox seems to have a visual artist's interest in the color palette as a way to unify dissimilar subject matter. You might not think of video as a medium for showing off brush strokes of light and color, but the effect is unmistakably artful in Nurse Peace. Moving images seem to mirror microscopic studies of hair, water, and cells as they vibrate and change, complemented by an experimental music score. Footprints is a "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy" waste of time; think forest, stream, deer, poetry, yawn. The bucolic boredom changes to a nausea-inducing montage of urban traffic about halfway through the film. Skip it or snooze through. Other titles in this compilation are Retrato de la Generation de la Crisis, in Spanish with subtitles; and Have you seen this man?, a how-to on narcissism. (A.M.H.)
March 23, 9:15 p.m., Video Cabaret
No Early Birds What's the difference between a piece of junk and a valuable curio? About a hundred bucks, if you know how to shop. Videomakers Michael Bayer and Stan Steen tag along as treasure hunters sort through Austin's garage sales, searching for dreck to spin into gold. "Early birds" are garage-sale pros who rise before dawn to beat the rabble to the best swag, which they hope to mark up and resell at their own junk shops. (A hint from the pros: Welders and musical instruments are good buys, but avoid used shoes and sexual devices. And Austin has an oversupply of futons -- surprise, surprise.) The yard-sale subculture is ripe material for a diverting 15-minute feature. Unfortunately, No Early Birds runs for nearly an hour as the camera trails one hippie's leisurely bike ride through Austin and another pro's frantic drive from yard to yard. How much entertainment can you get out of one woman's hunt for a dominoes-themed wall clock? Not quite that much. (P.W.)
March 25, noon, Video Cabaret
On the Ropes Here's a reason why the Dallas Video Festival exists: Without such a forum, a film as magnificent and intimate as Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan's Oscar-nominated documentary might never screen here. (Though it airs on The Learning Channel in April.) Another in a long line of up-from-the-slums docs about kids using sports to overcome shitty childhoods and horrific environs -- in this case, the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn -- On the Ropes is also the most personal. Hoop Dreams, for all its bravado and brilliance, always felt as if a speech or a musical number was about to break out; that, and you could never shake the feeling someone was there holding a camera. Here, when Tyrene Manson -- a twentysomething with a shot at the Golden Gloves title -- goes to see her court-appointed lawyer after getting popped for crack possession (and it wasn't hers, which makes this film doubly heartbreaking), you feel not a little ashamed for intruding on her private pain. Only one of the fighters here, the Mike Tyson-in-training-wheels George Walton, has a future in the fight game, and he's torn between the man who got him to the pros (Harry Keitt, who runs the neighborhood gym-asylum after his own stint in the big house for shooting his cousin) and the slick, dim manager who promises him bigger and better (Mickey Marcello, who wears his mustache like a warning label). The third kid, Noel Santiago, is the wild card: He can't fight (the kid loses two of three bouts), doesn't want to go to school, and is as close to ending up on the streets as concrete. A riveting piece of work, even without the happy ending. (R.W.)
March 25, 4 p.m., Videotheque
Outrageous Commercials What is it about foreign commercials that renders them more watchable than most American television programming? Oh, yeah -- the nudity and the swearing. Wouldn't want to spoil any of them, but this randy, dandy collection is worth checking out if only for the German ad for a learn-to-speak-English business. Let's say only that the joke has to do with a family in a car, rap music, and the phrase "I wanna fuck you in the ass." If that sounds like your idea of a comedy concoction, then buckle up. (R.W.)
March 25, 10:15 p.m., Video Cabaret
Peter, Paul & Mary: Song Is Love Does anyone really need to see a performance by Peter, Paul & Mary, much less an entire tour? If Song Is Love answered that question honestly, there would be only enough film to contain opening and end credits, and perhaps the Bob Dylan-sung original version of one of the band's hits. The best that can be said about this Tobe Hooper-directed peek behind the curtain from the band's 1969 tour is that all of the footage is culled from 30 years ago, and not from any time after. If you're going to see an absolute lack of talent, charisma, and overpowering whiteness, it's best to see it at its peak. The worst that can be said, and this is truly unfortunate, is that Hooper didn't make this into Texas Chainsaw Massacre instead. (Z.C.)
March 26, 4:15 p.m., Videotheque
Plano, Texas: A Cultural Study of Suburbia Ignore the pretentious title. At its best, Plano, Texas offers a glimpse at the divide separating the 'burb's chiva-snorting children and their clueless, frightened parents. At its worst, Travis Marriott's documentary is a trite, one-dimensional commentary on the evils of materialism and its effects on spoiled teens. Why did Johnny O.D.? Because Mommy and Daddy made him play soccer and drive a big ol' SUV, poor kid, but didn't give him enough l-o-o-o-v-e. Plano occasionally touches on untold aspects of what has become a familiar story -- the social divide separating east and west Plano's youths, a detective's exasperation at trying to convince parents that, yes, their kids do use drugs -- but it never develops these threads, sticking instead with the hackneyed isn't-affluence-bad? angle. Roughly edited and poorly recorded, Plano is overly heavy at first on the city's economic history, but picks up in its latter half, as it cuts back and forth between the anguished parents of one of the city's heroin victims and a handful of stoner teens who knew him. Listening to both sides, it's clear that despite nearly a score of overdose deaths over the past few years, neither side is really communicating with the other. (P.W.)
March 24, 10 p.m., Video Lounge
Pony Glass Jimmy Olsen, Superman's pal, is gay. Or something -- it's hard to figure just what Lewis Klahr's going for with this cut-out animated "tale" about the cub photographer with red hair, a bow tie, and a hard-on for Perry White. While Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, and others croon in the background (there's no dialogue otherwise), Jimmy gets it on with his new girlfriend; the kid strips naked, revealing Superman tattoos all over his chest and arms -- that, and an enormous comic-book erection. But all goes poorly for Jimmy, who can't figure out whether he's straight or gay -- likely, a little bit of both. So he slips on a wig and slips into his editor. I'm just going to assume this is a smart, brilliant, incisive look at gender confusion and pop-culture criticism -- that way, I can convince myself I'm smart and didn't waste 12 minutes I'll never get back. Showing with Klahr's film Calendar the Siamese, a cut-and-paste animated short about a musician who goes to a fortune-teller and thinks about selling his organs on the open market. My mother warned me about "art." (R.W.)
March 25, 9 p.m., Video Cabaret
Robert Rauschenberg: Inventive Genius Called the "bad boy of art" 50 years ago and compared to Picasso today, native Texan Robert Rauschenberg's life and work are profiled in this hour-long documentary originally produced as part of the American Masters series on PBS. Combining intimate insights into the artist's studio process with historical clips and interviews, the film chronicles Rauschenberg's innovation on the art scene from his early life in Port Arthur to his New York City retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. (A.M.H.)
March 25, 2 p.m., Video Box
Scanning the Movies: Wizard of Oz Don't see the point to this, unless you're a trivia buff or in need of a warm place to sleep it off. The fest's program blurb promised us that John Pungente was going to "decode" the 1939 film -- which we took to mean he would unlock the secrets to the movie, unleash hidden meanings from behind the Wizard's curtain. No such luck; think A&E meets E! Maybe it's unimpressive because we own the special-edition, warts-and-all DVD, with more bonus material than you can shake a broomstick at; you can't impress us with a rinky-dink "documentary" on how Buddy Ebsen almost ended up as the Tin Man. And it doesn't help that the footage from Oz looks third-rate. We just kept watching and wondering, "Shouldn't copyright law prevent this from happening?" (R.W.)
March 26, 1 p.m., Video Lounge
The Source The notion of sitting through another Beat Generation documentary is about as enticing as trying to find the meaning in Howl; I still insist it's a series of random words strung together, like, randomly. But Chuck Workman, best known for his film-clip montage reels that appear during Academy Award ceremonies (which also air during this time slot), does an awfully wonderful job of convincing me I might be missing the point. His loving Beat film quite literally brings not only the writers to life, but their works as well. Johnny Depp steps into Jack Kerouac's hand-me-downs to read from On the Road; John Turturro slips into Allen Ginsberg's skin to read from Howl; and Dennis Hopper slides under William Burroughs' fedora to read from Naked Lunch. The performances (and they're actually much more than that) are exhilarating, especially when combined with fresh interviews (Gregory Corso is still a mean motherfucker) and archived footage (there, again, is Steve Allen playing square jazzbo to Kerouac's cool-cool daddy). It's as though we're hearing this story for the first time, hearing these words for the first time, feeling them for the first time -- and a more deep-felt compliment I can't offer. (R.W.)
March 26, 5:15 p.m., Videotheque
Too High, Too Wide and Too Long Because, it seems, Texans can't get enough of artist Bob "Daddy-O" Wade. A documentary about his 1995 trip across Texas in his modified Gulfstream (you remember -- that Iguanamobile) to promote his autobiography, this film does provide a pretty nifty survey of Wade's life and career, beginning with his childhood work from the 1950s and '60s through the Texas Mobile Home Museum he took to London in 1977 to the Oak Cliff Four to, yup, those danged ol' Tango frogs. "Texans are really fascinated by critters, all kinds of critters," Wade says by way of explaining his work -- which is as brilliant a summation as I've ever heard. And you can't miss with a film that called Kinky Friedman to the witness stand: When speaking of the giant lizard that once adorned the roof of the Lone Star Cafe in Manhattan, Friedman explains that "the iguana looked how many of us felt at the time." How little things change. (R.W.)
March 25, 3 p.m., Videotheque
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Tweaking the Image Compilation In what seems like a truly original idea -- although there may be no such thing -- 2 Spellbound creates a fast-forwarded, special effects-laden version of the entire Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. Superimposed images from the original work and subtle snippets of dialog are mesmerizing, as Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, and Leo G. Carroll spin and sputter across the screen, morphing in and out of one another like human shards in a kaleidoscope. The effect points up the perfect composition of Hitchcock's original and serves to highlight his genius in a remarkably strange way. Target is a silly home movie of a bandaged man cruising through a Target parking lot to the tune of Level 42's "Something About You," combined with graphic insets that belong in a DeVry Institute of Technology infomercial. Up for the best-use-of-surreal-hand-held-slo-mo-in-a-short-film could be Homesteaders, whose opening sequence is avant-garde brilliance. The content and technique keep the viewer equally off-balance throughout the film as a tree-hugging, yard-working alien does his thing. Plenty of distortion helps -- with sub-normal and hyper-normal human voices in the soundtrack. If Rod Serling were alive and in high school with his first camcorder, this is what he'd create. Other titles in this series are Bird Watching, Window Work, and Vocalise. (A.M.H.)
March 26, 6:30 p.m., Video Box
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Two couples sit around an elegantly spread table; their meals look as though they've been prepared by Stephan Pyles. One couple consists of an older man, perhaps in his late 40s, who wears his girth like an old T-shirt; we find out later he's an emergency-room doctor. His wife is a pretty, much younger blonde whose first husband loved her so much that he tried to kill her -- and himself, though he botched the job twice. The other couple, presumably our hosts, are also in their 30s. He has dark hair, dark clothes, dark everything. She, too, has dark hair and a small, winsome smile. Around dinner, drinking wine that becomes martinis later on, they discuss the fleeting nature of love -- how it lasts until someone dies, or until we meet someone else, and then love becomes only a memory, if that. Scott Stewart's short film, based upon the Raymond Carver short story of the same title, is deceptively simple: Beautifully shot (in widescreen, more or less), it's less a film than a small, private poem -- a conversation you've had, perhaps, but never meant to share. (R.W.)
March 25, 7 p.m., Video Cabaret