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Chicago Underground Film Festival

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The ninth annual Chicago Underground Film Festival continues Friday through Wednesday, August 23 through 28, at Landmark's Century Centre. Tickets are $9, $6.50 for programs before 5 PM. A $30 pass admits you to five films. For more information call 773-327-3456. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 23

MC5: A True Testimonial

Seven years in the making, this documentary about the legendary Detroit rock band has become something of a legend itself, and at press time filmmakers David Thomas and Laurel Legler were still pruning it down from 135 minutes to a more marketable two hours. Also on the program, a trailer for the forthcoming documentary The Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback by Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios. (JJ) (1:45)

A Chronicle of Corpses

Philadelphia writer-director Andrew Repasky McElhinney has been compared to outsider artists for his unsophisticated technique and naive but singular vision, an idea borne out by this low-budget tale (2001) of a 19th-century family decimated by mysterious murders on its island plantation. The film is a series of Gothic tableaux quoting from horror flicks by Roger Corman (The Fall of the House of Usher) and Hammer Studios (The Brides of Dracula), yet its tone is muted, almost poetical. Abe Holtz's chiaroscuro cinematography and the classical music excerpts create an air of doom, but McElhinney fails to unite his set pieces or properly pace the Agatha Christie-like serial killings, and any emotional resonance is undermined by the implausible script. Soap actress Marj Dusay, heading a no-name cast, is grotesquely neurotic as the family matriarch. 83 min. (TS) (5:00)

* Standing by Yourself

A searing portrait of alienated adolescence, this 2001 video documentary by Josh Koury began as a senior thesis project for Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, focusing on his younger brother, Adam, and Adam's buddy, Josh. The sometimes wild movement of the handheld camera expresses the boys' restless energy as they bounce around the small town of Clinton, New York, and the black screen separating the scenes evokes their disjointed lives: Josh, who's been expelled from school for threatening to murder a girl, begs his mother for a few bucks, while she gripes that he hasn't cleaned his room; the two friends ingest painkillers and cough medicine; Josh, returning home from a short jail sentence, throws up out the rear door of an auto. By the end the friends' paths have started to diverge--Adam has found a new pal, and Josh descends into a drug-induced stupor, chillingly alone. 57 min. Also showing: Madeleine Fix Hansen's five-minute experimental video Mechanisms. (FC) (5:15)

Rude Nation

The documentary Our Nation: A Korean Punk Rock Community (2001) tackles a fascinating topic: the mid-90s emergence of punk rock in Seoul. The scene isn't by any means cohesive or easy to pin down--the subjects argue over a definition of punk and disagree about what their activities really mean--but over the course of the 39-minute video a sense of developing community does come through. Directors Timothy Tangherlini and Stephen Epstein make some odd aesthetic choices, though: an extended segment on the all-female band Supermarket lets the drummer yammer on about how much she enjoys doing laundry, and for a full minute we watch her clean a pair of socks. Sooyoung Park, the Korean-American musician who fronted the Chicago indie-rock band Seam, narrates. Also on the program, two 16-millimeter shorts: the animated Rude Roll (How to Dance Ska) (2001) and the documentary Useless (2001), about Gerry Hannah, the former Subhumans bassist who went on to become an infamous Canadian terrorist. 72 min. (Peter Margasak) (6:45)

* The Cedar Bar

In 1952 beat painter and filmmaker Alfred Leslie wrote a play based on an argument he witnessed between art critic Clement Greenberg and abstract expressionist painters at a celebrated hangout in Greenwich Village. The text was lost in a 1966 fire that also consumed most of Leslie's paintings and films, but 20 years later he reconstructed it from memory and added songs, and in 1997 a staged reading was videotaped with three cameras. Leslie found the results visually boring, so he decided to insert an enormous quantity of found footage from newsreels, porn films, and Hollywood movies, either to illustrate or to play against the ongoing discussion. The opening clip, a clown singing in squawks and squeaks that are subtitled with some invective from critic Hilton Kramer, sets the tone perfectly; like many fine filmmakers who've worked with found footage in recent years (such as Jean-Luc Godard and Mark Rappaport), Leslie is an expert indexer, and his taste for the silliest, sexiest, and most surreal manifestations of American culture is so infectious that the debate about artists and critics in this 2001 video improbably becomes infused with joy. 84 min. (JR) Leslie, the festival's guest of honor, will attend the screening to introduce and discuss his work. (7:00)

The Sum of All Fears

A pedestrian collection of shorts about war and patriotism. In Kyle Harris's video Souvenirs of Love a voice-over spews forth the chilling and amoral manifesto of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, which equates the gulf war with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, while subliminal texts interrupt amorphous graphics and a fast-motion view from a moving car. Bobby Abate's video One Mile per Minute combines live action and animation for a critique of comfortable suburbia, seductive TV, and corporate America that's set atop one of the World Trade Center towers. The State of the Union, a video by Jason Archer and Paul Beck, turns a TV address by President Bush into an occasion for numerous Freudian slips. And Paul Chan's video Now Let Us Praise American Leftists presents a rapid montage of the mouths of various activists while a voice-over recites satirical passages by turn-of-the-century Viennese socialist Karl Kraus. Also on the program, work by Robert Banks, Sarah Brenia, and Robert Edwards. 47 min. (TS) (8:30)

Horns and Halos

In Fortunate Son (1999) celebrity biographer and science-fiction novelist J.H. Hatfield alleged that George W. Bush had been busted for possession of cocaine in 1972; though St. Martin's Press recalled the book after learning that Hatfield had done hard time for a failed scheme to have his boss killed, the title was later picked up by a much smaller publisher, Soft Skull Press. This video documentary by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky is about Sander Hicks, the brash and entertaining boss of Soft Skull at the time, as much as Hatfield. The video presents evidence that the troubled author invented much of his research but also reports the far-fetched theory that the Bush camp set him up, secretly feeding him information in order to discredit the cocaine story. It's interesting, but it never explains what might have driven Hatfield to his earlier crime, or why he may have killed himself in July 2001. 87 min. (FC) (8:45)

Experiments in Terror

J.X. Williams, in collaboration with Other Cinema in San Francisco, curated this program of work by "experimental filmmakers working within and in dialogue with the genre of the horror film." Williams will introduce the screening, which totals 83 minutes. (10:15)

Operation Midnight Climax

Troma Films lead Will Keenan directed and stars in this mix of adolescent silliness and postmodern excess, about a young man who tries to form a secret society consisting entirely of beautiful girls. Though he talks about countering "the conspiracy against women," he also phones the city morgue looking for a used foreskin because he's unhappy about having been circumcised and waves a giant fake dick at the cuties he's gathered. Keenan does his own stunt work--he's good at getting hit by cars and seems to enjoy getting beaten up by gorgeous girls--but he and codirector Gadi Harel insert so many layers of parody and self-parody that the video falls flat. 75 min. (FC) (10:30)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 24

The Sum of All Fears

See listing for Friday, August 23. (Noon)

* Standing by Yourself

See listing for Friday, August 23. (12:15)

* Brazen Hymns

A genuine rarity--a 40-minute experimental film in 35-millimeter and Dolby sound--this intriguing and arresting opus by D.B. Griffith shifts between "straight" documentary and drama as five allegorical, autodidactic outsiders (a clown, a butcher, a weeping priest, a doomsayer, and a man with a beak who speaks to birds in their own language, subtitled in English) emerge from landscapes of buildings and industrial sites in Chicago and Gary, each traveling a little further into the film's wasted terrain. Shuttling back and forth between color and black-and-white stock, the film constitutes a kind of grim historical narrative, with an effective score by Josh Abrams that sometimes seems to emerge from sound effects. The cast includes local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo and musicians Bobby Conn and Douglas McCombs. I couldn't get very far with the three 16-millimeter shorts rounding out this 75-minute program: Shawn R. Owens's The Trial of Set, a lot of tribal hocus-pocus; Psychelicious-N-Junkman's Canadian Monolethea, whose footage of a couple wandering through the Wild West doesn't quite unite its all-inclusive images; or Bill Basquin's black-and-white meditation on a deer hunt, The Last Day of November (2001), though in this case the visuals are refreshingly spare. (JR) (1:30)

Operation Midnight Climax

See listing for Friday, August 23. (1:45)

Bad Ideas for Paradise

Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby's experimental video presents a diverse mix of music, pictures, printed texts, and voice-over to argue that heaven is impossible because no paradise could satisfy everyone. At the outset two heavily pixelated faces disagree on the hereafter: one man thinks he'll be famous in heaven, while another argues that nobody will be famous but that everybody will love one another. In another sequence footage of teenage boys is accompanied by a voice-over from a girl who hopes to be a boy in heaven ("I like boobs, my dick, my friends"). Cooper Black's The Infernal Loop (2001) repeats the same few shots of a banal scene with two young men; what begins as boredom changes into an almost meditative focus on tiny gestures, or the veins in a hand. Kristen Nutile's video Secret Mechanisms would have been better as a sound piece: different speakers describe their obsessive-compulsive disorders, but the blurry urban imagery is pointless. Also showing: work by So Yung Kiwl, Carey Burtt, Fred Hickler, and Miranda July. 71 min. (FC) (3:15)

In Our Garden

Director Giuseppe Andrews shot this low-rent parody of melodramas in the trailer park where he lives, using neighbors and homeless people as actors. Daisy, a 60-year-old widow, is wooed by Rick, the drunken ex-cop who found her husband dead of alcohol poisoning. After they break up Daisy takes a new lover; he too dies, and she and Rick toss a coin to determine whether they should reunite. Some viewers will be amused by the moronic characters, deadpan line readings, and wildly vulgar dialogue ("Your schlong soup of the day doesn't excite me anymore"; "Think of the massive farts that I let go that first day when we first met"). Others might consider this an empty-headed portrait of shallow people. 87 min. (FC) (3:30)

* Audiovisions II: Abstract Austrian Music Videos

Recently experimental filmmakers in Austria have begun to combine synthesized music with abstract or semiabstract imagery, borrowing from the tightly formal tradition of people like Viennese avant-gardist Peter Kubelka, the attempts of filmmakers like Oskar Fischinger to synchronize music with abstract forms, and the much looser aesthetic of John Cage. This program offers 13 examples of the new genre, and the best of them are compelling, even seductive. Billy Roisz and Dieter Kovacic's Smokfraqs (2001) consists of short sections in which different styles of music or musique concrete are given different visual equivalents (moving blobs for snorting sounds, etc); most interesting are the dramatic differences between sections and the ways image and sound are imperfectly matched. In Maia Gusberti's Aire (2001) hints of clouds and overhead wires float in a white field while Stefan Nemeth's halting mix of drones and bursting sounds foster a kind of continuous anticipation. And in reMI's Mobile V (2000) jagged, colored shapes flicker in varied directions to the sound of irregular pops and scrapes, creating a sense of instability. 60 min. (FC) (5:00)

Take Away

Todd Verow's 72-minute video follows cult-film star Philly from the arms of a sometime boyfriend in the States to a film shoot in an unnamed German city. Though scripted by Philly, Verow, and producer Jim Dwyer, it plays like a rambling documentary: Philly provides voice-over about her marriage, her past lovers, her quest for autonomy and adventure, and her increasing sense of isolation, while the camera shows her masturbating in a coin-op lavatory, drinking champagne alone in a bar, dancing alone at a disco, and licking and fondling the urinals in a men's room. This faux-diva is utterly self-absorbed, but her vulnerability and her decency toward others make her sympathetic. Shawn Durr's corrosive video Die Faggot Die! (1999, 11 min.) aims for the gross-out humor of early John Waters or perhaps Herschel Gordon Lewis. Philly and Donna Jagela play lovers who spend most of their waking hours in the throes of sexual passion; Jagela's gay roommate causes Philly nightmares, so the lovers tie him up and castrate him, a climax that's both disgustingly graphic and absurdly funny. (Joshua Katzman) (5:15)

* Hooked on Comix

This fascinating video documentary by David P. Moore profiles a half dozen eccentric comic-book and comic-strip artists based in Chicago: Jessica Abel (Artbabe), Ivan Brunetti (Schizo), Terry LaBan (Eno and Plum), Cherise Mericle (Eye Spy), Archer Prewitt (Sof' Boy), and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth). Each claims to enjoy the anonymity of the profession, and all share a rather bleak and ironic view of the world. Moore divulges some of the tricks of their trade as he visits their wonderfully peculiar studios, discovering that Ware plays ragtime and Mericle collects miniature sets. Love and the Monster (2001), Miles Montalbano's live-action video adapting Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez's comic-book series Love and Rockets, follows a mild-mannered guy as he leaves the sterile comfort of his apartment for the sleaze of the city streets, and John Dilworth's wry 35-millimeter The Mouseochist (2001) is an accomplished animation about a mouse tempted by a chunk of cheese in a trap. Also on the program, which totals 72 minutes, work by Francois Miron, Arthur Jones, Mike Owens, Billy Grant, and Michael L. Mayfield. (TS) (6:45)

* Alfred Leslie: Beat and Beyond

These three films by painter-provocateur Alfred Leslie constitute a sort of healthy beatnik sandwich. The first bread slice is Pull My Daisy (1959, 29 min.), his legendary Lower East Side collaboration with Robert Frank (who shot and codirected), Jack Kerouac (the writer and narrator), Anita Ellis and David Amram (jazz vocalist and jazz composer respectively), and Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky (all silent actors here, along with Delphine Seyrig in her first film performance). The second slice is the lesser known Birth of a Nation 1965 (1997, 25 min.), a tantalizing fragment salvaged from a two-hour sound feature that was shot on 8-millimeter in the 60s and then largely lost in a fire. Goofy, funny, challenging, and unruly in the best sense, it's mainly a group grope with unrelated subtitles, plus a guest appearance by Willem de Kooning as Captain Nemo and the voice of Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade. Laid between these irresponsible and lighthearted works is The Last Clean Shirt (1964, 40 min.), a teasing bit of Zen minimalism and a prestructural-filmmaking prank that I hope won't drive the audience out of the theater. It runs us several times through the same uneventful car ride, timed by a clock that's mounted on the dashboard and accompanied on the sound track by the woman passenger's untranslated chatter in what sounds like an eastern European language; various sets of subtitles "translate" the chatter, reveal the black driver's thoughts, and creatively confuse us even further. Leslie, the festival's guest of honor, will attend the screening, and I'll be around to introduce him and the films (so I guess I'll have to think of something else to say). (JR) (7:00)

Domestic Bliss

Bob Sabiston developed the distinctive rotoscoping animation used in Richard Linklater's Waking Life, and in his three-minute video Yard, the best thing in this mixed bag of shorts, fall leaves swirl, float, and morph into abstract shapes as a snippet from Monte Hellman's road movie Two-Lane Blacktop plays on the sound track. Zakery Weiss's baffling video Domestica tells the story of a suburban husband and father who decides to become a professional bodybuilder but changes his mind after witnessing a black orb in the sky. In the home video Family Values (2001), Eva Saks profiles a lesbian couple who mop up at crime scenes, stressing ad nauseum the normalcy of their suburban life together and inexplicably ignoring their unusual profession. On the same program: work by Sterling Ruby, Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley, and Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton. 76 min. (TS) (8:30)

Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth

Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman, mismatched alcoholics sharing a squalid San Francisco apartment in the late 80s and early 90s, indulged in raging, idiotic, and circular arguments that so frustrated their neighbors they began taping the men through the paper-thin walls. The recordings, compiled on the CD Shut Up, Little Man!, have become an international cult favorite--sampled on pop records, adapted into comic books and plays, broadcast as a radio serial in the Netherlands, and now dramatized in this video feature by Robert Taicher. Gill Gayle and Glenn Shadix, repeating their roles in the one-act play by Greg Gibbs, deliver memorable performances as Peter and Raymond, whose hellish relationship and perversely funny gutter logic are reminiscent of early Beckett and Pinter. On a Web page devoted to the phenomenon, one of the neighbors argues that the pair "fought with a penetrating hate that can only be called love." Perhaps, but the closest thing to a happy ending in this video is the end title confirming that both men have since died. 74 min. (JJ) (8:45)

Somewhere Out There

In the video documentary Richart (2001), Vanessa Renwick and Dawn Smallman follow folk-art eccentric Richard McDonald around his home in Centralia, Washington, as he shows off the staggering collection of found objects--everything from chunks of Styrofoam to auto hubcaps--he uses to make his strikingly original work. Four Corners (1998), shot in grainy black-and-white 16-millimeter, makes a surreal visit to a Navajo reservation, whose proximity to nuclear bomb-test sites may account for the grating Geiger counter director Ian Toews dubs onto the sound track. For the video Natalie of Wood (2001), Shawn Chappelle reedited a promotional reel for John Ford's The Searchers, in which Gig Young interviews Natalie Wood about her role in the film. Her scripted responses remind us how tightly actors were controlled under the studio system, and Chappelle's sampling of certain images and sound bites over and over has a haunting effect given Young's and Wood's violent deaths. J.X. Williams deftly combines footage of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry for his hilarious 16-millimeter short The Showdown, which equates their badass San Francisco cops with the homicidal crooks they pursue. And Ann Biller's bizarre but well-executed A Visit From the Incubus (2001) reworks the fable of the title creature in a Wild West setting, obsessively re-creating the Hollywood westerns of the 1950s in everything from the theme song and titles to the color saturation of the 16-millimeter stock. Also showing: Jim Finn's experimental video Wustenspringmaus. 73 min. (Joshua Katzman) (10:15)

Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine in DaeHakRo

Australian critic Adrian Martin has called this no-budget wide-screen video from South Korea a "small trash-art masterpiece," arguing that "some effects are as dexterously staged as in a Sam Raimi movie" but conceding that "others fall flat as a pancake." Since fall 2001 it's been making the rounds of international film festivals, picking up various fans and dissenters en route, and though I'm closer to the former, you should know what to expect: Working the backstreets of Seoul, a Lolita-age hooker in school uniform gets killed by an evil teacher and sliced and diced by a gang, but she returns to wreak vengeance after being stitched back together by a mad scientist--all in an hour. If you can accept such a premise, you're bound to admire director Nam Gee-wong's energy and resourcefulness with a threadbare budget. In contrast the accompanying three-minute experimental video Ya Private Sky seems like random aggression, though director Stom Sogo reports that he whittled it down from five hours of Super-8 footage. (JR) (10:30)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 25

Somewhere Out There

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (Noon)

Take Away

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (12:15)

Hugs and Kisses

In this lackluster program of shorts, most of them experimental, Alicia Scherson's video Crying Underwater (2001) stands out by aiming for the ineffable. A woman sitting in an airport lounge talks to a friend on her cell phone, nonchalantly discussing her ex-boyfriends and experiences with sexual mutilation, while a woman in another lounge sight-reads a vocal score; these desolate scenes are intercut with clouds shot from a plane window, the pilot rambling nervously on the PA system, and the image of a man reciting poetry in the airport's parking lot. The narrative may be enigmatic, but the video creates a strong sense of ennui and helplessness. In Then a Year (2001), Kelly Reichardt presents lyrical images of suburban homes and pristine nature while piecing together on the sound track an act of adultery that ends in a crime of passion. The disjunction is supposed to be jarring, but at 14 minutes the video grows monotonous. Also on the program: work by Steve Hall, Oliver Harrison, Jenny Stark, and Art Jones. 72 min. (TS) (1:30)

Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine in DaeHakRo

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (1:45)

Death Becomes You

David Lynch and David Cronenberg hover over these four surreal and self-conscious shorts. Ben Russell's 16-millimeter film The Breathers-in has the clearest narrative: Two sisters in Victorian dress, speaking in high-pitched, extraterrestrial voices, disembark from a ship and venture into a bucolic landscape, where they encounter a photographer, a man wearing an ape suit, a cop wearing a pig mask, and a butcher who chops obsessively. Russell approximates the pathos of a Griffith melodrama when one sister dies of scurvy, yet the story is too elliptical to be effective. In The Local Sky Enlarger, a video by Jennet Thomas of the UK, a liver that falls from the sky is equated with the scab on an old man's head; a medium urges him to perform a ritual that will unite the two objects, while an on-screen folk balladeer performs a song about "God's sperm" that's supposed to explain it all. Paul Tarrago's video Moving Back From the Beyond is imaginative but similarly obscure, its ghostly worms and human figures in silhouette accompanied by distorted noises on the sound track. Running five and a half minutes, Casey Koehler's stunning 16-millimeter film Bautismo (2001) memorializes a friend with spectral images of waves and northern lights. 77 min. (TS) (3:15)

* A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

Drawn to Blake and Swift as a college student, fragile singer-songwriter Nick Drake (1948-'74) seemed ill at ease in his own era; his metaphysical musings and bittersweet stories of unrequited love avoided the bombast typical of British rock in the late 60s and early 70s. In this sensitive 35-millimeter documentary (2000), Jeroen Berkvens traces Drake's life from Burma, where his father was stationed as an engineer, to Cambridge, where he emerged as a musician; London, where he made his mark with three acclaimed albums; and finally his parents' home, where he battled depression and died from a possibly accidental overdose of prescription antidepressants. It's a haunting portrait of a young man who, while genuinely gifted and loved by friends and family, couldn't cope with the world. Also on the program, three shorts from 2001: Jay Eckensbereger's You Are, a striking four-minute montage of home movies set to the music of Built to Spill; Jeff Economy's Cakewalk, whose assorted scenes of winter are accompanied by the Sinister Luck Ensemble; and Nicholas Elliott's Sue's Last Ride, which juxtaposes an extended scene of a man and woman arguing in a truck with music by the Dirty Three. 75 min. (Joshua Katzman) (3:30)

* Christabel

At 26, Chicagoan James Fotopoulos has already made five features and 20 shorts, garnering some critical acclaim, and I've been impressed by his weird and discomforting view of the human body. This creepy, beautiful feature is loosely based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's unfinished poem of lesbian seduction, and its four sections, shown on film and video, parallel the four sections of the poem. Fotopoulos eliminates some characters--all of them men--and abjures narrative to focus on the theme of one woman taking demonic possession of another: the most common image shows hovering bodies superimposed with little or no background, accompanied by droning sounds that further remove them from linear time. The paired figures are often different sizes, which suggests that one has power over the other, and the slow pace and harsh monochromatic colors make flesh seem like a prison. 74 min. (FC) (5:00)

Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping

Bill Talen, who wears a cleric's collar but readily admits he's a "fake preacher," leads a band of activists who protest the "mall-ization" of Manhattan in this 59-minute video documentary. Their prime targets are Starbucks and the Disney Store, in part because the merchandise is made by underpaid third-world workers. Standing in front of the Starbucks on Astor Place, Talen describes the coffee shop as "the place they turn Bob Marley music into Muzak" and laments the "real diner" it replaced. The group also unleashes some anti-imperialistic rhetoric on New York University, which wants to raze the house where Poe wrote "The Raven," saying the school will "keep pushing back the frontier" unless stopped. Their troublemaking is great fun, but director Dietmar Post sidesteps the tough questions, such as what goods these antiglobalists consume. Also showing: Dylan Griffin's one-minute faux Pepsi commercial, Come Alive (2001), shot on Super-8 and transferred to video. (FC) (5:15)

* GDR Underground Films

In the 1980s, long after "underground" movies had made their way into college courses, scholarly tomes, and even commercial theaters, East Germans were making real outlaw cinema--worrying that labs would notice the nudity in their footage or that secret police would recognize their films' subversive content (some works mysteriously disappeared). Originally shown on celluloid, they were seldom printed and today are screened on video, and because the artists had no access to contemporary experimental cinema their inspiration often came from Cocteau, Eisenstein, or surrealist classics like Un chien andalou. The films on this program offer a fascinating alternative to the prevailing avant-garde, their surrealism less Freudian than antiauthoritarian. In Cornelia Klauss's narrative Samuel (1984) figures await a train that never arrives, while a playful child draws the attention of sinister-looking men. Thomas Frydetzki's Little Angel (1985) is a heterogeneous grab bag of kaleidoscopelike abstractions and photos of trauma victims (it cuts from a man skinning a rabbit to a penis being masturbated). The most intriguing, Gino Hahnemann's September, September (1986), has a voice repeating the same short text in different tones: "Movement is power....I. We. Film." Some images repeat too, suggesting a film struggling to be born but trapped by the limitations of culture, or perhaps of words and images themselves. Also showing: works by Lutz Dammbeck, Thomas Werner, Volker Lewandowsky, Tohm di Roes, Cornelia Schleime, Ramona Koeppel-Welsh, and Claus Loser, who curated the program. 94 min. (FC) (6:45)

* Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box

Beatboxing is the sparsely practiced hip-hop discipline of vocally mimicking drum machines and turntable scratching; this lively, informative, well-paced video documentary by Joey Garfield assumes little knowledge on the part of the viewer, but it doesn't come across as pedantic either. Tracing the form's development from early practitioners like Darren "Buff" Robinson of the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh through current stars like Rahzel and Scratch, it contextualizes beatboxing amid old African vocal traditions and jazz scat singing and even examines its global cousins. (Marie Daulne of the Franco-African group Zap Mama demonstrates international variations and smartly analyzes the differences.) There are loads of interviews with hip-hop heavies, including DJ Premier, Bobbito, and Biz Markie, and some priceless archival material--including a clip of Buff doing his thing with Regis Philbin on the Today show in 1984. 80 min. (Peter Margasak) (7:00)

Better Than Pills

Short films and videos by Sean Gallagher, T. Arthur Cottam, John Goras, Gym Jones, Kent Lambert, Elizabeth Moore, Nick Zedd, and Paul Horn and Harald Hund. 76 min. (8:30)

* Dildo Heaven

Legendary exploitation director Doris Wishman, the guest of honor at last year's festival, died August 10 in Miami, so this Chicago premiere of her first video will also be a memorial with remarks from people who knew her. Wishman got her start in the 1960s, shooting on incredibly low budgets, and the technical errors in her appealingly silly films have drawn comparisons to Edward D. Wood Jr. In Dildo Heaven three female roommates pursue romances with their bosses, and when they're all betrayed, they turn to the title device for sexual satisfaction (though there's no full nudity). In terms of conventional narrative, nothing works: the performances are flat, the editing is indifferent, and there's a ridiculous dream sequence of dildos superimposed over a sleeper's bed. But the miscues also fascinate, wildly off in a way that reveals the artifice of commercial product. Wishman once said, "Every film ever made is an exploitation film," and one voyeurism sequence, with little purpose other than showcasing five bare-chested beauties, clearly and amusingly reveals cinema as just a series of shows. 79 min. (FC) (8:45)

* Monsters in the Kitchen

With the exception of Kate McCabe's somewhat interesting Das Neue Monster (2001), in color 16-millimeter, this program is devoted to creepy stuff in black and white. Well worth the price of admission is Dream Work (2001), which concludes the internationally celebrated "Cinemascope trilogy" of Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky. The 35-millimeter films elaborately rework found footage, and this one, inspired by Man Ray, draws on Sidney J. Furie's 1983 shocker The Entity. Unfortunately one also has to sit through Scott McAnally's static and unpleasant video Yancy's Kitchen and Deco Dawson's Film (dzama), which is relatively pleasant but still just 22 minutes of elaborate doodling with nudes and animal costumes. (Dawson shot Super-8 footage for Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World and clearly comes from the same arch Winnepeg mentality.) Somewhere in between are Marcel de Jure's video And..., Mark Hejnar's film 0502, and John Standiford's unsettling 16-millimeter short Plain English, which is fairly original but also rather xenophobic in its still photographs of Japanese characters. 75 min. (JR) (10:15)

Nitwit

I can't guess what director Xan Price had in mind with this surreal southern gothic involving a heroine born without a sphincter (Agnes Ausborn) and a moronic hero (Daniel Brantley) who takes in a weird, tentacled creature. With its whacked-out performances, ugly production values, and quasiporno synth washes, the video seems to be influenced by early John Waters. But Waters was blessed with a stable of irrepressibly demented actors, and given his shoestring budgets, his movies always looked pretty good (in part because he shot on film). Neither Ausborn nor Brantley, with their wincingly awful drawls, is strong enough to make this hokum fly; it's all hit or miss, with a lot more of the latter. 98 min. (Joshua Katzman) (10:30)

MONDAY, AUGUST 26

Better Than Pills

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (1:30)

Rude Nation

See listing for Friday, August 23. (1:45)

Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (3:15)

Horns and Halos

See listing for Friday, August 23. (3:30)

* Watching and the Watched

These thought-provoking shorts about voyeurism and surveillance, all but one in 16-millimeter, are anchored by Deborah Stratman's palpably creepy In Order Not to Be Here, which opens with a police arrest caught by an aerial infrared camera and closes with a bravura sequence, also filmed overhead, of a man running from what appears to be a crime scene. In between are eerie nocturnal shots of malls, gas stations, and gated communities, the tranquility disrupted now and then by police dispatches, burglar alarms, and distant sirens on the sound track. Stratman holds each tableau just long enough to convey the mood of false security; Kevin Drumm contributed the portentous electronic sounds. In Exposed (2001), Austrian filmmaker Siegfried Fruhauf uses optical printing and found footage to turn us into Peeping Toms surveying another Peeping Tom as he spies on a woman through a keyhole. Danish filmmaker Joost Rekveld shot his 35-millimeter #23.2: Book of Mirrors without a lens, his manipulation of light on celluloid accompanied by Rozalie Hirs's astringent avant-garde score. Also on the program, work by Jennifer Reeves, Matt McCormick, and James Fotopoulos. 76 min. (TS) (5:00)

Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (5:15)

* Skinflicks

Experimental shorts offering imaginative and idiosyncratic takes on sexuality and relationships. In The Sexual Economy of Risk local video maker Zach Stiglicz constructs a kinetic audiovisual collage using images from gay porn, pop culture, and his own life; superimposed aphorisms by Freud, Genet, and French philosopher Gilles Deleuze; and music that ranges from African tribal chant to pop songs by Janis Joplin and Patti Smith. The wealth of associative materials is stunning: like a patient making a breakthrough with his shrink, Stiglicz unleashes a torrent of guilt, fear, desire, pleasure, and self-love. Equally impressive is Lisa Yu's 16-millimeter animation Vessel Wrestling (2001), a stream-of-consciousness riff on sex and food that combines clay, gelatin, and rough hair to show a nude woman who's eventually intertwined with a nude man in a primordial ooze. Also showing: work by Thorsten Fleish, Kerstin Cmelka, and Christopher Bravo. 78 min. (TS) (6:45)

* Monday Night at the Rock 'n Bowl

As a patron of the Diversey River Bowl near Damen and Diversey, I was captivated by Genevieve Coleman's buoyant video documentary about the north-side bowling alley, which spins punk rock every Monday night. In close-ups so tight they reveal facial pores, scenesters tell of overzealous games that sent them to emergency rooms, remark on the popularity of TV bowling in the 1950s, and testify to their love of what one terms "this outsider sport." The video was snazzily edited by Michael Palmerio, and the director's enthusiasm is obvious as she chats with the alley's statuesque bartender and its owner, Gary Secrest, who's been watching the clientele change since 1957. Her gushing threatens to turn this into an infomercial, but for the most part it's a refreshing study of the Zen of bowling. 60 min. (TS) Also on the program, Mike D'Angelo's 13-minute video documentary The Chicago Hot Dog Stand (2001). (7:00)

* Sabotage!

The real original among these six videos is Abel Klainbaum's half-hour The History of Choking (With Erick Estrada), a purported documentary on the Heimlich maneuver that intersperses instructional films and goofy reenactments. In one a man chokes to death at a doctor's convention when his symptoms are mistaken for a heart attack. The youth portraying him gets ridiculously blue in the face, the sort of exaggerated silliness that would surely be more effective at teaching the Heimlich than the usual sterile videos. In The Fine Arts (2001), Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby mock their own lack of inspiration: a woman confesses that she's speaking French in the nude because she has no good ideas but admits that her solution is unoriginal. And in D.W. Griffith: The Master of Auditions (2001), Marie Losier intercuts footage from Griffith's Broken Blossoms with her version of the film's screen tests (in voice-over, Griffith asks for "more beating"); it's witty at times, yet Griffith's work itself subtly acknowledged the filmmaking process. Also showing: work by Spencer Parsons, Catherine Crouch, and Nina Xoomsai, Vanessa Stalling, and Sam Stalling. 87 min. (FC) (8:30)

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story

Garrett Scott's video documentary begins with a 1995 incident in which Shawn Nelson, an unemployed man in suburban Clairemont, California, drove to a nearby National Guard armory, hijacked a tank, and drove around the streets crushing cars until the vehicle got stuck and he was shot down by police. Scott tries to unravel the sociological causes behind the tragedy: the middle class had lost ground in recent years, and Clairemont had reached the end of its "useful life," as one commentator puts it, when the neighboring defense plants closed down. But personal factors are equally persuasive: Nelson was on methamphetamines and might have been mentally ill (he'd spent months digging for gold in his backyard). Or maybe, as the helicopter footage of his car-crushing expedition suggests, he'd simply found a fun way to go out; even his brother describes the tank ride as "cool...something I would have liked to have done." Also showing: Stom Sogo's short video P.S. When You Think You're Going to Die. 69 min. (FC) (8:45)

A Chronicle of Corpses

See listing for Friday, August 23. (10:15)

In Our Garden

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (10:30)

TUESDAY, AUGUST 27

* Monsters in the Kitchen

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (1:30)

* A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (1:45)

* Skinflicks

See listing for Monday, August 26. (3:15)

* Monday Night at the Rock 'n Bowl

See listing for Monday, August 26. (3:30)

* Hooked on Comix

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (5:00)

Beautiful Frenzy

Amsterdam's the Ex are one of the most interesting rock bands of the past two decades, and I was excited at the prospect of a documentary that might trace their transformation from chaotic anarchist punks to brilliant intuitive improvisers. Unfortunately this video by Swedish filmmakers Christina Hallstrom and Mandra Waback is ploddingly amateurish, a jumble of talking heads (including Chicagoans Steve Albini and John Corbett) and poorly shot, poorly recorded performance footage. There's little exposition of the creative process and there often seems to be no narrative thread. Also showing: Jim Haverkamp and Brett Ingram's short video Armor of God (2001), about the Clang Quartet, a one-man band from North Carolina. 65 min. (Peter Margasak) (5:15)

Spangled!

A spotty program of short videos mocking American values and institutions. In the hysterical and distasteful The Last News, made after 9/11, Christoph Draegger and Reynold Reynolds satirize TV coverage of disasters, their breathless MSNBC anchor jumping from one catastrophe to the next (which include falling skyscrapers) in his desperation to keep the audience hooked. Jason Blalock's Spangled (2001) documents an audition for an amateur singer to perform the national anthem before a Portland Trailblazers game; it's interesting for its gallery of clean-cut exhibitionists but annoying for its cheap-shot sarcasm. In Shaka King's jargon-heavy Stolen Moments (2001) black musicians and producers (including Russell Simmons) talk about the global reach of hip-hop while commentators (including Greg Tate) voice the familiar complaint that it's been co-opted by the mainstream. Also showing: World's Fair World by Bryan Boyce. 69 min. (TS) (6:45)

Soak

A gaunt, sad-eyed cameraman (Tom Gilbert) who's recently returned to Chicago from Southeast Asia is haunted by flashbacks of bar girls beckoning him and engages an Asian hooker who gives him a venereal disease. Roused from his lethargy by a cocky porn producer (Piotr Tokarski), he shoots a video of himself acting out rough sex with an Asian woman (Camilla Ha), and eventually he takes revenge on the hooker by reenacting the scenario for real. A cryptic meditation on existential alienation, this hour-long first feature by Chicago video maker Usama Alshaibi captures the soporific rhythm of the main character's life, but his descent into sadism seems contrived. Also showing: Alshaibi's five-minute video Angels, a retread of Warholian kitsch, debauchery, and emptiness. (TS) (7:00)

Death Becomes You

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (8:30)

* Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (8:45)

Bad Ideas for Paradise

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (10:15)

* Dildo Heaven

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (10:30)

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 28

* Watching and the Watched

See listing for Monday, August 26. (1:30)

Beautiful Frenzy

See listing for Tuesday, August 27. (1:45)

Hugs and Kisses

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (3:15)

Nitwit

See listing for Sunday, August 25. (3:30)

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story

See listing for Monday, August 26. (5:00)

Soak

See listing for Tuesday, August 27. (5:15)

Domestic Bliss

See listing for Saturday, August 24. (6:45)

Scumrock

Bay Area filmmaker Jon Moritsugu (Fame Whore, Mod Fuck Explosion) is known for his angry, manic energy, but the characters in this video, denizens of the San Francisco art fringe, seem like they're heavily sedated. The story cuts between an aspiring filmmaker (Kyp Malone) who's trying to launch a feature based on the car accident that killed his parents and a punk vocalist (Amy Davis) waiting for her big break. Both are pushing 30 and none too happy about it, but they're so lethargic a strong wind could tip them over. Apathy is the dominant tone: when a celebrated young director at a seminar (Moritsugu) is asked, "What's it like to be an Asian-American filmmaker?," all he can do is shrug. With Moritsugu stock players Valerie Soe and Craig Baldwin. 80 min. (TS) (7:00)

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