CULTURE TO GO

VIDEO

Deadly Advice

Evergreen Entertainment

           Black comedies always get a bum rap. Occupying that tiny square of film territory in which reprehensible and gruesome acts not only make you laugh but also usually go unpunished, it's no small wonder that Hollywood rarely churns them out. So leave it to the British. Taking the underlying malevolence of shows like Absolutely Fabulous to its logical conclusion is Jodie Greenwood. Played by Jane Horrocks (who starred as the cranky teen anti-heroine in Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet, and was more recently seen as Bubble on AbFab), she's a miserable woman kept under constant surveillance by her mother (Brenda Fricker). Unable to see her way to independence, Jodie soon finds herself on the business end of supernatural visits from murderers like Jack the Ripper, all of whom offer advice on how to rid herself of pesky family members. Though not as deliriously irreverent as John Waters's Serial Mom, it's a wonderfully mean-spirited take on the idea of death as a means to transformation and growth. And it's more than enough to finally see the talented Jane Horrocks take a star turn. (Andrew Peterson)

Lyrical Nitrate

Kino Video

           It's the end of the world as we know it--not because anything terribly apocalyptic has happened, but because it's always the end of the world as we know it. Remember Heraclitus? All is flux. Only change endures. In every instant of every epoch, new things are coming into existence and old things are taking on new forms or passing away. You wake up one morning to find your neighbors have invented the wheel; by noon, they're driving around in Toyotas. Meanwhile in Egypt, the pyramids continue to crumble.

           The impermanence of everything, the endlessness of time--plenty of artworks explore these themes. The special interest of Lyrical Nitrate is that it embodies them: What we have here is not exactly a film in its own right, but rather an anthology of images and brief sequences, snipped from a moldering cache of silent films which turned up in the attic of an Amsterdam cinema. These snippets--toned sepia, gold, red, and blue, and sometimes handcolored--are ravishing in themselves, but the real power of Lyrical Nitrate resides in the way it conjures and preserves a lost past. I watched it thinking, This is what Europe looked like in the early 20th century. And that period will never come again. My favorite bit was a traveling shot of buildings along the waterfront, taken from a boat. No human beings visible, just the brick structures going by, twinned by their reflections in the still water; and iridescent patches--green, yellow, blue--flashing around the edges of the frame, where the nitrate-based film stock is returning to dust. Heartbreaking. (Steve Schroer)

Heimat

Facets Multimedia

           Chronicling life in a Rhineland village from the aftermath of World War I to the end of the Cold War, the epic Heimat was made for German television, but caused a sensation when it was shown in theaters throughout Europe and North America during the mid-'80s, and later on PBS. Edgar Reitz asks much from his audiences--16 hours of their time in an age when waiting 30 seconds for a computer function seems like cruel and unusual punishment--but in return, he offers one of the most compelling experiences from the past hundred years of cinema. You watch villagers being born, growing up, falling in love, getting sucked into Nazism, dealing with Germany's defeat, facing the indelible shame of genocidal murder, coping with the constraints of small town life, and engaging in the ordinary cycles of eating, drinking, flirting, fighting, and fretting. Indeed, after experiencing the novelistic scope of Heimat, most other movies take on the unsatisfying sketchiness of a short story.

           In a movie of this duration, stylish camera work and intricate plot twists would grow very, very stale. Instead, Reitz earns our attention with subtle and well-crafted filmmaking, engrossing characters, and the subject of the century: the 20th century itself. As they struggle with a constant barrage of technological, political, social, moral, and economic upheaval, these German villagers seem to represent all citizens of the modern world. Reitz portrays all this with a feel for the basic humaneness that guides people through even the most horrible situations, and a gentle message that perhaps we pay too little attention to the importance of home in our lives. Available from Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago 60614; (800) 331-6197 (Jay Walljasper) CP

           Why do rock critics love the Mekons so fiercely? Is it their perennial underdog status? Their self-awareness in making "authentic" rock & roll in a late-stage capitalist marketplace? Their willingness to give themselves up to the music anyway, and to wallow in emotion rather than irony? Their love for American country and roots music (and dub, and club music, etc., etc.)? Their coulda-been-an-academic-but-fuck-that intelligence? Their willingness to (sometimes) take rock critics seriously? Their romantic existentialism? Their boozy sense of tragedy? Their boozy sense of slapstick? Their boozy sense of community? Their booziness?

           Yeah. And now, with the publication of Mekons United, a handsome art catalogue for the group's show at Florida's Polk Museum of Art earlier this year, there's a rich new layer of Mekonalia to savor and read into. The visuals include ink drawing, paintings, and digital artworks, ranging from lush oils of angelic proles, to nightmare visions of Hank Williams as St. Sebastian (pictured here), to abstract computer graphics, all presented with a group attribution. Texts include famous Mekon essays by Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs; a self-reflexive, sulfate-addled segment of a group novel-in-progress; and critical writings from various collaborators that touch on the divide between modernism and post-modernism, the homoerotics of spectator sports, and the difficulty of getting out of bed in the morning. The accompanying CD is a new, full-length Mekons selection that deserves more discussion than there is room for here. On it, techno beats sputter like a looming apocalypse, Sally Timms reprises Fear and Whiskey's beautifully doomed "Last Dance," and a Tex-Mex waltz tells of a guitarist with a mouth that "spews vinyl and wax" and eyes like "an old 45 that somehow never quite charted."

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