"Go to a studio someday and just meet the executives," says Debra Winger, speaking a few months before the Twin Cities premiere of her new film Big Bad Love. "Then you'll understand everything. These guys change over every eight months, 14 months if they're lucky, so there's no continuity. They're all young. And they have no sense of the import of what they could do."
Winger is talking about studio movies, of course, and how they become autobiographies of the men who sell them. (The briefcase full of cash, the girl waiting in the getaway car--these are the dream symbols of fruit flies.) But her point applies just as well to the small and the enduring. Festivals of independent film tell us something about the cities that support them. And in the Twin Cities this week, we have two such tests of what we're about: the third annual Sound Unseen Film and Music Festival (September 20-27); and the inaugural edition of the Central Standard Film Festival (September 18-22), which kicks off with Big Bad Love.
Both events bear the marks of personal commitment and passion: They're packed with premieres, local collaborations, and accompanying celebrations. They look like a good time (parties, parties, parties), and they cover a lot of ground--literally. Central Standard's regional and independent features screen at the Heights Theater and the Apache 6 Theaters in Columbia Heights. Sound Unseen's films about music show at Oak Street Cinema and Walker Art Center, with additional live performances at the Soap Factory, Pizza Lucé downtown, the Historic Thorpe Building, and various clubs.
The three-night overlap between festivals indicates an embarrassment of riches, as well as an embarrassment of scheduling (for more on the latter, see "North by Northwest" September 4, 2002). To avoid further confusion, and to help you plan your week, we've decided to present capsule reviews of films and events in both festivals, organized by date. Next to each review, you'll see a CS (Central Standard) or a SU (Sound Unseen) to denote which festival is hosting the particular program. Space limitations prohibit an exhaustive survey, but hey--we weren't the ones who decided to have two giant film blowouts in one week.
For a complete list of Central Standard fare, see www.centralstandardfilmfest.com, or call 612.343.3390. For Sound Unseen events, see www.soundunseen.com, or call 612.379.0888. Festival passes for both series are cheap, and worth the investment if you want these kinds of events to stick around longer than a briefcase full of cash.
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
This award-winning doc fixates on the kitschy and the trivial at the Super Bowl of spelling bees. A poor, rural geek-girl recites her non-spelling-related interests while her clueless white-trash parents drawl to the camera, a poodle lapping at Mom's varicose veins. (The directors get a kick out of holding that shot for minutes.) As in some ancient National Lampoon movie, a black woman from the ghetto bitches to the filmmakers: "I know for a fact my daughter ain't gonna get publicasized!" And a young master of proper spelling speaks in a disjointed robot voice that suggests Danny's "imaginary friend" in The Shining. Where an Errol Morris or a Robert Altman might use a national spelling bee as an opportunity to grin wryly at the diversity of American obsessives, the perpetrators of Spellbound seem hell-bent on twisting our lips into a superior sneer. --Matthew Wilder
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and Friday at 8:30 p.m.
The loss of a parent might not seem like a particularly unique subject for a movie. But documentarian Tom Curran--whose father died when the filmmaker was 12--here finds an angle that's both intriguing and universal. Growing up in Cape Cod and Alaska, he and his siblings were constantly surrounded by their larger-than-life parent's notions of competition and success. Hoping to become a big-time athlete, Curran spent much of his life trying to meet what he imagined were his father's expectations, winding up as an accomplished sports cameraman. Adrift works as both remembrance and exorcism, and its tone is understandably earnest. Still, one wonders whether the film may have benefited from an even more sober perspective. --Bilge Ebiri
CS -LIVE AND LET GO: AN AMERICAN DEATH
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
On a summer day in 1998, sitting on his deck with his grown children, 76-year-old Samuel J. Niver Jr. took an overdose of pills, slipped a plastic bag over his head, and ended his life, thus beating terminal prostate cancer to the punch. This wrenching documentary, shot on video by Niver's son Jay (along with Jay Spain), is both a son's anguished record and a right-to-die screed--and so affecting as the former that the latter distinction seems unnecessary. The more we learn of Niver's extraordinary life (as a WWII vet, regional newspaperman, and indefatigable civic booster), the more harrowing his onscreen decline becomes. Albeit a bit voyeuristic, the film honors the last stand of a man who raged against the dying of the light by extinguishing it himself. --Jim Ridley
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m.
Shot in Stillwater--though it could be Anywhere for how little our river town appears onscreen--this off-puttingly arty documentary portrait of a half-dozen preteens with paper routes is more conceptual experiment than slice of life. The experiment: What if the real (i.e., the rural and ordinary) were rendered in slick 35mm and styled to resemble fiction? The result: a little yucky. Rock-world hipster Mike Mills (not the one in R.E.M.) comes on like a film-school Larry Clark here, fetishizing his smooth-skinned subjects and generally sticking his boom mic where it doesn't belong. Favoring slo-mo Steadicam shots of the bike-riding paperboys pedaling their hearts out, Mills limits his use of jiggly vérité to scenes at the family dinner table--an unconscious acknowledgment that reality is harder to finesse under parental supervision. --Rob Nelson
Apache 6 Theaters, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
A sad-sack stranger tells people he's dying, then sits back to await their responses. What the various interviewees don't know--supposedly--is that the stranger is an actor (John Michael Bolger), and that director Bobby Sheehan is filming them. If Sheehan were less fascinated by greeting-card symbolism and demo-reel gimmickry, he might notice what a horribly manipulative idea this is: an emotional variant of those bum-fighting videos wherein street people are harassed on tape. Seed knows no depths when it comes to extorting sympathy: One infuriating scene finds Bolger crying while a companion comforts him, unaware--supposedly--that the whole thing is a candid-camera stunt. The subjects' responses aren't without interest, but Sheehan has a hack's knack for finding real people and reducing them to sound bite-spitters and stereotypes. --Jim Ridley
CS -LAST SEEN
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 5:00 p.m. and Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Twin Cities-based filmmaker Eva Ilona Brzeski, this Blair Witchy mock-doc tries so damn hard to do whatever it's trying to do that I wanted to like it more. But the movie (based on a short story by screenwriter Holiday Reinhorn) is mainly jumbled as it strains to tell of the disappearance of a high school volleyball player (Leah Curney) and the effect that it has on her friends and family. Shot interview-style and "hosted" by a freelance journalist who deploys cagey reenactments and home movies of the missing girl, Last Seen really lost me when the reporter reveals a secret agenda (imagine Robert Stack getting emotionally involved in his Unsolved Mysteries), and the plot takes a confounding turn that has to do with abduction by angels. That's right: angels. --Joseph Golden
CS -HELL HOUSE
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
The elders of a Texas church decide to raise money and save souls by fighting fire with fire--that is, battling an ungodly culture through a Halloween pageant that suggests Harmony Korine and Marilyn Manson collaborating on a community-theater extravaganza. In the titular spook house, a dying AIDS patient screams out a big "F.U." to Jesus while a rubber-masked devil and a blond-bomb angel literally wrestle for his soul. And more. Much more. The fascination of Hell House comes in watching these Bible-bangers give in gaily to their wildest fantasies. And while the documentary's attitude toward the Christians is casually mean-spirited, it's also precise rather than cartoonish. Hipsters in the audience will have a good, smug snicker. And when the red-state opposition is as depraved and ignorant as it's depicted here, why the hell not? --Matthew Wilder
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Passion plays--dramatic portrayals of Christ's life, crucifixion, and resurrection--are traditionally performed in Catholic countries. But this documentary by Kirsten Tretbar observes an elaborate production in the small Kansas town of the title. Farmers, grain elevator managers, oil-rig workers, bankers, and other local folk get together to combine their talents, all the while poking fun at one another's makeup and costume. Yet the passion play is, as one participant puts it, "a ministry for the people in it." The pressures of rural life have contributed to divorce, bankruptcy, alcoholism, and loss of faith; the redemption offered by the play helps the residents of Zenith to get through the rest of another long, hard year. Tretbar, a native Kansan, purveys plenty of homespun humor and a deep respect for a way of life that's rapidly disappearing. --Caroline Palmer
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 7:15 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Troubled, volatile teenager Alex (Bodine Alexander) finds herself fearing for her younger sister's safety when their mom shacks up with a gruff new boyfriend (Don Harvey). Frustrated by the man's menacing duplicity, Alex takes her younger sibling, and the two of them hit the road to New Orleans, hoping to find their estranged father. Doug Sadler's DV feature begins as a heartfelt family drama, turns into a thriller, and then becomes a road movie. Though held together by the chemistry of its young leads, Riders never quite plants itself firmly within the ground of any one genre. And that's probably intentional, but the improvised feel of the story works against a movie that's eerily deliberate in style. The result is a beautifully shot and supremely well-acted tease. --Bilge Ebiri
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Luda (Petra Tikalova) and Nik (Edward Dratner) are refugees from a war-torn country who begin new lives in Los Angeles. Flat broke, the highly educated couple decides to accept a pair of absurd jobs in an experimental public-works project: Each day they don pink bunny suits and crouch on street corners while passers-by use them for free therapy. Though Luda throws herself into the thankless task, Nik laments the loss of his dignity, and the two eventually separate, driven apart by differing expectations. First-time director Mia Trachinger creates a poignant account of the many difficulties that immigrants face within their adopted cultures. Even through their imposed silence, Luda and Nik speak volumes while absorbing the burdens of others. --Caroline Palmer
SU -HOP-FU: HIP HOP MEETS KUNG FU
Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
This Sound Unseen opener is a godsend for two narrow but overlapping cult audiences: people who love old kung fu movies and people who love hip hoppers who love old kung fu movies. The event does nothing more than take a revered Hong Kong classic directed by Jackie Chan mentor Sammo Hung, The Prodigal Son (1982), and turn the soundtrack over to New York turntablists and remixers DJ Excess and DJ IXL. In their hands, punches are transformed into scratched guitar chords; dialogue (originally dubbed with British accents) is left intact save for occasional dollops of MC slang; a Peking opera singer's croon becomes a Slick Rick lyric; and ancient martial arts get au courant drum 'n' bass accompaniment. Think of it as a What's Up, Tiger Lily? for Wu Tang fans. The two screenings will be followed by an opening night party at the Soap Factory featuring music by Heiruspecs, the Dijonettes, and DJ Kasio. --Peter S. Scholtes
CS -BIKE LIKE U MEAN IT
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 8:15 p.m. and Saturday at 5:45 p.m.
Like their Twin Cities counterparts, Austin-based bicyclists calling themselves Critical Mass have been filling the streets of their Texas town in protest against automobiles since at least 2000--when police made the mistake of videotaping them. Obtained by subpoena and edited into this hilarious documentary, the footage shows officers plainly ogling riders (I swear that's my ex-girlfriend flashing one of the cops), and trying to identify "leaders" in order to issue them trumped-up citations. Filmmakers Rusty Martin and Susan Kirr know a classic sequence when it unfolds before them, but are agnostic enough to give equal time to critics. (They also cover Amy Babich's one-woman letter-writing campaign against cars.) The result is the best Austin counterculture movie since Slacker. (It screens on a double bill with Urban Warrior, reviewed below.) --Peter S. Scholtes
CS -URBAN WARRIOR
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 8:15 p.m. and Saturday at 5:45 p.m.
From Ludlow to Waco, the abuse of domestic military power comes as no surprise. But as this important documentary argues, the "militarization" of police work is a relatively new phenomenon--one that took hold in the 1960s, accelerated with the war on drugs, and has been streamlined in the year since September 11. St. Paul-based filmmaker Matt Ehling (Run Some Idiot) presents all-too-familiar scenarios in which death sentences are instantly meted out by S.W.A.T. teams bursting into homes. (Helpful hint: If this happens to you, your hands had better be empty and in the air.) Ehling's ominous soundtrack loads the deck just a tad, but his best face cards are law enforcement officials (such as former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza) who know the dangers of overwhelming force firsthand. (Urban Warrior screens on a double bill with Bike Like U Mean It, reviewed above.) --Peter S. Scholtes
CS -THE POOR AND HUNGRY
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday at 11:00 a.m.
Though director Craig Brewer used an inheritance of only $20,000 to fund this DV debut feature, The Poor and Hungry hardly looks malnourished. Shot in black-and-white in Brewer's hometown of Memphis, it follows Eli (Eric Tate) and his pint-size hustler sidekick (Lindsey Roberts) on their many misadventures. Eli is a car thief, running parts through a chop shop and supplementing his income at the local strip club. But he isn't a thug: While boosting a Toyota belonging to a cello-playing student (Lake Latimer), he learns how to be a good person. Brewer is clearly influenced by Midnight Cowboy, but, in place of innovation, he imbues this elegant film with rare clarity and patience. --Caroline Palmer
CS -KAATERSKILL FALLS
Apache 6 Theaters, Saturday at 2:45 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
An improvised Knife in the Water set on the road and in the mountains, this micro-budget sleeper charts the tension that develops between a young pair of yuppie breeders (Hilary Howard, Mitchell Riggs) and the gruff hitchhiker (Anthony Leslie) whom they impulsively (or implausibly?) decide to pick up en route from Manhattan to their first weekend of baby-making efforts upstate. Invited to spend the night in the couple's rented cabin, the stranger takes no time flat to start waving a knife (in the kitchen, chopping garlic, but still); the wife giddily defies her new fertility regimen by guzzling red wine; and the husband quietly seethes. Codirectors Josh Apter and Peter Olsen (a Minnesota native) accentuate the ordinary menace through claustrophobic close-ups and well-placed jump cuts--none of which cost a thing except imagination. --Rob Nelson
SU -THE RALPH STANLEY STORY
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Onstage, the diminutive, flint-faced bluegrass legend of the title shows about as much emotion as the Clinch Mountains of his childhood home. But as this documentary reveals, the old man's music is full of life. Check out his duet with Patty Loveless: As Stanley kicks it off with an ancient bluegrass incantation, she simply stares at him, tears welling in her eyes. Though the film's framing and editing are less than expert, that rather suits the down-home subject: The Ralph Stanley Story is like a home movie showing the man a-pickin' and a-frownin' throughout a career that has spanned more than 50 years. If you love the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, see the story of the man whose spare, ardent music served as its template. --Michael Metzger
SU -LIFETIME GUARANTEE: PHRANC'S ADVENTURES IN PLASTIC
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
This documentary initially sounds like a case study from some Pat Buchanan conversion experiment: A lesbian punk rocker is transformed into a wholesome Tupperware saleswoman. But androgynous folk singer Phranc doesn't just educate people about how to keep their week-old Brussels sprouts fresh and their ice-cube trays free from fishy stench: This particular homemaker once toured with the Smiths, prefers to wear a bow tie on her sales expeditions, and has the kind of impeccable flattop haircut that could get a girl expelled from the Army. All of which makes Lifetime Guarantee an unusual look at a woman who at once eschews the cookie-baking feminine ideal and embraces the responsibilities--childcare, cooking, hostessing--that come with it. If only Martha Stewart looked as good in a suit. (The film screens on a double bill with Thoth, reviewed below.) --Melissa Maerz
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Does that loincloth-clad Central Park street musician--the one singing opera in a made-up language while running in place and playing the violin--have an interesting story to tell? Of course he does. But let's thank Oscar-winning director Sarah Kernochan for telling it well here. Thoth, as he calls himself, says he seeks forgiveness from his ancestors in the faces of onlookers. His sin? He didn't accept the presence of those elders in himself. Hence this homosexual man of Jewish and African-American heritage, whose early experiences of prejudice made him introverted and sad, greets every opportunity to perform as a family reunion. The upside is that he's hugely talented--a fact that makes his ardent strangeness (like the movie itself) both confounding and beguiling. (Thoth screens on a double bill with Lifetime Guarantee, reviewed above.) --Peter S. Scholtes
SU -BREATH CONTROL: THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN BEAT BOX
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, September 25 at 9:30 p.m.
Now here's an idea: a film about the art and history of human beat-box music--that overlooked and often joked-about tradition of making drum noises and other instrumental sounds with the mouth. And here's an even better idea: a film that's as fun and irreverent as its subject matter, packed with goofy animation and, yes, scenes of guys making funny sounds, which tell us more than all the Doug E. Fresh and Fat Boys interviews in the world (though they're here, too). Director Joey Garfield understands the fundamentally hilarious and cinematic nature of his material, and pulls no punches. The result is freewheeling, informative, outrageous, and never less than fascinating. (It screens along with the short film "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," reviewed below.) --Bilge Ebiri
SU -THE SUBCONSCIOUS ART OF GRAFFITI REMOVAL
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday, September 25 at 9:30 p.m.
Rothko and Malevich: iconic artists or aesthetic forerunners of graffiti art removal? Matt McCormick would insist that they're both. In this short film, the Oregonian director argues that people who paint over graffiti do so in geometric designs that subconsciously mirror the abstract art of the mid-20th Century. Capturing aerosol tags that have been ghosted off concrete walls, buses, and bridges, he creates a poignant city symphony of accidental art. But against the film's eerily minimalist musical score, narrator (and fellow Portland artist) Miranda July's voiceover is simply irritating. Good thing McCormick's haunting images speak for themselves. (The film screens along with the feature-length Breath Control, reviewed above.) --Melissa Maerz
CS -PURPLE HAZE
Heights Theater, Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Released to theaters only a year before another color purple put Minneapolis on the map, this Twin Cities-made melodrama likewise tells of a longhaired loner from a troubled family. (And it, too, is haunted by the spirit of Hendrix.) But Purple Haze is set in '68, so the protagonist, named Caulfield (Peter Nelson), smokes a lot of weed and stands eligible for the draft--and not much else. Writing in the New York Times in 1983, Vincent Canby complained that the movie "isn't good enough to be called a rip-off" of another young Caulfield's coming of age. The critic may have been a fuddy duddy, but he had a point: Failing to earn its homage though historical insight, Purple Haze now harks back mainly to the days when indie filmmakers could still afford to license classic rock. --Rob Nelson
SU -SAUDADE DO FUTURO
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Like many Minnesotans, I knew only a few crude details about Brazil--biggest country in South America; home to equatorial rain forests, Carnaval, and the girl from Ipanema--before being schooled by the dense cultural nuances of this wonderful documentary. Saudade do Futuro is an impressionistic portrait of São Paulo, the world's fifth-largest city, as experienced by the Nordestinos who have migrated from the drought-stricken regions of the northeast. The Portuguese word saudade loosely translates as sadness plus nostalgia, befitting the accounts of racism, illiteracy, and woe from Nordestinos across the economic spectrum. But the film's most indelible elements are joyful and music-related--particularly the wordplay of Sonhador & Peneira, whose humorous, freestyle repente rhymes, like the best contemporary hip hop, conflate sociopolitical wisdom and street-level entertainment. --Britt Robson
SU -FEMI KUTI: WHAT'S GOING ON?
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
A gifted director meets a gifted ranter and runs with him--through Paris, New York, and the clogged streets of Lagos. The ranter is the son of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian superstar who was equal parts Malcolm X and James Brown; the director is Jacques Goldstein, who never quite gets inside the burden of being Fela's son. Still, Femi Kuti is a fascinating exterior. In the recording studio, Goldstein lovingly disassembles the music. In a car, the saxophonist returns the favor by playing tour guide to his homeland: giving in to road rage, pointing out gas lines (in an oil-rich country), and bribing a crowd of apparent fans to relinquish his vehicle. He's both despairing and vibrant, like everyone else in Lagos. (The film screens on a double bill with Ali Farka Touré: Springing From the Roots.) --Peter S. Scholtes
Heights Theater, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
A splendidly crafted miniature of a movie, this low-key and contemporary East of Eden slyly unfolds its tale of family secrets while evoking a world that has the feel of a real place inhabited by real people. These include the titular hero (Anson Mount), a hayseed Don Juan who helps out on his dad's Nebraska farm, but doesn't seem to have much ambition beyond maintaining his car and finding someone to share the back seat. Tully's straight-arrow younger brother Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald) disapproves, and when levelheaded Ella Smalley (Julianne Nicholson) returns from college, she's one more thing that keeps the siblings apart. The film's pace remains unhurried, its performances remain unhistrionic, and its fields and flyblown habitations remain unchanged despite emotional convulsions and bittersweet resolutions. --Peter Keough
SU -BOOT FACTORY
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Sunday and Monday at 9:30 p.m.
Renowned underground auteur Lech Kowalski (D.O.A., Born to Lose) knows there's plenty of pathos to be mined in the tale of Polish punks struggling with the contradictions inherent in being both rebels and diehard capitalists who make Doc Marten knockoffs by hand. Throw in the obligatory drug problems, a punk wedding with Del Shannon's "Runaway" limping out of a Farfisa, and a Hitchcockian shot of water swirling down a toilet, and you've got the makings of a great documentary. Too bad Kowalski chose to ignore character development, narrative construction, and anything else that might have fulfilled the potential of a promising premise. I know: There's a punk aesthetic to be adhered to. But the aimlessness here is otherwise depressingly devoid of purpose. --Michael Metzger
SU -A SKIN TOO FEW: THE DAYS OF NICK DRAKE
Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 7:30 p.m.
The brilliant singer-songwriter Nick Drake--who died in 1974 at the age of 26, never having achieved much success--has always been an enigma in the music world. And in the absence of any actual footage or non-musical recordings of the melancholy, reclusive English artist, this documentary can't help enhancing the mystery. Indeed, by focusing primarily on haunting shots of Drake's dwelling places, set quite naturally to his music, director Jeroen Berkvens seems to emphasize the fundamental inscrutability of his subject. Even the few interviews here--with Drake's collaborators and his sister--seem to emphasize the point. A Skin Too Few is a gorgeous, lovingly made film, but don't be surprised if you walk away from it knowing even less about Drake than you did going in. (It screens on a double bill with the Soul Asylum doc Something Out of Nothing.) --Bilge Ebiri
SU -THE DADDY OF ROCK N ROLL
Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 9:30 p.m.
Confronting Wesley Willis must be strange. But being the 320-pound, schizophrenic musician must be even stranger. Willis hears demons in his head, greets his friends by head-butting them, and writes songs about fellating zoo animals. Still, as this fantastic documentary demonstrates, just because the outsider artist's bizarre antics are enough to make you laugh--indeed, they are as hilarious as they are sad--doesn't mean he can be dismissed as some irony-loving hipster's punch line. Willis proves himself a talented sketcher of haunting cityscapes, a good friend to local audiophiles, and a shrewd businessman who knows that hamming up his illness just a little can get him exactly what he wants. What he desires most is to become a famous icon. And with The Daddy of Rock N Roll, he's on his way. (The film screens on a double bill with Langley Schools Music Project.) --Melissa Maerz
SU -BEAUTIFUL FRENZY
Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.
It's a travesty that rock crits didn't drool slavishly over the mere existence of last year's Dizzy Spells album, the latest in an ever-improving lineage of ass-kickers from the Ex. But after watching this magnificent documentary, which profiles the Dutch band's tireless and joyful commitment to punk-rock idealism over the course of their 20-plus years, I don't feel bad for the group for suffering such injustice. Indeed, after listening to the band members' entertaining and incisive interviews, laughing at the chaotic ebb-and-flow of their communal living, and just witnessing the sheer joy of their playing music together, you begin to realize: This group would be passionately plying their trade even if no one was paying attention. Lucky for us we have the privilege to listen, and, with this movie, to watch. (It screens on a double bill with Angel of Love.) --Nick Phillips
SU -SILVER ROCKETS/KOOL THINGS: 20 YEARS OF SONIC YOUTH
Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday, September 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Thought you'd seen and heard everything you'd care to about Sonic Youth? Neither did I until I saw this documentary, which splices together backstage footage you've already seen and videos so well-worn not even MTV2 would touch them, adding a whole cadre of unrevealing interviews with a bored-looking Kim Gordon and the frankly terrifying Jim O'Rourke. Sure, catching snippets of the early Youth experience provides a frisson of excitement in relation to their current predilection for Seventies stoner rock. But, c'mon--do we really need to see more clips from 1991: The Year Punk Broke? Guess we'll have to wait for the real SY skinny on Behind the Music. --Nick Phillips
CS -BIG BAD LOVE
Heights Theater, Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
Among other things, this slapdash and besotted gaze at the navel of Mississippi writer Larry Brown marks the vivid return of Debra Winger, one of the great American actors of the 1980s. Winger has been absent from movies since 1995 (remember Forget Paris?), when the funding of a film with Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp dried up weeks into the shoot. Poetically, she came on as a producer of Big Bad Love in order to avert a similar disaster when backing evaporated for her husband, director and star Arliss Howard. "This happens all the time and people think nothing of it," says Winger, sitting for an interview earlier this year at the Wisconsin Film Festival. "And I am not going to look 80 people in the eye and say, 'You're not going home to your family with that paycheck.'" Winger has always been candid about her flight from Hollywood, and about the industry's notorious indifference toward female characters over the age of 40. "I just felt like my life was more interesting than what I got to portray in the movies," she says. "And the longer you live, the higher your bar gets, because your time becomes more precious--especially if you have a family. You ask: Do I want to spend three months of my life saying these words?" Winger is so emblematic of how movies waste older female talent, in fact, that she inspired her Big Bad Love costar Rosanna Arquette to make a documentary on the subject called Searching for Debra Winger. "She felt like I was the only one who had the nerve to actually walk away--everybody else talks about it," Winger says. "But I talked about it for seven years. I was working up to it." With an appearance by hill-country great R.L. Burnside and a memorable drunk-driving sequence, Big Bad Love immerses us in the boozed-out bohemia of Howard's Brown. Yet it sobers up whenever Winger appears in that rarest of screen roles: the humanely observed ex-wife. Winger says this part may be a sign of what's to come from her. "I'm excited about the idea of what this film has awoken in me," she says. "I know that I have inside of me a definitive character of our time. I've met her out on the road, I've lived a part of her. I just don't know what the story is yet." An opening-night reception at the Apache 6 follows the screening. --Peter S. Scholtes
CS -LETHAL FORCE
Apache 6 Theaters, Friday at 10:30 p.m.
Equal parts Evil Dead, El Mariachi, and I'm Gonna Get You Sucka, this generically titled but amazingly energetic and gore-drenched cheapie may not be the best film in the Central Standard fest, but I'd be shocked to discover that it ain't the most fun. It follows Savitch (the gorgeous Cash Flagg Jr.), another overly honorable über-hit man, as he kicks, shoots, slices, and power-drills his way through an army of bad guys en route to eliminating his own two-faced employer. Where most no-budget action indies seek to conceal their lack of funding through inventive means, this instant classic simply charges ahead with basement-workbench FX and boundless chutzpah, not inventing so much as maniacally plundering everything cool that came before it. If there's any doubt as to whether D.C.-based writer-director Alvin Ecarma knows his roots, check out his self-parodying homage to John Woo--a visual mash note complete with trench coats, sunglasses, counterfeit bills, a hint of the homoerotic, and, just in case we didn't get it, the actual love theme from The Killer. Sporting enough oozing innards to make The Toxic Avenger look like State and Main (not to mention the funked-up, Streets of San Francisco-style soundtrack), Lethal Force is the movie that Reservoir Dogs couldn't admit to wanting to be. And how can you not love a hit-man flick that features the following exchange? "People from Minnesota are usually the most bloodthirsty killers you will ever want to meet." "Really? I've never heard that." "You've never been to Minnesota." --Joseph Golden
SU -PEOPLE LIKE US
Walker Art Center, Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Remember that bizarre moment in the early Nineties when the thrift store was transformed from a poor person's palace into a veritable playhouse for the well-off and ironic hipster? It was like something out of Karl Marx's worst nightmare: ratty cardigans retagged as "vintage" and resold at three times the price with a smirk that said, "Sure, gentrification stinks--but damn, you look good in those hotpants!" Of course, such bohemian posturing would go on to stake a claim at the very heart of popular culture. (Take a bow, Beck.) But on the fringes, People Like Us (a.k.a. British multimedia artist Vicki Bennett) have quietly used the same scavenging means to opposite ends, questioning the relationship between corporate globalization and our own hyper-consumptive tendencies by stitching together the spare parts of modern culture like artistic Frankensteins. Though Bennett's decadelong career is often aligned with Plunderphonics, the sarcastic cut-and-paste methodology exemplified by media pranksters such as Negativland and Wobbly, her own approach is markedly different and more nuanced, avoiding outright social commentary in favor of something more ambiguous. Pulling from a wide variety of discarded source material (everything from easy-listening tracks to BBC radio outtakes and strangely menacing Afterschool Special sound bites), Bennett crafts parallel-dimension dialogues between confused talk-show callers, peppered with glitzy Herb Albert-esque brass breakdowns and the words of over-the-top gardening enthusiasts. The end result never calls attention to its technical virtuosity or its impeccable background research (even though the "Where the hell did she get that?" factor remains jaw-droppingly high). Rather, Bennett emphasizes listeners' interaction with the recorded product without allowing them to engage in simple identification. As she told Xoxmag: "I tend to take two initial sources and get them to play a sort of tennis with each other. And then I add some more bits and it becomes more like a football match. Or maybe a swimming tournament if I'm really fortunate." --Nick Phillips
SU -STAN RIDGWAY: HOLIDAY IN DIRT
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 7:45 p.m.
Last time he was in town with his new-wave band Wall of Voodoo, Stan Ridgway tripped a purse-snatcher outside First Avenue, resulting in the culprit's easy capture. Then in 1999, he began releasing his solo recordings (which take on criminal pathos as a theme) through a local label, UltraModern. Clearly the man's L.A. noir-rock has some kind of mojo around here. Now the singer's name is attached to a Minnesota-produced movie you might call 14 Short Films About Stan Ridgway. The brainchild of UltraModern impresario Chris Strouth and St. Paul rock-video powerhouse Rick Fuller, Stan Ridgway: Holiday In Dirt hands over Ridgway's latest collection of song-stories to a slew of filmmakers and multimedia artists--from Devo clip-maker Chuck Statler to Residents computer-animator Jim Ludke. Freed of the impetus to sell, the resulting interpretations recall the narrative imagination of early MTV. Dave Moe's "Brand New Special and Unique," for instance, takes a tune about fetishizing youth and imagines a surreal corporate fashion show where one bored bigwig is ultimately impressed by a model groomed to look exactly like him. The project as a whole represents a reversal of roles for Ridgway, who used to make Kenneth Anger-inspired "backyard motorcycle demon movies" in Super 8, has written film soundtracks in his distinctive Western style, and remains an MTV icon for Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio." "My slate is clean," he says, speaking over the phone from his L.A. home. "I fell off the radar a long time ago. It just allows me to do what I want to do. I've never been the type of person who's easy to market. I don't have a cowboy hat in my closet." Ridgway is excited enough about the movie to be performing a show at Lee's Liquor Lounge the night of the premiere, but remains freewheeling enough to be unsure about how to bill himself. "I'm still playing with band names," he says. "Big Black Stick? Stan Ridgway and His Bottomless Pit? How about Stan Ridgway and Drunk Cops?" In any case: Muggers beware. --Peter S. Scholtes