THE NEW YORK UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: 1998

The opening night bash was RSVP only — fest filmmakers and press weren’t allowed in without an invite! I knew NYUFF was hip, but too hip for the participants?! I was able to bluff my way in.
The Paper Magazine party was at an unfinished bar designed like a 747, airplane seats and all. Doris Wishman, the fest’s saluted sexploitation director, was hanging with pal Fred Schneider of the B-52s.
Two great moments of creative dissent at the fest: After a screening of T.A.G.: The Aids Game, Danny Roth’s harsh short about wackos playing HIV-tag with unwitting citizens, someone actually got off his keister to argue about the video being anti-HIV and anti-gay. But things were already running behind schedule and he was quickly cut off by a fest media handler. The man declined an invitation to stick around and discuss further.
Then, on closing night, filmmaker Machiko Saito (“Premenstrual Spotting”) led a gaggle of festers to see her performance piece. After a number of the crowd also did their things, Deb Twiss (actress/producer of “A Gun for Jennifer”) got on stage and, as an exaggerated Brooklyn stripper, took the piss out of them.
[ NYUFF AWARD WINNERS ] ^ (Winners took home a nifty gold-spraypaint statue of a bug with Barbie legs) ^ Best Feature: “Surrender Dorothy” Dir. Kevin B DiNovis ^ Best Short: “Cotton Candy” Dir. Roshell Bisset ^ Best Documentary: “Circus Redickuless” Dir. Phillip Glau ^ Best Experimental: “Seven Days Til Sunday” Dir. Reynold Reynolds ^ Best Animation: “The Fetishist” Dir. Jim Trainor ^ Festival Choice Award: “Jefftown” Dir. Daniel Kraus
[ THE SORE LOSERS ] ^ (Dir. John Michael McCarthy) ^ * ^ Does counterculture also have to be counterproductive? Made in Memphis, “The Sore Losers” makes the Tennessee underground (where McCarthy says his group’s films stand alone) look like right-wing militia. A deranged loner is sent to earth to kill twelve people. Obviously, though, he couldn’t kill just anyone or the movie would be over, so he concentrates on shooting and strangling beautiful women with their clothes falling off. How subversive! There’s also a Bizzarro-Cindi-Lauper-type who hates her parents and kills (gasp!) hippies! How subversive! And only Rush Limbaugh could giggle at the film’s anti-hippie thesis: “Imagine someone who doesn’t believe in war, the death penalty, or taking a bath.” If that explains killing hippies, then WHY KILL NAKED WOMEN?
[ JUICY DANGER MEETS BURNING MAN ] ^ (Dir. David Vaisbord) ^ * * * * ^ The Juicy Danger Show is an underground circus act named for its power blend of bursting watermelons and flailing chainsaws. Vaisbord’s documentary sketches the juiciness of the performers’ bodies, the raw danger of their personas, and drags the audience with them — Tom Comet, a former Jim Rose Sideshow, and Christine Taylor, a Vancouver one-woman carnival — into the grinning anarchy of the Burning Man festival. It’s a potent combination, and this video elicits cheers and applause throughout. At Burning Man no one is a spectator; everyone is there to participate and draw their own audience with costumes, crazy campsites, or performances at any time of day or night.
[ HOLLYWOOD SALOME ] ^ (Dir. Erick Ifergan) ^ * * 1/2 ^ This is a stylish and personal work, based loosely on “Salome,” from French emigre Ifergan. A young, beautiful girl (Nina Brosh) falls in love with a street preacher (Vincent Gallo) who prefers pleasures of the spirit to those of the flesh. A European aesthetic is in full force. In fact, plot is largely irrelevant as we move through a fashion-shoot lifetime of delicious cinematography. You can almost hear the director whispering “Now touch his face!” etc. during shooting, and these visual efforts pay off. The depiction of Hollywood Blvd life is nifty, using several non-actors, including a guy with no legs who actually spends all day cleaning the stars.
[ JEFFTOWN ] ^ (Dir. Daniel Kraus) ^ * * * * ^ This documentary sucked me in instantly with reverse psychology. Jeff, a man with Down’s syndrome, farts quite loudly, and his co-worker starts yelling at him and saying, “Go check your pants.” This lasts an uncomfortably long time, and I was beginning to get mad for mocking Jeff like this. But as Jefftown unfolds, a human picture emerges of a man who has his wits about him in every way, who uses his “disability” to get chicks, meet William Shatner, and drink free beer, and who looks after his elderly mother. Jeff doesn’t need our pity. Kraus skilfully leads us through the complex and humourous story, but whenever we get too comfortable he shocks us back to the mortal illness with things like shots of Jeff’s disfigured legs. Long, delicate work went into making this film, and it shows in every way.
[ THE BRIDE OF FRANK ] ^ (Dir. Steve Ballot) ^ * * ^ At times, “Bride” reaches brilliance with its non-actors improvising stark scenes of the scummy lameness that is manual labor. Then, purely for shock value, something horribly gross and usually misogynist happens involving goofy fake penises and breasts. The formerly homeless Frank O’Brien (as Frank) honestly presents the meaninglessness of his life, adopted by his co-workers and living in the warehouse. But he’s not so endearing on his quest for “big tits” that leads him to phonily murder and f/x-violate nearly every woman he encounters. I’m not sure the makers of this video feature realize how powerful their subversion could have been if they’d stuck to the harsh realities; the scene where Frank’s boss has to defend his working-man stench to suit-wearing bureaucrats was the hardest-hitting social commentary of the whole underground festival. Instead, it’s thrown out in favor of pee-pee jokes.
[ SURRENDER DOROTHY ] ^ (Dir. Kevin B DiNovis) ^ * * * 1/2 ^ (http://www.tlavideo.com/dorothy.html) ^ A fine feature film. It had a rough-around-the-edges feel that reminded me fondly of “Roadkill” or “Go Fish” (the B&W cinematography had something to do with it), and occasional steadicam and other high-pro touches to add pizzazz. The story is about a loner who can’t handle women, except through his imagination. So he uses it to the fullest, i.e. masturbating with the forks of his lust-objects, etc. To the dismay of his junkie/parasite squatter-roommate, he finally decides he needs a more interactive fantasy. This bizarre psychological journey pushes credibility in stylized ways, and it’s well worth the trip. The ending caused a little confusion among viewers, but only because we wanted to see… well, you figure it out.
[ THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE ] ^ (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer) ^ * * * ^ This experimental work follows the story of a woman who put her baby in a microwave. This film aggregates images and ideas from myriad sources to create a coherent contextual picture of a seemingly isolated event. It intertwines Holocaust and alien conspiracy theories, Charles Manson, an Antichrist (who forgets his answers!), and the seemingly endless stream of “expert” commentators that can be sledgehammered into any documentary. Particularly clever was a glamourous early microwave ad, oohing and aahing at the magic of it, interspersed with footage of nuclear explosions. One wonders how it must have felt when women first brought that Empire-crushing power of Armageddon to bear on their daily housework.
[ PURGATORY COUNTY ] ^ (Dir. George Ratliff) ^ * * ^ One of the problems with Purgatory County is that it looked more polished than it should have. As an indie effort, it’s okay, but as a noir thriller, it’s treading on well-worn ground without the inventiveness or tension to stand out. Sure, it’s nice to see a film about Emu farming gone wrong and there are a couple of standout visuals worth remembering — a man framed under a boar’s head so that he looks like a horned devil, for instance, or the funkily cut ending. But a controlling mother, a local strongman, a femme fatale, a gun-mad abusive father and a timid sheriff are simply too cliche for my tastes.
[ AARDVARK ] ^ (Dir. Ken Hegan) ^ * * ^ This is a labyrinth of double-entendres and tongue-in-cheek twisters. When two actors fail to get their play in a local fringe fest, they hire a publicist instead and damn the torpedoes. There’s a lot of Canadian in-jokes, especially the celebrity cameos. For instance, the two kidnap a kid they believe is the son of the despised Festival director who rejected them, when in fact the kid (actor and character) is the grandson of Vancouver mayor and Suharto-hugger Phillip Owen. But what’s really clever is the fact that it looks like Hegan (of “William Shatner Lent Me His Hairpiece” fame) was playing the same joke on us that the actors were playing on the fictional public; since everyone goes by their real name, it’s free publicity for them and who needs a script! And here I am writing about it!




Posted on March 30, 1998 in Festivals by
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