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“Flat Is Beautiful” Considers Pixelvision’s Second Life

It was Christmas 1987 when Fisher-Price dropped its hot new high-tech gadget for kids: the PXL-2000. Weighing only two pounds and packaged with a 4.5–inch TV set for playback, this kiddie camcorder took six AA batteries and recorded a whopping eleven minutes of fuzzy black-and-white video onto a regular audio cassette tape — all for the low, low (okay, not that low) price of $225. With this, Pixelvision was born, but it had a rough adolescence: After two years of poor sales, the gizmo proved a bust. But it would soon reemerge as a favorite tool of a small cadre of underground filmmakers working on the eve of the DV era. The Film Society of Lincoln Center investigates the curious afterlife of the camera with a new series, “Flat Is Beautiful: The Strange Case of Pixelvision,” which features some two dozen videos made with this janky low-res machine.

The reasons Pixelvision flopped in the children’s market were, of course, the same qualities that attracted experimental filmmakers. The PXL was a weird Frankenstein’s monster of late-analogue tape and TV tech and bleeding-edge digital, which accounts for its odd, jagged blurriness. Cramming pixel and audio data onto a cassette was no easy feat, so Fisher-Price opted for a small image that would sit in the middle of your TV screen, to avoid the overscan of the old cathode-ray monitors. The result was a funny little square that never quite seems in focus. One test-piloting journalist in 1987 complained: “Close-ups come out OK, [but] when you try to record a wider or deeper scene, objects melt together to form an amorphous blob.” Couple that with the loud, clunky stop-and-start sounds of the fat plastic buttons, and you have a picture that is definitely not ready for prime time — the true hybrid forerunner of digital media’s “poor image.”

Throughout the Nineties, filmmakers associated with the increasingly dubious label “indie” would gravitate toward Pixelvision’s grungy, subterranean aesthetic. While some, like Richard Linklater in Slacker (1991), picked up the PXL for a sequence or two, Michael Almereyda made whole films in the format — including his excursion through the early-Nineties demimonde of the East Village, Another Girl, Another Planet (1992), and his D.H. Lawrence adaptation, The Rocking Horse Winner (1997). The fascinating 1995 Pixelvision documentary Almereyda made with Amy Hobby — At Sundance — is an earnest and extremely Indie™ document of the festival at its most wide-eyed and white-male, featuring alternately dour and incoherent prognostications on the Future of Cinema from the likes of Whit Stillman (brilliant), Todd Haynes (cute and retiring), Abel Ferrara (tanked), Larry Gross (quoting Gramsci), “Eddie” Burns, Jim Mangold (a purist of the silent cinema, apparently), and the Kid himself — Robert Redford. For his quirky and surprisingly elegant David Lynch–produced vampire film Nadja (1994) — which features Hal Hartley regulars Martin Donovan and Elina Löwensohn; Peter Fonda as a long-haired, herringboned, bike-riding Van Helsing; and an actually-good Nineties soundtrack of My Bloody Valentine, Portishead, and the Verve — Almereyda intersperses b&w 35mm with brief, oneiric sequences shot on blown-up PXL. Pixelvision doesn’t really add much here, but the abstraction of the medium does recall the kind of crepuscular textures of old nitrate.

Indie film’s adoption of Pixelvision is, admittedly, not much more than an interesting novelty — as usual, it was really the far more adventuresome work of artists and experimental videomakers that paved the way by unlocking its aesthetic possibilities. And no figure looms larger in Pixelvision’s field of vision than Sadie Benning. Queer icon and art star at nineteen, Benning was the one to whom all others had to pay tribute: the true Pixelvisionary. (Benning appears in the credits of several of the works in the series, and makes a cameo in at least one: Cecilia Dougherty and Leslie Singer’s kaleidoscopic 1993 pseudobiopic of Joe Orton, Joe-Joe, which splits the gay Leicesterian playwright into two California lesbians, played by the artists/directors themselves.)

Clockwise, from top left: Elizabeth Subrin’s “Swallow” (1995); Michael O’Reilly’s “Glass Jaw” (1991); Cecilia Dougherty and Leslie Singer’s “Joe-Joe” (1993); Sadie Benning’s “A Place Called Lovely” (1991)

The tapes Benning made from 1989 through the ensuing decade — after filmmaker dad James famously gifted them a Fisher-Price toy for Christmas — became canon in art schools almost immediately, and served as inspiration for many older and more established contemporary artists. Amazingly, they seem even more bold, hilarious, and urgent today. The trio of tapes they made in 1990 alone — If Every Girl Had a Diary, Me and Rubyfruit, and Jollies — form a seductively goofy narrative universe of bad-teen tales of skipping school, making out, and figuring out (or not) one’s sexual identity. Benning’s videos are non sequitur assemblages of pop cultural ephemera, mixtape soundtracks, old movies shot off the TV, magazine clippings, and surrealist-tinged kitchen-sink melodrama, all shot in their ad-hoc bedroom-backlot. What results is a blazing autoportraiture of a working-class Milwaukee queer kid who’s horny, wry, and really fucking angry. And the PXL, with the loud whirr of its camera and the glissando burps of the stop-start button, was the perfect tool for this intimate, proto-selfie cinema.

Many great works in this series take up what film scholar Catherine Russell identified as the “auto-ethnographic” tendency in Benning’s early works. Michael O’Reilly’s Glass Jaw (1991) offers a grim but hallucinatory critique of the American health-care system via the artist’s own injured body. Elisabeth Subrin’s Swallow (1995) mixes childhood recollections of a bulimic classmate with the filmmaker’s own experience negotiating questions of body image and beauty as a Seventies teen through a dense collision of acted sequences; pre-existing films, videos, home movies; and pop songs. Joe Gibbons’s Elegy (1991) is a hilarious mock-confessional compendium of mordant soliloquies delivered during an autumn wander through the graveyard with his dog, Woody. (Pixelvision, as Gibbons explains, serves as an analogue for the dog’s own monochrome vision.)

But, interestingly, Benning’s own work evolved through and beyond Pixelvision, and their later works — from A Place Called Lovely (1991) to the excellent short feature Flat Is Beautiful (1999) — widen their scope to become portraits of the insidious class and gender violence in fin-de-siècle USA. In this way, Pixelvision also hints at other visual technologies: surveillance cameras, reality TV, and the kind of rough home video textures that captured Rodney King’s beating by the LAPD. The PXL’s grainy abstraction also lends itself to a style of gritty realism, albeit a deeply self-conscious and post-modern one. In this regard, Peggy Ahwesh and Margie Strosser’s Strange Weather (1993) offers a crucial variation on the Pixelvision aesthetic. One of the best drug films in any format, it’s a grimy Warholian melodrama about Miami crack users (one of whom is Watermelon Woman’s Cheryl Dunye) malingering in motel rooms while apocalyptic storm warnings blare on the TV. Here, amid pixelated palm trees and sunsets, the hyperreal swings back into blown-out abstraction, as Ahwesh and Strosser take the seedy TV-vérité of Cops (improvisatory docufiction, straight-to-camera confessionals) and hollow it out, leaving only the husk of raw paranoia and torpor.

In a sense, “Flat Is Beautiful” serves as something of an alternate history of the Nineties as viewed through the blurry, pixelated lens of the American underground. But the Film Society’s series does also feature one set of more contemporary works: Ben Coonley’s recent portfolio of anaglyph 3D Pixelvision works, short experiments in visual cognition that push the medium’s grungy, blobby distortions into psychedelic new dimensions via the humble observation of a simple composition notebook. Seen in this light, the series is not just a nostalgic throwback to the end of the last millennium, but also a chance to revel in the odd textural pleasures of a zombie audiovisual medium and deeply ponder media technology’s weird detours and dead-ends.

‘Flat Is Beautiful: The Strange Case of Pixelvision’
Film Society of Lincoln Center
August 10–16

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IT’S A MAN’S, MAN’S WORLD

Perhaps you first met JD Samson when she replaced Sadie Benning in Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre, making the rare transition from stagehand to bandmember and writing songs like This Island highlight “Viz.” Perhaps you first heard her production work on Christina Aguilera’s Peaches featuring electro album cut “My Girls,” or maybe you stumbled across recent performances by her new group, MEN, at Brooklyn Bowl or Union Pool. Perhaps you’ve never met her at all. No matter where you fit in, make sure you make it to this gig at Knitting Factory.

Sat., Dec. 14, 10:30 p.m., 2013

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Flooding with Love for the Kid, Starring One Man Rambo Zachary Oberzan

We may remember Sadie Benning’s Pixelvision bedroom with alt-film fondness, but look out: There’s a new DIY no-budget sheriff in town. Zachary Oberzan’s Flooding With Love for the Kid is inevitably at one with its concept—to remake First Blood (or, more accurately, adapt David Morrell’s original novel), in a 220-square-foot apartment with one video camera and one lone wild-eyed filmmaker/actor/editor/ designer/soundman. Oberzan’s refrigerator serves as the town diner, his closet is the flashback-to-‘Nam rat pit, his bathtub is a river, his living room (complete with CDs stacked in the old fireplace) is the northwestern woods, with only a few fir branches scattered around suggestively.

It’s a stunt, maybe inspired by Son of Rambow or even Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, but one with escalating resonance. The just-do-it Godardian disregard for realism and movie-movie ardor is a given with these boundaries, but shouldn’t be dismissed. Oberzan fills out more than 20 roles by himself (as well as three police dogs), and scuttles and runs and crawls through his own apartment playing pretend like a grade-schooler, with all of the earnest conviction and passion that implies. The question isn’t whether or not anyone else could have made this film—in a large way, we all did already, as kids. With the familiar pulp narrative playing out (there’s no Stallone involved; Oberzan reimagines every character, often with ridiculous accents), the experience becomes a poignant paean to pre-adolescent imagination and how much cinema owes to it.

The degree to which you can get sucked into Oberzan’s re-enactment is rather astonishing—a pivotal night “chase scene” through the “wilderness” is actually almost thrilling—and you’re reminded yet again how easily, like children, we accept transparent fakery of the worst kind in service of old-fashioned, Edwin S. Porter–style storytelling. It doesn’t matter, finally, that the megaphones are disposable cups and the ham radio is a toaster and the forest animal Oberzan’s Rambo kills, cooks, and eats is a small teddy bear. It’s a deliberately naive piece of work, and even if Oberzan’s performances suggest multiple personality disorder run amok (at one point, using crude double exposure, he looks up his own ass), you can’t say he didn’t mean it. The film might play as a YouTube-y farce for a downtown audience, hard to say, but so far, it’s the best movie of 2010.

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The Year in Experimental Cinema

Tracing any sort of best-of for the multitudinous varieties of experimental film and video is a fool’s errand; here, instead, are 10 notable works that I wasn’t otherwise able to review this year. Consider it a to-do list for your next time-machine excursion.

1. Play Pause [Sadie Benning]
Emerging from a self-imposed exhibition exile of nearly a decade, Benning mounted her two-screen installation Play Pause at Dia this year, concurrent with an exhibit of paintings at Orchard Gallery. Here she dispenses with Pixelvision, opting for an electronic slide show of cartoonlike drawings of urban residents moving through a fantasy Chicagoland—the style is advanced childlike demotic, quavering between dream and waking.

2. Paterson-Lodz [Redmond Entwistle]
A sparse, conceptual undertaking that combines computer-controlled audio with small-gauge 16mm film, Entwistle’s installation conveys the stories of two labor uprisings: the 1903 workers’ revolution in Lodz, Poland, and the Wobblies-led 1913 silk strike in Paterson, New Jersey. The images show glass castings from the streets of each city; the audio consists of randomly generated bits of documentary interviews and field recordings. Both historically astute and satisfyingly minimalist, Entwistle displays an austere formalism too rarely achieved by political art.

3. The Cleveland Trilogy and other recent videos [Kevin Everson]
A wildly prolific filmmaker who investigates the African-American past, class identity, and the practice of artmaking with a visual aesthetic so withholding that Charles Burnett seems florid by comparison, Everson has recently raided obscure archival sources to mine our cultural past for unexpected revelations.
The Cleveland Trilogy uses re-enactments and late-’60s news footage to explore the tenure of Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major U.S. city; other shorts from this year remix Nixon-age moments from a Virginia TV station—local reports of a pageant queen, a drowned sailor, a female air-traffic controller—to suss out originally unintended profundities and hidden histories.

4. La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo [Jim Finn]

Though critically lauded and popular at festivals, Finn’s previous work—like his East German cosmonaut mock-doc
Interkosmos—could have been taken (unfairly) as mere winking countercultural nostalgia, but Trinchera
proves that he’s engaged in some serious play. A crypto-retro-Marxist faux-documentation of one day in a Peruvian women’s prison populated by Shining Path Maoists,
Trinchera has the flattened feel and relentless tempo of a long-lost artifact of low-tech propaganda; shot entirely in Spanish and Navajo, complete with large-scale rallies and musical numbers, its compulsive ambition only furthers its enigmas.

5. At Sea [Peter Hutton]
Hutton has said that his penchant for long, silent seascapes comes from hours of carefully scanning the horizon during his tenure in the Merchant Marine. For his longest work to date, Hutton follows the construction, global voyage, and ultimate deconstruction of a modern cargo tanker. Not simply a cinematographic tour de force, it’s also a swab’s-eye view of the workings of contemporary international capitalism.

6. 50 50 and Message The [Oliver Laric]
That obscure object of Googling desire, German Web-art star Laric burned through the Internet last year with complex pop vids like the meme-worthy 787 Cliparts and the pro-wrestling remix Flying Dropkick; in 2007, he returned to alphabetize Grandmaster Flash’s lyrics for Message The and convened 50 YouTubers karaokeing 50 Cent for his addictively rewatchable 50 50.

7. Observando el Cielo [Jeanne Liotta]
A 16mm time-lapse cinematography of starry heavens captured over several years, Liotta’s film (enhanced by Peggy Ahwesh’s recordings of magnetic fields) works as a pitch-perfect 17 minutes of sublime contemplation—a reminder that the super-slow movements of the night sky provide cinema’s most primal form.

8. Whispering Pines [Shana Moulton]
Sick with pastel plastics and cluttered with Enya-era New Agey home décor, Moulton’s off-kilter chroma-keyed studio performances succeed at being both soul-cringingly creepy and living-room-rave exuberant, channeling the spirit of 1987 in ways even Shirley MacLaine could never have predicted.

9. In Memoriam Mark LaPore [Phil Solomon]
One of the contemporary masters of expressive 16mm optical printing, Solomon’s trilogy of videos in honor of his late friend, filmmaker Mark LaPore, bear an unexpected provenance: They’re created entirely within the crime-spree video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Unlike so much geek-generated machinima, however, the In Memoriam videos conjure subtle, powerful visions, transforming gangland SoCal into a desolate, cursed land of overcast skies, shadowy figures, and ominous symbols. Appropriately mournful yet mysteriously evocative, they’re a fitting tribute to LaPore’s own penetrating and haunting powers.

10. Recent works [Eddo Stern]
For his solo show at Postmasters Gallery this year, Stern combined the latest forms of moving-image wizardry with some of the oldest, melding colorful, animated-gif-inspired motorized shadow puppets with video installations of mask-like talking faces collaged from thousands of fan-made images from massive multiplayer games like Lineage and World of Warcraft—granting the whole shebang a kind of cyberpunk-meets–Southeast Asia strangeness. But his haute-nerdist coup de grâce was Portal, Wormhole, Flythrough, a montage of motion-tunnel sequences, projected inside a life-size Stargate-style interdimensional gateway.

Predictions for 2008
Great fortune lies ahead for Glen Fogel, who premieres his unnerving child-predator performance video at the Kitchen this spring; Jennifer Montgomery, now editing her all-woman remake of John Boorman’s Deliverance; and William E. Jones, who will hopefully bring to New York his installation Tearoom, which reworks 1962 police surveillance films of public-sex crackdowns.

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Former Le Tigre Member’s Stuttering Sexuality

Starting in the eighth grade, Le Tigre co-founder Sadie Benning crafted audiocassettes of spliced sound using a boom box and turntable. Referred to as “play/pause” cassette tapes, they fluctuate wildly in tone, sampling from disco anthems, rhythm-and-soul instrumentation, and other genres in repetitious fits of starts and stops. According to the artist, they were initially created to irritate family members, but subsequently the tapes’ sonic amalgam of diverse pop influences became audio diaries of an adolescent grappling with self-awareness.

Transferred to records that play from a turn-table in the center of Orchard’s front gallery, these “play/pause” cassette tapes offer a soundtrack to Benning’s evocatively unwieldy solo exhibition, “Form of a Waterfall.” The sole video work, One Liner, shot on a Pixelvision camera, is deceptively titled. Hardly a one-liner at all, it’s a grainy black-and-white video of a mark being drawn on paper, set to disjointed musical selections. The line bulges where the pen rests—not perfectly straight, but a bit askew.

A series of untitled drawings, aesthetically inspired by ’80s arcade games, is similarly complex and unsettling—the playfully adolescent, candied coloration chafes against their geometric rigidity. The imminent collision between rectangular shafts and rounded, supple forms conveys a stuttering sexuality.

According to the press release, the exhi- bition takes its title from the animated TV series The Wonder Twins, in which the characters transform into different objects using the command “Form of a _____!” The exhibition tries awkwardly to give shape to the shapelessness of sexual fumbling, but the clumsiness is not a bad thing: Sexuality is often awkward. Though the drawings are just as complex without a soundtrack, the eclectic musical offerings provide compelling contexts. There’s a visceral pleasure in changing the records in the gallery and listening to them for the first time; they play with the malleability of experience, the fickleness of mood. Benning said that creating the drawings left her in a trance—a trance that will leave the viewer with much to untangle.

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Lost and Founder: Mekas’s Restored Record of Exile and Longing

No figure appears more firmly rooted in both the American avant-garde and downtown New York than Jonas Mekas: original film critic of The Village Voice; founder of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, Anthology Film Archives, and Film Culture; mentor to generations of experimental artists. Yet
Lost Lost Lost
, his newly restored three-hour diary collage, tells a very different story, one of exile, displacement, and longing. It was completed in 1976 out of footage shot during an almost 15-year span, from his arrival in New York in 1949 (as a postwar Lithuanian refugee) to his engagement with the budding independent film scene of the early ’60s. Assembled in a rough chronology, the cinematography evolves along with Mekas’s
artistic community: The earliest scenes, taken in an immigrant enclave Williamsburg of cobbled streets, trolley tracks, and hand-lettered storefronts, echo the European art film of montage, while later moments shot in Manhattan and upstate sing with the expressive handheld camerawork of the New American Cinema. Frames flutter through anti–Vietnam War protests and cinematheque screenings, woodland romps and seaside pleasures.

The effects of Mekas’s autobiographical 16mm reminiscences are quite distinct from the real-time immediacy of video diarists like Michel Auder, Sadie Benning, or Robert Frank (who appears briefly, shooting his own 1961 short The Sin of Jesus, in a chicken coop): The thingness of celluloid provides a more tactile index of loss, underscored by intertitles that speak from decades later (“I am trying to remember,” reads one). These are gnomic records of self-discovery, sealed in celluloid amber by their very act of creation. But this potently intimate epic transcends mere personal record to tap a universal sentiment. A photographic Homer of his own odyssey, Mekas journeys—like us all—in irrevocable exile from his own past, attempting to reconstruct that invisible nation of youth to which he can never return.

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More, More, More

My editor wants me to cull my list. It’s not fair, she says, for you to get 14 when everyone else gets only 10. But I can’t choose between films that set limits and achieve them to near perfection (Sonatine) and messy overreaching films that jam stuff together in thrillingly different ways (Velvet Goldmine). Nineteen ninety-eight was a year of unusual abundance with more bad films and more good films than ever before. Since almost none of the good ones made money, they’re part of an endangered species. Hence my desire to acknowledge their existence while there’s still time. (I’m not completely without hope, however, about 1999. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai, the greatest film on this year’s festival circuit, will be included in the Hou retrospective at the Walter Reade in September.) The first six, by the way, are tied for first place:

Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong) Delirious but oh so tender, it’s an elegy for lost youth in a vanishing city.

Affliction (Paul Schrader, U.S.) Schrader’s chilled-to-the-bone adaptation of Russell Banks’s novel about the heritage of male violence is already an American classic, as is Nick Nolte’s huge, raw, shambling performance.

Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes, U.S/U.K.) Intoxicating, messy, sexually subversive, and superbrilliant, Haynes’s glam-rock opera–à-clef is like five movies fighting it out not to
become one.

Mother and Son (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Germany) Time does not stand still in this ghostly, wrenching film about symbiosis and separation anxiety.

Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, Japan) Kitano’s Fireworks, also released this year, is a more mature film, but I can’t resist the formal perfection of this claustrophobic gangster flick.

Outer and Inner Space and Restaurant (Andy Warhol, U.S.) Newly restored under the expert supervision of Callie Angell, these 1965 Edie Sedgwick vehicles are among Warhol’s great works.

Flat is Beautiful (Sadie Benning, U.S.) Benning is a poet of liminal states. Strictly speaking, this slice of midwestern teenage girl life is a video, but what it feels like is a movie on the verge of becoming.

He Got Game (Spike Lee, U.S.) Mixing Aaron Copland and Chuck D., realism and allegory, Lee’s basketball musical is a meditation on Americana and how it is shaped by the culture and fantasies of outsiders.

The Butcher Boy Neil Jordan, Ireland) Eamonn Owens’s relentless, fierce, rubber-face performance as a child
driven into psychosis by loss, bad parenting, body chemistry, and Cold War culture elevates an extremely interesting film to near greatness.

Bulworth (Warren Beatty, U.S.) Beatty’s desperate redemption fantasy of a ’60s sellout on the verge of suicide is a bit naive, a bit nutso (Reichian sexuality as the cure for racism?), but it sure has the courage of its political convictions; and the dialogue it generated about power, satire, and the representation of race was even better than the movie itself.

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, U.S.) Sexy and generous, Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard adaptation sashays around in time, holding fast to a romantic humanism that puts character front and center.

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, U.S.) It’s Days of Heaven in Guadalcanal I don’t buy Malick’s worldview, but I’m knocked out that he consciously holds one.

Illtown (Nick Gomez, U.S.) Gomez crosses Cocteau with Kitano in a trance dance about young Florida dope dealers who haunt each other’s waking dreams like the ghosts they already are.

Buffalo 66 (Vincent Gallo, U.S.) Burrowing deep into his creeped-out psyche, Gallo also makes the outside world a pleasure to look at. The cinematography is ravishing, and so is Christina Ricci

The B sides (which in a less prolific year would have been in the top bunch): La Sentinelle (Arnaud Desplechin), Next Stop Wonderland (Brad Anderson), Babe: Pig in the City (George Miller), I Went Down (Paddy Breathnach), Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami), Happiness (Todd Solondz), Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma), Nil by Mouth (Gary Oldman), Life of Jesus (Bruno Dumont), The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen), There’s Something About Mary (Peter and Bobby Farrelly), and for showing the expressive range of digital-8 video, Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg).

Most Promising Debut: Lynne Ramsay’s short Gasman.

Very Promising: Lena’s Dreams (Heather Johnston and Gordon Eriksen), Slums of Beverly Hills (Tamara Jenkins), Hav Plenty (Christopher Cherot), š (Darren Aronofsky), Parallel Sons (John Young), Under the Skin (Carine Adler), First Love, Last Rites (Jesse Peretz), Moment of Impact (Julia Loktev), and Shulie (Elizabeth Subrin).

Bits and Pieces: Purely for the way they look, sound, and move, the first hour of Belly (Hype Williams) and the two big battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg).

Most Moving Revivals and Restorations: The Leopard (Luchino Visconti), Shivers (David Cronenberg), Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese).

 

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‘MIX Festival’

MIX, New York’s annual
experimental queerfest, has slimmed down to a five-day “mini-derby” of short-film
programs remarkably unified in scope and quality. Here are some highlights.

The opening night showcase (November 18) features Mike Hoolboom’s Positiv, in which the HIV-positive filmmaker asks whether the virus really “belongs” to him, and Christopher Chong’s irreverent Crash Skid Love.

The free programs on
November 19 include “TV
Dinners,” with Flat Is Beautiful, Sadie Benning’s free-floating fantasy-romance about two fifth-graders, told through a pixellated montage of carnivalesque masks and cutouts.

The festival’s strongest component may be the Super-8 sidebar curated by Stephen Kent Jusick. The colorfully smarmy ’70s skin flicks in the closing night event, “Score!” (at the Knitting Factory), make one pine for the age of real peep booths. “Illicit Acts” (November 22) presents work by directors like Isaac Julien, Jocelyn Taylor, and Rose Troche, who respond to “Ghouliani” ‘s recent morality checks.

This year’s biggest coup is
a group of Andy Warhol’s Polavision movies. This
remarkable raw footage was shot circa 1978 to 1979 using a
special camera and film
cartridge, and was both processed and projected
within minutes. Liza Minnelli and John Lennon pose for the camera at the Factory; see Steve Rubell, Taylor Meade, and a very fresh-looking Chris Makos frolic at Studio 54.

Other promising programs: the laughably sick “Frankenstein’s Dreams” package; “Scared Stiff,” which puts a queer spin on horror flicks; and “Manipulation,” which consists of films torn, tinted, twisted, and otherwise tweaked, literally bearing the mark of their makers’ hands (and, probably, other body parts).