Preview of 8 Films from the Local Sightings Festival Oct 1-6 at Northwest Film Forum
Friday, Oct. 1 at 7pm
For a lesson in how to begin with nothing and end with less than nothing, see “Bummer Summer.” I must have missed something along the way, because I never realized the ill-fated threesome had any destination in mind for their road trip. It seemed like nothing more than a pretense for Ben to reunite with ex-girlfriend Lila and, if that didn’t work out, for younger brother Isaac to try his luck with her. At the end of the film, they wind up at Shelton’s Skyline Drive-In Theater looking for a hedge maze. Now there is a Butterfly Hedge Maze about 35 miles away in Tenino, but the guy working at the drive-in tells them that the site used to be a hedge maze but was cleared five years ago for the outdoor theater, which doesn’t make much sense, as drive-in theaters went kaput decades ago and nobody in their right mind is going to clear a tourist trap like a hedge maze for a drive-in theater. Incidentally, Shelton’s Skyline Drive-In opened in 1962 and is still in business today.
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 5pm
The first half of Gwen Bradshaw’s story is so full of pain and sadness that it is hard to take. She was thrown into a fire by her schizophrenic mother when she was nine months old, and spent most of her life learning to deal with physical disfigurement and emotional trauma. An undisclosed action on the part of her father left her virtually without a family, and she would not participate in a family event until the age of 30, with an invitation to her newly discovered half-sister’s wedding. In the second half of Mary Katzke’s unflinching documentary, Gwen, fearing she may be showing signs of her mother’s mental illness, spends two and a half years tracking her down. The mother and child reunion seems free of the blame and guilt that often keeps such reunions from occurring, but after the reconciliation, it is apparent that Gwen is not ready to let such a mother into her life. “About Face” is an open-eyed, unsentimental look at people who have inherited the nightmares of their parents, who are afraid to look into the mirror because the anguish they see there eclipses anything in the imagination. It is also the story of how one such person discovers her own beauty, and finds the courage to believe that even a medicated life is well worth living.
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7pm
Christian Palmer’s ugly emulation of “Requiem for a Dream “ (not the wonderful Hubert Selby novel, but Darren Aronofsky’s insufficient film adaptation) rivals “Police Beat” as Seattle’s most incompetent and incoherent entry into the annals of the feature film. Palmer’s inability to direct and select is most evident in the shards of Lori Larson’s performance as the alcoholic mother. Larson has long been a mainstay of Seattle theatre, and gives Palmer plenty of psychotic footage of herself, but he doesn’t create anything with it, just lets it run on as if it were a screen test. In light of his abandoning Larson’s performance to its raw footage, it would be unfair to criticize the other actors too harshly, but none of them come off well. The screenplay might have been written by a schizophrenic amnesiac trying to recall an amniotic swim match while in an alcoholic coma. Try to make sense of this: After escaping a psychiatric institution, William runs into one of the student nurses and tries to talk to her, but she tells him to get lost but later chases him and apologizes, and he rejects her but later meets her in the bar where his ex-girlfriend was recently fired, which makes the ex jealous and she has a fit accusing him of post break-up infidelity, while she has all along been sleeping with at least one of the guys from the bar, then she sees his mother come out of the apartment, calling for wine, which supposedly explains it all.
Sunday Oct. 3 at 5pm
Here is a subject after my own heart, an investigation into the nature of bad writing. Former bad poet Vernon Lott crosses the country, interviewing several writers on the subject. The obstacle to his obtaining any relevant answers is that nearly all the interviewees are themselves bad writers. It is interesting that few of them cite any worthwhile authors as influences. There is no mention of Tolstoy, Hugo, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Balzac, Whitman or Blake. Emily Dickinson is mentioned, but only to say that her poems would make good tweets on Twitter. Hemingway seems to be the only writer of note that has touched them, and usually to bad effect. Bad writing has its roots in bad thinking, and any writer worth his salt knows that 90 percent of his job is the battle against his own bad writing. Still, the movie is great fun, largely due to Lott’s sense of humor about his own failed attempts at poetry and his bravery in sharing the nuggets of his wasted youth with the world. After seeing the movie, red flags should go up whenever Charles Bukowski as cited as an influence or inspiration by a person purporting to be a writer.
Sunday, Oct. 3 at 7pm
If you slept through the last mayoral election, “Citizen Mayor” will bring you up to speed on how closely this race for political control of Seattle resembled a season of American Idol in which none of the contestants could sing. Director Koi Walker lays down a thread that explores the role money plays in political campaigning, but that hardly seems relevant in light of the winner having been at an economic disadvantage. A director such as Errol Morris might have concentrated more on the eccentricities of these candidates, people who believe the only prerequisite for the job is a passion for the city. None of them has any political platforms to speak of, and the victor Mike McGinn’s only stance was as a contrarian to the building of a tunnel to replace the viaduct, a position he has since reversed. The only thing we can be sure that McGinn, who incidentally cannot even pronounce his vowel sounds properly, will accomplish during his term is to gain 100 pounds.
Monday, Oct. 4 at 7pm
It wasn’t t until the end of this short feature, when I caught an unexpected glimpse of the Kingdome, that I realized that “Darkness Rising” was not a product of 21st Century Seattle. Joe and Ruby are old-school Seattleites, he a janitor who writes poetry, she a call girl who dances. You can decide whether it is a movie about a janitor and a call girl or a movie about a poet and a dancer. Perhaps there is no difference. George Catalano and Meagan Murphy are at the same time natural and affected, engaging and repulsive. Their courtship plays like an extended version of one of the sequences in Andy Warhol’s “I, A Man,” except here the actors slouch and mumble, in contrast to the desperate extraversion of Warhol’s players. Shooting in Super-8, director Bill Swenson mixes his smudgy, impressionistic clouds and skies with grainy, underlit interiors. The sound recording is terrible, but you get used to it. The film comes to a brilliant, comic conclusion after 45 minutes, then goes on for another ten that weaken the work substantially.
Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7pm
More than a documentary on the experimental programs at Yale Summer High School during the summer of 1968, “Walk Right In” is the former program director’s examination on the impact the experience had on several of its participants, not just at the time, but throughout their lives. Larry Paros combines interviews with the former students with re-enactments of their memories. If the film seems to go off in several directions, it is because the stories are told from the inside, and the experience was different for each person involved. The basic idea was to bring together disadvantaged kids from varied backgrounds and to stimulate their minds with the Great Books. “Antigone” gave one student the courage to refuse to play “Dixie” in the marching band, and “Huckleberry Finn” nearly turned the whole group into book burners. One student says that he didn’t even know he had an intellect until coming to Yale, and several of the kids are simply amazed to find themselves in the audience. If you treat somebody as stupid, chances are they will act stupid, but if you offer them an intellectual challenge, they will likely meet the challenge. Education is transformative, and the transformations continue for a lifetime. The program was soon dropped from Yale, as it did not support the school’s elitist purpose of developing the leadership class. For eight weeks in 1968, the definition of such a class was expanded to include all of us, not just a privileged few.
Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 8pm at the Moore Theatre
“I Am Secretly An Important Man” is an excellent documentary on a sad, sick soul who found a place for himself in the sad, sick arts community of Seattle, where mental illness and physical morbidity have traditionally been preferred to the creative output of healthy imaginations. Steven Jesse Bernstein impressed the locals with such stunts as reading his often trite poetry while swishing a rodent around in his mouth, an event captured with gut-twisting lucidity in a grisly piece of archival footage. Director Peter Sillen does not confine the scope of his film to Bernstein’s mad escapades in the junk-sick Seattle of the 1980s, but offers a succinct overview of the man’s life. A surprising number of ex-wives, girlfriends and offspring come forth to testify in his behalf, revealing a person who loved and laughed and played (when he was not crippled by his schizophrenia) with all the attributes of a normal person. Jerry Heldman’s recollections of the Llahngaelhyn coffeehouse, where Bernstein found shelter and encouragement upon arriving here in 1967, also suggest Bernstein had a broader creative base than the depressive angst of the scowling death–rattle that became his public mantra. In the end, he became another unfortunate martyr, a suicide at the age of 40, deified by a hellish society of middle-class brats, to the sad, sick belief that the only true art is to be found in madness.
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