A random sample of avant-garde films

May 06, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The American avant-garde has fallen into such ill repute since the halcyon cross-over days of Warhol that it rarely gets a display in a mainstream venue. That changes, at least for a week, beginning today at Fells Point's Orpheum Cinema, where owner George Figgs is launching an ambitious independent film festival.

Running through Sunday, the festival features three rotating programs featuring works by filmmakers from Baltimore, New York and Boston. As Lawrence Welk used to say, "Folks, there's something for everybody."

I sampled bits and pieces. The films are challenging, and they work on you in non-traditional ways, jangling against your assumptions, sometimes assembling into a powerful emotional document, sometimes remaining resolutely preposterous.

My favorite was titled "Miami is OK," by Steve Weiss, a good-hearted documentary of life in a small Oklahoma town, particularly as lived by an old couple in mixed plaids confronting the complexities of life with spirits and hopes high. Though it's somewhat precious, the film's core is heartfelt; it appreciates these elderly people by listening to them and allowing them considerable dignity.

I had less luck with Alyce Wittenstein's "Betaville," a spoof of Godard's great "Alphaville" of the mid-'60s. "Betaville" re-creates the trashy noir private-eye sci-fi tone of the Godard work, and does a neat job using existing structures to suggest a totalitarian future, exactly as Godard did. That takes care of the first minute; the movie was still unspooling 25 minutes later, however . . .

For sheer trashiness, a State of California anti-LSD tract from 1967 is a hoot and a half. Wow. It begins by addressing "teens" and telling them that it's OK to be "groovy." Then it re-creates an LSD "trip" with ink floating in water. Then it cuts to scenes of scientists explaining in their best daddy-voices what's wrong with LSD. It's so crude and junky, it almost certainly did more harm than good.

The Orpheum is at 1724 Thames St; for information, call 732-8027.

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