Father and son Van Peebles will be at Md. Film Festival


April 30, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In 1971, I dubbed Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song "a vile piece of ego-tripping from a black filmmaker who hopes (presumably by default) to become the `revolutionary' mass-media force of his people." And that's just what happened. Van Peebles, who directed, produced, wrote and scored the picture and also starred in it as a radicalized pimp, became, in film historian Donald Bogle's words, "a folk hero of black cinema." He positioned himself as the first filmmaker to tell a story from within black culture.

Now, Van Peebles' son, actor-writer-director Mario, has made Baadasssss! the story of his father's breakthrough gamble and big score. The Maryland Film Festival has just named the movie its closing-night attraction - and both Mario and Melvin Van Peebles will attend. The presence of Mario and Melvin at a screening of a movie in which Mario plays Melvin promises to create a pop-Pirandellian happening. The screening goes on at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 9, at the Charles. The $25 ticket includes the closing-night party.

The MFF has also announced its opening-night event: a diverse menu of animated and live-action shorts called 7 By 7, including work by Matthew Modine, Shawn Ku, Terri Edda Miller, Matthew Thomas, Bill Plympton and Scott Calonico, who will introduce their films. The program also includes Bob Odenkirk's The Frank International Film Festival. 7 By 7 starts at 8 p.m. on Thursday, at the Hall at Brown Center on the campus of Maryland Institute College of Art (1301 Mount Royal Ave.). For information, go to www.mdfilmfest.com/2004.

`Battle of Algiers'

When the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo made his masterpiece The Battle of Algiers, about the Algerian uprising of 1954-1957, he set out to record the heroic sacrifices of Algerian revolutionaries. But he chillingly depicted both their ruthless infiltration of the Casbah and the French paratroopers' canniness and willingness to stop at nothing to prevent the overthrow of their colonial power.

London Guardian critic Derek Malcolm selected the film as one of his 100 best four years ago, noting: "In one scene, a group of ordinary people, French and Algerian, are enjoying coffee and conversation near the Casbah when a rebel bomb explodes among them. The shock of this sequence is even worse than the scenes of the French using torture." Malcolm sounds surprised; he shouldn't be. The slaughter of innocents is always more devastating than the battles and power games of military enemies, no matter how vile their tactics. The inclusion of this scene is what makes Pontecorvo an artist.

The film plays at 7:30 tonight at the American Friends Service Committee, 4806 York Road. Admission is free.

At the Charles

When an interviewer pressed Federico Fellini to explain the mysterious impact of his sublime 1953 I Vitelloni (the restored print plays at the Charles tomorrow at noon and Thursday at 9 p.m.), the maestro said, simply, "It's the story of men who haven't grown up, and the infantile state is ambiguous. There can be no heroic posturings, no virile poses."

I Vitelloni portrays small-town loafers - today they might be called "slackers" - who dream of Rome or Milan while pursuing aimless flirtations and frivolities. I Vitelloni just about defines the gray area between adolescence and adulthood, when the Fates might appear in the form of casual pickups. Fellini establishes a distinctive atmosphere of seedy emotionality. Even when his characters indulge in deception and thievery, the director imbues them with comical energy and poignancy. Shot in supple black and white, the movie is a triumph of observation and remembrance; it gives literal meaning to the concept of viewing people in a "sympathetic light."

The Charles will also present, at midnight today and tomorrow, my ideal midnight movie: Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II (1987), a peerless horror-slapstick jamboree.

The plot is almost nonexistent: The hero (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend enter the obligatory remote cabin in an archetypal deep forest and awake the spirits of the dead. The film's kick lies in its cascade of outrageous gags, involving, among other things, runaway eyeballs and decapitation. Let's just say that in this movie, when the director makes an allusion to A Farewell to Arms, he really is referring to a farewell to arms.

Cinema Sundays at the Charles will showcase the acclaimed Israeli domestic drama Broken Wings. The movie "makes scant reference to Israel's social problems and none at all to the Palestinian Question," writes Village Voice critic J. Hoberman. "Still, this poignant, acutely observed movie is eloquent and suggestive in dramatizing a particular trauma in the context of an ordinary Haifa family." Jonathan Palevsky of WBJC is the guest speaker. Coffee and bagels: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:30 a.m. Admission: $15.

For information, call 410-727-FILM or go to www.the charles.com. For more information on Cinema Sundays, go to www.cinemasundays.com.

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