Despite these fundamental flaws, Tattoo remains surprisingly watchable by placing at its center two vital, wonderfully articulate spokesmen: artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who offers glib, funny views from a knowledgeable and admiring outsider's perspective, and tattoo guru Don Ed Hardy, the preeminent artist of the day. Hardy, dubbed "The Man" by the film and discussed in hushed, reverential tones by virtually every tattooer interviewed, should have been Tattoo's primary subject -- his trailblazing career provides a ready-made path into tattooing -- but even relegated to one-among-many status, he makes a powerful impression, discoursing with modesty and blunt honesty on tattooing's history and aesthetics.

Tattoo offers its share of informative entertainment, and it will hold the interest of even those with only nominal interest in its subject, but the overall impression the film makes is something less than indelible.

Plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 -- with Rosemann introducing and discussing the film -- at Webster University.

-- Cliff Froehlich

Directed by Van McElwee

Directed by Pier Marton

Regularly, people tell me they don't like experimental works and don't want to watch anything without strong, driving narratives with larger-than-life characters on whom they can project their fantasies. They'll usually question the aesthetics of the avant-garde, criticize the disorientation and admit they don't "get" film or video art.

Truth be told, if we're adventurous in our viewing choices (and I argue for that), we've all felt bewildered at times as we ventured into unfamiliar territory. Like traveling to a foreign land where we have to suspend conditioned assumptions and look with fresh eyes, the journey into new artistic domains throws our routine habits into fresh relief. We may suddenly recognize subtle but powerful revalidation of cultural values and individual agency, pervasive in and rarely challenged by Hollywood fare. At the very least, we may have to acknowledge mainstream's reassuring, familiar patterns -- clear plot trajectories, easily understood cause-effect motivations for behavior, satisfying resolutions (even on the rare occasions when it isn't a happy one.)

Those seeking a stimulating alternative will find an exciting new landscape in this weekend's programs at Webster University. Two multiple-award-winning St. Louis artists -- Van McElwee and Pier Marton -- will present and discuss their intriguing experimental pieces.

McElwee offers an enchanting, mesmerizing entree to video art. Believing his work "should be something, not just be about something," McElwee provides "a vehicle for awareness. It's not about specific meanings; it's about experience." McElwee says, "I'd rather cast a spell than make a point," and he overwhelms us with visual stimuli or transfixes us with minimalist images and sounds. Having followed McElwee's artistic excursions for several years, I'm delighted to see his four new works advancing his ingenious originality. With an instantly recognizable, unique style, McElwee maneuvers through and manipulates space and our own imagination.

"Luxor: A Moment in Hyperreality" (18 minutes) intertwines images of two Luxors, Egypt and Las Vegas. Surprising juxtapositions, slow-motion shots, superimpositions and multilayered images shimmer like a heat-wave mirage. McElwee describes this as a "meltdown of the real and the replica." I thought of our crassest exploitation, Las Vegas' shameless appropriation of myth and history. "Space Splice" (12 minutes) involves the viewer in a thrilling succession of forward and side sliding movements, of propulsion through diverse spaces -- hallways and gardens, brick and glass passageways, curved and linear space. Through overlapping and looped edits, this dizzying piece explores what McElwee describes as "interior volumes shot in the United States, Europe and India." Similarly, "Transfinite Loops" (16 minutes) uses nighttime images of carnival rides to orchestrate ethereal, abstract patterns of bright lights punctuating and playing with blackness. Last, "Radio Island: A Meditation on Japan" (12 minutes) marries Buddhist architecture, especially the pagoda, with modern structures, weaving a dense tapestry of the ancient and the contemporary in a sometimes dissonant combination. For each piece, the sound is equally effective in creating mood and movement, whether it is the wind whistling through power lines and past carnival rides or the cacophony of an Egyptian marketplace.

By contrast to McElwee's experiential focus, Pier Marton's inventive pieces are more content oriented. The older pieces, "Collected Works: 1979-1984" (27 minutes), show their age: His more confrontational, narcissistic performance vignettes (intimate psychodrama, angry direct address to the camera, formalistic/ theatrical effects) have been eclipsed by more restrained and more inviting but no less provocative images in Marton's accomplished subsequent works. They -- "(are we and/or do we) Like Men" (16 minutes) and "Say I'm a Jew" (28 minutes) -- penetrate deeply and profoundly into the psyche.

"Say I'm a Jew," a touring video installation, juxtaposes snippets from probing interviews with offspring of Holocaust survivors from countries such as Holland, Germany and France. Without exception, with an arresting honesty, these men and women, now living in the U.S., reveal their deepest feelings about the Holocaust and their at times conflicted Jewishness -- self-hate, regret, prejudice, empathy and pain. Similarly, "Like Men," produced in collaboration with Wendy Ultan and Glenn Biegon, reveals the rarely acknowledged, much less powerfully documented, revelations and rationalizations of violent men. Acknowledging overcompensation for fears of vulnerability, several men reflect as their images move from blurred and abstract to sharp and clear as their identities emerge in a stunning work intended to prompt discussion of the "excuses" for brutality.

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