The films of the Quay Brothers are an amalgam of marionettes, stop-motion animation and the thickly shadowed paranoia of Eastern European folk tales. One of the brothers has stated that their intent was to "make a world that is seen through a dirty pane of glass," and their animated shorts are very much like peering into a secret realm hidden behind sepia and grime. The distorted focus and twitchy motions of their mechanistic actors create a whispery, half-forgotten dream of a world that is not quite nightmare, not quite fable. Think of them as cinematic bonbons, a reward for all the Disney movies you had to sit through as a child. You can visit their chiaroscuro world of thirteenth months and crocodile tears tonight at Southwestern Illinois College's free screening (Belleville Campus Theatre, 2500 Carlyle Avenue) of a sampling of Short Films by the Brothers Quay at 7 p.m. Call 618-235-2700 for more info.
Thursday, March 20
In the two colliding subplots of T. Coraghessan Boyle's latest, Drop City, it's the filthy hippies versus the crusty Jeremiah Johnsons in the quest to eke out an off-the-grid existence in the Alaskan wilderness of the '70s. The hippies start out at a Sonoma, California, commune called Drop City, complete with earth mothers, face paint, naked children, mangy dogs, Volkswagen vans, sanitation problems and drugs, drugs, drugs. A colorful auto accident involving LSD and a horse is the beginning of the end for the Drop City dropouts. Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman moves to tiny Boynton, Alaska, in search of a way to deal with the specter of nuclear apocalypse. Her wacky idea: a contest to find and wed a bachelor who grows and traps his own food. As part of the unlikely competition, she lives in the homes of various rustic menfolk for brief stretches. When the flower children meet the Northern Exposure-style loners in the frigid North, Boyle is at his best. The author reads from and signs copies of his book (which was written after consultation with former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen) at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Avenue. Call 314-367-6731 for more info on the free event.
Friday, March 21
If the existentialists had fielded a baseball team, wrinkle-puss playwright Samuel Beckett would have been their ace pitcher. The Arts League Players attempt the daunting task of performing no fewer than six of the dour Irishman's one-act plays on despair and confusion in An Evening of Samuel Beckett at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Now, please don't think that the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville's Metcalf Student Theater (near the intersection of I-270 and Route 157) will be the seat of the world's doom, gloom and pretentious caterwauling tonight. Yes, Beckett's stuff is about as bleak as it gets, but you'll also enjoy black comedy, unusual staging and some really short plays of just a few minutes each. In "Krapp's Last Tape," a fellow reviews his audiotaped diary from 30 years before and realizes he's as clueless now as he was then. In both "Play" and "Come and Go," three people reflect on the pointless games of love/friendship triangles. "Breath" is a brief gimmick with no words and, in fact, no actors. Beckett is virtually written in a language all its own, but don't fight it -- let the poetry fall where it will, and you'll be rewarded. Call 618-656-1181 for tickets, priced from $5-$7.
Saturday, March 22
The bohemian-cool comics of Shawn Granton philosophize about dead-end jobs, the strange popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon, unrequited crushes, subsisting on cheap food, one of Joe Strummer's final performances and the politics of comics stores. The creator of low-budget Ten Foot Rule and Modern Industry comics offers a Do-It-Yourself Comics Workshop at 2 p.m. at Star Clipper Comics & Games, 379 North Big Bend Boulevard at the Forest Park Parkway. Granton, who has also contributed to the popular Too Much Coffee Man comic, will demonstrate simple comics-making techniques for all ages. Ask the writer/artist/publisher about the fantastic annual Portland Zine Symposium, which he helps organize, too. Call 314-725-9110 for more info on the free workshop.
Sunday, March 23
Accepting the award for best actress, it's ... Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose. Find out who or what will win Academy Awards hardware at the Cinema St. Louis Oscar Night America Party at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. The benefit for the group that runs the St. Louis International Film Festival features popcorn, prizes, a trivia contest, an auction and your host, RFT founder Ray Hartmann. Will whippet-thin first-timer Adrien Brody beat out Jaaaaaaack Nicholson for Best Actor? How will Nicholson plaything Lara Flynn Boyle top her non compos mentis ballerina look from the Golden Globes ceremony two months ago? Will Renée Zellweger's superlative flakiness embarrass the entire human race, or just the race of actors? What about host Steve Martin -- will his storied nervousness and uncomfortably dry humor get old and make us long for Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg? Find out at 6:30 p.m. for a $5 admission fee (ages 21 and older only); the $75-$100 deluxe ticket includes prime seating, a cocktail party and upscale snacks. Call 314-454-0042, ext. 10, for more details.
Monday, March 24
O. Winston Link's nighttime photographs of steam locomotives chugging along are the very definition of moody. Giant black engine cars loom up in the blackness of 2 a.m., churning past empty fields and buildings with darkened windows. The trains are indefatigable, breathing monsters dragging themselves ever onward through cities and towns, but truly they are creatures of the barren lands between, where humanity is scarce. When Link took these photos in the '50s, photographic lighting and equipment were a far cry from today's advanced options, and the artist had to set up quite a menagerie of machinery to capture his shots in such sharp focus. If you enjoyed Jeff Miller's recent show of nighttime train photography at Atomic Cowboy, you'll go gaga over Link's work, on display Thursday, March 20, through April 4 in the New Wagner Gallery, in the Art and Design Building on the campus of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Stop by between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays; call 618-650-3071 for more info.
Tuesday, March 25
You can debate whether serious Woody or funny Woody is the more important filmmaker till the cows come home and marry their adopted stepdaughters; but rather than argue, why not watch his films? The Dystopian Film Series continues today at the St. Louis County Library, Mid-County Branch (7821 Maryland Avenue) with a free 7 p.m. screening of Sleeper, Allen's gimlet-eyed send-up of a possible future. He manages to deftly skewer the touchy-feely culture of the '70s as well, so this one works "on many levels," as the EST counselors like to say. The neuroses and Rod McKuen jokes may need a little explaining for those younger than 30, but the vaunted Orgasmatron never fails to satisfy. Call 314-721-3008 for more info.