Week of March 6, 2002

Mar 6, 2002 at 4:00 am
Art and Cultural Awakenings: Middle Eastern Film. The Missouri Historical Society presents a series highlighting Islamic and Arab cultures. This week's film is Rashid Masharawi's Curfew (1994), which concerns of 24 hours in the life of a Palestinian family living in a Gaza Strip refugee camp during an Israeli-ordered curfew. Plays at 7 p.m. March 12 at the Missouri Historical Society. NR

Cinefeminism: Three Decades of American Female Directors. Fontbonne College presents a series dedicated to underappreciated films by female directors. This week's feature is Nina Menkes's The Bloody Child (1996). In the early '90s, an American Marine murdered his wife and was arrested by MPs while trying to bury the body in the Mojave Desert. Mendes' The Bloody Child tells the story of that crime, but in a manner so maddeningly obscure that I was only able to make sense of the film after reading a review. Menkes recreates the events in a minimalist fashion, mostly through long repeated takes of the Marines who arrested the murderer. (The sergeant, the murder victim and several other roles are played by the director's sister Tina.) The killer is never seen except from behind, and the wife is represented with a heavy-handed offscreen reading of excerpts from Macbeth. Menkes is clearly a strong-willed artist, but the film ultimately fails, wallowing a little too smugly in its own incomprehensibility. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 12 at the Fontbonne College library. (RH)

Cinema in the City. Webster University sponsors once-a-month Wednesday screenings in Beatnik Bob's Cafe. This month features Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus (1932), one of the best loved, and strangest, Marlene Dietrich films. She plays Helen Faraday, a woman who struggles with her son to earn a living in order to pay her ailing husband's medical bills. When she secures the "help" of the wealthy Nick Townsend (Cary Grant), her husband recovers, only discover this "help" included unsavory acts. He ditches her, she becomes destitute, then becomes a New Orleans prostitute and then a cabaret sensation. This is the film with the famous scene of Dietrich singing in an ape suit and white tuxedo. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 6 at Beatnik Bob's Cafe, City Museum, 15th and Lucas streets. NR

Down from the Mountain. D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob. Co-directors Pennebaker, wife Hegedus and Doob went to Nashville to record a concert at the Ryman Auditorium, where artists on the multi-Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, including Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris and the Fairfield Four, gathered for a one-off showcase. But Down From the Mountain is no more a concert film than The Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense; never do you feel as though there's a screen separating audience from performer, and you're tempted to clap after each performance. It's the cinematic equivalent of a revival, both in the religious sense (every song here is, more or less, about life, death and redemption in the afterlife) and in the musical sense (one performer has no idea what music supervisor T-Bone Burnett means when he tells him to play a song more "rock & roll"). It's the most uplifting movie of a numbing year -- a feel-good film full of songs about feeling god-awful. There are plenty of stirring moments, but aside from Ralph Stanley's closing "O Death," the most definitive performance in the film may be Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' original "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll," the plaintive cry of the old-timer afraid of being "drowned out" by the ruckus and the defiant shout of the comer looking to "electrify my soul." Plays at 7 p.m. March 8-10 at Webster University. (RW)

Films of Frederick Wiseman. Webster University presents a series of films by documentary director Frederick Wiseman. If Wiseman isn't the greatest living American filmmaker (as one recent magazine article boldly claimed), he certainly holds the undisputed title of the cinema's greatest social scientist. Wiseman's films, ranging in length from a lean 85 minutes to day-long marathons, are no-frills cinema verité at its purest, chronicling -- perhaps even dismantling -- the inner workings of social structures and institutions ranging from high schools, boot camps and welfare offices to racetracks and department stores. Though he avoids narrative or offscreen commentary, he's no simple voyeur; carefully editing weeks of footage with an analytical eye, Wiseman's cameras slip through the cracks of their subject matter and penetrate their public images to expose the subtle dynamics of power within. This week features The Store, Wiseman's examination of Neiman-Marcus's Dallas, Tex. flagship store and corporate headquarters. Plays at 7 p.m. March 7 at Webster University. (RH)

John Singer Sargent Film Series. The St. Louis Art Museum presents a series, in conjuntion with their Sargent exhibit, of films set in the early 20th century that reflect the spirit of the time. This week features Marleen Gorris's Mrs. Dalloway (1997). Based on Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel of the same name, Mrs. Dalloway takes place on a single day: June 13, 1923. Clarissa Dalloway (Vanessa Redgrave), wife of a Conservative MP, is throwing a party, and she sets out on the morning of the affair to buy the flowers. As she walks through London, which has suffered through World War I, a deranged man in the street shouts his pain, anger and confusion. Though Mrs. Dalloway and the man do not see each other again that day, their lives continue to intermingle. Septimus Warren Smith (an anguished portrayal by Rupert Graves) came back from the war without missing limbs, but, inside, the war is flaying him alive. While Mrs. Dalloway looks back on the long arc of her life, Smith is descending into a pit of madness and despair. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 8 at the St. Louis Art Museum. (SW)

Steinbeck Film Series. The St. Louis Public Library, in association with the Webster University Film Series, celebrates the 100th anniversary of American novelist John Steinbeck's birth with a series of adaptations of his work. This week features Emilio Fernandez's The Pearl (1947). Based on Steinbeck's short novel, The Pearl tells the story of a Mexican pearl diver who finds a beautiful specimen, one that changes his life as he imagines the impending wealth it will bring him. Although his wife is more skeptical, she, too, is drawn to the object's magic. Plays at 7 p.m. March 11 at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 1415 Olive St. NR