Week of February 20, 2002

Feb 20, 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 Ziad Doueiri's West Beirut (1998). Adolescence is tough under the best circumstances, but imagine adolescence in a war zone, as your country falls to pieces. Such is the situation for Tarek (Rami Doueiri), a middle-class teenager in Beirut in 1975. When tensions -- between Muslems and Christians, among other sets of enemies -- divide the city into Islamic West Beirut and Christian East Beirut, Tarek and best friend, Omar (Mohamad Chamas), are energized, moving their prankish exploits out of the schoolyard and into the real world. They should be worried about getting killed, but they're obsessed like hormonally driven boys everywhere: Who will win the affection of the dazzling new neighbor girl (Rola Al Amin), and how will they get their Super-8 films of Omar's sexy new aunt developed? First-time writer/director Ziad Doueiri -- a Lebanese émigré who went to UCLA and worked on all of Quentin Tarantino's features -- has fashioned his memories of youth into a surprisingly entertaining and accessible film, with excellent performances from all his young actors, including his own little brother in the lead. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Missouri Historical Society. (AK)

Cinefeminism: Three Decades of American Female Directors. Fontbonne College presents a series dedicated to underappreciated films by female directors. This week's feature is Bette Gordon's Variety (1983). Fans of violent reveries of the late Kathy Acker's postmodern, post-porn writing may find Variety, her first and only screen credit, a little disappointing on a single viewing, but Gordon's debut film grows more interesting over time. Marrying the conventions of psychological thrillers (especially Vertigo) with everyday life in New York City, Gordon and Acker use an unlikely combination of romantic clichés and Times Square sleaze to show the spiritual transformation of Christine (Sandy McLeod), a young single woman whose job in the ticket booth of a porno house becomes the staring point for an emotional self-examination. With strong performances (from McLeod and Traffic's Luiz Guzman, among others) and convincingly lurid ambience, Gordon's film is low-key to a fault but stubbornly sticks in the mind. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Fontbonne College library. (RH)

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 Meat, Wiseman's examination of the meat industry. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb.21 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 Alan Rudulph's The Moderns (1988), which documents the 1920s Paris intellectual scene that included Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Stars Keith Carradine, Linda Fiorentino and Wallace Shawn. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the St. Louis Art Museum. NR

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 John Ford's masterful take on The Grapes of Wrath (1939). One of the pinnacles of American film, Ford's Wrath stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and presents Steinbeck's work in a deservedly bleak and shadow-filled landscape. Though few films succeed in equaling the power of the original source novel, even fewer are able to do so with a literary masterpiece. The Grapes of Wrath is in a league of its own. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 1415 Olive St. (NR)

Sunday Afternoon Film Series. The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center hosts a monthly series of movies relating to the Holocaust. This month features Michael Daeron's Bach in Auschwitz (1995). Among the atrocities committed at Auschwitz was one that forced female prisoners to harness their musical talents for their captors' evil purposes. These 40 women were ordered to perform music -- the grace of life -- in the concentration camp while their families and friends were subjected to torture and led to their deaths. Bach in Auschwitz, a documentary that chronicles these women's story, features 11 women survivors who recount their experience as members of the orchestra. Plays at 2 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Holocaust Museum. NR