Week of February 27, 2002

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Art and Cultural Awakenings: Middle Eastern Film. The Missouri Historical Society presents a series highlighting Islamic and Arab cultures. This week's film is Youssef Chahine's Destiny (1997), which tells the story of revolutionary Muslim philosopher Averroes, who, in the 12th century, battled fundamentalists in Spain intent on censoring his Aristotle-inspired writings and ideas. When he was exiled and his writings ordered publicly burned, Averroes' students copied them and smuggled them out of the country and into Egypt, where, in time, they became cornerstones of modern Western philosophy. The story mirrors director Chahine's own battles with current Muslim fundamentalism; his film L'émigré depicted on film a Muslim prophet, an act so blasphemous to his opponents that they censored it and threatened to have him killed. Plays at 7 p.m. March 5 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 Beth B.'s Two Small Bodies (1993). Never straying from its theatrical roots, Two Small Bodies is a two-character exercise, a verbal sparring match between an oddball homicide detective (Fred Ward) and a young woman (Suzi Amis) whose children have disappeared. The cop returns night after night to abuse, insult, flirt and provoke, and the woman, a strip-club hostess with a string of questionable relationships, responds in kind, scratching open a few psychological sore points for both. Directed in a straightforward manner by Beth B. (once a staple of the New York punk/art scene), the film doesn't add up to much, but the intensity of the two excellent performances could almost keep you from noticing the slightness of the script. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 5 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

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 Manoeuvre, Wiseman's first-hand account of NATO exercises in Western Europe. Plays at 7 p.m. Feb.28 at Webster University. (RH)

HIQI Film Series. Webster University presents a series of films documenting the lifestyles of rockers, ravers, grungers and punkers. The HIQI Film Series (prounounced "hickey") showcases pop, rock, reggae and electronic music, with two films being featured per night. The March 1 program will include Friends Forever, about a band that tours the country playing parking lots with a generator and their van as a stage; and Radiohead: Live in Dublin, a live concert from the band's tour supporting their masterful album Kid A. On March 2, witness first-hand Billy Corgan's big, pink brain with a film documenting the Smashing Pumpkins. Smashing Pumpkins is a history of the band. The Blank Generation follows, a little-known documentary about the 1976 NYC punk explosion that features the first filmed performances of Blondie, the Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Television. And on March 2, witness the reggae classic Rockers, filmed in Jamaica and featuring performances by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Lee "Scratch" Perry and others. Synergy: Visions and Vibe, the second film of the evening, chronicles the Southern California desert rave scene, and features Carl Cox, Sven Vath, the Underworld and Jason Bentley. All programs begin at 7 p.m. at Webster University. NR

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 Terence Davies' The House of Mirth (2000). Writer/director Davies' take on Edith Wharton's beautifully detailed 1905 novel about a mannerly huntress whose quest for the right husband goes tragically wrong is enthralling. It nails the author's bitter satire on the cruel flights and follies of New York society in the Gilded Age, and leading lady Gillian Anderson -- known best as an icon of the X-Files cult -- shows dazzling range in her portrayal of the book's famously doomed heroine, Lily Bart. The supporting cast is equally vivid -- Eric Stoltz as Lily's rejected suitor, You Can Count on Me's Laura Linney as the conniving vixen Bertha Dorset and, best of all, Dan Aykroyd, playing brilliantly against type, as the smug, powerful socialite Gus Trenor. Plays at 7:30 p.m. March 1 at the St. Louis Art Museum. (BG)

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. March 4 at the Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 1415 Olive St. NR

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