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Week of July 13, 2005

Abdul Loves Cleopatra. (Not Rated) The idea is tantalizing: revisiting and understanding, with 20/20 hindsight, just why a relationship fell apart. The exes in question here are Tracy and Danny, who seemed perfectly compatible. Just after the finalization of the couple's divorce, an enigmatic woman leaves Danny videotapes of crucial romantic events and conflicts, which give him the chance to reflect upon love gone wrong. But writer/director Brian Hohlfeld's uneven, flashback-heavy narrative plods, despite appealing performances by Melissa Rentrop as Tracy and Joel Lewis as Danny. Several touching scenes alternate with histrionic misfires, realistic (but sometimes dull) exchanges yield to awkward speechifying, and clunky shots replace effective framing and camera angles. Abdul Loves Cleopatra isolates Tracy and Danny too often for its nearly two-hour running time, and though admirably eschewing the smug irony and detachment it explicitly criticizes, the film strains under the weight of another burden: its own heartfelt sincerity. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 21. (Diane Carson) TV

Chics Rule!. (Not Rated) Directed by or focusing on women, the seven selections in "Chics Rule!" comprise an eclectic, uneven program: from homage to personal exploration, from letter-box to widescreen format, from experimental to conventional style. The gem is writer/director Richard Taylor's "Stakeout on 10th Street," which ingeniously imitates late-´40s noir thrillers right down to shadowy lighting, well-chosen music, distinct titles, skillful performances and a femme-fatale story with a delightful twist. Adding a comic element, in Ben Zweig's "Recycled Air" Jan Meyer strikes just the right note of panicky desperation in her quest for a cigarette. Belly dancing figures centrally in the less compelling, more subjective "Choice" and "Raks Beladi: My Experience with Belly Dance"; problematic relationships take center stage in "Mistaken Love Stories, Part II" and "Tears Falling into Snow." The offbeat "Mary Wants to Kill" rounds out a program that testifies to women's creativity. Screens at 9:15 Monday, July 18. (Carson) TV

Gaslight Square: The Legend Lives On. (Not Rated) A beatnik hangout in the 1950s and a legendary, anything-goes entertainment district by the 1960s, St. Louis' Gaslight Square served as the career launching pad for hometown stars Phyllis Diller, Dick Gregory, and Ike and Tina Turner; it also showcased the talents of Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, the Smothers Brothers and Barbra Streisand during their salad days on tour. The rise-and-fall story of Gaslight Square is told here in a somewhat plodding style, with lots of elderly talking heads who once lived the scene but, sadly, little archival film footage from the days of the scene itself. Still, there are lots of first-person anecdotes to enjoy here, especially from Diller and Gregory. Years after its literal halcyon days -- when 100 gas-powered streetlamps lit the way for some three dozen restaurants, cafés and nightclubs (with names like The Dark Side, The Gilded Cage, The Crystal Palace and Pepe's-a-Go-Go) -- Gaslight Square is now just another new housing development. It's an evolution the filmmakers trumpet and applaud without question, rendering the film's ending more of an infomercial than a critical look at one of St. Louis' most cherished bygone eras. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, with the short film "The Turtle Park Story." (Rose Martelli) TV

HairKutt. (Not Rated) Bryant Johnson -- a.k.a. HairKutt, a heroin user for seventeen years and a barber for not quite as long -- doesn't speak much through the first half of this namesake documentary. In 2002, three of Johnson's childhood friends chose to stage (and videotape) an intervention to help the 33-year-old beat his smack habit, driving him ten hours from St. Louis to a rented cabin in rural Tennessee where they kept him for one week (rigging his bed with restraints and laying plastic sheets on the floor to prevent shit and vomit stains on the carpet). Displaying an easygoing, silent smile while taking his last pre-trip hit, Johnson's expression morphs into a pissed-off scowl by the time his quarantine at the cabin begins, which finally turns into a face screwed up and twisted with sickness and pain as he goes through withdrawal. Intercut with interviews of Johnson's friends and footage chronicling St. Louis' own riches-to-rags fall from grace during the latter half of the twentieth century, HairKutt is as tense and harrowing as any horror flick. Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 21, with the short film "Secret." (Martelli) TV

Kid Stuff. (Not Rated) These twelve short works by or about children give young filmmakers a chance to shine in nicely paced, information-packed presentations. Gateway Elementary School's third-grade computer club uses "Manners" to remind friends of polite behavior, and eighth graders at Carr-Lane Middle School celebrate a "2005 Black History Program" featuring musician Moacyr Marchini and artist Robert Ketchens. Equally up to the challenge of seamlessly interweaving archival photographs, interviews, myriad details and effective music, the St. Margaret of Scotland students highlight (in separate videos) Jackie Robinson, the Underground Railroad, SARS, Bob Dylan, the Pony Express, Korean War veteran Paul Fehrmann and the 1904 World's Fair Birdcage. These four- to nine-minute-long pieces are packed with thorough research. Three additional works dramatize childish play to add amusing diversions, but the promise of young filmmakers as illustrated by their own creations bodes well for many showcases to come. Screens at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 20. (Carson) TV

Stan Kann: The Happiest Man in the World. (Not Rated) St. Louis native Stan Kann's lifelong love of theater organs began when he started playing pretend piano on the windowsills of the apartment he grew up in. His obsession with collecting vacuum cleaners came about around the same time; the sound of the machines' engines registered in his ears as mellifluous, and he hated that his mother didn't own one. (He'd compensate by asking the neighbors if he could come in while the woman of the house ran her Hoover or Eureka.) From these two passions, an accidental career in showbiz -- as both an organist and a frequent talk-show guest star -- was born. Kann holds the record as the longest-tenured organist at the Fabulous Fox, and he was Johnny Carson's most frequent guest between 1965 and 1988 (appearing a whopping 77 times). Interviewed on camera extensively, Kann's carefree demeanor, neurotic quirks and untiring sense of humor make him a most enjoyable documentary subject, while director Mike Steinberg's clever use of old-timey stock footage keeps the film moving along at a zippy pace. St. Louis should consider itself lucky to call this goofy, good-natured iconoclast -- someone who truly lives to do what he loves -- one of its own. Screens at 7 p.m. Monday, July 18, with the short film "The Snowflake Man." (Martelli) TV

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