Big-ass Hollywood movies get all the breaks when it comes to grabbing the attention of the filmgoing audience. Even the worst teen film gets big ads, a guaranteed weeklong run, and reviews in the daily and weekly papers. Even negative reviews are better than being ignored. Smaller films, revivals, and films that play only a night or two in town never have it so good. Sure, the overhead is a lot less, but at the same time the movies are often a whole lot more interesting. Sometimes it's worth it to pass over the reviews of movies with their own MTV specials and skip straight to the Film Shorts to see what's playing in our city's independent venues and bars.
The focus of this column is to give a little boost to worthwhile film events that won't get as much review space as the new Mandy Moore movie. It can feel like a futile endeavor, but sometimes when you piss into the wind you can see rainbows. That's why I'll keep plugging movies like Hell in the Pacific (Fri April 30 at SAM). Part of the Can't We All Get Along? series supporting the Only Skin Deep exhibit, John Boorman's 1968 film is set on a South Pacific island inhabited by two WWII soldiers, one Japanese (Toshiro Mifune) and the other American (Lee Marvin). An allegory for the mutual respect and begrudging friendship that can form between opposing soldiers under extreme circumstances (made during the height of the Vietnam War), it is also an example of pure cinema in a lush setting shot by the talented Conrad Hall.
I must say I'm also a fan of the bigger films that get longer runs, so in an effort to split the difference, I'm going to finish my column this week writing about two movies playing short theatrical runs, though both still come from outside the Hollywood machine. John Walter's How to Draw a Bunny is a great and entertaining documentary about Ray Johnson, a friend of Andy Warhol's factory of artists who lived his own life like a giant piece of performance art. The movie itself is structured like Citizen Kane, opening with an objective report detailing the mysterious circumstances surrounding his apparent suicide. It then attempts to define the man through interviews with artists who knew him, people like Roy Lichtenstein and Christo and others, only to discover that everybody had different and often conflicting ideas of who he really was. Fascinating.
Years ago, under the reign of the Northwest Film Forum, the Grand Illusion did an impressive retrospective of the films of Taiwanese master-filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. The new owners are picking up the torch with a five-day run of his 2001 film Millennium Mambo. A gorgeously shot film enraptured by starlet Shu Qi, who is in every scene, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice calls it, "A mildly prurient portrait of Shu moving, drinking, smoking, and changing clothes--it's analogous to one of Andy Warhol's Edie Sedgwick films, but without the existential drama."