Seattle Underground Film Festival
Fri-Tues Oct 4-8 at the Little Theatre.

I'm no snob about mainstream cinema. After a week in the woods this summer, the first movie I saw on returning to civilization was XXX. But much though I enjoy Hollywood product, I need other forms of filmic nourishment too, and for the last four years the Seattle Underground Film Festival has been supplying unusually tasty fare.

Three Grand Old Men of film top this year's SUFF for me. I've found Stan Brakhage's work compelling ever since I saw Window Water Baby Moving in the early '60s. He's not a smart guy; there's not an ironic bone in his body. His generally abstract movies are about seeing and about the direct connection between the eye and the heart. He's a great big wonderful old bear, and I hope you'll embrace him. Michael Snow is a forbiddingly intellectual icon of the avant-garde. Although I'd never miss a chance to see a new Snow piece because he's considered so central, I find that one viewing is usually enough. This year's piece is called Corpus Callosum. I'm more excited by the documentary about Snow, on the theory that it might be more forthcoming than Snow himself. Kenneth Anger--well, go rent a copy of his zany homoerotic classic Scorpio Rising and you'll see why I was flabbergasted to learn that Anger is alive at all, let alone in the age of AIDS. If Brakhage is the ego and Snow the superego, Anger's easily the id and then some. What a guy!

SUFF will also screen Twisted Nerve (Boulting Bros., 1968) and The Night Digger (Alastair Reid, 1971), two British rarities with scores by Bernard Herrmann, whose work--from Citizen Kane through the first Cape Fear (some of the music was reused for Scorsese's remake), from Psycho through Taxi Driver--always exemplified Virgil Thomson's dictum that movie scores must support films and not take on lives of their own (a dictum Thomson himself repeatedly attempted to violate).

By no means is the festival all old guys; the Young Turks are also out in force. There are nine programs of shorts, gathered under various enticing rubrics such as Just Plain Weird, Drama and Confrontation, Unexpected Twists, and Facing the Void. Do catch In the Red, the only movie I have ever seen with a credit for a tampon wrangler; Chump, a howlingly funny animation about a rat and a monkey in space; Apoplexy, by our own Andy Spletzer; Wheels Locked, my new favorite quadriplegic movie; and Vic Thrill, my new favorite tasteless 9/11 joke movie. By all means do not miss the All-Rachel Super-Show, a retrospective of local filmmaker Rachel Lordkenaga's work that should sit well with the Brakhage films. In fact, don't miss any of the short films. Shorts are the best fun, the most creative, the wildest, and even when they're bad, they're short.

Full-length films are another story. Joyful Partaking, at 120 minutes, seemed about 114 minutes too long to me. It's a mean-spirited look at "ordinary" people featuring whiny local actor John Procaccino. But what do I know? The film took awards at Tahoe and Telluride; maybe you'll love it. I enjoyed The Snowflake Crusade but I couldn't figure out what was underground about it except that it hasn't attracted a distributor. It features attractive young actors (hot-hot Leisha Hailey, of the Murmurs), professional filmmaking, and a script about 60 million times better than your average straight-to-video attractive young people movie. Some full-length films I haven't seen but that look promising include a documentary on stop-motion filmmaker John Nonnenmacher; The Champagne Club, from Brazil; and Under the Influence, script by Sean Dash, a low-rent John Dahl.

I have seen Damon Packard's Reflections of Evil. Packard is pretty much a madman, but he is not without cinematic insight. Hailed as the first desktop movie, Reflections of Evil is genuinely hard to watch. It includes crappy found footage, brutally handheld 16mm, a hefty guy trucked out to look like a morbidly obese guy, way more throwing up than I could bring myself to feel calm about, hilarious takes on child-rearing and studio tours, much reenactment of horror-film clich├ęs, and an amazing soundtrack, combining synced and post-sync sound. Unlikable as it is (and long!) (and boring!), it's chock-a-block with interesting ideas about what makes movies work, and I'm glad I forced myself to sit through it (most of it). To return to the food metaphor in my first paragraph, I'd say that the various Grand Old Men are the meat and potatoes of the festival; the shorts are the vegetables, so tasty and good for you; most of the full-length films are desserts, good in small portions. And Reflections of Evil? It's a deep-fried Twinkie.