Times Staff Writer

Not since the George Lucas generation of the late '60s has there been such an exhilarating, refreshing group of USC student films as the 2 1/2-hour program of advanced work screening at 7 tonight in Bovard Auditorium.

Clearly, the impact of recently appointed Cinema-Television school chairman Frank Daniel--a firm believer in the importance of the script--has already been felt. These student films have all the technical facility that USC has long been famous for, but without the off-putting slickness and facetiousness that has marred much of USC's student work in recent years.

Karen Croner's "Gas, Food, Lodging" is as evocative in its images of loneliness as "Paris, Texas" as it tells of a young widow (Irene Logan) with a daughter (Shannon Pingrin) who takes over a bleak roadside motel in a desert. Serving as a metaphor for Logan's isolation is the one-way mirror through which she peers at her prospective customers. Cheryl Slean, an intense, dynamic young actress, plays the abandoned young woman who at last breaks through Logan's isolation.

Equally terrific is "Hotwired," directed by John Johnsmiller and written by Ron Marryot, in which a flashy, aging wanderer (Eve Brenner) and a defiant little runaway (Jillian Preet) out-con each other in a lively cross-country odyssey.

In Cragg Cougar's funny, skillful heart-tugger--"What Did You Expect? A Bubble Bath?"--an uptight young man (Frank Asher) loosens up as he attempts to fulfill his dying father's wish in tracking down a certain party record of a comedienne popular in the '50s and '60s. Cougar goes one step further: He casts the one and only Rusty Warren as that comedienne, showing that Warren is overdue for a comeback and that she would be a perfect subject for a documentary.

Director Don Pollock and writer Cynthia Kaplan's "Private Demons" is a tender, imaginative work in which an elderly Jewish lady (Shirley May Pilnick), haunted by the memory of a fierce old country aunt and her tales of dybbuks, at last confronts her fears of the supernatural--or are they figments of her imagination?

Director Richard Lewis and writer Ian Kowell's "Mardi Gras" is another story of reconciliation, set in rural Louisiana and concerning a young boy's sense of guilt over his father's accidental death. Carmen Hayward has much impact as the youth's flashy, good-hearted aunt from the city.

Writer-director Peter Gould displays a delicious sense of dark humor in his "Dirty Little Secrets," in which a nerdy, young foot-fetishist (Steven Memel)--a department store management trainee--is assigned to women's shoes with painfully funny results.

Animator Libby Schmeltzer sends up the L.A. singles scene in her delightful and inspired three-minute "Joy Meets Mr. Wrong," employing head-shot cutouts and bits of cloth patches.

No program of student films is complete without a couple of lapses into pretentiousness. Brett J. Love makes an ambitious attempt to translate Jean-Paul Sartre's "Nausea" into a 12-minute film comprised entirely of stills. Visually, Love's film is amazingly effective; where he trips up is laying too much Sartre on the sound track, for the result is stiff and ponderous.

S. A. Altman's animated "Ancient Mirrors" strikingly suggests the eternal cycles of life and death relating to a kind of Earth Mother mythology, but we'd really be better off not being told that the work is "influenced by Neolithic and Early Cycladic fertility figures."

Information: (213) 743-2736, 743-3173.

FOR THE RECORD Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 25, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 4 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction The young widow in the USC student film "Gas, Food, Lodging," reviewed in the Monday Calendar, was played by Jeri Jackson, not "Irene Logan," which was the name of the character she portrayed.
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