AFI Video Fest: Antonioni to Tarantino

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Like never before, the American Film Institute’s 14th National Video Festival (running tonight through Sunday) is closely linked to the institute’s Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Not only is the video program running just prior to the film festival’s opening and included in the film festival’s printed program, but both festivals also include work on common themes--from Michelangelo Antonioni to iconoclastic American image-makers to the cinema of Hungary and Wales. Film and video are coming together, despite a lot of resistance from purists on all sides.

Both Antonioni and Quentin Tarantino get the star treatment tonight with vastly different hourlong portraits. Antonioni, made speechless by a stroke yet still working (his new “Beyond the Clouds” opens the film festival), is now at the sunset of one of film history’s most distinctive careers. Tarantino is just beginning, and in David Thompson’s “Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood’s Boy Wonder” (9 p.m.) he bubbles with the kind of enthusiasm that cuts through the movie business’s cynical rot and expresses a seriousness beyond the media-driven movie geek image. Italo Spinelli’s messy, loving “A River of Cinema: Michelangelo Antonioni” (7 p.m.) cuts back and forth between the Italian director’s two visits to India, and includes rare footage of a younger Antonioni smartly dismissing pretentious press conference questions.


The iconoclasts get their moments, too. The always-provocative Craig Baldwin is back with “Sonic Outlaws” (9 tonight; unavailable for review), while such self-consciously dramatic spoken-word artists as Lydia Lunch, Exene Cervenka and Professor Griff strut through Jeanne Harco’s “Power of the Word” (9 tonight). Harco’s failure, though, to include much of L.A.’s own rich spoken-word community will be a bummer to fans.

Lynn Herschmann always makes video art her own way, and her love-on-the-Net comedy “Double Click Face” (12:15 p.m. Saturday, with Herschmann’s “Found Footage”) is no exception.

Richer video art arrives care of Bill Viola, whose hypnotic “Deserts” (paired with the Tarantino video) seems inspired by painter Rene Magritte’s playing with gravity and perspective, light and dark. It feels static, however, compared to Viola’s recent, explosive video installations--though not as static as Andreas Troger’s “Paul and Paik” (playing with “River of Cinema”), a feeble recording of video installation artists Nam June Paik and Paul Garrin.

Video and documentary go well together, and a striking example is Christine List’s corrosive, front-line look at student political resistance to Guatemala’s ruthless military, “No Nos Tienes” (7 tonight). Although compelled to localize focus by its Connecticut public television funding, Andrea Haas Hubbell’s “The Roots of Roe” (10 a.m. Saturday) presents a sober and expansive history of how attitudes toward abortion have shifted through the centuries--including such obscure facts as Katharine Hepburn’s mother’s role in the early birth control movement.

A triple bill of short documentaries (2:30 p.m. Saturday) exemplify video’s flexibility. In “Video Universe,” Gary Glassman brilliantly builds a montage of L.A. school kids who recite an Albert Einstein statement on human community in native tongues ranging from Amharic to Zapotec. Judd Dunning’s “Public Relations” displays more love than insight into “star-struck impresario” Phil Sinclair and his obsession with aging movie goddesses. Oscar’s favorite film editor, Chuck Workman, cuts back and forth in “Reunion” between video of the hugely different high school reunions experienced by husband-and-wife Polish national Pavel Kuczynski and American Marla Warren.

Hungary and Wales, well represented in the film festival, stand up in the video section as well with work from Hungarian master Miklos Jansco (“Message of Stone”) and Szilveszter Siklosi (“Mao, the Real Man,” both screening 9 p.m. Saturday), and Alan Plater’s beautifully spare, thoughtful BBC Wales portrait of Welsh writer Gwyn Thomas, “Selected Exits” (2:30 p.m. Saturday), featuring a gently etched performance by Anthony Hopkins.


Not gentle at all, Hans Christoph Blumenberg’s “Rotwang Must Die” (10 a.m. Saturday) haplessly snarls film noir, Cold War spy movies and a weak satire of East and West German cultural conflicts into an unfunny tangle.

Though the notion of seeing three Samuel Beckett TV plays (“. . . But the Clouds . . ., “ “Ghost Trio” and “Eh, Joe”) is enticing, director John R. Williams’ work, under the umbrella title of “Through the Keyhole” (7 p.m. Saturday) elicits a disappointingly enervated reading from his cast. Even hard-core Beckettians will find this a chore.

* AFI’s 14th National Video Festival runs tonight through Sunday at various locations on the AFI campus, 2021 N. Western Ave., Hollywood. All programs repeat. Free admission except for Filmforum screenings. Information: (213) 856-7707.