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Festival Honors Method Acting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Method Festival, designed to celebrate notable performances in independent films, accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. Every one of the films selected for preview from Charter Communications, the festival’s sponsor, is marked by outstanding performances. The Method Festival will be held Friday through Aug. 26 at the State Theater, 770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.

Understandably, the films are strongly character-driven, yet most all of them are worthy for more than their performances, although a pair could benefit from tightening. The festival is competitive, and Maximilian Schell, Mark Rydell and Shirley Knight are among those participating in a Method Acting Symposium at the State on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m.

In 1996 Kirk Harris made a notable feature debut as writer, director and star of “Loser” as a troubled young man going nowhere fast. Harris returns in “My Sweet Killer” (Friday at 8 p.m.), which he also wrote, under Justin Dossetti’s direction. Although the film is overly theatrical and contrived, Harris is again impressive as an even more disturbed individual, a mental patient with an even darker past than anyone suspects. He’s tempted by street drugs, especially when denied any aids to sleep by his perfunctory, dangerously obtuse psychiatrist. Indeed, the film is as much a criticism of the inadequacies of the support available to mentally disturbed outpatients as it is a study of a disintegrating personality.

Andrew Shea’s “The Corndog Man” (Friday at 10 p.m.) offers veteran character actor Noble Willingham the role of a lifetime as a perfectly contented 70-something South Carolina boat salesman, who loves to fish, eat and practice his trade, at which he’s top-notch. But his life starts unraveling when he begins receiving harassing phone calls from an individual clearly bent on exacting revenge for some terrible past deed. Even though the film does not proceed with the relentless, airtight logic of a “Sorry, Wrong Number,” it is nonetheless compelling, thanks especially to Willingham’s portrayal of a man systematically destroyed by an only partially glimpsed nemesis (an insinuating, insistent Jim Holmes).

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Among the various short films screening is Jared Seide’s 26-minute “Creampuff” (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.), an engrossing study of the interplay of power and dependency within a relationship between Jack (Seide), a now-crippledOscar-winner , and Robert, a hefty young man who takes care of him. Robert (Scott Harlan, wonderfully self-possessed) is the object of Jack’s constant invective, directed toward Robert’s weight and homosexuality. Secure in the knowledge that Jack is helpless without him, Robert serenely ignores the steady stream of insults. “Creampuff’s” finish packs a nifty punch.

“Creampuff” is a curtain-raiser for “Eight Lanes in Hamilton,” written by Ken O’Donnell, directed by Aslam Amlani and set in a small Oregon town, to which the supremely manipulative wastrel Sandy (a formidable Joe J. Garcia) returns eight years after deserting his wife (Susan Doupe) and their son (Mickey Blaine), now 17, and a younger daughter (Jessica Moon). The film is a largely persuasive, well-acted cautionary tale about the eternal vulnerability of decent people to those who possess no scruples. The pace of life in this little town is mighty slow, and “Eight Lanes” could heighten its already considerable plausibility and impact with some editing.

The above sentence applies even more to “Abilene” (Sunday at 4 p.m.), by far the most accessible film among those previewed. Some judicious trims would improve this observant and wrenching film, written and directed by Joe Camp III in his feature debut. As it is, it’s pretty impressive, affording Ernest Borgnine and Kim Hunter two of the very best roles either has had in a while. Hunter plays Emmeline, the lovely, gracious but resigned wife of a surly Texas farmer (Alan North), whose apoplectic nature at last fells him with a massive stroke, from which he cannot be expected to recover and from which he mercifully may not linger long. Borgnine is the man’s crusty, long-estranged brother, Hotis, summoned by a hesitant Emmeline. It takes the proud Hotis, recently deprived of his driver’s license, three days to cover only 100 miles. In time we realize that the lengthy time it takes the story to get going is part of the point: Hotis and Emmeline, like a number of their friends, live lonely lives that are going nowhere. Other acting honors go to James Morrison, Wendell Pierce, Park Overall, Rance Howard and especially Adrian Ricard as Emmeline’s staunch, wise friend.

Gergely Fonyo’s “Johnny Famous” (Sunday at 6:30 p.m.) is a most accomplished and tender fable in which an elegant older woman (Joan Newmark), faced with impending death from cancer, attempts to provide a secure future for her mildly retarded foster son (Jon Jacobs), now 30. The woman hires a lovely, kind young student (Dawnn Kapatos) to care for the son for two years as a transition period to the institutionalization the foster mother believes inevitable, to be secured by the sale of her pleasant home in Venice. Both the foster mother and the student are well-meaning individuals, but the younger woman, after the older woman’s death, soon discovers she’s in way over her head. The splendid, finely shaded performances include that of Peter Janosi in the title role as a rising rock singer, idolized by Jacobs and adored by Kapatos. For schedule and information: (310) 535-9230.

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Edgy Lee’s “Paniolo O Hawaii--Cowboys of the Far West” (2 p.m. Saturday, Wells Fargo Theater, Autry Museum of Western Heritage) is a splendid example of the enduring power of the traditional documentary, the kind that brings alive an unfamiliar world in a straightforward manner that is as entertaining as it is informative. Let’s be honest: How many people, outside Hawaii, have been aware that the 49th state has cowboys and has had them longer than anyone else in the U.S.? The Far West extends farther west than many of us ever knew.

What Lee has done in irresistible fashion has told the history of Hawaii, itself familiar, through the perspective of the establishment of ranches in the wake of a gift of cattle to Hawaii’s royalty in 1793 from British explorer Capt. George Vancouver--horses arrived a decade later. A taboo against killing animals allowed for those Mexican longhorns to multiply, and vaqueros from Mexico--later from Peru and Chile as well--came to Hawaii in 1830 to train the locals in herding and stayed on. The Anglo concept of property ownership introduced in 1845 separated the native Hawaiians from their land permanently and devastatingly but allowed for the creation of immense ranches in which a cattle industry thrived until after World War II. Today cattle and the cowboy, or paniolo, derived possibly from “hispanola,” survive uncertainly.

Lee’s key motif, returned to time and again through a thicket of fascinating archival footage, is a hearty group of senior cowboys who represent Hawaii’s famed racial melting pot; the name of the group’s revered nonagenarian elder is Jiro Yamaguchi, and you can see Mexican ancestry in the faces of some of the men. They can recall when they were routinely beaten in the classroom if they failed to speak English and relish the irony that today they are regarded as preservers of Hawaiian culture in their music, customs and skill in making leis as well as herding cattle. Paniolo were filmed by Thomas Edison, and admired and befriended by Western celebrities from Will Rogers to Willie Nelson. One of the reasons they’ve had such a low profile on the mainland is that once Hawaiian cowboys captured first, third and sixth places in Cheyenne’s Frontier Days Rodeo in 1908, they felt, having made their point, they never needed to prove themselves again. There will be a live performance, “Na Mele O Paniolo O Hawaii--Songs of the Hawaiian Cowboy,” featuring Hawaiian musicians, Saturday at 8 p.m. The film is free, and the concert is $15 for nonmembers, $10 for members. (323) 667-2000.

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The American Cinematheque continues its Richard Fleischer in-person retrospective at the Egyptian with a 7 p.m. screening today of new 35mm prints of “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” (1955), in which Joan Collins plays showgirl Evelyn Nesbit to Farley Granger’sjealous millionaire Harry K. Thaw and Ray Milland’s Stanford White, the ill-fated sybaritic architect. It will be followed by “Violent Saturday” (1955), a film noir (in color and Cinemascope) tracing the buildup of a small-town bank holdup. Late actors Victor Mature, Sylvia Sidney and Lee Marvin are featured. Among the series’ many highlights is Sunday’s double feature, “The Happy Time” (1952)--one of its stars, Marsha Hunt, will appear in person--and Fleischer’s debut feature, “Child of Divorce” (1946). Each film centers on a child, played respectively by Bobby Driscoll and Sharyn Moffat. On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. the Cinematheque will present the gay-themed “Twisted Hollywood Shorts.” (323) 466-FILM.

Note: The Women’s Image Network will present its first Win Femme Film Festival on Monday and Tuesday at Paramount Studios. (323) 655-TKTS or (800) 660-TKTS.

“The Best of Boys & Girls Shorts” from Outfest ’99 screens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. (323) 960-2394.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “North by Northwest” (1959) began a nine-day run Wednesday at the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills, where it is being presented in a new 35mm print featuring a restored, remastered original stereo score. Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau star. (310) 652-1230. (LACMA will also screen the film Aug. 26 along with an appearance by Saint as part of its Hitchcock centennial retrospective.)


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