She Done It Right

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The UCLA Film and Television Archive screens one of Mae West's best pictures, "I'm No Angel," which along with "She Done Him Wrong," her screen version of "Diamond Lil," have long been credited with saving Paramount from bankruptcy during the depths of the Depression. It will be shown tonight in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater at 7:30.

Of these two racy pre-Hays Code pictures, "I'm No Angel," directed by Wesley Ruggles, is arguably the better. It's the one in which West plays a carny hoochie-coochie dancer who graduates to circus lion tamer and in the process conquers high society (and Cary Grant) while remaining very much herself. It's so fast and funny that you hardly notice the social commentary; this also is the one in which West ad-libbed, "Beulah, peel me a grape." It begins amid lots of pungent sawdust-and-tinsel show-biz atmosphere but ends up in a gleaming world of white-on-white Art Deco elegance. It is presented by the Ted Mann Foundation with contemporaneous short subjects.

The archive launches "The Diabolical Cinema of Kim Ki-Young," a five-feature retrospective of the idiosyncratic, ultra-intense Korean director, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the James Bridges Theater with "Killer Butterfly" (1978). Through melodrama at its most lurid, Kim (1919-1998), a confounding cross between Douglas Sirk and Samuel Fuller, was able to reveal vividly a society in the throes of industrialization, urbanization and liberation for women. A college student, Young-Gul (Kim Jung-Chol), has the singular misfortune to be chasing a butterfly when a young woman, suffering from terminal cancer, persuades him to share a suicidal beverage so that she will have companionship in the next world. He survives the poisoning only to face the neurotic wrath of the dead woman's best friend (Kim Ja-Ok), who happens to be the daughter of a rich and prominent archeologist (Namgung Won) to whom Young-Gul has become an assistant. Myriad complications and bizarre incidents ensue. Kim Ki-Young is here concerned with the transcendent nature of relationships between men and women, life and death, but in its incessant and lengthy hysteria the film is ultimately more wearying than entertaining.

Far more rewarding is "The Housemaid" (1960), which screens Sunday at 7 p.m. It is understandably considered a masterwork of the Korean cinema. With its stunning expressionistic style, it tells of a young woman from the country, (Chu Jung-Nyo) who becomes a live-in housekeeper for an upwardly mobile composer, Mr. Kim (Kim Jin-Gyu). In addition to his teaching piano lessons, working as an accompanist and directing a women's choir in an immense textile factory, his wife works long hours as a seamstress to supplement the family income. The Kims' hard work has bought them a spacious home for themselves and their two children, but they are caught up in the universal rat race to the extent that the collapse of Mrs. Kim (Lee Un-Shim) through sheer exhaustion has necessitated the hiring of what proves to be the housekeeper from hell. Class conflict, sexual fantasizing and exploitation and rampant materialism are thrown into bold relief as the housekeeper intends to place the Kim family in her ruthless, vengeful thrall. The result is an enduringly provocative film that is bravura in its every aspect.

For all its outrageousness you do not have the feeling that Kim is going for dark humor in "The Housemaid," but "The Insect Woman" (1972), which follows it, is surely meant to have a bleakly comical edge.

To support her mother, a concubine whose married lover has just died, and her younger brother and sister in addition to herself, Myung-Ja (Yun Yo-Song) follows in her mother's footsteps, becoming the mistress of Mr. Lee (Namgung Won), who has led a life of indolence ever since he realized that his dragon of a wife (Chon Kye-Hyon) has a far better head for business than he. Myung-Ja makes the mistake of falling in love with Lee and becomes as much of a nonstop hysteric as the archeologist's daughter in "Killer Butterfly," which in turns makes her lover's wife a nonstop harridan.

"The Insect Woman" is almost as bizarre as "Killer Butterfly." The series concludes Oct. 28 with "Iodo" (1977) and "Promise of the Flesh" (1975).

Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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Brent Scarpo and Martin Bedogne's timely and harrowing "Journey to a Hate-Free Millennium: Stories of Hope and Compassion" documents the brutal murder of gay Wyoming university student Matthew Shepard, the Columbine High School massacre and the savage slaying of James Byrd, a Texas African American, and features interviews with Shepard's parents, Byrd's sisters and Columbine survivors and parents. Scarpo and Bedogne commence digging into the causes of hate crimes, and we can only hope that they are able to continue their probe in further installments. Various interviewees suggest the need for better education and a more inclusive spirit in organized religion, but this "Journey" represents only a beginning. It has its Los Angeles premiere tonight at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where it will be preceded at 7 p.m. by speakers Judy Shepard, T.J. Leyden and the filmmakers. Information: (323) 469-2408, Ext. 4.

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The Grande 4-Plex (Figueroa at 3rd streets, downtown L.A.) continues its "Documentary Days" series Friday with a one-week run of Judit Elik's powerfully understated "To Speak the Unspeakable: The Message of Elie Wiesel." The film follows the great writer whom Elikcalls "the conscience of the Holocaust," on a journey to his hometown village of Sighetu Marmatiei in the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania, once part of Hungary and now part of Romania, and on to Auschwitz, which Wiesel survived. His father, sister and mother did not. On this, Wiesel's fourth visit to Sighetu, the Nobel Prize winner unexpectedly encounters the 91-year-old brother of his family's physician, who hid out in a nearby forest for a year. Wiesel and this elderly man, who entrusts Wiesel with precious family documents, were the only survivors of the April 1944 deportation of the Jews in the village, which hardly bares a trace of their existence there.

Information: (213) 617-0268.

"The Academy/UCLA Documentary Series" continues Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall with Fenton Baily and Randy Barbato's "Juror Number 5: 58 Days of Duty on the O.J. Simpson Civil Trial," which will be followed by Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus' Oscar-nominated, feature-length "The Farm: Angola USA." Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and many other awards, "The Farm" is a great documentary on life and death at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the nation's largest. It's a great work because of its remarkable blend of detachment and compassion, its breadth and depth, as it acquaints us with a cross-section of inmates. We meet a 22-year-old newcomer facing life imprisonment, a man on death row, another man dying of lung cancer and long-termers hoping for parole.

Immaculately maintained, light, airy and spacious, Angola has clearly moved way beyond its familiar image as America's bloodiest prison, and its canny, sagacious warden is eager to show us that. Indeed, we receive plenty of evidence that the institution has become a place where rehabilitation is possible, but it's well-nigh impossible for most inmates ever to leave. Indeed, the warden himself says 85% of his prisoners will die there.

What hasn't changed, according to the filmmakers, is that Louisiana maintains the harshest sentencing policy in the country and has a governor loathe to sign pardons, no matter how well-deserved. Working with co-director Wilbert Rideau, inmate editor of the unique and prestigious Angolite magazine, Stack and Garbus know they don't have to preach, but only to take us into Angola to remind us of the enduring role racism plays in ensuring that poverty, ignorance and injustice continue to nurture crime. Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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