Women keeping their stories short

Times Staff Writer

THE American Cinematheque's Focus on Female Directors program offers early short work by filmmakers who have gone on to success in features as well as recent notable shorts by up-and-comers.

Sofia Coppola's 1998 short "Lick the Star" presages her assured feature debut the following year with "The Virgin Suicides." "Star" focuses on a spiteful clique of junior high girls with a fairly diabolical plan that's inspired by a V.C. Andrews novel. The stylish film is shot in chilly black-and-white by Coppola's regular cinematographer, Lance Acord (he's also done "Lost in Translation" and the upcoming "Marie Antoinette"). Coppola's aptitude for selecting fashion and music is on display, as is a knowing sense of the cyclical nature of teenage social interactions.

Even if your introduction to Miranda July was her feature directing debut, "Me and You and Everyone We Know," you'll admire her decidedly offbeat work in "The Amateurist," a 1998 performance video. July plays both the title character, a quirky former numerologist, and the bewigged, scantily clad "amateur" woman she studies via a surveillance camera.

The amateurist stands before an antique monitor dryly commenting on the numerical importance of her subject's movements and poses. The voyeuristic nature of the piece reverberates with the viewer as July's dual turns are so strangely hypnotic one feels like a co-conspirator in this game of Peeping Tom. As the scholar rambles on cheerily and earnestly, the woman appears alternately catatonic and on the verge of flying into a rage.

Nathalie Press of last year's "My Summer of Love" stars in the Academy Award-winning 2004 British short, "Wasp." Andrea Arnold's drama about a young working-class woman's rare night out on the town is painful and disturbing. Zoe (Press), a single mother of four, runs into an old acquaintance and lies that she is merely looking after the children for a mate. He invites her to a pub later and, unable to find a sitter, she parks the moppets outside, bringing them a bag of chips and a cola to share.

The kids, ranging in age from an infant to a girl of about 7 or 8, entertain themselves for an incredible length of time, constantly in harm's way. Driven by her desperation, Zoe is oblivious to her selfish and reckless ways until it is nearly too late. Arnold neither leaps on a soap box nor politicizes the story but simply presents a dilemma and its repercussions.

Christina Beck's wistful "So Hot for You" is a winking exercise in self-love, as a divorced Los Angeles woman (played by Beck) faces her newly single existence during a day driving around town. The title character in the energetic "B-Girl," directed by Emily Dell, is a female break dancer attempting to earn a spot in an all-male crew.

Also screening are "Sure to Rise" by New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro ("Whale Rider" and "North Country"), Martha Colburn's "Cosmetic Surgery," Gail Dennis' "City Paradise" and two music videos helmed by Tamra Davis ("Billy Madison"). A book signing by authors Andrea Richards ("Girl Director: A How-To Guide for the First-Time, Flat-Broke Film and Video Maker") and Kim Adelman ("The Ultimate Filmmakers Guide to Short Films") precedes the screening, and a panel discussion with Dell and Beck follows.

Hitch & Co.

The Cinematheque also presents the monthlong series Hitchcockian: The Master & His Disciples. In pairing films by Alfred Hitchcock with work that consciously or unconsciously imitates or pays homage, the programmers have created double features that delight in both concept and form.

Tonight yields the railroad-themed duo of 1951's "Strangers on a Train," a tale of crisscrossed murder, and Fritz Lang's 1954 "Human Desire," a remake of Jean Renoir's "Le Bete Humaine" that stars Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford and bad girl Gloria Grahame.

On Friday, the downward spiral of James Stewart in "Vertigo" (1958) is matched with Chris Marker's equally obsessive short "La Jetee" (1962). The ever-charming Cary Grant stars opposite two legendary screen beauties Saturday -- in "To Catch a Thief" (1955) with Grace Kelly and the Stanley Donen-directed "Charade," opposite Audrey Hepburn. The latter film is sometimes dismissed as Hitchcock-lite but is nonetheless entertaining.

And on Sunday, the intense psychological spin of 1945's "Spellbound," starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is met with the gleeful sendup of all things Hitchcockian, Mel Brooks' 1978 "High Anxiety."

*

ScreeningsScreenings

Focus on Female Directors

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-FILM or www.egyptiantheatre.com

Hitchcockian: The Master

& His Disciples

* "Strangers on a Train" and "Human Desire": 7:30 p.m. today

* "Vertigo" and "La Jetee": 7:30 p.m. Friday

* "To Catch a Thief" and "Charade": 7:30 p.m. Saturday

* "Spellbound" and "High Anxiety": 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-FILM or www.egyptiantheatre.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday January 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction Movie release date-- The Screening Room column in Thursday's Calendar Weekend listed the year for "High Anxiety" as 1978. The film was released in 1977.
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