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Film as Anti-Art

KFJC's Psychotronix and Capra's propaganda

Steve Palopoli

WHEN considering whether or not to go to any particular cult or other rare film screening, here's one rule of thumb I can suggest: Don't miss any event whose organizers can't explain what they're going to show. In the case of KFJC's Psychotronix Festival, which will be held again on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Foothill College, it's not that they lack the adjectives to describe what they're showing. It's that they simply refuse to decide what they're showing in the first place.

"The program itself is not set in any way," says Psychotronix co-producer Robert Emmett. "There is a wealth of material to choose from and we never know exactly what might be shown."

Emmett is known locally for his Saturday morning program on KFJC, The Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show. The show is an anarchic mix of anything and everything even remotely related to movie soundtracks. The Psychotronix Festival takes an even broader approach. The only hard and fast rule appears to be that festival selections be on 16 mm. Beyond that, anything goes.

"It's a look at the recent past—the stuff that's too old to be hip but not old enough to be historic," says Emmett. "That dangerous place between garage sales and museum collections when the value is thought too low. Anything from old commercials, to industrial shorts, to educational films, to old movie trailers—all the things that the shifting sands of taste and time have left in the dust."

Though the organizers emphasize that most of these bits were created for commercial reasons rather than artistic ones, there's a very Warhol aesthetic to the whole thing in the way Psychotronix drags its net along the shallow surface of pop culture and hoists up its catch to be viewed from an entirely different perspective. But Emmett emphasizes that they're not trying to champion these pieces or change anyone's mind about the artistic value of VD training films.

"It is a great position of having all things being equal, since it's not a retrospective of some overlooked actor or director, nor does it confine itself to any particular genre," he says. "We aren't really trying to prove anything, just offer some entertainment for people looking for something a bit off-beat and unusual."

A bit? I'd go further than that. This is certainly the weirdest film event I've come across in Silicon Valley, which is all the more reason to check it out. Space is limited, however—the festival runs 7–11pm but get there early, and go to the KFJC website ( for more info.

The art-from-anti-art soul brother of this event is an equally rare screening of director Frank Capra's World War II propaganda shorts on Friday, Dec. 14, at the Stanford Theatre. In the space of two years, beginning in 1943 with Prelude to War, Capra directed much of the material in the U.S. Army's seven-part 'Why We Fight' series of short films. The Nazis may have had Triumph of the Will, but Capra arguably matched Leni Riefenstahl for shock and awe in these films, which were made both to steel U.S. soldiers and to persuade the American public to support the war effort. They should have been called Triumph of the Editing Room, because the way Capra was able to take the enemy's own propaganda films out of context to make them appear evil was underhanded genius.

The PSYCHOTRONIX FESTIVAL plays 7–11pm on Saturday, Dec. 8, in Room 5015 of the Foothill College campus in Los Altos. Donation is $5, parking is $2 (bring quarters). Frank Capra's WHY WE FIGHT shorts will be shown Friday, Dec. 14, at 7:30pm at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto; $7. CULT LEADER is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback, to [email protected].

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