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Salvation by Night: Diane Cheklich's 'Late' looks at the signs and messages of a cryptic nightscape.

Short Cuts

The Ann Arbor Film Festival Tour arrives at KFJC—weird, strange and beautiful work on display

By Richard von Busack

THE THIRD-BEST film in the 42nd Annual Ann Arbor Film Festival Tour is The Arousing Adventures of Sailor Boy. Essentially, the film shows us what The Odyssey would be like if you filmed it on the most mistreated, algae-covered 16 mm film, hand augmented it with colored felt-tip pen and scored it to 78 rpm thrift-shop records. It stars a dancing tar in a sailor suit, such as might have escaped from a Vincente Minnelli musical, and it makes the textual alteration of changing Odysseus' search for Ithaca into a horny sailor's search for a date with she-male. In a bid to get closer to Homer's classic, Manitoba-based director Jenny Bisch includes a menacing Polyphemus, or (close enough for jazz) a looming animated phallus, captioned with the scratched-in words "That was supposed to be a huge big massive enormous giant large fat cock. Sorry." After seeing this and Guy Maddin's new movie in one month, the question is, "What is in the water up there in Winnipeg?

The second-best film in the festival tour is Thunder Perfect Mind by Los Angeles' Micaela O'Herlihy, which profiles Theresa Hester. It was probably impossible to make a bad movie about Hester, a blind sex worker and exotic dancer who still performs, though she's almost ready for Social Security. The lady is a great believer in the supernatural. Sample Hester quote: "PCP [angel dust] opens a lot of doors in magic, but I wouldn't go through them." Having a survivor of the 1960s to make a movie about, O'Herlihy tries to mock up that fantabulous decade with vintage swirly psychedelic light and magenta tinting—in other words, she's trying to visually re-create what time did to the cheapest color film stock of the 1960s. As the stock decayed it turned everything on the blue side of the spectrum to a sickly pink-purple. The zooming into the flab on Hester's thighs goes a little too far, even for a pastiche of the actual cinematic strategies of a vintage stag movie: the method brings out the grotesque side of Hester's story. I'd like to think the condescension and exploitation are accidental. Surely, O'Herlihy's fascination with Hester is genuine.

The best film is Late by Diane Cheklich of Royal Oak, Mich. She shows an urban desert by darkest night, lit by flashing, incomprehensible neon signs and cryptic billboard messages ("Time Flies When You're Having Pork"). On the soundtrack is a snatch of stolen radio broadcast from a Detroit area, late-night phone-in faith healer, a woman who promises aid from "witchcraft, the occult, divination and jinxes." (Her method seems to involve the application of sacred olive oil.) Cheklich's lens depicts the world as a ghetto at midnight, where even solicitations to go to church and repent are in screaming letters of electric light: "If you are in pain come right in."

The rest of the films are all best in their own way. This sampling from the longest-running experimental film fest in the nation is always a highlight of the cinematic year. As always, the two-night event is a benefit for that local asset, KFJC radio. Two dozen strangely erotic, disturbing and emotional short films await you.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival Tour plays June 12, 7-11 pm, and June 13, 6-10pm, at Room 5015 Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos Hills. Admission is $5-$10 ; bring quarters for parking. (650.949.7260 or www.kfjc.org.)

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From the June 9-15, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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