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MOVIE REVIEW : Rock Star Turns Filmmaker to Offer a Poignant 'Gift'

August 20, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The most poignant image of the beautiful but infinitely sad "Gift" (at the Sunset 5, Fridays and Saturdays at midnight) is that of a glowing, striking-looking bridal couple standing in a field. Both are young, with dark hair and strong profiles. Both are dressed with lacy, spangled elegance, and they look endlessly blissful.

The only catch is that virtually the entire film is a flashback, once the husband, after completing a recording date, has returned home to his thrift-shop funky Venice apartment to find his wife, now gaunt and wasted, her arms covered with blistered tracks, dead from a drug overdose. Long before he calls the paramedics, the husband, a drug user himself, grapples with his grief and recalls the highs and increasing lows of their lives.

Several years in the making, "Gift" was directed by Perry Farrell, formerly of Jane's Addiction and now of Porno for Pyros, and his onetime girlfriend, Casey Niccoli. They play the husband and wife under their own first names. Despite the usual fiction disclaimer at the end of the film, its press book describes "Gift" as semi-autobiographical--possibly Niccoli is playing a late lover of Farrell. It ultimately doesn't matter where reality leaves off and fiction commences because "Gift" is above all a moving cautionary tale, a lament that so much creativity and passion for life has culminated in such lethal self-destruction. At the same time, the film is honest enough to make clear that drugs were the treacherous part of a high the couple sought in every aspect of their existence.

In any event, there is no endorsement of drug-taking in this film; indeed, Farrell in his narration makes it clear that the wedding, an elaborate and authentic Santeria ceremony performed in Mexico, took place during a period when both were clean.

For all its sense of loss, the ironically titled "Gift" also has moments of dark humor, such as a scene in which the filmmakers dispense with some expository material via a conversation with the husband's manager (Dean Naleway) while he's undergoing the administrations of his dominatrix (Kiki Rose) and an encounter with a classic show biz Dr. Feelgood (Steven Sanford, "The Colonel"), whose blithe dispensing of 80 Darvons and 60 Percodans is just the beginning of his drug cornucopia.

With Niccoli's help plus that of talented and resourceful cinematographer Eric Edwards, Farrell has been able to express himself on the screen as well as he does in his music. What's more, Matt Hyde's score, interspersed with concert and recording session footage, complements the film's images.

The film's sound, consistently enthralling, is alternately hard-driving and gentle, and its images are often layered and kaleidoscopic. "Gift" (Times-rated Mature for drug-taking, nudity and language) is in no way dated, yet inevitably recalls similar films of the '60s, which also reflected the youthful despair of that era, with hippies getting high on love--and then, tragically, on drugs.

"Gift" also screens tonight only at 10 as a benefit for Filmforum. Information: (213) 848-3500.

'Gift'

Perry Farrell: Perry

Casey Niccoli: Casey

Dean Naleway: Marty Mefurst

Steven Sanford,: "The Colonel" Dr. Bupernix

A Tara release. Directors Perry Farrell, Casey Niccoli. Producer Allan Wachs. Executive producer Peter Nydrl. No screenplay credit. Cinematographer Eric Edwards. Editors Eric Zumbrunnen, Casey Niccoli. Music Matt Hyde. Sound John Huck. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (for drug-taking, nudity, sex, language).

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