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SOCIAL CLIMES : Film Noir . . .or With Cream


Every Wednesday evening, the tiny Lou De Cris Cafe (pronounced ludicrous ) in West Hollywood becomes an informal screening room where filmmakers, movie-makers and video artists of every stripe gather to view each other's work while rubbing elbows, knees and wits over cups of strong coffee.

The narrow space is furnished in typical coffeehouse style with tables, sofas and coffee tables. Hanging on the putty-colored walls are huge mirrors and an assortment of artworks that are, of course, for sale.

The close quarters and large communal tables encourage people to get to know one another. Tall tales are told and opinions expressed.

The films are shown on a large monitor hanging from the ceiling. With a maximum occupancy of 40, there isn't a bad seat in the house. The downside is that there may not be a seat at all if you fail to reserve one. On a recent night, several people who had been tentatively admitted on a standby basis were politely eighty-sixed before the program got under way because there were apparently very few no-shows.

The clientele is artsy and lean, and about evenly male and female. Almost everyone is connected with the art of film, if not the industry, but this is not the kind of place CAA agents go to scout for talent. It's a place for aficionados, on the whole populated by more graduates of AFI (American Film Institute) than USC. No boy wonder directors in baseball caps here, whatsoever.

"What I wanted to have happen is for filmmakers to meet, see each other's films and network," says owner Lou de Cristofaro. The eclectic series is organized by Kirk Stricker, who makes sure the mix stays unpredictable. "We do all different kinds of things," Stricker says. "In December we're having a Frank Zappa tribute."

"They respect the films here. There isn't a laser light show going on in the background," says filmmaker Silvanus Slaughter, who comes regularly.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the works of several women filmmakers were presented. The offerings spanned diverse styles, from glossy film student thesis to music video, melodrama and political statement. The work was uneven, which is one of the refreshing things about the series: the sense that the experience is relatively unfiltered. There are few such opportunities to see film that is not commercial product; in other words, film that one is required to evaluate.

After a break, director Kristine Peterson showed clips from her films and took questions from the audience. Peterson has directed several action-adventure films and is billed as "almost certainly the only woman to direct a martial arts film ('Redemption')."

The question, "How did you get into the action genre?" leads to several stories from Peterson's dues-paying days working for schlockmeister Roger Corman. "He really will let anybody direct," Peterson says. "The way that he fires people is that he lets them direct. Their job just isn't there anymore when they get back."

Neither Peterson nor the audience shows any sign of flagging by 11:30 p.m., and eventually series organizer Stricker asks for one last question. He allows two, after which people mill about, chatting with new acquaintances, reluctant to head for the door.

Cristofaro is pleased with the ambience. "It's taken about a year to get here, but this is what I wanted to have happen," he says. "We even made it into Esquire this month," he adds with a twinkle of pride. "We're listed under 'Worst Name for a New Restaurant.' "


Where: Lou De Cris Cafe, 8164 Melrose Ave.; (213) 655-3960. Reservations recommended.

When: 8 p.m. every Wednesday, but come early for seating.

Cost: No cover. Coffee drinks, $1.50-$2.75; sandwiches, $5.25-$6.25; pizza, $4.75; bagel and cream cheese, $1.50.

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