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SCREENING ROOM

Lesbian Comedy at Nuart, Chinese Gems at UCLA

July 22, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of Outfest '95's impressive lesbian films, Marta Balletbo-Coll's "Costa Brava" (tonight through Wednesday at the Nuart) asks, "Can an aspiring monologuist/Barcelona tour guide (Balletbo-Coll) and a Tel Aviv-born, Boston-bred seismic engineer (Desi del Valle) find happiness together?" This romantic comedy, made in English, is as refreshing as a summer breeze as two ambitious women cope with making a life together. Information: (310) 478-6379.

The 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Melnitz Theater screening of "Red Bloom in the Snow" (1956) launches the UCLA Film Archive's "Restorations From the Chinese Taipei Film Archive." It was unavailable for preview and will be followed by Sung Tsun-Shou's "Story of Mother" (1973), a well-made melodrama about a young man who grows up traumatized by having, at the age of 12, caught his mother cheating on his dying father. (310) 206-FILM.

The American Cinematheque's "Alternative Screen" series presents Chris Hart's surprisingly powerful debut feature "Timeless" Friday at 8 p.m. at Raleigh Studios. It's surprising because its story is so familiar: A couple of appealing and attractive young people (Peter Byrne, Melissa Duge), naive and desperate, make a bid to escape from a life of petty crime that threatens to engulf them. Set in a gritty New York outer borough in the shadows of an elevated train, "Timeless" employs the vocabulary of the experimental film--such as optical printing and strobe-like flashes of subjective shots--to heighten its emotional impact to a level one might think not possible. Hart skirts the merely arty to achieve the stunningly stylized because his mastery of technique is always at the service of his people, clarifying their emotions and perceptions. Without such bravura approach it's hard to imagine that "Timeless" could ever be so engaging. This supremely romantic film's title refers to the feeling the couple experience on a deserted beach, seemingly far removed from mean streets. Hart is a real discovery, and so are the clean-cut Byrne and Duge, who has the innately regal beauty of an Elisabeth Shue or Candice Bergen.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., the Cinematheque will present at Raleigh Studios its "James Ellroy Night," composed of Reinhard Jud's excellent 1993 documentary "James Ellroy: Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction," followed by "Daddy-O," a 1959 AIP cheapie that Ellroy used as a frame for one his stories, "Dick Contino's Blues" from his "Hollywood Nocturnes" collection. Unfortunately, "Daddy-O" was not available for preview.

In recent years, Ellroy has redefined the Los Angeles crime novel, "generating realism on a hard-core level," as he so aptly puts it. A sturdy-looking middle-aged man as intense as his writing, Ellroy--who easily holds the screen throughout--takes us on a tour of his Los Angeles as he tells the story of his hectic life.

The pivotal moment occurred when his divorced mother was murdered when he was 10. He then went to live with his woman-chasing father in a modest Beverly Boulevard apartment on the edge of Hancock Park, whose homes Ellroy would later on burglarize during his years as an alcoholic and drug-abuser. His hard, marginal existence and compulsive reading of crime fiction would, once he sobered up, inspire a series of novels about doomed L.A. cops that are mesmerizing in the power of their period authenticity and grasp of obsessive behavior.

With his "L.A. Quartet," which includes his breakthrough "Black Dahlia," he succeeded triumphantly in his goal of creating "crime fiction on a grand, epic scale." Ellroy has now moved beyond his hometown creatively and geographically--he lives quietly outside New York City with his second wife, writer and former L.A. Weekly film critic Helen Knode. "L.A.," he says, "has gotten so completely out of control that it isn't even believable anymore." Information: (213) 466-FILM.

Jon Bokenkamp's 45-minute "After Sunset: The Life and Times of the Drive-In Theater" (screening Saturday as part the Midnight Special Bookstore's 9 p.m. "Documental" series) is a whimsical film diary, chronicling a journey Bokenkamp made with friends to his Nebraska hometown during which he recorded all manner of roadside Americana, not just drive-ins both derelict and still-operating. Information: (310) 393-2923.

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