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SCREENING ROOM

A Promising Debut for a Director

Jon Sherman's 'Room' is a stylish, charming tale of romance.

April 17, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Grande 4-Plex's American Independent Films series continues with the one-week run opening Friday of Jon Sherman's promising debut film "Breathing Room," a polished and intelligent romantic comedy made with style and genuine emotion.

Susan Floyd and Dan Futterman star as a couple in a two-year seesaw relationship who decide to separate between Thanksgiving and Christmas in an attempt to discover whether to commit or break up. Floyd and Futterman are most engaging, and Sherman really gets to the heart of the matter. But "Breathing Room" is not quite distinctive enough to break free of the pack.

Sherman needs also to ease off on the flip, cutesy stuff and not let his supporting actors get so theatrical. Still, his film has charm, holds your attention and leaves you wanting to see what he does next. Information: (213) 617-0268.

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The American Cinematheque's "Play Dirty: A Tribute to Andre de Toth," which commences tonight at Paramount's Screening Room 5 with 7:15 and 9:45 screenings of the 1953 3-D horror classic "House of Wax," continues Friday at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater at 7:15 p.m. with "Ramrod" (1947).

What a way De Toth has with a genre! This western (like his films noir) are cult B-films that live up to advance notice and then some. De Toth had terrific casts--what Veronica Lake lacks as an actress she makes up for in star quality--and strong scripts.

"Ramrod" is an adaptation by several hands of a Luke Short novel, and De Toth made the absolute most of it. It is crisp, high-style and of intense psychological complexity, and has an ending more realistic than most '40s movies.

"Ramrod" tells of a lethal range war that breaks out when the proud, willful daughter (Lake) of a cattle rancher (Charles Ruggles) refuses to marry the man he has chosen for her (Preston Foster). Caught in the middle is Lake's decent, capable foreman (Joel McCrea)--or "ramrod"--and his laid-back sidekick (Don DeFore), a classic good-bad guy who is really the most intriguing character in the film. For full schedule of this two-weekend event: (213) 466-FILM.

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Filmforum is presenting at the Nuart Saturday and Sunday at noon "White Light/White Heat," a stellar 100-minute anthology of avant-garde experimental films spanning 1939 to the present.

Among the shorts is a 21-minute 1965 silent, "Film." Never mind that critic Andrew Sarris rightly dubbed the title the most pretentious movie title of all time, for the film itself proves to be a fascinating collaboration between Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett. Directed by Alan Schneider, "Film" eloquently charts a derelict old man, seen only from the back, in an equally derelict setting, coming to a psychological confrontation with himself and the inevitability of loss. Even without his legendary "great stone face," Keaton is the supreme mime.

Another key work is major Southern California experimentalist Pat O'Neill's "Trouble in the Image: Works on Film 1978-1995." It is a witty collage of reprocessed found images and sounds incorporating some lively animation, which have been organized into a series of fragmented glimpses of individuals caught up in anger and conflict. O'Neill describes his work as "special-effects technology turned against itself" and insists that film "can be an art form independent of storytelling."

In his new "Georgetown Loop," Ken Jacobs takes old footage of the journey of an excursion train and presents it on a split screen, with one image the reverse of the other, creating a delightful, amusing effect.

With "Vision" Kilian Dellers presents us with a field of white dots against a black background that starts forming ever-changing shapes and designs, accompanied by Tassilo Dellers' evocative score.

Mary Ellen Bute is represented by three vintage shorts, including the lively 1939 "Spook Sport," animated by Norman McLaren and featuring a phalanx of geometric Art Deco ghosts joyously haunting a cemetery. Information: (310) 478-6379.

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Filmforum will present Sunday at 7 p.m. at LACE, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's "The Blue Veiled," a compassionate and leisurely story of a lonely, wealthy, 60ish widower, Rasul (Ezzatolah Entezami) who finds himself attracted to a poor young woman, Nobar (Fatemeh Motamed-Aria). She has become one of his many employees at his tomato farm and processing plant, where he is much respected as a kind and generous man. Ever so gradually, Bani-Etemad, who will discuss her film after the screening, allows us to realize just how conservative contemporary Iranian society is when the mere notion of a man marrying a much younger woman of a lower class is an invitation to a major scandal. For information, call (213) 526-2911.

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