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SCREENING ROOM

Saluting Rosa : An American Cinematheque series honors a fearless international pioneer in gay cinema.

September 04, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The American Cinematheque's "Homosexual Revolution: A Tribute to Rosa von Praunheim," which honors a fearless international pioneer in gay cinema, commences at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater Friday at 7:15 p.m. with the local premiere of the first 56-minute segment of Von Praunheim's "100 Years of the Gay Movement," a joyous celebration of the rich diversity in San Francisco's gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered community.

It will be followed by his 78-minute "Transsexual Menace," a highly compassionate survey of the experiences and views not only of transsexuals but also cross-dressers. It is yet another study indicative that gender-bending individuals are increasingly feeling free to be whatever, whoever and however they want to be. (The film's potentially misleading title refers to a militant transsexual group that stages public protests and demonstrations.)

Von Praunheim, who will appear at selected screenings the first two weekends of the three-weekend series, will present his stage act, "55 Years of Perversity," Friday at 7:15 p.m.

Screening Friday and Saturday at 9:30 p.m. will be "It's Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, but the Situation in Which He's Forced to Live" (1971), a timeless landmark in gay cinema of enduring importance. Von Praunheim attempts no less than a satire of gay values and lifestyles, showing them to be self-destructive parodies of straight middle-class mores. He follows the "Candide"-like odyssey of a naive, ordinary young gay man who arrives in Berlin only to become all but devoured by a ruthless, materialistic, sexually obsessed gay society.

"It's Not" will be followed both evenings by "Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts" (1972-79), a rambling but vital and comprehensive documentary on gay liberation in America, culminating in a notorious--at the time--X-rated sequence.

"Tally Brown, New York" (1977), screening Saturday at 7:15 p.m., is the first of Von Praunheim's portraits of women, usually aging legendary performers who have become cult figures among gays.

Brown is a hefty, bizarre-looking cabaret singer of exquisite diction and compelling presence, a remarkably candid and perceptive woman, a determinedly brave and free spirit who was part of the glittering Andy Warhol world of the '70s. With appearances by Warhol, Holly Woodlawn, Taylor Mead, Divine and other legendary scenesters of the day.

The Von Praunheim tribute is presented in association with the German Film Export Union and the Goethe Institute, 5700 Wilshire Blvd., which is presenting a coinciding special exhibit, "One Hundred Years of the Gay Movement in Germany," which Von Praunheim will open Sept. 11. American Cinematheque: (213) 466-FILM; Goethe Institute, (213) 525-3388.

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The UCLA Film Archive's "Retrospective of Mohsen Makhmalbaf," which ends Saturday at the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, offers a group of films revealing the prodigiously gifted Iranian filmmaker's love of the cinema as a great art form, his fascination with the filmmaking process and his affection for the people involved in making movies.

"Once Upon a Time, Cinema" (1992), which screens tonight at 7:30, is a dazzling, whirling dervish of a movie in which one of the last of Persia's extravagant Qajar shahs (Ezzatollah Entezami) falls in love with the newly invented movies, and then with one of the Iranian cinema's early screen heroines.

The heroine magically falls off a cliff only to materialize before the shah's eyes in the royal Golestan Palace, that fanciful fairy-tale structure still standing in the center of Tehran. Makhmalbaf accomplishes much in this tragicomic Surrealist triumph: He celebrates the magical power of the medium and its unparalleled capacity for blurring reality and fantasy as a way of making a subtle, critical commentary on his country's chronic censorship of filmmakers. He also celebrates the Iranian cinema itself.

The film's cinematographer (Mehdi Hashemi), a wistful Chaplin look-alike, meanwhile naively sees the camera as an instrument to tell the truth that will set oppressed people free. One of the most inspired of Makhmalbaf's countless conceits is to show the shah so carried away with the movies that he wants to become a screen star himself, only to find himself transported from the fantasy life of his palace to the hard lot of the Iranian peasant, as dramatized in a neo-realist-style film.

"Once Upon a Time, Cinema" is constantly exhilarating, alternately hilarious and rueful, at once a glittering evocation and a criticism of glorious Qajar Dynasty extravagance in its final years.

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