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Screening Room

Coldwave on Shore

The film festival features demanding but rewarding movies by minimalist masters.

May 20, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Coldwave Film Festival, at the Vogue Theater in Hollywood on Friday and Saturday, is composed of three films by Russia's Aleksandr Sokurov and one by Lithuanian filmmaker Sharunas Bartas. Sokurov's mesmerizing, mysterious 1993 "Whispering Pages" (Friday at 8 p.m.), which is inspired by the poetry of Friedrich Ruckert, is set in a labyrinthine sector of an ancient city of imposing architecture, marked by a profusion of steps and arches in which people in antique dress come and go in a series of random interactions, accompanied by the constant sound of water moving and dripping--it's not for nothing that Andrei Tarkovsky was Sokurov's mentor! Ever so gradually a young man emerges in an encounter with an official, and finally with a young prostitute of luminous beauty and innocence. The second feature is Bartas' 1995 "Corridor," which is similarly minimalist, set in a wintry city in which a number of people in a large apartment house seem to be in a state of waiting; outside a group of people builds bonfires to keep warm. One of the film's few incidents involves a young girl trying to get past two men, who keep pushing her back into a stream. "Corridor," which has no dialogue but makes fine use of natural sounds, is beautiful and unsettling but also wearying and elusive.

The 8 p.m. Saturday program is also demanding but far more rewarding. Sokurov's "The Second Circle" (1990) and "Mother and Son" (1997) both tell of a young man faced with the death of a parent. In the first, a man has come to a remote village in winter, where his father dies in his humble home before a doctor can be summoned; in the second, a rich experiment in color, texture and distorted imagery, a young man cares lovingly for his dying mother. Like Tarkovsky, Sokurov understands the austere power of the visual, incorporating remarkable imagery and movement, and these films are sublime. 6675 Hollywood Blvd. (323) 341-7033.

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The weekend brings three key silent film presentations: Mary Pickford's "The Hoodlum" (1919), Friday at 8 p.m. in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Buster Keaton's "Our Hospitality" (1923), Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Alex Theater, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; and Douglas Fairbanks' "The Thief of Bagdad" (1924), Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Avalon Theater in the Casino, in Avalon on Catalina Island.

The rarest of the three is "The Hoodlum," a typical and charming Mary Pickford melodrama in which she plays the spoiled granddaughter of a ruthless magnate who on a whim decides to join her sociologist father on a sojourn in the Lower East Side instead of taking a trip to Europe. To be sure it is a transforming experience, one which includes her falling in love with the man (Kenneth Harlan) wrongly imprisoned because of her grandfather's machinations. "The Hoodlum," which will be accompanied by the Robert Israel Orchestra, is just the kind of hokum Pickford could make work, by finding the humor in the spoiled young woman's temper tantrums and also in the everyday life of the working class as she goes about doing good. The settings, as is so often the case in early silents, have remarkable authenticity, and Pickford brings conviction as well as charm to the film; she knew poverty and hardship firsthand, just as she knew fame and privilege.

The program, which will include clips from other Pickford films, will be hosted by film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow. (310) 247-3000.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra will perform scores composed and conducted by Carl Davis for "Our Hospitality" and the curtain-raiser, Charlie Chaplin's familiar 1917 two-reeler "The Immigrant." This marks the 10th anniversary of LACO's annual silent film presentations, and Jack Lemmon is the honorary chairman.

To watch "Our Hospitality" today is to be reminded of the tremendous sense of freedom that the great silent-era clowns had. Their elaborate gags had to be carefully planned, but a sense of graceful spontaneity also infused their work. "Our Hospitality" in particular gives the impression that Keaton himself might not always have known exactly what was coming next for his famously impassive alter-ego. It's a delight but a bit discursive; the relentless, coolly comic logic of "The Navigator," for example, was yet to come.

This film is Keaton's take-off on the Hatfield and McCoy feud. He casts himself as a young man raised on his aunt's farm in Manhattan (at Broadway and 42nd Street!) who, after coming of age, heads south to collect his inheritance. Keaton devotes the first part of his picture to all the mishaps that befall him as a passenger aboard a quaint and exceedingly delicate-looking 1830 train traveling through Appalachia. Once he arrives at his destination, he unwittingly heads right smack into his family's ancient enemies--and falls for its fair maiden in the process.

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