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Festivals Keep a Focus on Independent Vision

Movies | Screening Room

July 11, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Concurrent festivals offer the dedicated filmgoer an embarrassment of riches this weekend.

In addition to Outfest, the Los Angeles edition of the New York Independent Film & Video Festival commences tonight at the Fairfax Cinemas and Raleigh Studios, and the Dances With Film Festival, another showcase for independents, begins Friday at the Monica 4-Plex.

Screening Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Fairfax is acclaimed photographer David Turnley's stunning black-and-white "La Tropical," which takes its title from an outdoor dance hall on the outskirts of Havana. A venerable mecca for impoverished black Cubans, it is at once the cradle for several generations of Afro-Cuban music and a way for those who dance to it to express themselves, connect with others and escape hard lives for an evening. Internationally acclaimed groups like Los Van Van can draw from 4,000 to 6,000 people; weeknight revues attract from 250 to 500 people.

Not merely an intoxicatingly sensual celebration of Afro-Cuban music and dance, "La Tropical" also delves into the lives of its participants, presenting a wide range of views of life under Castro, whose revolution is seen as bettering the status of blacks yet is the source of continuing oppression and despair. "La Tropical" is at once haunting and beautiful. (323) 363-5096.

Jazz Vocalist Scott Overcame Obstacles

Screening Tuesday at the Egyptian at 7:30 p.m. is the American Cinematheque's presentation of Matthew Buzzell's "Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew," a wonderful documentary on the great jazz vocalist who turns 77 on Wednesday. Framed by clips of Scott in concert on a Japanese tour and at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, the film is full of insights from friends, family, colleagues and above all from the man himself.

Early on, Scott tells us the importance of learning how "not to let the bad overwhelm the good." In his case, this is no small trick. Born in Cleveland as one of 10 children with an often absent father, Scott at 12 was diagnosed with Kallman's disease, a rare hormonal disease that arrests puberty and is the reason for his trademark high voice; seven months later his mother was killed, struck by a car as she shoved her daughter to safety.

Having known "the importance of having someone who wants you to succeed in life," Scott was eager to pass on to his younger siblings what his mother had given him. When he and his siblings were dispersed to various foster homes, Scott became driven to reunite his family--a drive that propelled him into his singing career. He had initial success featured with Lionel Hampton's band, but bad luck and the exploitation shared by countless black recording artists of his generation dogged him into oblivion in the '60s, and he was not rediscovered until the '80s.

The past decade has seen Scott record and perform all over the world, and it is gratifying to see that Scott, whose slender build belies a man of tremendous wisdom, spiritual strength and energy, so gratefully and deservedly enjoying every minute of it.

Scott, Buzzell and Brian Gerber, one of the film's producers, will discuss the film following its screening. (323) 466-FILM.

Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents Laura Betti's new "Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Reason of a Dream," an inspired and imaginative impressionistic documentary that, rather than charting the career of the late iconoclastic Italian director in traditional fashion, evokes what the man and his life were like through a dynamically assembled array of largely archival footage, incorporating clips from his films whenever appropriate.

A confidante of Pasolini, who also directed her in a number of films, Betti has created a collage of images that is a stunning achievement in its own right. She has furthermore linked them to the torrent of words Pasolini spoke throughout his adult life in myriad interviews and lectures. What emerges is a portrait of a brilliant intellectual and artist, an admired and influential poet and literary critic drawn to film because of its expression of Italian culture and its possibilities as a new form of poetry. Pasolini (1922-1975) was also a political activist, a Marxist and open homosexual whose films continually ran afoul of censors.

Betti's film presupposes a familiarity with Pasolini's frequently mystical and ribald fables and epics, and for his admirers it is indeed an enriching pleasure. Betti repeats images of human suffering, of people foraging in a garbage heap, finally showing Pasolini surveying an immense dump himself. By then she has effectively communicated the sense of despair that increasingly overcame Pasolini and suffused his notorious final film, a graphic adaptation of De Sade's "Salo" reset in Mussolini's Italy and containing some of the most profoundly disturbing images ever filmed by a major filmmaker.

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