No Justice, No Pece

Another Pece film fest, with typical triumphs and troubles

Bob Pece has a taste for the arty and the goofy, which can work to his advantage as well as his detriment. A local filmmaker whose own animated and live-action films are always an oddball joy, Pece also has a hand in organizing almost every film event that takes place in the county (in the past few years, he has presented sprawling film fests as well as dinky café screenings).

Pece's own films make artiness and goofiness an unqualified virtue; unfortunately, Pece has a spottier record when it comes to choosing other people's films.

Pece is listed as one of three organizers behind the Arizona State University Art Museum Short Film & Video Festival (he was helped out by Cal State Fullerton Art Gallery director Mike McGee and "curatorial museum specialist" John D. Spiak), but this thing's got Pece's unmistakable fingerprints all over it. It's a mixed bag of masterworks and pleasant time wasters, along with a few films so cringingly awful you wouldn't wish them on the kid who beat you up in junior high. There are no Pece films on the bill, which is a shame; the program could have used them.

The show begins with Per the Viking, a diverting mockumentary about a film crew attempting to make a low-budget Viking epic about an impotent, stone-skipping warrior in a very short skirt. The lead actor is far too randy a fellow to portray erectile dysfunction effectively, much to the annoyance of his leading lady. He's not so great at the stone skipping, either. Shot on grainy video, with a cast that does a wonderful job of appearing completely untalented, Per the Viking is a successful look at complete and utter failure.

It's followed by Flower Power, a so-what cartoon from Dan Torre about a trio of homicidal flower people. It's so noisily dopey that it could well be a crowd pleaser, but I thought the thing reeked of public access.

There's a truly great film just a few minutes away, but in the meantime, you'll have to sit through two shorts that are completely off-putting, each in its own way. First, there's a pretty but achingly dull abstract film that's so very arty its makers don't even bother to include an onscreen title or any credits; perhaps they were hoping to protect their identities. This film is the visual equivalent of 94.7 FM, the Wave.

There are enough of these arty, noodly, utterly forgettable little movies on the bill that we'll need some sort of shorthand. Let's just call them noodlies, okay?

After this particular noodly, there's Don Hertzfeldt's Billy's Balloon, a just plain nasty short in which many, many acts of violence are perpetrated against stick-figure babies. Hey, I'm not a huge fan of babies, and while I could sympathize with the desire to stuff a sock in the mouth of some squalling brat on an airplane, this film is really unfunny, downright spooky stuff. If Hertzfeldt ever stands accused of horrible crimes, this film is not going to look good in court.

Next up is Silence, an instant classic from Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin. It's an animated tale of the Holocaust that artfully employs different styles (edgy, monochromatic scratchboard for life in the camps, throbbing watercolors for life in postwar Sweden) along with some supremely effective narration by Tana Ross. The film gives us a quietly horrifying, kid's-eye view of the camps without once lapsing into preachiness or heavy-handedness. It's a winner on all counts.

The same cannot be said for Malcolm Wass' Cut Grass and Caravans, a film whose most memorable feature is that it shows you far, far more of its burly star than you could ever hope to see. It's followed by William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton, Presidential Study Number 42, a noodly with a none-too-biting, none-too-contemporary political edge. (Basically, Clinton says, again and again, like a record skipping, that he did not have sex with that woman.)

Next up, we have Humberto Ramirez' Pool, and my notes on this one are so annoyingly vague that I can only assume it must have been another noodly. Oh, wait, I remember now: yeah, this was the mother of all noodlies.

It's followed by Ann La Vigne's bracingly odd animated short, Where Monsters Lie, the story of a gal trying to get along in a world full of creatures that look like demon tribbles. It's some funny stuff, although I found myself rooting for the happy-go-lucky monsters over the colorless, whiny heroine.

Ben Wolf's Silver and Gold is an amusing trifle about a small-town gal's first job in the big city, but it looks like a freakin' masterpiece next to Diego Fried's excruciating Flirt, a film that takes two subjects I always hope to avoid (jazz and hemorrhoids) and makes them the center of an unlovely couple's endless, pre-coital chat. Oh, man, did this one ever hurt. It makes the follow-up, Cowboy Excitement, look like a far better film than it really is. Actually, amoebic dysentery looks great in comparison with Flirt. Anyhow, Cowboy Excitement is a harmless little number featuring drunken cowboy puppets made of hot dogs. It's not great art, but it's mostly harmless.

The same cannot be said for Frances McMahon's Push Me, Pull You, a noodly with a soundtrack that sounds for all the world like the South Park boys imitating Yoko Ono. Bring earplugs.

Thankfully, those last few minutes are completely forgotten when we're treated to Edna Hughes' Comm-Raid on the Potemkin, a film that fuses Eisenstein and Duke Nukem to surprisingly delightful effect. It's a hilarious film on general principles, but for those geeky enough to really get the joke, this one is a gift beyond price.

The next entry, Memory, is equally striking, a Sprockets-like short featuring "Gott" and a horny "Teufel" playing a very high-stakes game of cards. It's followed by Confessions at Military Camp, a bizarrely funny, animated monologue (apparently based on a true story) that features a spoiled little girl learning valuable "manual skills" like rigging a sailboat and cleaning her room. We are then treated to one last noodly (again, without titles or credits) that features a looooong, blurry closeup of a woman smoking, before we are plunged into Ana-Victoria Aenlle's Bones, a bittersweet tale about a fisherman who finds companionship in a very unlikely source. It's somewhere between noodly and genuinely poetic, but it'll do as a coda to send you back out into the night.

And speaking of which: this is an outdoor screening, so don't forget to bring a beach chair. It'll come in handy for sitting upon as well as for hurling at the screen during Flirt.

Perhaps next time Pece will grace us with one of his own films; he could show these other cats how to do arty goofiness right.

The Arizona State University Art Museum Short Film & Video Festival screens at the Second Street Promenade between Broadway and Sycamore Street, Santa Ana, (949) 364-6616. Sat., dusk. Free.
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