Exhibition Alternative

Evil of Dracula by Martha Colburn

Your weekly media diet" is how filmmaker and exhibitor-auteur Bill Daniel offers up Funhouse Cinema, his wildly diverse weekly Monday night showcase at the Ritz Lounge of new and older experimental shorts, underground documentaries, archival oddities, and loops of this or that found in a friend's basement. In a film culture in which 99% of the theatres out there base their movie selection on statistical data and studio-enforced block booking, Daniel's approach to exhibition is something akin to, well, art. It's about ideas he has; it's personal; it's expression. "I'm looking for two elements when programming," he says. "Works that help me understand where we are in this world and works that help me understand the process of filmmaking." Of course, good art is dependent upon knowing your materials and tools, and Daniel, aside from his own work as an underground filmmaker, has had extensive experience developing alternative forms of film exhibition. He once held screenings at an abandoned drive-in theatre on the outskirts of Dallas (stealing electricity for the portable projector from a nearby billboard), and last year he took a group of experimental shorts on a tour cross-country, screening them in dance halls, bars, and whatever other spaces he could find (he attracted a hundred people for a screening in Nacogdoches).

The films are rewarding, the Ritz beer taps flow easily, and the audiences are full of wit and humor, but Funhouse Cinema is more than pleasure. "It's fun with a purpose," Daniel insists. That purpose is to help alleviate the bane of all true independent cinema: a lack of exhibition outlets. Most often underground films are only able to make a brief run on the festival circuit before disappearing forever from the public eye. "These are films that deserve many screenings; that may even demand repeat viewings," he says. "And the most exciting thing is that an informal network of these kinds of exhibition spaces is springing up around the country to serve that demand."

Funhouse Cinema has picked up both steam and viewers since beginning in August, and four more programs (described below) are scheduled before the end of the year. Daniel will take a hiatus from the series while he goes to San Francisco to work on a film during the first couple months of 1998, but he plans to bring the series back in March after SXSW. Let's hope so -- underground cinema demands it.

San Francisco bike messenger Nosmo King from A Bad Day Cycling is Better Than a Good Day at Work

Sis Pix (Nov. 24, 8 & 10:30pm) -- A wildly diverse collection of six new films by women, curated by Craig Baldwin (Sonic Outlaws); some sassy, some sensual, some social, all smart. Diane Nerwin's Under the Skin Game uses collage-essays to examine the social engineering behind Norplant birth control. Michelle Bauer's Rule of Thumb focuses on the issue of wife abuse. Kimberly Tome's Looking for Wendy personalizes "cross-breeding" in the adoption process with a tongue-in-cheek examination of the Wendy's fast food franchise and its founder Dave Thomas, an adoptee himself. Shanna Maurizi's Fictions parlays projections on skin into a window on a woman's past as an investigation of memory and recollection. Caroline Koebel's Inflorescentia fertilizes the female nude with lush and fruity metaphors. But the highlight has to be Lee Buric's Resistance, an intense and chilling mix of 8mm, 16mm, video, and sound loops to trace the perpetration of violence by and against four generations of her family.

Work Sucks (Dec. 1, 8 & 10:30pm) -- This collection of odds and ends exploring the nature of wage-earning perfectly exemplifies Daniel's curatorial approach: old and new, art and industrial, tragedy and comedy. Jess Fulton's Temps connects an altogether unexpected face to the voice in this study of strung-out punk rockers who work on the side as telemarketers. Daniel's own A Bad Day Cycling Is Better Than a Good Day at Work chronicles his experiences as a bike messenger on the streets of San Francisco. Marc LePore's A Depression in the Bay of Bengal is an experimental ethnographic film about laborers in India. Jesse Drew's Manifestoon is just what the title suggests: reworked Looney Toons animation set to The Communist Manifesto. And of course, what program about working would be complete without period industrial films thrown in for some postmodern laughs? Daniel has scrounged up one from the 1930s that promotes bread (!) and one from the 1970s that instructs service industry workers on how to soothe angry customers.

Film Actions by Luke Savisky (Dec. 8, 10:30pm only) -- Funhouse will attempt to deconstruct the projection booth as Savisky takes the stage replete with hand-held projectors, loops, and live musical accompaniment, with every surface or audience member in the Ritz becoming part of an organic movie screen. Cinema and performance art collide, and which will be left standing at the end is anyone's guess. Or maybe they'll get along famously....

Visiting Filmmakers: Martha Colburn and James Schneider (Dec. 15, 8 & 10:30pm) -- These are two of the hottest young underground film artists in the country, and their respective work offers two very different and successful approaches to no-budget filmmaking. Colburn is of the Bruce Conner/Craig Baldwin school -- her orgiastic collages of found footage and animation pirate the images from the unceasing onslaught of our mass media era and turn them inside out, revealing the perversity we all expect is there. This is no cold, critical polemic. Her films actually take pleasure in the perversion. Schneider's experimental documentaries are more patiently meditative in nature. He takes specific locales (Euro-Disneyland or a suburban housing development, for example) and explores their physical space with his camera, slowly and carefully juxtaposing layer upon layer until meanings rise to the surface. Reminiscent of James Benning and the early work of Alan Resnais, Schneider's art belies a considerable and refreshing talent.

These two filmmakers' appearance at Funhouse is part of a nationwide self-distribution tour. They will also hold a lecture/workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 9pm, in Studio 4D in the CMA building on the UT campus to share their filmmaking strategies as well as offer advice on alternative means of distributing independent films.

Funhouse Cinema screens every Monday evening at the Ritz Lounge (320 E. Sixth Street, upstairs). Admission is $4. For more info on any of the films or the workshops, call 708-1717.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle