American Cinematheque's Universal Appeal

American Cinematheque's Universal Appeal

Operating out of L.A.'s recently renovated 1922 Egyptian Theatre, the American Cinematheque is a viewer-supported, nonprofit organization devoted to the preservation and distribution of films of every stripe, from new indie to classic exploitation. The coming months will see the Cinematheque, hosted by the like-minded folks at the Alamo Drafthouse (and co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society), treating Austinites to the organization's three most-recent acquisitions. The sheer stylistic variety of this three-film mini-fest is enough to demonstrate the Cinematheque's catholic tastes, from the morbid Wisconsin Death Trip to the sweetly naïve Swinging London fantasia Wonderwall to the arthouse/exploitation hybrid Female Convict Scorpion.

Wisconsin Death Trip, which screens at the Alamo on Feb. 21, is James Marsh's 1999 film adaptation of Michael Lesy's 1973 book about a series of disasters in late 19th-century Wisconsin; it makes for a viewing experience somewhat akin to a Fox World's Worst Old-Timey Murder-Suicides special.

On the other side of the spectrum is Wonderwall, which features a sitar-drenched soundtrack by George Harrison (with a little help from Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, and Ringo Starr). Screening March 6, Wonderwall is enlivened by both flamboyantly groovy fashions and hilariously cosmic set designs by Incredible String Band fellow-travelers the Fool, but it's also unflatteringly dated by a thick, goopy strata of sentimental hippy-dippy whimsy. Nonetheless, the entertaining performances of its leads make the film worth a look.

Female Convict Scorpion, the film set to open the series on Feb. 20, is a typically atypical offering from Cinematheque. It's also perhaps their best catch yet. An eye-popping (literally) Japanese masterpiece from 1972, Female Convict Scorpion's surreal stylistic vocabulary of still tableaux, sudden silences, and vivid bursts of color works to recast its classically lurid exploitation plot as gore-drenched feminist parable. The stunning Meiko Kaji -- in her role as the titular female convict who survives rape, torture, and betrayal to wreak bloody vengeance on her male oppressors -- delivers a performance of such stoic intensity that it's not until near film's end that you realize she hasn't uttered a single word. Her film, on the other hand, speaks loudly for why organizations like the American Cinematheque are so essential.

American Cinematheque, in association with the Austin Film Society and the Alamo Drafthouse, presents Female Scorpion Convict, Feb. 20, 7 & 9:30pm; Wisconsin Death Trip, Feb. 21, 7:30 & 9:45pm; and Wonderwall on March 6, 7, & 9:30pm. All shows take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado). For more info, visit www.drafthouse.com.

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