March 10-16th marks the eleventh New York Underground Film Festival or, as I like to call it, 200 Hours of Film I Will Never See. Every year I get excited about the return of this NYUFF, right up until I get my hands on the festival program. This year the disappointment was palpable as I quickly thumbed through 87 pages of experimental video shorts, hand-held documentaries, and film descriptions that begin "A meteorologist ponders escape…" I found myself turning the pages too quickly, almost tearing them, as I, myself, pondered escape from many of the festival's highlights. From my experience attending screenings at previous NYUFF's, and in the interest of helping others avoid the mistakes I've made, below is a key to understanding some of the language used to describe the festival's dozens of scheduled films.
"The frame is divided into three vertical sections which were exposed at different speeds"
The first thing you should do, when reading a description like this, is search frantically for the running time. If that running time exceeds 45 seconds, the next thing you should do is stab out your eyes so you have a bulletproof excuse when your girlfriend, who must have directed this film because oh my god why else are you even contemplating attending its screening, asks you to hold her hand at the premiere. "Sorry, I gots no eyes," might get you a free pass. Unfortunately, it's not going to be enough to get you out of attending one of her spoken-word "soundscape" performances on a Saturday afternoon at the Bowery Club. Think: Q-Tip accident.
"…an ode to lights and color"
"Even my closest friends and family will have second thoughts about attending this film."
"…exaggerates the clichés of femininity and men in power."
Get ready for 75 minutes of women throwing up and the men who constantly try to rape them. And isn't a cliché – if presented without sufficient context – already something of an exaggeration of the truth, anyway? If not by definition, then by implication? Aw forget it. If watching an extended, unedited monologue from a woman with poorly applied black eye makeup is your idea of a good time, have at it.
Additionally, there is a 70% chance of unenthusiastic sex in this film.
"…a freeform documentary…"
If this film has an "editor" in its credits, it is probably a lie. My parents' home movies of me riding the caterpillar at Hoffman's Play Land are technically "freeform documentary."
"a movie poem…"
Almost as promising as a "whisky enema."
"Nutria are a large, odd looking rodent from Argentina…"
HOLY SHIT DO NOT MISS THIS FILM!!!
"A reclamation of flower-power…"
Did someone forcibly take flower-power away? I think, more likely, everyone just dropped it at once, shouting "not it!" in unison. If you are interested in reclaiming flower-power, watching – or making – this film is entirely unnecessary. Just rent The Banger Sisters and watch it with a carton of Cherry Garcia® ice cream in your lap.
[aside: to the owners of "Funky Monkey" the new shop that just opened on 7th avenue in park slope, brooklyn, we need to talk. i suppose you are also trying to reclaim flower-power by determining that the one thing our neighborhood needs is a retail store modeled after the success of "Shop Therapy" – one-stop shopping for tie-dyed t-shirts, mushroom-shaped incense holders, lefty bumper stickers, and pewter gnomes. you could not be more wrong. in fact, i am so confident about this, i am willing to bet Funky Monkey will just barely outlast that store that sold AIDS-scented candles.]
"Vice Magazine presents:…"
Be prepared to laugh the meanest, most self-righteous laughs possible for about six minutes, and then hate yourself for the remaining 54 minutes.
"Dogs and jelly: who knew?"[from the description of the video short, "Lick My Pussy, Dog"]
Well, for starters, you did. But then you made your big mistake, which was assuming other people needed to know. What you do with your video camera in the privacy of your own home is between you, your wife, your dog, the ASPCA, and the Smucker's Corporation. Leave us out of it.
"Will Stryper reunite?"
No. Asking the question is implies the answer. People will still likely attend this, both for irony points and because it provides them with another opportunity to watch Christianity fail.
"Last year, for reasons unknown, Creased Comics artist Brad Neely was compelled to create his own gravelly-voiced narration to the first Harry Potter movie…We guarantee a full two-and-a-half hours of pants-peeing, soft-drink-through-the-nose-spewing hilarity."
Let's be reasonable about this. There are likely some very funny moments to be found within the alternate commentary track that will be played over a 35mm print of the first Harry Potter film. That's great, but there's a very important detail that should not be overlooked: YOU WILL BE SITTING THROUGH THIS FOR TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS. Personally, I cannot even sit through the entire Harry Potter movie, with its original plot and audio track firmly in place. What are the chances one person's unedited riff on the film will make this marathon enjoyable, or even bearable? Even the Christopher Guest films, which are carefully edited experiments featuring actors with many, many years of experience in improvisational comedy, run under two hours and, while funny, also contain a fair measure of dead space. And if you're thinking, "well, I'll just get high," remember this: Pink Floyd laser light shows are under 60 minutes in length.
Here is most likely what will happen. People will attend this and, afterwards, talk about the six really funny things that happened over the course of the grueling 2.5 hours they spent in stupid, unfulfilled anticipation. Those six funny things will be universally recognized by the audience, and at least two of them will become inside jokes among certain groups of friends. They will manifest themselves as phrases shouted in Brad Neely's coarse voice whenever very specific and pre-determined moments arise, or during long stretches of silence on road trips. The need to create this extension of entertainment is like a survivor's instinct. People need to pretend what they just put themselves through was for some greater common good. Those people are wrong.
"A Few Good Dykes" [documentary title]
I can't handle the truth.