Pacific Film Archive presents its third edition of "Weird America," a documentary showcase of portraits of folks with uncommon occupations, strange pastimes, and curious obsessions. The programs will be shown at 7:30 pm on Wednesday evenings from January 18 through February 22.
Screenings take place at the PFA Theater, located at 2575 Bancroft Way near Bowditch Street, on the southern edge of the UC Berkeley campus. General admission is $8, with reduced-price tickets available to members, students, seniors, youth, and persons with disabilities.
The first program in this six-film series is La Lucha: The Struggle, which will be shown with special guests. The film documents no-holds-barred contests, including a match at downtown L.A.'s Mayan Theater, of lucha libre-Mexican wrestling-as practiced by the semi-pro World Power Wrestling league of Anaheim, California. Its cinematographer was John Gulager, who recently won the director contest on the Bravo reality show "Project Greenlight;" he will be our guest, along with La Lucha director Duncan Macleod. Also screening with La Lucha . . . is a short film about costumed members of Raider Nation tailgating in the Oakland Raider Parking Lot. Jason Blalock, who directed this short, will also appear in person at the PFA screening.
Born in a Barn gives free rein to the fantasies of fetishists who role-play as ponies controlled by human trainers, while Okie Noodling depicts the odd sport of catching catfish with bare hands. Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, narrated by John Waters, presents the eccentric desert rats living in an ecological wreck once touted by developers as "the Riviera of the West." Filmmaker Chris Metzler will appear in person.
The haunted life of Wild Man Fischer, a mad musician who lived on the streets in '60s L.A. is told in Derailroaded, and an old woman whose fascination with nuts grew until it became an entire Nut Museum is profiled in In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian.
Complete program notes follow. For further ticket or program information, please phone (510) 642-1412.
Special to the press: Screeners are available for the films in this series. If you would like to obtain a review copy, please phone Rachel Tanner, Audience Development Coordinator, at (510) 642-8691, or Steve Seid, curator of the series, at (510) 642-5253. Please note that the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive offices are closed the week of December 26-30.
UC Berkeley Art Museum
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft Way near Bowditch Street
$8 for one film,
$12 for double bills
Let's get one thing straight: in this series of singular portraits, "weird" is good. Weird is what happens when you pursue the unique or unusual in a culture of conformity. Weird is a badge of courage at a time when most folks don't want no stinking badges. This six-part series peruses people with uncommon occupations, strange pastimes, and curious obsessions. You'll meet, among others, street toughs who don gaudy masks and wrestle just for the glory; a well-groomed stable of individuals who find their mane pleasure in ponyplay; wily Okies who troll for catfish with nothing but their hands for bait; and a ninety-two-year-old gal who knows everything about nuts, both the fruit and the human variety. All these folks are united by their healthy exercise of eccentricity. Weird America is not so much about a country as it is about a state-a state of mind.
CURATED/NOTES BY STEVE SEID
Special thanks to Brian Gordon of the Nashville Film Festival and Peter Conheim of the Guild Cinema, Albuquerque.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 18
Josh Rubin (U.S., 2005)
"A penny for your thoughts" got you nothing from Wild Man Fischer. It cost a dime, and his thoughts came in the form of a yelping, crazy song. Living on the streets of late-sixties L.A., veteran of several Bedlams, the Wild Man was discovered by a motherly Frank Zappa, who set about recording his newfound Fischer King. Soon he was an underground rage-the schizo with a microphone, bellowing out such nutty nuggets as "Why I Am Normal" and "Which Way Did the Freaks Go?" But it wasn't just a glorious demimonde filled with devotees-the Wild Man had his demons. With archival footage from Fischer's early days, including his TV and club performances, Rubin's riveting Derailroaded traces the artist's track from bruised child to limelight loony. Various friends and faux, such as Zappa, Weird Al Yankovic, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, and Dr. Demento, recall the crazy ride that knocked the Wild Man from his train.
• Photographed by Bryan Newman. (86 mins, Color, Beta SP, From the filmmaker)
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 25
7:30 La Lucha: The Struggle
Duncan Macleod (U.S., 2003)
Duncan Macleod, John Gulager, and Jason Blalock in Person
Lucha libre is the Mexican brand of pro wrestling, a gritty spectacle of masked marauders acting out the eternal struggle between good and evil. Of course, in the ring, it's hard to tell the good from the evil. Is it the pretty-in-pink drag queen, the former gang-banger with knife scars on his chest, or the fake sheik with the scimitar? Duncan Macleod's La Lucha unmasks the no-holds-barred phenom of raunchy wrestling by grappling with the World Power Wrestling league of Anaheim, California. Operating at a quasi-pro level, the league is the training ground for aspiring tusslers who in many cases are trying to save themselves from the mean streets of L.A. Martin Marin, their no-nonsense promoter, is both hard-nosed drill sergeant and savior of lost souls. The gripping La Lucha ends with a bang-up match at the Mayan Theater in downtown L.A., where burlesque dancers and lucha libre collide in a bawdy brawl.
• Photographed by John Gulager. (72 mins)
Preceded by short:
Oakland Raider Parking Lot (Jason Blalock, U.S., 2004). Are these dedicated fans of a rowdy football team, or a band of barbarians coming to sack Oakland? Hey, the armor just makes for a better tailgate party. (23 mins)
• (Total running time: 95 mins, Color, DVD, From the filmmakers)
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 1
7:30 In a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian
Don Bernier (U.S., 2005)
Sometimes what beguiles you engulfs you. Born of aristocratic Armenian parents, Elizabeth Tashjian was a gifted but nutty artist. At the age of nine, she began a short-lived career as a concert violinist; by age twenty-one, she was a classical painter studying at the National Academy of Design. In middle age, she chucked it all to become a devout Christian Science healer. Then Tashjian retreated to the confines of an immense Victorian-era manse and turned her attention to nuts-yes, those dry indehiscent one-seeded fruits with a woody pericarp. Nuts large and small, from every continent and corner; nuts as nature intended and nuts carved, painted, and festooned. A single bowl of nuts begat others to become the Nut Museum, shrine to a friendly fixation. Bernier's well-salted portrait gets to the pithy core of Tashjian's unusual passions. Now in her nineties and declared insane by her guardians, Elizabeth Tashjian is struggling to regain the well-ordered world of her nuts.
• Photographed by Bernier, M. Kristana Textor. (80 mins, Color, Beta SP, From the filmmaker)
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 8
7:30 Okie Noodling
Brad Beesley (U.S., 2001)
There's a breed of guy out there who's willing to wade into a murky creek, then grope around in some dark ol' holes until a yard-long catfish chomps down on his arm. In those few places where it's legal, they call it hand-fishing; in Oklahoma, they just call it noodling. Filmmaker Brad Beesley, himself a Panhandler, knew that noodling was a bait-and-switch technique traced back to Native Americans. What he didn't know was that a select group of individuals-half crazy, half drunk, or a combo of the two-was up to its elbows in enthusiasm for hand-fishing. Hardcore noodlers like Red Baggett, Jerry "Catfish" Rider, and Lee McFarlin would wade through water snakes and beavers to lay hands on a forty-pound flathead. Beesley, now one of the Few, the Proud, organized the First Annual Noodling Tournament and Fish Fry. This doc's got it all, even Miss Okie Noodling 2000!
• Photographed by Ari Palos. (60 mins, Beta SP)
Preceded by short:
Friends Seen and Unseen (Demetria Kalodimos, Kathy Conkwright, U.S., 2000). FSU unravels the message and the mystery of The Prophet Omega, a radio evangelist broadcasting from Nashville who became a cult fave, especially among rock 'n' rollers. Includes interviews with fans Billy Bob Thornton, Al Kooper, Adrian Belew, Marty Stuart, and others. (31 mins, DVD)
• (Total running time: 91 mins, Color, From the filmmakers)
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 15
7:30 Born in a Barn
Elizabeth Elson (U.S., 2004)
Antonia Kao in Person
Being human is a difficult job-keeping your tie straight and your goals on track can lead to misery. But being pony is to be free to prance about a meadow, legs stepping high, one's mane in a magnificent flutter. No wonder, then, that ponyplay is on the rise. That's right, a role-playing fetish in which people become human ponies and their handlers have free rein. Though ponypeople are not above a quick toss in the hay, they are well-groomed and much delighted by the tic of leathery tack. Born in a Barn introduces us to four equine enthusiasts: ponygirl Mischief, a forty-year-old filly with an obedience problem; RedHot Pony and his trainer DommeLuv, a middle-aged couple who like to horse around; and trigger T.H.E. horse, the grand stallion of ponyplayers. A breed apart, these four trailblazing role-players have followed an unusual path, but it has led them to the one thing they really sought: a stable relationship.
• Photographed by Elson. (50 mins, Beta SP)
Preceded by short:
Pup (Antonia Kao, U.S., 2005). If you want a new leash on life, you'll adore the International Puppy Contest. Master Skip and Pup Tim, two out, gay, Christian leathermen, compete in great doggy style. Now heel. (23 mins, DVD)
• (Total running time: 73 mins, Color, From the filmmakers)
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 22
7:30 Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer (U.S., 2005)
Chris Metzler in Person
The Salton Sea, that vast briny body of water in SoCal, is a monument to man's mischief. Back in 1905, some land shenanigans ended in the flooding of a depressed piece of desert. Though the resulting "sea" has been depressed ever since, it was once ballyhooed as the "Riviera of the West," a sun-drenched destination to rival Palm Springs. Idealized images of giggling water-skiers illustrate the sea's buoyant early history, before unstoppable floodwaters began turning motel mattresses into waterbeds. Narrated by the aptly named John Waters, Plagues & Pleasures wades into this saline sinkhole to find not only a dream that won't evaporate, but the dreamers themselves, an eccentric bunch of desert rats who don't seem to mind the massive fish die-offs that stink up their shores. Even Sonny Bono, the sump's late, great defender, couldn't turn the tide on the desert's toxic avenger. Regardless, the land speculators are back with a for-sale sign in one hand and a dead pelican in the other.
• Photographed by Metzler, Jeff Springer. (68 mins)
Preceded by short:
Dimmer (Talmage Cooley, U.S., 2005). A peek into the life of Mike, a blind teenager growing up with a gang of punky pals amid the Rust Belt exhaustion of Buffalo, New York. Blind Man's Buff is different when you're really blind. Music by Interpol. (12 mins)
• (Total running time: 80 mins, Color, Beta SP, From the filmmakers)