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Indispensable independents

by David Lamble

A scene from <i>Kissing on the Mouth</i>.
A scene from Kissing on the Mouth.  

Our distinctly odd little city can take pride in the proliferation of small-to-midsize film festivals, which have in recent years grown as wildly as certain varieties of psychedelic mushrooms in a Texas cow pasture. The SF Independent Film Festival has now joined our venerable LGBT Film Festival as a place where basic American freedoms are given their ultimate artistic expression. This year's edition, the 8th SF Indie Fest, does not disappoint. Opening tonight at the Castro Theatre and running through February 14 at the Roxie Cinema and the Women's Building are 44 programs, of which I regret being able to report on only 10. Info at (415) 820-3907 or www.sfindie.com.

Jimmy and Judy This clever, heartfelt piece of gonzo indie filmmaking is the movie Natural Born Killers should have been. It commences with a clever premise: everything we see is captured through the lens of Jimmy's videocamera. In the first reel, this conceit works a tad like Bogart's character just out of prison in Elmer Daves' Dark Passage, with the subjective camera point-of-view employed until after plastic surgery.

Jimmy (a great turn by former child star Edward Furlong, whose career seems to be headed in the right direction again) reveals himself only in the presence of Judy (Rachael Bella). Jimmy has poor impulse control. He woos Judy by exacting revenge on the kids who have bullied her at school, films his parents' gender-switching sex, and, in a very funny piece of Americana, freaks out in a fast-food car lane after pickles are improperly included with his double cheeseburger.

They hit the road for their obligatory crime spree. A bout of in-car flirting leads to a very twisted hit-and-run accident. J & J wind up in a rural commune where young folks of both genders become the playthings of a speed freak Hitler (prompting a scary monologue by William Sadler).

J & J would be truly sublime if the plot gave more attention to Bella's Judy. Furlong and Bella have that rare sexual/emotional chemistry that allows one to suspend judgment and enjoy the ride. Furlong is a smart, intuitive actor who seems willing to do almost anything to satisfy a role. The fast-food diet gives him a slightly bloated look, which is good for the character, bad for Eddie. Superbly helmed by writer/directors Jon Schroder and Randall K. Rubin, this one would make a deliciously twisted teen triple-feature with Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise and Francois Ozon's Criminal Lovers. (Roxie, 2/4; Women's Bldg., 2/12)

Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher Christian documentarian David Di Sabatino reveals the almost-forgotten tale of a longhaired California boy who discovered LSD and Jesus at practically the same moment. For nearly two decades, Lonnie Frisbee would shake and reshape the insular world of Southern California fundamentalist Christians. Appearing before his disciples, a motley collection of surfers and Jesus freaks, the slender young Frisbee, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Sunday-school coloring-book Jesus, helped launch two religious movements and ultimately was expelled from both of them, due to his homosexuality.

The film takes awhile to come to grips with the gay scandal that defrocked Frisbee. He died from AIDS in 1993, virtually abandoned by his Christian community. If you can stand a quick course in Southern California Christian politics, Frisbee will provide a fascinating window on the great divide between spirituality and sexuality still roiling our nation. (Women's Bldg., 2/4; Roxie, 2/7)

Kissing on the Mouth This sexually explicit video includes delightful dick and boob shots, and a working demonstration of the role a penis plays in shower masturbation. But it bogs down in an insufficiently plotted account of the post-graduation meanderings of a pair of hetero boys and girls. Apparently shot by its attractive cast, Kissing benefits from being told from a woman's perspective, but the characters come off as shallower than the actors playing them. We get bored with character voice over accounts of unseen parents. The audience should probably be issued vibrators the way 1950s moviegoers got 3-D glasses. (Late shows, Roxie, 2/10; Women's Bldg., 2/12)

The Proposition This poetically filmed Aussie Western shows the 19th-century Outback to be a less civilized domain than HBO's ribald portrait of Deadwood, South Dakota. As director John Hillcoat and screenwriter/rock musician Nick Cave (the Bad Seeds) make clear, the Australian frontier was tamed by agents of the British Crown. The Aussie Western myth involves a celebration of the outlaw, and the total absence of a John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or even Tommy Lee Jones-style hero. Here, a miscalculated gamble by a British-born lawman (another sublime riff on masculine bravado by Ray Winstone), that infamous outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) will kill his psychotic older brother (Danny Huston) to save his younger sibling Mike, results instead in the slaughter of an innocent boy. As stark a meditation on British colonials marooned in a hellish land as any film since Picnic at Hanging Rock. (Castro, opening night, 2/2)

FUCK A film on our favorite word by Steve Anderson. The only fault I can find with this comprehensive and extremely entertaining symposium is that among the 35 people interviewed, no openly queer representative (to my knowledge) can be found. Beyond gay marriage, we will know that we have truly arrived when no progressive group feels they can leave us out of the national conversation.

A startling array of personalities and world views: where else can you see Miss Manners, Pat Boone, Alan Keyes and Michael Medved addressing Ice-T, Billy Connolly, Kevin Smith and Janeane Garofalo? I even got off to Drew Carey for the first time. Dedicated to and featuring one of the last interviews with the late Hunter S. Thompson, FUCK, comic Bill Maher aptly notes, is really inspired by the legacy of Lenny Bruce. (Women's Bldg., 2/5; Roxie, 2/10)

A/K/A Tommy Chong A funny/scary account of the persecution of another of Lenny's disciples. Josh Gilbert's rambunctiously assembled trip down a stoner's memory lane makes a pretty good case that the Canadian-born member of the comedy team of Cheech & Chong was actually sent to a Federal prison for mocking the government's anti-marijuana crusade in the 1978 pot comedy classic Up in Smoke. (Roxie, 2/4; Women's Bldg., 2/11)

December Ends Josh Janowicz makes an impressive debut as a soulful young bookclerk whose life implodes when his mom dies, his dad stays in bed, his best friend offers him a job as a drug courier, and he meets the love of his life: a depressed artist and girlfriend of a speed-abusing dealer. First-time director Lee Krieger makes deft use of his lead's ability as an audience surrogate to overcome some of the obvious genre clichés involved in trying keep the motor running on a drug-fueled plot that hinges on a sensitive boy picking up a gun. (Women's Bldg., 2/3; Roxie, 2/6)

Facade The last 89 minutes in the life of Harry, a young man whose plans to celebrate his 19th birthday with his best friends go terrible awry. A taut, psychologically astute, and erotically charged cautionary tale that chillingly depicts why those who could save a life are often too absorbed in their own bullshit to even notice that someone close to them is drowning. (Women's Bldg., 2/4; Roxie, 2/6)

Bang Bang This excellent shorts program on crimes of passion includes Trespasses, James Scott Mason's erotic comedy/drama about a hunky homeowner who hires a scruffy hustler to stage a home invasion. Other twisted tales involve a Rashomon -like mystery about a bookstore holdup and an aspiring method actor's decision to take a little too literally the Bible according to Quentin Tarantino. (Roxie, 2/9; Women's Bldg., 2/11)

Pirates of the Great Salt Lake Promoted as Don Quixote meets Pirates of the Caribbean, this piece of Utah whimsy showcases the limits of low-budget filmmaking. Not only do you see why Johnny Depp gets the big bucks, but also why even dime-store auteurs should construct more imaginative scenarios before picking up the camera. (Roxie, 2/3; Women's Bldg., 2/5)

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