California Dreaming


One of several selections at the New York Video Festival that investigate the psychic contours of American suburban life, Joe Carroll and Ben Holtzman’s Between Resistance and Community: The Long Island Do It Yourself Punk Scene proves that punk’s not dead—it’s just cleaned up its act and moved out past Massapequa. Unlike the glue-sniffing nihilists of Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization films, these well-spoken kids with creative haircuts describe their own basement-band scene in terms of “building community-based movements,” speaking of “love and compassion” amid alienating landscapes of strip malls and expressways (“Punk is not a drive-thru,” reads one of their cut-and-paste flyers). Emo activists in hardcore gear, they collect food for the homeless, analyze their own sexism, and sing without irony about the “smiling faces/smiling back at me” that fill their literally underground gigs. Shot with an appropriately homemade, affectionate style, Between provides a timely snapshot of contemporary punk’s new sincerity. Like its subjects, the documentary rebels against cynical consumer capitalism by embracing a warm Fugazite humanism.

A more cynical SoCal Spheeris vibe underpins Stoked (The Rise and Fall of Gator), Helen Stickler’s sobering joyride through the life of ’80s pro skateboarder Mark “Gator” Rogowski, whose bad-boy-in-spandex theatrics helped transform a stoner-kid hobby into a major lifestyle industry. When the “Gator” brand lost its cool, Rogowski lost his wits, eventually murdering a woman and burying her in the California desert, which earned him a prison sentence of 31 years to life. Rogowski’s true-crime tale has its own inherently lurid appeal, but Stickler’s rendering goes beyond the Court TV norm. She interviews marketers, company heads, and fellow skaters to illustrate the broader processes of how a self-created youth subculture capitulates to the commercial mainstream. (As with Spheeris’s films, one wonders if a female director covering macho terrain helps open up the subjects more than a typical X-Games interview could.) Even more illustrative of ’80s excess are Stoked‘s encyclopedic media artifacts, ranging from a bombastic Swatch-sponsored tour promo to a permed Gator guest-spotting on Club MTV.

Not all sellout skateboarders or major-label rockers are all that bad, however, as one would surmise from the Sundance Channel production Meet Mike Mills, an unusually slick choice for the normally scrappy Video Festival. This profile of the graphic designer, musician, and filmmaker implicitly counters both Stoked and Between, relating its subject’s apparently untroubled rise from Santa Barbara skatepunk to successful indie stylemaker. Mills’s pop-nostalgic graphics for artists like Air, the Beastie Boys, and Cibo Matto helped define the neo-luxe aesthetic of late-’90s hipsterdom, but in filmmaking he takes his fascination with the surreal flip side of mellow California several layers deeper. Two of his graceful shorts are thankfully included in toto: The Architecture of Reassurance, a modern-day Lewis Carroll fairy tale about a girl who longs for tract housing, and Paperboys, a melancholy portrait of suburbia’s iconic but dwindling world of newspaper delivery boys.

Guy Maddin offers a television production of a far freakier stripe with Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, his made-for-CBC silent-movie rendering of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Bram Stoker adaptation. Shot on black-and-white Super 8 and 16mm and edited on video, Maddin’s Dracula plays like a new-media Nosferatu, complete with allegorical racial overtones and barely sublimated sensuality. Maddin recapitulates the hyper-retro playfulness of his much lauded 2000 short The Heart of the World, adding expressive digital dashes of scarlet blood and candy-green smoke, as well as tinted sequences of jaundice yellow and decadent lavender. The resulting whole is a goth’s cinematic wet dream, crafted with Maddin’s typical aesthetic intensity, but the dashing, dancing pace of the film may leave non-balletomanes in narrative bewilderment.

There are real-life horrors on view as well. Two lo-fi personal accounts of Palestinian children living in the post-intifada era give faces and voices to a conflict often reduced to body counts. But the images captured grant little comfort. In Eliane Raheb’s So Near, Yet So Far, an 11-year-old boy recounts the time he ran away from home to join the jihad, saying he now has “a grown-up heart.” Children raised in a refugee camp likewise use the words of hardened adults in Diana Keown Allan’s Chatila: Beirut 2001. “I am from the generation of suicide bombers. We are not afraid of anything,” declares a boy of about 10. “From our perspective, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are heroes,” says another. A sweet-faced girl admits, “I’m never afraid. Now I’ve seen everything there is to see on television.” These difficult images, seemingly so far removed from the concerns of punk rockers and paperboys, serve as a bracing counterpoint to American introspection.