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Thursday, May 22, 2003 02:20 pm

Never screened in Springfield

Critic Marc Sigoloff says it’s not too late to see these neglected gems.

Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, which took place last month in Champaign-Urbana, always reminds local film buffs how limited our movie choices are here. Kerasotes has improved in recent years, but there are still numerous films that completely bypass Springfield. The local alternatives--the Route 66 Film Festival and the Springfield Arts Council's foreign film series--offer some good choices, but they don't always live up to expectations. Theaters obviously remain the best place to see a film, but absent that choice the next best things are cable, video, and DVD. You'd be surprised at what you can find. Just this year, in the comfort of my own home, I have viewed works by such great directors as Fellini, Antonioni, Bresson, Truffaut, Visconti, Resnais, Mizoguchi, Oshima, and Lang. There's a lot out there for anyone willing to do a little sleuthing. Here are some films that could have played in Springfield but never had a chance:

Medium Cool (1969) A classic document of social upheaval in the late 1960s, this film was rejected by last year's Route 66 Film Festival because it was considered too old and obscure. But Ebert chose it for his festival this year. Robert Forster stars as a television news cameraman who is forced to confront his own feelings while covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. What makes this film so unique is its truly authentic backdrop. Though the film is a work of fiction, director Haskell Wexler, best known for his magnificent work as a cinematographer (Bound for Glory, Days of Heaven), filmed the actors at the actual event.

Perhaps this is the only film that deserves the often misused label docudrama. The title is derived from Marshall McLuhan's description of television. The DVD includes commentary by Wexler and a theatrical trailer.

Real Killers (1996) This one went straight to video, so it never had a theatrical release. I'm not exactly sure why I'm recommending it-- I can't honestly say it's a good film, but it is so bizarre and ludicrous I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Two psychopathic brothers escape from prison and hold a family hostage. Does this sound a bit like In Cold Blood with a dose of Natural Born Killers? Well, it's nothing like either film. At one point From Dusk Till Dawn came to mind, but it isn't similar to that either. Real Killers is difficult to describe without giving away too many of its surprises. Suffice to say, there is no way to predict where the insanity is heading. One thing is certain, director Mike Mendez has quite a warped imagination. This one is not yet available on DVD.

American Movie (1999) This probing study of a Wisconsin filmmaker is one of the best and most entertaining documentaries ever made, and it definitely deserved to be shown in Springfield, either in a theater or as part of a film series. Mark Borchardt will sacrifice anything for his "art." He is working on a cheesy horror film titled "Coven," which he can't pronounce correctly. No film has better captured the obsessiveness of a director desperately trying to finish a film that is plagued with trouble from the very beginning. Borchardt's methods are at times questionable, but they are never less than hilarious. Coven is included on the DVD, and as expected it isn't very good. Chris Smith's documentary is far superior to his subject. The DVD also includes commentary by Smith and the cast members, production notes, a trailer, and 22 deleted scenes.

Requiem for a Dream (2000) Obviously Springfield can't accommodate every independent film released, but high-profile movies deserve at least one week. Kerasotes didn't book the best film of 2000 in Springfield, and the Avon in nearby Decatur also resisted. Apparently an Oscar nomination for Ellen Burstyn (who should have beat out Julia Roberts in the awful Erin Brockovich) wasn't incentive enough to change their decisions. Perhaps the subject matter did it in: Requiem is a dark study of four people on a downward spiral of drug abuse. Be forewarned, this is an often grim film, and its powerful climactic scene is a scorcher. Director Darren Aronofsky's visual style is dazzling, and he easily tops his debut Pi, a much less commercial film that did play in Springfield. The DVD includes commentary by Aronofsky, a documentary, deleted scenes, and trailers. Be sure to get the unrated version, rather than the watered-down R version. Anyone who doesn't want to see Aronofsky's true vision really shouldn't bother.

Donnie Darko (2001) Kerasotes once promised to show this in Springfield but never delivered. Donnie Darko is a quirky teen film, but it has more in common with the work of David Lynch than the adolescent silliness of American Pie. A troubled teen's problems are a bit abnormal: A jet engine crashes through the roof of his house, and he is being stalked by a human-sized rabbit. Director Richard Kelly created a weird and wondrous world in his first film, but unlike Lynch he answers all questions. Its twist ending transcends mere gimmickry. A major cult is already building for this film. The DVD has numerous extras, including commentary by Kelly and cast members, a theatrical trailer, TV spots, 20 deleted and extended scenes, and many other goodies.