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N.Y. Underground comes to Boston and it would seem a breathless piece of good luck. A bit of the raunchy, strange and mindlessly self-absorbed art scene only New York musters. Something really disgusting, narcisistic, maybe even disturbing. Sort of like "Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation" without all that claymation.
If only it were so. Intead of the accomplished and off-beat (even sometimes disturbing) material of that similarly positioned festival, "Short & Nasty: The N.Y. Underground Film Festival 2" serves up five painfully overdetermined films which are mostly not short enough and bewilderingly nasty.
The problem with the films--which in fairness, do differ refreshingly from the mostly digestible stuff that the media now labels independent cinema--is mostly the problem with all mediocre cinema. The filmmakers couldn't get over both their own "quirky" interests and the seductive medium of film.
The (doubtless) starving artists who bare their souls in the five flicks included in the festival all have particular, frequently opaque, obsessions. Rather than plot or acting, "Krazy Teens USA" makes the best use of its own fascination with the culture of Long Island mall-rats gone astray, Although initially engaging, the mutant-weirdo world of "Lick of Fury" eventually plays like a simple stream of sight gags or even private jokes. And "Dienstag, Once Upon a Tuesday" which tracks an adolescent serial killer who succombs to a weekly yen, pulls all the strings of the horror genre so many times and with such a stark sense of its own irony, that (aside from one truly upsetting image) it really is mostly laughable.
Jeff Vilencia's "Images" grapples most openly with just how cool film really is. Shot in black and white by a portly guy with an avowed taste for dope, LSI) and a wacked-out artist named Starman, the ten minute film generates a general feeling of Vilencia's love for the camera, his project and the construction paper he tacks on the wall in various configurations (er, images). But at ten minutes, it's five too long.
"Lick of Fury" also uses a blending of crude animation with real-life footage, this time not of aging potheads but of freakishly costumed neighbors. Skunk Guy (Christian Brown) gives an admittedly virtuoso performance as the local loser--this in a whole neighborhood of them--who can't stop licking himself.
A flash-back memory and a courageous street-crossing help Skunk Guy learn to stop drooling all over the place, but somehow it doesn't really matter. The inventive costumes (especially a certain breast-squeezing machine and a Torah-reading monkey-device) keep the 14 minute short just barely above water.
The longest, and mysteriously, the best of the pieces is also the least self consciously bizarre, "Brouhaha," directed by lay Beckman tells the everyday, black and white story of couple who throw a party which Satan crashes. When things get bad, as we knew they would, the host stays calm and retreats to his somehow ghoulishly tiled bathroom There he calmly administers a progressively more severe regimen of beer (the devil kicked the keg), whisky, pills, heroin and cocine. The restraint of clever shot angles of the 23 minute film make up for the terrible dubbing and college dorm feel of the party (would the devil really show up at a dorm?).
If only NY Underground could get over itself, it might extend the spectrum of independent cinema past cross-over art house hit. In the mean time, the festival's I shirts are the coolest thing about it.
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