Today, I screened over five hours of submissions for this year's Chlotrudis Short Film Festival. Nearly four of the hours were unwatchable, and the remainder was merely competent. Whenever I tell people I've spent an afternoon doing this, they'll mock my wary face with fake violins and say, "That can't be too difficult, watching movies all day". Well, as I'm sure the former MST3K cast members can attest, consuming a lot of bad movies at once very nearly crushes the soul. During the most crap-tacular entries, there were times where I caught myself questionably laughing, but not because the films were intentionally funny (or even ha-ha funny).

The premiere of the new ABC hour-long drama DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES cheered me up somewhat. This sharp, faintly subversive black comedy has potential to become a transcendent guilty pleasure like SEX AND THE CITY--at least, until it becomes too predictable or self-consciously quirky.

INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS is a clever, often side-splitting little film. The less said about what it's about, the better. All you need to know is that its lead "character" is the always intriguing Werner Herzog, and it breathes life into a certain tricky genre, revealing a surprising complexity where so many other attempts have fallen flat.

A DIRTY SHAME, on the other hand, is sadly an intermittently amusing but generally trite film. I wasn't expecting John Waters to make another PINK FLAMINGOES, but there's absolutely nothing shocking going on here. Like every other post-Divine Waters effort, it's equally affectionate and ironic, but sillier than anything else--sex is literally a quirk, a wacky personality trait that's not seriously dangerous or damaging or even meaningful. Rather than having anything genuinely interesting to say about it, he just drops the same jokes over and over again. Tracey Ullman is an inspired choice as the lead--she's not this funny in everything, y'know (see Woody Allen's forgettable SMALL TIME CROOKS) and that scene where she does the Hokey Pokey is classic. The Godard-inspired flashing titles are a nice touch, too. But everything else drags, and that's a... well, only Waters would be so obvious to spell it out for you.

I'm not sure how subversive HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY actually was, either, but it did justice to its subject, collage artist Ray Johnson (who was inarguably subversive). This is the usual collection of talking head interviews interspersed with rare archival footage, but Johnson was such a fascinating enigma that you'd have to try really hard to make a dreadfully boring film about him. What I really admired about this documentary is that it didn't come out and "explain" Johnson's art to you from the get-go. It's more like an excavation or putting together puzzle pieces. Not everything fits, but at the end, you get a keen sense of echoes and associations. I'm still unsure of what Johnson was getting at when, for an audience at an exhibition, he lashed away at a cardboard box with a leather belt for twenty odd minutes. However, some of his other endeavors (particularly his final, brilliantly conceived and executed "work of art") often drove me to re-evaluate existing conceptions of how art and life are related long after the film was over, and I wish more art (and film) did that.

Also saw Richard Linklater's SLACKER again (purchased the newly released Criterion DVD). Still very much of a particular time and place, but more prescient and affecting than ever. Expect a longer review to appear here eventually... if I ever get my shit together, this blog is going to skew towards more developed essays as opposed to sloppy lists (although I can ensure you the latter will probably never entirely disappear.)