A fest for the senses

To fully appreciate last weekend's "Phase II" installment of the Central Florida Film & Video Festival, you had to accept the tenet that constant distraction can be an aesthetic virtue. Seeking to effect a three-ring circus of underground arts, our hosts in Frameworks Alliance set up shop for three nights outside Stardust Video & Coffee, screening some frequently arcane experimental films in an outdoor tent that was surrounded by ancillary entertainment options -- and a few unplanned intrusions that were almost as amusing.

Despite the Frameworks folks' best efforts at soundproofing, the tent was unable to keep out the snatches of spoken-word poetry and live music that regularly emanated from Stardust's grottolike interior. Nor were we insulated from the sounds of cars zipping down Winter Park Road or the overhead hum of jet planes.

But far from an annoyance, the effect was pleasant in a dada kinda way. And it inspired caffeine-fueled wanderlust: As soon as one had settled into a seemingly comfortable environment, another aural reminder suggested that something equally nifty might be going on a few feet away.

No wonder Friday's opening-night screening of "Brakhage" was a panorama of shifting bodies. A documentary about Stan Brakhage, the pioneer of avant-garde cinema, the film was so heavily weighted with its namesake's impressionistic home movies that many audience members found it easy to dart in and out of the tent without risking a loss of narrative comprehension.

Look, there's Stan on a walk through the park! Looks like he's going to be there a while ... maybe we can catch a few songs by that acoustic duo and hook up with him later. There's Stan's wife giving birth! Hey, isn't it time for a latte refill?

This jolt's for you

Even if placenta shots weren't your cup of espresso, there was plenty to see and do elsewhere. Just outside the makeshift screening room, a military-style compound had been erected to house displays of visual art. Its walls of canvas and plastic also provided a backdrop for the projection of filmic collages, with vintage TV commercials and upside-down frames from "The Twilight Zone" seen among the overlapping images.

The riskiest endeavors were the outdoor miniconcerts that closed each night's session. Rock en Español favorites Parafanelia were tapped to entertain Friday's small but attentive crowd of onlookers (a crew that included Blue Meridian frontman Donovan Lyman), but Dennis Lessard's succulent Strat licks had just started to cook when a representative of the Orlando Police Department showed up and pulled the plug on the loud midnight recital. A few of the attendees groused that The Man was always eager to bust up "something new," but I knew our boys in blue had a more pragmatic agenda: keeping the neighborhood safe for drive-through purchases at the nearby ABC Liquors.

Inexplicably, Eyelight's Jehn Cerron still was allowed to sing al fresco the following night, and she made it through her entire set without official interruption. Made to play indoors on the same night, Charm Conspiracy and Numb Right Thumb were given no opportunity to test the area's tolerance for glam-punk organ flourishes and space-age cocktail music. Still, NRT guitarist Steven Garnett vowed he would be on the lookout for "beat cops," pulling off a great coffeehouse pun without even thinking.

Schlock to the system

Saturday's onscreen highlight was "Downtown Darlings," a consistently (but not always intentionally) hilarious assessment of the current state of the New York shock-rock scene. The cross-dressing, three-chord outfits that were profiled shared a common misconception that their warmed-over riffs and antics were the finest cultural documents the Greatest City in the World had to offer. Most of us just laughed at a spectacle that more closely resembled The Tubes with less gray matter and bigger drug budgets.

The weekend wasn't without its more serious side, especially the Saturday showing of "24 Girls." In the affecting 29-minute short, director Eva Ilona Brzeski trained her camera on a group of hopeful young women to exorcise her own painful memories of a dead classmate. No one ducked out for cappuccino before this haunting meditation on fate and desire reached its conclusion.

Human foibles were played for comedy in Sunday's "Bury Me in Kern County," but the feature's smirking libretto of small-town crime, pregnancy and family betrayal was surprisingly dull. It was more fun to watch the cold, early-evening winds whip viciously at the tent flaps and wonder if the entire structure was about to come down around our heads.

That was my cue to exit; I'll risk arrest for the cause of Art, but not decapitation. And as I saw it, leaving was less an obtrusive gesture than a vindication of the CFFVF's emphasis on freedom of choice. The event's very structure implied that you can walk away from film whenever you like, and it'll be right there when you get back.

But don't quote me on that. I might just be hopped up on coffee.

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