Theories of relativity

After a weekend suffused with political broadsides, I decided it was best to opt out of the Cuban and Italian shorts being screened at Monday night's installment of the Central Florida Film & Video Festival. Friday's imbroglio had left me burned out on the Cuban issue for a while, and the festival schedule ensured that the Italians were the baby that got thrown out with the bathwater. Instead, I chose the safer, more accessible fare being shown in the next theater.

Festival "propaganda woman" Anne Deason was seated at the Frameworks Alliance booth as I entered Fashion Village 8. Close-ups from her past appearances on TV's "Ballyhoo" were displayed on the twin monitors behind her, framing her own face in a three-point tableau of Truman-Show perfection. I said hello to her corporeal version, and told her that I had decided to attend the "Relationship (Shorts #9)" program.

"Are you nuts?" she demanded. I got the message right away. She wasn't referring to the quality of the productions, merely acknowledging that, for most of us, navigating our messy personal affairs amounts to nothing less than our own emotional Bay of Pigs. Why wallow in the similar misery of others?

Alternating currents

To feel a little bit healthier in comparison, of course. And I couldn't have felt more thrilled that I wasn't one of the title characters of lead-off film "The Strange World of Wolfgang and Melanie," a German-made story about a brother and sister who give up on their respective, hopeless love lives and give in to the lure of incest instead. There were only about 10 people in the theater, but I could hear the flesh crawling on every one of us. So what if the picture gave me a new reason to be embarrassed by my Teutonic heritage? At least it made me glad I'm an only child.

As soon as we had we wiped the stunned expressions off our faces, the screen went black from technical difficulties that were to plague the rest of the "Relationship" shorts, ultimately causing innumerable delays. While the projectionists scrambled to get the next scheduled film in viewing shape, we were shown entries from other programs to tide us over. One of them, the deep-space parody "Star Trak," was a cesspool of locker-room humor that had raised my eyebrows a few notches when I had seen a preview copy of it a few weeks before the festival began. It didn't play much better with this audience, drawing only the intermittent, mortified chuckles it deserved.

Back to relationship-land we went with "Suburban Monogamy," a hilariously bitter "training film" for middle-class whites seeking companionship. Benefiting from some intentionally stiff narration, it was a spot-on send-up of the celluloid social-indoctrination manifestos we all used to have to sit through in high-school health class, although the inability of the Frameworks people to keep it in focus made the experience a little too accurate for my taste.

The nicest surprise was the denouement of "My Body," a farcical narrative about a man who somehow generates a second, separate anatomy after his first homosexual encounter. His doctor's insistence on "reintegrating" the halves was an obvious metaphor for life in the closet, and most of the material was handled with an emphasis on zaniness that somewhat stifled the cleverness of the concept. But all was redeemed by the final scene, in which the newly self-aware hero looked himself in the mirror. "I like touching men who love me," he affirmed, "because that is how I love." It was the most honest and complete expression of that simple four-letter word I had heard in some time.

Inanimate objects

No such enlightenment was to be gained from the subsequent "Animation (Shorts #1)," a compendium of mostly bloodless, mechanical clips that clearly valued form over content. Some were recycled from the previous day's "Florida Shorts" roster, and "Star Trak" was shown yet again, this time followed by an announcement that its creators would be in the lobby after the show to take questions. I passed, knowing that all the best queries -- "How old are you guys, anyway?" chief among them -- were best left unasked.

Maybe I'm just being a fuddy-duddy. The newly full room of animation junkies seemed to positively eat it up. What is it about cartoon people that makes them such cartoon people sometimes?

Tuesday watch: No, that isn't a Colonial Drive sinkhole you smell; it's "TV Stench," a tube-skewering series of short subjects that includes the must-see "The Ad and the Ego." It screens at 7:45 p.m. at Fashion Village. Afterward, you can peruse the virtual-reality fantasy "Virtue," shown on a double bill with "FoN," a 7-minute nightmare journey into the darker side of Ma Bell. And if you're in the mood for a nightcap, head to Southern Nights for a "Pillow Theatre Pajama Party" that'll satisfy your burning need to know what the Orlando Weekly staff looks like in its skivvies.

For a festival overview, read Steve Schneider's preview story.


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