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Movieside Film Festival 

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The monthly "Movieside" series--named for its original venue, the Fireside Bowl--celebrates its one-year anniversary with this three-day festival, which includes 42 short films and videos plus a feature by guest emcee John Waters. Screenings are at the Biograph and at Acme Art Works, 1741 N. Western. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $10 at the door, $9 in advance. For more information call 773-856-5226.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

Anniversary party

A benefit party featuring films and videos by Ricky Cozzolino, Sarah Anderson, Caton Volk, Kristie Alshaibi, Janina Bain, and others. Tickets are $5. (Acme Art Works, 8:00)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7

Program one

Impressive in its range and quality, this avalanche of 26 films and videos is characteristic of the series's programming, an offbeat but ambitious mix of experimental film, underground music video, and live performance. Odilon Redon, or the Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Towards Infinity (1995), a stunning black-and-white 16-millimeter film by Guy Maddin, approximates the mythic imagery of the Russian silent era for its surreal story of a bearded old train engineer and the young woman who takes control of his engine. Even more strange is Brett Foxwell's 16-millimeter animation Buy American, in which a weird creature with an animal's skull for a head and coiled wire for a body battles a little tank with bicycle chains for treads; ultimately the tank uses a pile-driving arm to pulverize the skull. A great many works use found footage for a quick buzz: Mark Hejnar's black-and-white 16-millimeter 0502 sets cryptic shots of dancing girls wearing boxes for costumes to a weird soundscape of boings and oscillating tones, and Eric Fensler's GI Joe is a series of oblique narratives created by dubbing half-decipherable dialogue onto old animated TV commercials for the G.I. Joe toys. Music videos are central to the series, linking the films and the live show, and here they're as feverishly imaginative as the straight experimental work. The Brothers Quay created the chilling black-and-white 35-millimeter film Can't Go Wrong Without You (1993): set to a song by His Name Is Alive, it pits the grim reaper against an animated stuffed rabbit spied through a keyhole. Even at the low end of the production scale, the music stuff can be remarkably lively, like the 8-millimeter highway shots Gus Frej combines with a Bob Seger song in Ramblin' Gamblin' Man. 102 min. (JJ) Among the live acts are Environmental Encroachment, Dragons 1976, Andrew Bird, A Grape Dope, and Jugglers Against the War. (Biograph, 8:00)

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8

Polyester

John Waters tried to parlay his shrewdly developed media image as the master of bad taste into mass-market success with this 1981 parody of the suburban melodrama of the 1950s, but the transition from underground to aboveground took its toll: this is a rather tame exercise, even with the nasal affront originally provided by Waters's "Odorama." Waters shot in 35-millimeter here for the first time and got a more polished performance than usual from his perennial star, Divine, but the heightened professionalism doesn't serve Waters's slapdash, sophomoric wit all that well: the film is too slick and knowing for its own anarchic good. Tab Hunter joins the Waters regulars and pitches in, wholeheartedly, with their enthusiastic overacting; he's really not bad, which tends to spoil the nasty joke of the casting. 86 min. (DK) The festival organizer hopes to distribute Odorama cards for the film, and Waters will introduce the screening, a benefit for Open Hand Chicago and Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline; tickets are $6. (Biograph, 6:00)

Program two

These 15 films and videos are less consistent than those on the opening-night program, but a handful are excellent. By far the evening's best music video, Raymond S. Persi and Matthew Nastuk's black-and-white 35-millimeter animation Ghost of Stephen Foster (1999) pays tribute to Dave Fleischer's surreal Betty Boop cartoons; the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who provide the song, appear in a live shot at the beginning appropriately dressed like Cab Calloway and his band. Kenneth Glynn's rotoscope video animation Rorschach (1993) opens with a psychiatrist quizzing his patient about ink blots, a premise that allows Glynn to incorporate an extraordinary range of art media. Eric Dyer's video animation Kinetic Sandwich examines the title snack in microscopic detail--bubbles boiling in Swiss cheese, patterns of fat in meat, rustling cavities in a slice of bread. Two of the political shorts are goofy enough to transcend their heavy-handed messages: in Skizz Cyzyk's video Damn You Mr. Bush! a ukulele player offers a sprightly protest song ("A president ought to serve his people / But all you serve is corporate greed and evil"), and in Bryan Boyce's State of the Union (2001) the president's head becomes a sun rising over a meadow of oil wells where rabbits are taken out by smart bombs. John Waters, the patron saint of this whole enterprise, will introduce a rare screening of his 1969 short The Diane Linkletter Story. (JJ) Among the live acts are Dr. Killbot, Environmental Encroachment, the Windy City Slickers, and the Chicago Kings. (Biograph, 8:00)

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