Vanity, Ugly Vanity | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Vanity, Ugly Vanity 

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I've never been a fan of the "this film's so bad it's good" aesthetic, but Donnie T. Tremors's Vanity, Ugly Vanity has such an absurd plot and extravagant mix of bizarre characters that I rather enjoyed it. Completed recently while he was a student at the School of the Art Institute, it's the antithesis of slick: the lighting is often mismatched, the images are sometimes washed- out, the performances take bad student-film acting to a whole new level of abrasiveness. The plot includes a half-man, half-bear character named Billy Bear Cub who hosts a children's TV show; some malevolent businessmen who by the film's end are dancing around in drag; and beauty salons called Milk and Honey, whose "ultimate goal," announces one of their owners, "is to milk the clients." "I was interested in examining issues of gender and race relations through high camp," says Tremors, "and the way that makeup and drag and play can create these fluid boundaries of gender." But the film's continual stylistic and narrative shifts make everything fluid: anything can lead to anything else, one can't develop empathy with any of the characters, and viewing it is like watching TV while someone else switches channels. The exotically shaped wipes Tremors sometimes uses to link scenes recall 50s commercial filmmaking but at the same time have the effect of an abrupt cut, making each new scene grow out of the previous one. The narrative, camera work, and noisy, cluttered sound track give the film a consistently high level of hysteria, keeping it from achieving any conventional "meaning" but also keeping it lively. Tremors's amusing short Prude Slut is also being shown. Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln, Thursday, December 21, 8:00, 327-6666.

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