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December 3, 1998 2:00 AM
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Flash, Trash and Panache at MIX '98

Flash, Trash and Panache at MIX '98

by Ed Halter




In an age when most gay and lesbian festivals cultivate an increasingly
mainstream profile, it's refreshing to see that the MIX: the New York
Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival
, still offers a walk on the
wild side. Take their notorious parties, for example. Orchestrated as
seedy throwbacks to the freewheeling days of Fassbinder and Warhol, this
year's after-hours bashes took place at a former speakeasy, squatish
punk pads in Brooklyn, and even a cyber-fetish club, and featured go-go
dancers, rock-and-roll drag queens and tons of vintage Super-8 porn.


Executive Director Rajendra Roy says that "there's a whole sea of gay
and lesbian festivals, and then there's MIX." The difference isn't just
that the MIX parties harder. The world's largest experimental film
festival of any orientation, the MIX goes the distance to screen
films-for-art's-sake in an indie boomtown that now more than ever favors
slick commercial viability. Artistic Director Anie Super 8 Stanley
stresses that the MIX is committed to remaining unique in an
increasingly homogenized gay film world. "We are intentionally trying
to single ourselves out of the lesbian and gay circuit, which has become
a comfortable, predictable niche," she says. "And a lot of our makers
don't necessarily show at those festivals, either due to the
experimental nature of their work or because they don't identify with
the mainstream gay culture."


Organizers report that the 12th MIX, which ran Nov. 18-22 at Anthology
Film Archives, received more widespread media attention than ever
before. Condensed from last year's sprawling 10-day event to five
tightly-programmed days, MIX 98 saw the highest per-screen attendance in
the fest's history. Stanley adds that the audience was considerably
younger than in previous years, in part due to the high number of
younger film and videomakers represented. Anthology's normally dreary
halls were jam-packed, festooned with red lights and smashed auto parts
in keeping with this year's "demolition derby" theme. On opening night,
filmmakers projected high-speed video images three screens high onto a
giant sheet covering the theater's facade.


Although far from an industry event, the MIX annually attracts
programmers from other gay and alternative festivals. This year was no
exception. Organizers of the New York, Montreal, Toronto and
Philadelphia gay fests scouted for new work, bumping shoulders with
gallery and museum curators and reps from such entities as the
avant-garde distributor Filmmaker's Co-op, the New York Film Festival's
"Views from the Avant Garde", Toronto's Splice This! Super 8 Festival,
and the NY Underground Film Festival.


A number of ingeniously themed programs were especially enticing to
audiences. As with any festival, of course, the offerings ran the gamut
from the sublimely beautiful to the pathetically lame. "Frankenstein's
Dreams
," a program of "queer animation", had more than a few stand-outs,
including Todd Downing's multi-festival fave "Dirty Baby Does Fire
Island
," underground maniac Martha Colburn's breathtaking nudie NASA
collage "Lift-Off," Moysis Antoniou's underpants parable "Anti-Panti"
and the truly bizarre "Mother Marilyn" by James McSwain, in which the
voice of an aged pansy emanating from a bathroom-stall glory-hole
relates the secret history of Marilyn and JFK's love-child. The
particularly well-programmed "Scared Stiff: Part Deux!" offered a
superior sequel to last year's popular queer horror show, and included
the goth gore-fest "Revelation" by SMX, wholesome Andrew Hiller's
cute-but-not-cloying "Fly Away Homo" (sure to be seen at other gay
fests), Slamdance screener "Split" by Erik Deutschman, and the unusually
slick, professionally-lensed "Hidden Child" by Brian Whitely, a Clive
Barkerish narrative with teenage male protagonists.


A special 8mm sidebar offered a number of programs devoted to the tiny
gauge, which is undergoing a renaissance of sorts with experimental and
mainstream filmmakers alike, despite stock companies and labs phasing
out Super 8. One show, the well-hyped "Avant Gauge", featured mostly
retrospective works like Super 8 reels from underground pioneer Jack
Smith and instantly-developed Polavision movies by Andy Warhol. Shot in
the late 70's, Warhol's films included shots of Factory regulars Taylor
Mead and Chris Makos, and celebrity hangers-on Liza Minelli and Phyllis
Diller.


Also under the 8mm banner was this year's most popular program, the
seductively-titled "Illicit Acts." The program showcased new Super 8
and regular 8mm shorts about scandalous subjects, commissioned for the
festival from noted gay and lesbian film personalities. Some
productions were finished so late that prints were hand-developed during
the screening (to various degrees of success, unfortunately).
Filmmakers included gay indie directors such as Mark Christopher, Isaac
Julien and Stephen Gallagher, experimental stalwarts Barbara Hammer and
Noam Gonick, underground scenesters Todd Verow and Anie Stanley, and
writers Wayne Koestenbaum and Aaron Krach. The results ranged from
self-absorbed to goofy to erotic, and the show's many technical delays
only added to the audience's raucous atmosphere.


Other themed programs included a youthful evening of queer punk works,
and a selection of hand-processed films. No feature-length works were
programmed this year; the longest work screened was the
critically-acclaimed "Flat is Beautiful" by Sadie Benning, clocking in
at 50 minutes. A unique aspect for 1998 was the festival's Camel Free
Day on Thursday, which offered a full day of free-of-charge programming
thanks to generous corporate sponsors Camel and The Advocate.


While the fest is non-competitive, it does offer prizes at an annual
open-call "Gong Show," in which a panel of bitchy sub-celebrities judge
films using Chuck Barris' notoriously vicious method - a cruel but
utterly satisfying tactic that organizers of other festivals should
envy. Grand prize went to videomaker Missy Galore for a stop-motion
animation piece of violent sex between two GI Joe action figures. The
award consisted of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin -- but only the
bottle, since its contents were finished off by the jury in the course
of the proceedings.


[Ed Halter is director of the New York Underground Film Festival,
www.nyuff.com]

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