Zoom Lens

The film festival scene in the Bay Area has become so bloated -- er, rich -- that it's easy to lose track of some of the smaller, more seductive venues. That would be a shame in the case of MadCat (full name: the second annual MadCat Women's International Film Festival), a streamlined showcase for women filmmakers running a manageable three days and featuring three full-length movies and about 50 shorts. Two of the features, Vera Chytilova's legendary Daisies (showing opening night, this Friday) and Doris Wishman's notorious-or-oughta-be Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965; screening Saturday), explore some of the most extreme cinematic territory. Wishman's borderline-roughie is classically bad-good sexploitation. The plot is simple enough: A businessman neglects his clinging wife (who looks like a grindhouse whore); she's raped by a janitor and runs off to New York, where she meets various violent alcoholics and lesbians. Wishman was a prolific filmmaker with a recognizable if mindless style -- mostly consisting of interminable pacing, awful post-dubbing, and numbingly long shots of things like wallpaper and ashtrays -- but attempts to recast her as a secret feminist are unsupported by the films. Her "bad girl" is a brainless masochist who, like other Wishman heroines, laps up the abuse. Fans of mondo cinema will want to add this notch to their belt, but for some, the "hell" this "bad girl" goes to is surely the film itself. On the other hand, Daisies, which was shot in 1966 and shows it in every frame, unleashes its thrillingly violent women on a regimented world. This avant-garde masterpiece of the 1960s Czechoslovakian riot grrrl genre follows two self-styled "spoiled swingers," both named Marie, as they date and terrorize various older men, take baths together, eat everything in sight, giddily destroy entire rooms, and engage in sarcastic philosophical debates ("There's no proof you exist!"). Chytilova, whose visual style is as enticingly chaotic as her characters, disguises a scathing social critique behind the absurdist pranks and Pippi Longstocking-like antics of her two laughing heroines. An unqualified must-see.

-- Gary Morris

The MadCat Women's International Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday, May 15-17, at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), showing more than 50 shorts and features over the course of 12 different programs. Admission is $7 for most programs, $8.50 for opening night. Call 436-9523 for more information; the Roxie's number is 863-1087.

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