Fest for the Senses

Brainwash Movie Festival

Sundance has its Slamdance, Slumdance, and, yes, even Son-of-Sam Dance. Here in the Bay Area, where plush megafests saturate their fair share of local screen space, we have the Brainwash Movie Festival as a local version of these upstarts. (Perhaps its organizers could rename it Braindance.) This traveling indoor/ outdoor video show bills itself as "your alternative to the alternatives," and, now in its fifth and a half year, it has become a local fave noted for its bizarre venues (drive-ins, brick walls, storefronts) and wacky assemblages of 13-minute-or-less shorts from all over the world in every imaginable visual medium. The approximate two-hour running time makes this show one of the more enticing on the bloated festival circuit.

Not all the entries rise to the level of buoyant insanity that's de rigueur for this fest. Robert Strauss' Fortune Tell is a handsome but predictable tale of disturbingly insightful fortune cookies, and Hot Tub Man's The Row, with its vaguely "naughty" found footage and forgettable title ditty, ultimately fails to engage.

On the upside, from Orlando's Pixel Factory comes Psycho Legos, a letter-perfect reconstruction of Psycho's shower scene shot in Pixelvision and played by Lego characters. How this enchanting miniature wrings pathos out of such outré motifs as perfect-square blood drops and blank-faced Lego dolls is as mysterious as this video's atmosphere. Local boy Dean Mermell weighs in with two solid works; The Daughters of Ishtar is a fine entry in the naked-desert-hippies-brandishing-torches genre. And less Dionysian but charming nonetheless is Modern Life, which puts a sweet silent-film-style overlay on its suggestion that a rich interior life -- here the dancing ghosts of two burned-out moderns -- always trumps the dull horror of work.

More frenzied is Johanna Hibbard's Madame D.J. This hyperventilating miniepic skewers A Tale of Two Cities via a jittery ensemble of cutout dolls that scream and rap semicoherently about "liberté" and "egalité." Equally overcaffeinated is Mark Haren's Sleepless Movie, a too-accurate rendering of the visual and verbal madness that afflicts the insomniac. Watch out for the twirling psychotic sandman!

The Brainwash Movie Festival screens Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. at the Werepad (2430 Third St., S.F., 824-7334) and Sunday at 7 and 10 p.m. at Tuva (3192 Adeline, Berkeley, 510/655-9755). Admission is $5.50 in advance, $6 at the door; call 273-1545 for more information.

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