Reel World

Teknolust; That Is a Family!

GatticaResplendent in a red gown and black wig, Tilda Swinton looks more than a little like a 21st-century Hedy Lamarr. She extends her hand in greeting, showing off the scarlet, squared-off fingernails her character plugs into phone jacks for a recharge. A minute later, Swinton has swapped the dazzling red for brilliant green, the black topper for Kim Novak blond. She's no longer Ruby but Marine, and after nailing two takes she changes yet again, into Olive. These ravishing ladies are, alas, cyborgs, created by a biogeneticist named Rosetta -- the fourth character Swinton plays in Lynn Hershman Leeson's futuristic fantasia, Teknolust. Out on Third Street, at Custer Avenue Stages, the future has great taste.

Dubbed "a cyber-vampire morality tale," the film deals with the usual postindustrial themes that Leeson (Conceiving Ada) traffics in, namely privacy, identity, and reality. The plot defies summarization, except as a question: What makes us -- and keeps us -- human in a world of limitless technological possibility? Film history may provide a clue, Leeson says. "Ruby absorbs seduction scenes from old movies -- The Man With the Golden Arm, Butterfield 8-- in her sleep, then acts them out in real life." Leeson always tackles her sci-fi meditations with state-of-the-art tools; this time around she's working with the same high-definition, 24-frame digital video camera that George Lucas used to shoot his next preadolescent epic.

Karen Black plays a transvestite ("We shot it in Davis, where she looked chic," Leeson says with a burst of laughter) and Jeremy Davies (the coward in Saving Private Ryan) is a copy-shop employee. But today is the last day of shooting, and the only thesp in sight is Tilda. The sound of hammering bleeds onto the set, prompting somebody to say, "We've got some elves." Swinton responds, "I can hear them making small shoes." She continues acting by (and with) herself, effortlessly switching characters and places, playing a duet with cinematographer Hiro Narita (Never Cry Wolf). The producers hope to have Teknolust ready for Cannes in May.

Gabriel Over the White House The palace on Pennsylvania Ave, in case you've never been, has a movie theater filled with 175 blue velvet seats. (It doesn't have stadium seating or digital satellite projection, though I'll bet Dubbya upgrades before the release of a certain preadolescent epic.) For the recent screening of S.F. filmmakers Debra Chasnoff and Helen Cohen's That Is a Family! -- a survey of non-vanilla families aimed at children, which pissed off Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association with its inclusion of gay parents -- the room was packed with heavy hitters. "We got in the same room with over a hundred national leaders of organizations that work on behalf of children's family, civil rights, and education issues," Chasnoff reported from her office two days after the event. "That they took time out of their schedules was amazing to us."

The event featured bigwigs from mainstream groups such as the PTA, Girl Scouts, and YWCA, all of which have recommended the film as consistent with their own missions. "It's a priority to be working on a more inclusive message around diversity, and they're looking for resources to help them do that," Chasnoff explained. Recalling the reception in the Indian Treaty Room, she confided, "It doesn't get much better, when you're an activist filmmaker."

 
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