sex, lies, & videotape

Veering off into madness with first-time moviemakers David Owen and Paul Stephen

An astonishing number of first-time filmmakers are indefatigable self-promoters -- witness the just-wrapped Sundance egofest -- but not S.F. State theater alums David Owen and Paul Stephen. When I praise their daring in careening between farce and psychodrama (frequently in the same scene) in their comedic debut Stuck, they stammer and cough. "For me, it would have been more ambitious to do a straight comedy and cram the most laughs per minute in there," says Owen, who wrote the script. Jumping back and forth between funny and serious was the easy way out, he suggests, only to give himself away a few moments later. "We were inspired by films like Short Cuts or Magnolia that do both full-blown comedy and full-blown drama, are about real people, and veer off into some kind of madness."

Stuck unfurls the surreal missteps of five friends leading up to their getting landwrecked in a dead car on the road to Las Vegas. Excepting a bravura sepia-toned silent-film sequence, Stephen and Owen shot the picture in no-frills black-and-white video. But rather than expound on how their rigorous denial of color is an homage to the radical Vladivostok school of Soviet expressionism, Stephen says, "We were learning the process and it was one less thing to deal with." Adds the equally self-deprecating Owen, "When you're flying by the seat of your pants, video's perfect."

Stephen and Owen, who's also a member of the comedy troupe Totally False People, play two of the leads in Stuck. But they're hooked on directing, with Stephen developing a hot-rod epic set in 1950s Bakersfield. "It's a white-trash Ben-Hur," cracks Owen. In the meantime, Stuck has its world premiere as part of the fifth annual S.F. Independent Film Festival, screening Feb. 7 at the Digital MovieHouse, 1306 Mission (at Ninth Street); Feb. 11 at the Roxie Cinema; and Feb. 16 at the Expression Center for New Media in Emeryville. Details are at www.sfindie.com.

Stolen Kisses French critics, writing in Cahiers du cinéma in the '50s, were the first to recognize the artistry of Hollywood-based "genre" filmmakers like Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, and Alfred Hitchcock. Berkeley's Johnnie Lieske, a devotee of '60s Gallic pop music (and partner in the "Bardot A Go Go" club night with SF Weekly's Dan Strachota), aims to return the favor. He's off to Paris for six months to gather materials, contacts, and a French co-producer for Bardot A Go Go, a feature-length documentary targeted to American audiences.

"I would like to have very little narration," says Lieske, who's spun French wax in clubs and on KALX-FM (90.7) for the last 10 years. "The plan is to use lots of animation and collage-type graphics to make segues." Lieske will wrap the history in humor, whimsy, color, and -- naturellement -- music, drawing on acres of vintage TV performance footage and Scopitones (the precursors to music videos that played on visual jukeboxes). Like every other filmmaker, he's in the market for money. "I've got all this stuff and it's waiting to explode," Lieske says with a laugh. "I'm packing the powder keg and a good $50,000 fuse could make it blow up."

Damnation Alley The Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley absolutely, positively closes Feb. 2 with The Shining and Groundhog Day. Keep an eye out for programmer Keith Arnold's inspired double bills at local theaters over the next 18 months while the FAC's luscious new home is built. ... Industrial Light + Magic and Skywalker Sound will be saluted Feb. 6-16 in L.A. at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre. George Lucas, the shyest man on the planet except when anybody's giving him an award or a microphone, will show up opening night to regale his fans with visions of the digital future.

 
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