“Houston, We Have a Problem” tonight at Avant Garden

Judy Garlow

Judy Garlow, director of the short comedy Connect

As excited as I am about the Sundance Theater opening and Houston, once again, becoming a two art-house city it’s important to remember that real independent films rarely, if ever, make it to the big chain art houses. If you, like me, enjoy the gamble of watching truly indie film (with the inherent risk of watching utter dreck or divine transience) you’ll want want to check out Houston, We Have a Problem tonight at Avant Garden (411 Westhiemer) starting at 9 pm.

Tonight’s monthly film festival includes the usual mix of shorts, documentaries and trailers and the opportunity to talk with their creators. Scheduled films include Max Xandaux May by Rachel Estrada, Connect by Judy Garlow and a sneak peak at Mike James’ new thriller Jes’us.

There’s no charge for the event and Avant Garden is featuring $2 drink specials for attendees.

—  admin

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Filmmaker Arthur Dong talks up gay documentaries at UNT

The University of North Texas gets in on the master class action. The college brings in gay filmmaker Arthur Dong to speak to five classes about working as a documentarian. He will also screen films during his stay.

His 1997 film License to Kill focused on anti-gay murders, which lends itself to the hot topic of bullying and its effects on the community. Dong questions mainstream media’s light approach to the resurging trend.

“I think reporters should be asking parents, administrators what their role was in shaping a particular bully,” he says. “It seems as though they are not being called to question their part. That shows mainstream media and society still has an acceptance of an anti-gay society.”

Dong will discuss his work with LGBT documentaries for the class “Lesbian, Gay and Queer Film,” taught by Dr. Harry M. Benshoff, who invited the filmmaker. Overall, his visit to the college will have him discussing techniques in creating documentaries to five classes in UNT’s Radio, Film and TV curriculum.

“I had a master class when I was in film class and it made me think ‘I could really do this,’” he says. “But I wasnt to talk to students about the production side and what to do when they get out of school. I want to express there should be a balance. Because there is no money in changing the world. You can get awards and pats on the back, but you also gotta feed yourself.”

He will screen four of his films over the two days including Forbidden City U.S.A., Hollywood Chinese, Coming Out Under Fire and Family Fundamentals.

— R.L.

Lyceum of UNT’s University Union, 1155 Union Circle, Denton. Oct. 18–19 at 7:30 p.m.  Free. 940-565-2537. UNT.edu.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas