If you haven’t already been, there’s a charming theater tucked into a shoebox near Lake Street and Hiawatha. Did I say tucked into a shoebox? Well, not quite, but the Trylon Microcinema is, as it’s name suggests, a bit bijou. It seats all of 50 people, and you enter through a large gallery, purchase your tickets and concessions in what seems to be a closet, and then press on into a foot locker to enjoy the film. And then you take your settle into a red velvet cinema seat, the lights go down, and, like magic, you discover you’re actually in a movie theater and a fairly comfortable one at that.
It’s possible to rent the space out. My girlfriend and I did it a few months ago for a public presentation of a documentary she had directed about giant roadside attractions — I had been the cameraman for the film. There’s nothing quite like watching something you have lensed on an actual movie screen, even if you get the sneaking suspicion that you might actually be in a diorama a child is presenting before his classroom.
Two filmmakers will be taking over the theater tonight to show their work, calling the program “Tales From the Twin Cities,” and I have gotten a preview of what they have to offer, and can recommend it, albeit with a caveat. The caveat is as follows: They are film students, or, at least, were when many of these short films were made. There is some necessary amateurishness that accompanies this. But I have seen a lot of student films that are perfectly wretched, and these are fun and imaginative, and that goes a long way in my book.
The first filmmaker is a fellow named JP Wenner, and he’s a productive sort, shooting a lot of short films. Wenner has a taste for exploitation and genre films, and has, with more or less success, tried his hand at a zombie film, a martial arts movie, a space opera, a ghost story, and an Indiana Jones-style adventure that stars bottles of hard liquor in costumes. (You can see some of these on YouTube.) Many of these films feature a young actress named Rachel Grubb, who shows up with some frequency in locally filmed small-budget films, and who seems to have spent the past few years remaking herself into somebody you might imagine starring in a Poverty Row 1940s crime film. She seems to have succeeded admirably, and now somebody needs to start making those sorts of films again to make proper use of her.
Wenner’s films often look like the sort of thing children with Super-8 cameras used to make in their backyard, which has a rough but genuine charm, and he certainly has mastered one detail of exploitation filmmaking. Specifically, the moment when everything goes haywire and the film suddenly turns into a collusion between colored lights, Dutch angles, and distorting lenses to give the sense that everything had erupted into madness, or some drug has taken effect, or an especially interesting party has broken out. You used to see this quite often in 1960s and ’70s horror and drug films, and, now that I think about it, the “Batman” television show, but it isn’t much used any more and it’s nice to see it revived.
The second student filmmaker on display tonight will be somebody named Roger Davidson with a half-hour short called “Street Hassle,” which I suspect took its name from a Lou Reed song, which shows extraordinarily good taste. The subject matter might have come out of a Lou Reed song as well. Davidson’s film details the troubled relationship between a young woman (KariAnn Craig) with a Bettie Page haircut, except blonde, who stupidly lets an emotionally unstable male prostitute (Colin Tokheim) move in with her and then is surprised when he tosses her stuff around the apartment.
The film is shot in a grainy, washed-out 16mm stock, or something meant to simulate the look, and radiates earnestness. There are a lot of close-ups of people smoking, or grimacing, and the set seems cluttered with empty bottles. It’s not quite one of Andy Warhol’s early films, which had a studied nonchalance, and after the third or fourth cigarette is smoked and people start grimacing again, it’s easy to wish the film was a bit more deadpan. But then, toward the end, there is an unexpectedly graphic and violent sex scene, and, bang, suddenly it’s filmmaking: unexpected, disquieting, and memorable.
Let me finish this by talking for just a moment about candy. I always buy concessions from the Microcinema, out of politeness, but my usual moviegoing haunt is Block E, and I sneak candy in there. Firstly, their selection is unimpressive, and secondly I can’t afford the second mortgage I would have to take out to make the purchase. Best still, Block E is just around the corner from Candyland, which has been a Minnesota institution since 1932 and still sells you candy in little paper bags. They have quite a selection, and it changes seasonally. I bought a few bags last night, under the pretext of reviewing them for this column, but the truth is I just wanted some candy.
I bought myself some buttered peanuts, which I always purchase, even though they make a lot of noise when you eat them. If you’re ever at Block E and hear what sounds like a thresher working its way through a patch of gravel, you’ve probably sat near me. I also purchased some cinnamon gummy bears, which are precisely what they sound like, except they’re oversized and red, as though gummy bears have an allergic reaction to cinnamon that causes them to swell up. I got a stick of chocolate fudge, which is only a dollar and I believe they make there, and I don’t think I need to explain why I bought fudge. When fudge is available, you buy it, if you have any sense at all. I also bought some gummy candy shaped to look like soda bottles that tastes quite a bit like cola, presumably for people who like Coca-Cola, but have a terrible need to ingest it in novel forms. And, because of the season, I bought something called a snowball, which is a coconut-covered candy that tastes an awful lot like a Mounds bar, and, if you get sick of eating it, you can presumably throw it at somebody, or build a little sugary snowman out of it.
I have a terrible feeling I will be searched the next time I go to Block E. Oh well, I’ll just close my eyes and pretend I’m flying somewhere exotic.