Outside the Loop 

Famous and obscure featured in Sun Valley film series

Film festivals may be sprouting like coffee shops in Idaho, but film series remain a rare commodity—and there is a difference. Festivals show the cutting edge, the recently unearthed, the projects that only industry insiders know about and can obtain (and, in many cases, that should have stayed inside). Film series, on the other hand, show movies from off the beaten path—the modern classics and genre-defining works. They give media-hungry youth the chance to beef up on the names they need to be able to drop, and allow dyed-in-the-wool cinephiles a haven in which to wax philosophical without fear of getting their heads crammed into a multiplex toilet. And then, sometimes—if you're lucky enough to live near someplace like Blaine County—not only will a film series focus on great filmmakers, but the filmmakers themselves will pop in to talk about their films and bring along some of their own favorite flicks. Such is the case with the Outside the Loop independent film series being presented this week by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. Here's the lineup:

Thursday, January 12

The series starts with a double feature at the Magic Lantern Theater in Ketchum (7 p.m., $25), of two films from director Terry Zwigoff that reinforce just how much cooler life is for filmmakers than for the rest of us shlubs. For the first, the hour-long 1986 documentary Louie Bluie, Zwigoff tracked down the man who made his favorite old blues (or more specifically, country-blues) album and simply let the 75-year-old musician casually spin yarn after bawdy yarn about his life and his many, many lusts. The subject, Howard Armstrong, died in 2003, but his oral history hasn't lost any of its swing or hilarity in the last two decades.

Zwigoff's second—and perhaps best-known—film, the 1994 documentary Crumb, caps off the evening. For this second slap in the face to people who wish they could simply go through life making movies about their favorite stuff, Zwigoff spent six years following around his good friend, once-underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. ("Once" because Crumb's Complete Works are mainstream to the point of being available at the Boise Public Library.) Interviewing friends, siblings, former girlfriends and basically anyone who was willing to talk about Crumb's legendary familial dysfunction and compulsion for self-disclosure through cartoons, Zwigoff presents one of the most acclaimed and penetrating biography flicks in decades. The price may seem steep for two films that could probably be pirated for free on the Internet, but here's the icing: Zwigoff will be present and will lead a post-film discussion.

Friday, January 13

Vermont sheep rancher and prolific indie filmmaker John O'Brien is the other director to be featured in the Outside the Loop series, and with good reason. For the last 10 years, O'Brien has been doing for rural New England what Napoleon Dynamite did for Idaho, Fargo did for North Dakota, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes did for the vegetable patch, gently hoisting regional stereotypes to improbably enthusiastic national acceptance. The "star" in his 1998 mockumentary Man with a Plan (7 p.m., The Mint, $7.50), was a real 72-year-old farmer named Fred Tuttle, who played himself, only a version of himself making an unlikely run for Congress in a last-ditch effort to save his dairy farm. After the film's release, Tuttle got downright Napoleonic, making all manner of television appearances and even undertaking a real life (albeit brief) stab at politics. Though he died in 2003, a handful of still-extant Fred fan sites show just how loyal modern audiences can be to a single well-done character (head over to www.fredsociety.com to get your "Fred is my co-pilot" bumpersticker). Short of buying the film from O'Brien's site (www.bellwetherfilms.com), this film is downright impossible to catch in Idaho, so to see it complete with a post-screening discussion led by O'Brien is a rare treat indeed.

Saturday, January 14

click to enlarge AMERICAN MOVIE
  • American Movie

O'Brien's personal selection for the series is American Movie (Noon, Magic Lantern Theater, $7.50), Greg Smith's already legendary 1999 documentary about a Wisconsin ne'er-do-well who is driven to make the film of his lifetime, as well as a handful of other pieces of crap. Every scene of the film is so perfectly executed, every line by main character Mark Borchardt so bizarrely eloquent, that it feels like a fake documentary. But in actuality, American Movie resides somewhere between the feels-too-realistic-to-be-fake comedies like Man With a Plan and feels-too-personal-to-be-real documentaries like Crumb. It's a fantastic inclusion that reinforces just how sorely we've been lacking great film series in this state (get off your ass, Boise State!).

Zwigoff's selection is the 2002 drama City of Ghosts (2:30 p.m., Magic Lantern Theater, $7.50). This moody, atmospheric film is known only for being Matt Dillon's first and only venture into roles where his bionic chin and troubled teen mystique (aka, Tex-appeal) can't help him--those of "director" and "screenwriter." Set mainly in modern day Cambodia, it follows a guilty-minded insurance scam artist (Dillon) on a search through the jungle for his boss/father figure, played by James Caan. The film was panned in its brief theatrical run, and the last three years haven't helped it much. There are many forgettable lines (mostly delivered by Dillon himself, oddly enough), a few baffling characters and at least one unforgivable scene. (Without giving too much away, let's just say that if Caan of The Godfather were to, by some trick of time and celluloid, see his future self's karaoke scene in City of Ghosts, he would undoubtedly kick his own ass). However, maybe Zwigoff knows something the rest of the film world doesn't—and as such, his introduction alone could be worth the price of admission.

Finally on Saturday, January 14, The Mint in Ketchum hosts a screening Zwigoff's most recent effort, Bad Santa (7 p.m., $7.50). This very-R-rated version of the Scrooge story stars Billy Bob Thornton as a whiskey-gulping, imminently suicidal and pee-stained department store Santa—complete with "angry elf"—who travels the country robbing shopping malls until his heart threatens to be melted by a pathetic latchkey kid and a very special lady with an unquenchable fetish for stuffing St. Nick's stocking. While not even remotely on par with Zwigoff's previous films, Bad Santa has its moments, the best (read: worst) of which could easily prove shocking enough to turn audience members into teetotaling Hare Krishnas. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, January 15

click to enlarge GHOST WORLD
  • Ghost World

The series ends with two highly acclaimed character studies, Zwigoff's Ghost World (Noon, Magic Lantern, $7.50) and O'Brien's Nosey Parker (2 p.m., Magic Lantern, $7.50). The former is a film interpretation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel about the joys and pitfalls of the cynical life, and it garnered Golden Globe nominations for both Thora Birch, as the lonely, cruel and hilarious shrew Enid, and for Steve Buschemi as the Robert Crumb-clone who is randomly targeted by Enid for torture, companionship and, eventually, a crude interchange bearing some superficial resemblance to romance.

The latter film is O'Brien's latest beaker of distilled Vermontonium, telling the story of a middle-aged shrink and his young wife who move to the country to breathe life into their childless marriage. What they find, on the other hand, is—again—a charming, elderly yokel whose unexpected wit and wisdom stimulates the bride and titillates the townsfolk. In its rare reviews, Nosey Parker has received praise on par with Man with a Plan, especially for O'Brien's choice to again use his actual neighbors instead of trained actors. Good luck seeing this film anywhere else anytime soon—but that's exactly the point of being Outside the Loop.

E-mail questions or comments on this story to Nicholas@boiseweekly.com.

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