Stealing Beauty

Le Cercle Rouge, an almost perfect crime movie

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Le Cercle Rouge is about as cool a movie as you'll find, and, in the end, that is its blessing and its curse. I first saw Melville's film many years ago (on one of those horrible, hacked and dubbed videotapes) and, frankly, I initially found it oddly muted, even dispassionate, its plot routine and its ending anti-climatic. I remember being frustrated by what appeared to be the characters' lack of emotion and even doubted the filmmaker's connection to those characters. It took me a long time to "get" Le Cercle Rouge.

Seeing the original, uncut version of the film certainly helped, but what sealed my conversion was finally being able to appreciate the movie for what it is: a total command of form. In Le Cercle Rouge, Melville distills narrative and character down to an essence of looks and gestures that's nearly Zen-like (there's that word again), with performances that become all the more iconic for being so understated you might think the actors were flat-lining.

I'm not suggesting that Le Cercle Rouge is some sort of existential anti-thriller, but bear in mind that the movie probably does have as much in common with Camus' The Stranger as it does with The French Connection. After all, this is one crime caper where everyone's fate is sealed from the start, where not much separates the cops from the crooks, and where characters smile ever so slightly as they say things like, "Crime lurks within us all," and "All men are guilty." Mel Gibson would be pleased.

Barney and Friends: The Return of the Ybor Festival of the Moving Image

Mothers, lock up your children. The Ybor Festival of the Moving Image is back in town.

Organized by David Audet in conjunction with Hillsborough Community College, YFMI is not your parents' film festival. In fact, some of the films aren't even films at all.

The Festival of the Moving Image incorporates performance art, live music, works-in-progress, digital sculpture and site-specific installations, taking an approach to filmmaking that's anything but traditional. If this year's event is anything like last year's, it's best to simply expect the unexpected. YFMI can sometimes be almost painfully arty, but it's also playful, spontaneous, unabashedly experimental and just a wee bit subversive.

This year's festival takes place from March 14 to March 21, with over 60 works being presented at venues including Madstone, Tampa Theatre, Centro Ybor, the HCC Performing Arts Theater, HCC Ybor Room, and the HCC Art Gallery. Numerous workshops, lectures and discussion groups are also scheduled throughout the festival's eight days, with many of the filmmakers and artists planning to be in attendance. Installations and multimedia art shows will be popping up at various locations as well, and a mobile work of art dubbed "Transmission" — a rented 14-foot moving truck, actually, complete with projector screens and a speaker system — will be cruising around town showing videos.

Probably the most exciting news of all is the festival's screenings of Matthew Barney's already legendary Cremaster cycle in its entirety, presented in all its 35mm glory. For those unfamiliar with Barney or his films, the thirtysomething enfant terrible is considered by many to be the most important (and controversial) artist to have emerged in the past decade. Barney's art thrives on mystery and, in any event, it's difficult to assign fixed meanings to what he does. After all, we're talking about a guy who made his rep videotaping himself bound and naked, crawling across a ceiling, while applying cooled Vaseline to various bodily orifices.

Barney's fascination with petroleum and goo of all sorts has persisted throughout a slippery (literally) body of work that has found its most succinct expression in the Cremaster films. These films are obsessed with physical and, I suppose, spiritual transformations, inspired as much by the transgressive, fetish-istic cinema of Bunuel, Lynch and Cronenberg as by the body-oriented performance art of Chris Burden and Vito Acconci. You can't help but get the feeling there's a certain amount of gratuitous jerking of chains going on in the films, but there's more than a little that's brilliant here, too.

The Festival of the Moving Image opens on March 14 at Madstone, with a 2 p.m. matinee of Barney's Cremaster 1 and Cremaster 2. The first film features Vaseline sculptures, Goodyear blimps, and a troupe of dancing girls performing on the blue Astroturf of the Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. The second film is a metaphorical re-imagining of the murderer Gary Gilmore, complete with bees, salt flats, a glacier, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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