Hit it or quit it

Short takes on films at Frameline 31

Black White and Gray (James Crump, US, 2007) If Andre Téchiné's The Witnesses colors the early '80s red, this documentary about Sam Wagstaff (and by extension Robert Mapplethorpe) opts for a relatively bloodless palette. Though its voice-over shows class chauvinism in asserting that Patti Smith brought validity to punk, Black White and Gray perceptively uses its enigmatic subject as a window onto the changing role of photography within the art world. (Mapplethorpe's objectification of black men is left uncriticized.) Crump brings in some excellent sources, such as Hanuman publisher Raymond Foye. He also brings in at least one horrible blabbermouth: spewing bitter opinion, historian Eugenia Parry deserves every hearty hiss she's going to get from a Frameline crowd. The film ends on a flat note by allowing Smith to recite one of her pedestrian recent lyrics, but otherwise she's a trustworthy and likable source on the relationship between Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe. Maybe the DVD version will bring more of her reminiscences and less of Parry. (Johnny Ray Huston)

June 21, 7 p.m., Victoria

DarkBlueAlmostBlack (Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, Spain, 2006). The term Almodóvarian is being thrown around these days with almost the same frequency as the term Hitchcockian (Almodóvar's Bad Education was called Hitchcockian) and just as vaguely, but screenwriter-director Sánchez Arévalo's DarkBlueAlmostBlack is Almodóvarian, resembling his postscrewball phase: it has melodrama without histrionics, likable characters doing absurdly unlikable things and vice versa, malleable (different from queer) sexuality, and near-incestuous family dynamics. The only thing missing is a hideously decorated apartment. In a world littered with the fruits of vacant and wild-eyed Almodóvarians (see — or don't — Frameline 30's unintentional disaster film The Favor), a disciple with some chops is cause for applause. Bitterly funny and narratively exciting — it toys with an amiable glibness that always comes back from the brink with devastating human emotion —Sánchez Arévalo's dark but not quite jet-black comedy could be one of Almodóvar's strongest films. (Jason Shamai)

June 20, 9:30 p.m., Victoria

Finn's Girl (Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert, Canada, 2007). While other lesbians in the fest ponder whether to start a family, in Finn's Girl conception is a fait accompli. How exactly it was accomplished is a bit of a mystery, but more pressing questions present themselves. One is whether Finn, a workaholic running a besieged Toronto abortion clinic and mourning the death of her wife, will get her head blown off by antichoice snipers — apparently, religious wingnuts live in Canada too. Another is whether she's up for single-parenting the charming, precocious, enraged, and increasingly unmanageable Zelly, whose expressive 11-year-old eyes are particularly off-putting when narrowed above the smoke of a joint. Finn's Girl covers a lot of terrain (grief, reproductive rights and technology, the travails of parenting, tween sexuality) with a fairly light tread, though Zelly's scenes carry a particular charge of unpredictability. The result is a somewhat involving, sometimes sketchy picture of a family in transition. (Lynn Rapoport)

Sun/17, 12:30 p.m., Castro; Tues/19, 6:30 p.m., Parkway

Fun in Girls' Shorts (various). Excluding Filled with Water, a smart, beautifully shot animation about a woman who falls for a TV-enclosed ballerina, and Succubus, a semicomedic film about a lesbian couple struggling to have a child, adolescent identity issues and anxieties constitute the major themes of this short-film compilation.

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