In my review of the “Pretty Things: Highlight Reel” (8/24/03), I was kind of rough on pretty things Michael Lucid and Amanda Quinn. While I found some of their gender-bending comedy sketches good campy fun, I mostly felt left out of the joke by the rest. Or maybe I just didn’t get their insistent shtick. In any case, I did profess to loving their “Popcorn” skit, in which they “affectionately send-up” the whole art-house scene. When I again saw this short montage (consisting of the best moments from a recurring bit on the “Pretty Things” cable access show), this time in the context of the Slamdance Anarchy Online Festival, I loved it even more.
Lucid, who once worked at an L.A. art-house movie theater and obviously took copious notes, gets all the details of the scene just right, from the pseudo-intellectual patrons engaged in pseudo-intellectual conversations to the snotty theater workers to the artsy-fartsy films with artsy-fartsy titles like “Ivan’s Wheelbarrow”, “The Duchess’ Picnic”, and “Almost A Woman.” This is great stuff! The bits in the theater alone are priceless. There are the two box office attendants who cruelly ridicule the patrons on the other side of the (almost) soundproof glass. There are the dopey, valley girl snack bar workers who are like, soooo unimpressed by all the icky pretentiousness. Then there’s the masterstroke of dehumanizing the patrons as sketches on cardboard, an effect that would come off as a bit crude if it weren’t so damn funny. All of these things play well, but it’s the faux previews and clips from the art films themselves that really had me in stitches. I could expound on these mini-satires further, but I’d rather just tell you they’re each clever and hilarious in their own right.
Lucid not only co-wrote and co-directed “Popcorn”, he also turned in multiple comedic performances, ranging from various theater workers (some snotty, some clueless) to characters in the art films. His partner in crime is the equally talented Amanda Quinn. Lucid and Quinn are often dressed in drag, their genders reversed. This is more or less the “Pretty Things” shtick. I had problems with it in some of their other sketches, but in “Popcorn” it works wonders. Lucid is a born scene-stealer and even makes a great chick. Another great aspect of the cable show and especially this particular sketch is the ingenious use of obviously limited means with set designs and campy wardrobe. Sometimes it’s just not enough to ham it up, you’ve got to “look” it too. And these pretty things “look” it well.
For anyone who’s truly serious about film, the art-house scene is clearly the only place to be. I personally love them, the precious few that there are, and should probably feel implicated by this wicked send-up. But in the end, whom can you laugh at, if not yourself? And this is far from a scathing critique on places and films of this ilk; it’s actually a loving tribute to both their elegance and absurdity. To quote one of the theatergoers discussing a particularly “sophisticated” foreign film, “Popcorn” is “so brilliant I’m appalled!”