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Cigarettes, Cars, Landscapes

Veteran Durham filmmaker and curator Tom Whiteside is bringing an eclectic and inventive program to Ringside this Friday. Whiteside has titled his program Cigarettes, Cars, Landscapes, and he will be presenting about a dozen films arranged around these three themes. Despite the hipness of the venue, it's worth noting that the smokers among us may feel just a little less cool afterward.

Whiteside will be showing a rarely seen Les Blank short called Cigarette Blues, which includes authentic footage of bluesman Sonny Rhodes performing in an archetypal Delta juke joint, and singing an angry lament about a lover lost to lung cancer. Mary Filippo takes an artier tack with her equally impassioned Who Do You Think You Are, in which she employs mixed-media tactics to castigate herself for, among other things, buying into consumerist fantasies by adopting a cigarette habit. Whiteside will also offer a glimpse into silent-era esoterica, with two nicotine-related shorts shot before World War I.

The smoke clears for the rest of the program. In the Cars segment, Whiteside has assembled films that promise campy thrills and chills. He's located high-quality prints of 1950s infomercials about the latest Chevy pickups, made by the Jam Handy production company "that (unwittingly) blazed the trail in corporate surrealism," according to Whiteside's notes.

In the program's third group, Landscapes, Whiteside puts his own best foot forward with a series of abstract films that he made in the 1980s. The films are landscape studies that feature shifting exposures and other optical tricks in order to create serene panoramas of changing shapes. However, Whiteside eschews the sentimentality of calendar art. He seems to be seeking a kind of perceptive bliss in which his leaves and trees cease to become organic and are apprehended instead as unique shapes. Whiteside and his two children, Alice and Ripley, will assist our contemplation by performing a live score for these films.

Cigarettes, Cars, Landscapes will be screened three times this Friday night--9, 10:30 and midnight. Each screening will be different, but will include films from all three categories. But, fair warning: You might want to leave your cigarettes at home. See "Special Showings" for details. --David Fellerath

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