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Remembering LA’s Bunker Hill

A scene from Danny Ledonne’s “Playing Columbine.” Danny Ledonne/http://aspieseekslove.com/press/

Many critics found Sean Baker’s “Tangerine” — a funky but whimsical day in the life of transgender sex workers in LA — refreshing in its combination of real life and fictional narrative.

More than 50 years earlier, Kent Mackenzie had done something similar, minus the whimsy, in “The Exiles” (1961). Shot in noirish black and white with dubbed narration and sound, Mackenzie’s film profiles the Los Angeles neighborhood of Bunker Hill, an enclave of down-and-out Native Americans. From dusk to dawn Mackenzie shows the small joys and big frustrations experienced as various people meet, drink, have kicks, and squabble.

The film is all that’s left of Bunker Hill. Despite its hardships and poverty, it was nonetheless a community. Urban renewal and gentrification projects leveled it. The film almost didn’t survive either, but it screens in a restored version on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge. One of the experts responsible for the restoration, film archivist and filmmaker Ross Lipman, will be available after the screening for discussion.

For more information go to www.hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/films/2015decfeb/exiles.html.


Welles’s spells

The Orson Welles we first meet in his final released film, the documentary “F for Fake” (1973), is an enormous black tent of a magician who intones spells and riddles with that unmistakable voice. Don’t trust him: He doesn’t tell the truth. But he does entertain.

In this hall of narrative mirrors, Welles tells the tale of the legendary art forger Elmyr de Hory, in the course of which he interviews one of his subject’s acquaintances, Clifford Irving, who turns out to be in the midst of a fraud himself – a bogus autobiography of Howard Hughes. By the time Welles brings up his own infamous “War of the Worlds” radio hoax and a scam to rip off Picasso, you won’t know whom to believe, nor care, because being deceived by a master magician is a lot of fun.


You can see “F for Fake” in the Science on Screen series, Monday at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. The guest speaker is Richard Newman, head of scientific research at the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the few scientific analysis labs housed in American art museums. He’ll explain how to tell the difference between a real masterpiece and a fake. Or is there one?

For more information go to www.coolidge.org/films/f-fake.

First-person shooter

At first glance, a video game based on the Columbine massacre would seem the height of bad taste at best, and at worst the epitome of popular culture’s malignant influence on real behavior.

That impression might change after a viewing of “Playing Columbine” (2008), Emerson College alumnus Danny Ledonne’s documentary about his own video game, “Columbine Massacre RPG!,” in which players can assume the identity of one of the two shooters involved in the mass killings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Though Ledonne’s intention was to make a game that showed the consequences of violence and compels the player to identify with the killer and so be implicated in the crime, most people didn’t see it that way. Instead, they condemned Ledonne for exploiting the tragedy, and when the shooter in the Dawson College killings in Montreal in 2006 was discovered to have been a fan of the game, Ledonne was seen as an instigator of similar violence.


“Playing Columbine” presents interviews with speakers from different points of view, and confronts such issues as freedom of expression, the impact of media, and the ethical responsibilities of artists. He’ll be on hand to discuss all of this with Emerson faculty member David Kocie after the film’s screening on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Bright Screening Room in the Paramount Center at Emerson.

For more information go to www.emerson.edu/brightlights.

Look of love

“He hates sports, family values, religion, and feel-good movies,” reads the first personal ad flier that David Matthews, who has Asperger’s syndrome, posts in his suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood in 1995. From that self-description it would seem probable that he wouldn’t like Julie Sokolow’s documentary about him, “Aspie Seeks Love.” It’s a feel-good movie – but also inspiring, and often hilarious.

Matthews gets no response from this first flier. But he’s stubborn. He posts flyers for the next 15 years without success.

Perhaps he needs an environment more cosmopolitan than Pittsburgh. He dresses like a hipster in a long herringbone tweed coat and a classy hat, with retro glasses and an ironic expression. He has a quick wit so subtle and dark that many people don’t get it. At Christmas – one of the occasions, along with Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and his birthday, highlighted in Sokolow’s film – Matthews explains to some merrymakers that, as an atheist, he doesn’t celebrate the holiday. He points out that it’s when the most people commit suicide; and if they don’t, they should. “They seemed offended by that,” Matthews notes, dryly.


His therapist tells him he has trouble reading the subtle signs of social communication, like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These suggestions help Matthews when he switches from fliers to the Internet to escape his solitude. That proves more of a success, but when he and his date meet face-to-face, it seems the problem might be people can’t make out what he’s thinking and feeling, not the other way around.

He’s not an easy read. He speaks with the same exaggerated, drawled speech pattern (“like a friendly robot,” an unsuccessful date remarks) regardless of what is being said. Combined with a lisp, it sounds like William F. Buckley Jr. doing an imitation of Snagglepuss.

Matthews’s self-deprecating superciliousness disguises the fact that he is usually the smartest and funniest guy in the room. And maybe the one with the most empathy. Because he works at it, and a lot of people don’t give it a second thought.

“Aspie Seeks Love” is available on iTunes and Amazon.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.