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Hoffman’s life story, the film is rushed and confusing, there are distracting loops in the chronology, and apparently for dramatic reasons a preposterous attempt to give Hoffman sole credit for exposing the F.B.I.’s notorious COINTELPRO assault on dissent and civil liberties. From the festival program notes it appears that the film has already been re-edited at least once, and since everything about it, including the line readings, is rough-cut, the film’s success or failure rests on its two established stars, Vincent D’Onofrio as Abbie and Janeane Garofalo as his long-suffering wife Anita. D’Onofrio, of wide range and looming presence, might have seemed a sure bet, but he never captures Abbie’s wiry, anarchic energy nor his explosive cultural politics. In Graham’s tendentious screenplay, nobody talks, they make speeches, and although there is an apologetic reference to Abbie’s going-underground nose-job, his facial appearance never changes he always looks like Barry Freed \(Abbie’s unmental organizer. For the current youth audience this film is explicitly aimed at \(it closes with a courtroom call to rebellion that makes Abbie sound like a long-haired tle confounded history here will likely be incomprehensible. Garofalo is even more problematic. Having made a career of playing post-eighties cynicism, her Anita is a revolutionary drunkard’s dream: worshipful, available, undemanding, maternal, protective, stoic. One keeps expecting Garofalo to turn to the camera and mutter, “Do you believe this shit?” Nope. As with the stars, everything else seems a beat off: messy seventies interiors without individual character, courtroom scenes like Judge Judy stage sets, demos that appear pointless and aimless, and where only the cops seem to have a purpose. The Vietnam war is ever-present, sort of it’s on the ubiquitous TVs that never turn off, but otherwise, it might as well be East Timor. Abbie has a stilted heart-to-heart with a black soldier defending the Pentagon, and leaves him a snack that’s what passes for organizing in Steal This Movie! Abbie Hoffman was a heroic, obnoxious, inventive, manic-depressive, bullying, self-aggrandizing, arrogant, fearless, condescend ing, maddening spirit of the sixties, very difficult to capture in life or on film. It’s small disgrace that he’s not captured here. Which brings us back, more or less, to documentaries, which at least have to try to hew to the truth as they see it. Among the best in the first few days was Grass, Canadian director Ron Mann’s mordant history of marijuana laws, brimming with revelatory archival footage and punctuated with lively animation \(provided in part by Texan Gilbert Shelton, father of the unforgettable tire anthology of marijuana music \(many jazz classics like Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man,” and sweetly foggy sixties anthems obviously a bear for research, and some of the most revealing passages are outtakes from long-lost TV news shows, as cops practice denouncing the demon weed or announcing their latest exaggerated bust. By far the self-appointed villain is Harry J. Anslinger, the Treasury Department’s first drug czar and one of those supremely blockheaded and thuggish bureaucrats so often handsomely rewarded in U.S. institutional crime-fighting. Anslinger, like J. Edgar Hoover, built a lucrative career on terrorizing politicians and the public with grandiose criminal fantasies, and even left a legacy of inflammatory filmstrips for the implacable Mann to dig out, polish up, and turn into an entertaining public education. If there were any cultural justice, Grass would be distributed free to public school systems as an intelligent and amusing counterweight to the mounds of dishonest propaganda still frightening schoolchildren, generated by Anslinger’s successors, the likes of DARE and other police-administrative boondoggles. \(The self-effacing Mann is comical on that subject as well: he says he can testify from personal experience that watching reams of anti-drug stead, Mann will be lucky to get his film into general distribution outside college towns, and he notes that as a potential source of “pro-drug propaganda,” he has to be wary of running into visa trouble with a censorious U.S. State Department. That’s life under the New Democratic consensus. In case viewers have forgotten, the bad guys are winning the culture war: more marijuana smokers are being thrown into jail now than at any time in our history. See this film, and spread the word. Back to festivalia: what else might survive these miles of acetate? Borderland, a short comic family nar rative \(call it a promising study for a ficproducer/director with long family and personal attachments to this publication, recounts a Cen-Tex family reunion of sorts, at a family funeral in Pharr, in Hidalgo County. The premise is Southern shopworn, and the still budget-constricted film \(much of which takes place in the car on feels claustrophobic, but there are some fine funny moments and a generation-leaping sense of the distance from Old Texas to New. Brammer’s deep connections in the Austin talent pool and her sense of the town’s cultural history predates the latest wave of Silicon-City tourism, and it shows on screen, even in this abbreviated form. We wish the film great fortune. By contrast, the great fortune displayed in one of the festival’s high-profile premiers, Peter Greenaway’s 8 1/2 Women, is only evidence that pretension comes in many colors. Greenaway’s film is a nominal homage to Fellini’s 8 1/2, and he makes the mistake of directly importing a few moments of that film into this one. The only effect is to make one wish, instantly and longingly, one were watching the Fellini movie. As always in Greenaway’s directorially self-absorbed epics, the settings and the people are unspeakably gorgeous, and they engage in endless and endlessly boring desultory exchanges about nothing in particular, interrupted by moments of casual brutality and the director’s ham-handed, bullhorn reminders to his stupefied audience, “Hey, you’re watching a Movie! Made by Me!” My own breaking point came about an hour in, when an affectless, naked woman in traction and a plastic bodycast \(otherwise we couldn’t see her tasteful pig. If you like Peter Greenaway movies, you’ll love 8 112 Women. Take an enemy. Also of note: the Pennebaker/Hegedus retrospective, in which a film like The War Room, eight years later, now seems to See “Documented,” page 36 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 31, 2000