Hollywood Snuffle

The Scorsese-Harrison match seems like a natural. Their obvious New York connection aside, Rhythm Thief bristles with the kind of raw energy and visual inventiveness that earmarked the young Scorsese's films. Simon, the rhythm thief of the title, could easily have appeared in Taxi Driver or After Hours. And the motley assortment of hustlers, street urchins, thugs, and waifs who populate Harrison's celluloid world would feel right at home in Scorsese's domain as well.

Scorsese's protege pauses to collect his thoughts. "So Marty helped me realize you shouldn't try to be something you ain't," he continues. "If you were Enzo Ferrari, building your beautiful Ferraris in the Italian Alps, it wouldn't make sense to go to Detroit. Marty's always saying to me [Harrison renders a dead-on imitation of Scorsese's unmistakable 78-rpm delivery], 'Matthew, what are you doing there? That place is no good. I went out there for three months and ended up staying thirteen years. I almost lost my mind. You gotta have buddies. I was depressed and Harvey Keitel came out to cheer me up and he ended up getting depressed.' But I think I needed to come out here and see for myself. I don't regret it. I learned an incredible amount. Now I know when to smile and when to say, 'Fuck you guys.'"

And with that Harrison concludes the interview. He has a lot of packing to do.

Rhythm Thief opens the South Beach Film Festival, but the Matthew Harrison entry is by no means the only reason to attend this year's event. In its third year, the juried South Beach shindig makes a quantum leap in overall quality. While I have screened only half a dozen of the thirty short films and three of the nine features that will be playing the festival, this year's lineup looks extremely promising. There's even an Academy Award nominee (forgive me for momentarily setting aside my moratorium on mentioning that dubious honor) -- the documentary Fiddlefest, which boasts a local tie-in; it was produced by Susan Kaplan, sister of Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan. While neither Last Call -- which aspires to be a Santa Cruz-set, Nineties hybrid of Animal House and Diner A nor The Woman in the Moon -- a strikingly photographed "tragic comedy about women and healing," to crib writer-director Ariadne Kimberly's description, that takes place at a yoga ranch in the Arizona desert amid banging gongs and chanting gurus -- is in the same class as Rhythm Thief, both have their moments.

All of the shorts I viewed, however, were wonderful. Four of them were adult-theme cartoons: Cult hero Bill Plympton's wickedly warped How to Make Love to a Woman juxtaposes soothing voice-over tidbits such as "This instructional guide will help to ease you along the slippery and challenging path to true romance" with bizarre cartoon images of male-bashing goose bumps, maiming nipples, lethal hair, and man-eating eye sockets. The English dentist antihero of the wry, cutting Bob's Birthday picks the worst possible moment to rail against midlife malaise. Fluffy, the amazingly expressive computer-generated animated puppy of the title, eats his way out of a common doggy predicament. And The Ballad of Archie Foley pays loving tribute to a fictional veteran sound effects man.

James Morrison's Parking begins as a routine confrontation between two men in a parking garage after one inconsiderately blocks the other's exit; the vitriolic diatribe that ensues evolves from a passionate rant against one man's thoughtlessness into a tongue lashing for all those arrogant bastards who run red lights, talk during movies, don't hold the elevator, and remove other people's clothes from the dryer two seconds after it's stopped spinning. And Carrie Blank's Trouble focuses on a science fiction-obsessed young girl named Addie who shoplifts in order to support her heavy reading habit. Meanwhile Addie's mother Goldie frets that her little bookworm will "turn into Aunt Robin with the Ph.D. and the Russian novels and those cats." She reminds Addie that "brains and a husband are not mutually exclusive." Tovah Feldshuh's broadly kvetching Goldie and Cole Plakias's sly, daydreaming Addie make a beguiling mother-daughter odd couple.

Who knows, with a little luck, maybe in a few years one or more of these filmmakers will get the call to the big leagues and follow Matthew Harrison's path from relative obscurity to million-dollar budgets and hanging with Marty.

The South Beach Film Festival opens tonight, Thursday, April 18, and runs through next Thursday, April 25, at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Admission is $10 for opening night and $5 for all other screenings. For a complete listing of dates, times, and movies, call 448-9133.

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