`Alive' is getting more bite, and bolder

Alive From Off Center PBS, Mondays, tonight-Sept. 14, 10-10:30 p.m., check local listings. Produced by KTCA/TV-Minneapolis/St. Paul. HEADING into its third season, ``Alive From Off Center'' is getting bolder. This year's offerings have more bite than last year's did - perhaps more than some viewers will be comfortable with.

True, you wouldn't know this from the first program. A tame affair called ``As Seen on TV,'' it features mime Bill Irwin as a would-be entertainer stuck in a channel-hopping television set. This idea goes back to silent-movie days, when Buster Keaton entered a film-within-a-film in ``Sherlock Junior,'' with similar results. Mr. Irwin is no Keaton, though, and his antics (directed by Charles Atlas) don't add up to much.

The series gets into high gear the following week, when the Brothers Quay take over the screen. American filmmakers who live and work in London, they're represented by their best-known work: ``Street of Crocodiles,'' based on a dreamlike Bruno Schulz novel. It's an animated fantasy with no story but a great deal of mood - all of it deliberately dank, dark, and dreary.

I have mixed feelings about the Brothers Quay, whose strong filmmaking talent is matched by an off-putting obsession with decay and a cluttered, mannered visual approach. But their images and their style are one of a kind - and that makes them the sort of artists one ought to encounter in an offbeat showcase like ``Alive From Off Center.''

Eric Bogosian brings the series closer to home - with a vengeance - in ``FunHouse,'' a series of monologues taken from his stage production of the same title.

The characters range from an insurance salesman to a rubber fetishist, and it's hard to say who's most perverse. I'd vote for the torture expert giving a cool, relaxed lecture on interrogation techniques. Or maybe for the pathetic wino who begins his rant with a chorus of ``God Bless America'' and goes on to skewer the yuppie mentality that leaves him to despair in the gutter. Mr. Bogosian's humor is fierce, brilliant, and purposely painful. Handle with care.

For high-tech visual virtuosity, it's hard to beat Zbigniew Rybczynski, who's best known for ``Tango,'' an Oscar-winning short. ``Steps,'' his contribution to the ``Off Center'' lineup, brings together his love of film and video: It's about a bunch of tourists having an improbable guided tour through the Russian movie classic, ``Potemkin.''

Using a new process called ``instant video,'' the director ingeniously mingles video images (the tourists) with vintage film material, blending them into a seamless and simultaneous whole. As a bonus, he turns the whole tour de force into an ironic comment on East-West relations - and on the public-relations mind-set that recognizes no international boundaries at all. It's quite a show.

Also adventurous is ``The Flood,'' by Jaap Drupsteen, a Dutch video artist. The music of this brief opera is by Stravinsky, who took his inspiration from the Noah story.

Drupsteen accompanies it with elegant TV images and performances by pre-``video art'' stars like Laurence Harvey and Sebastian Cabot. (If television had movie-type ratings, incidentally, this show would earn a PG-13, since it contains a little nudity.)

Additional items on the ``Off Center'' slate include Meredith Monk's film ``Ellis Island,'' a moody but enchanting look at the old immigration center; two colorfully captured dances by the energetic Molissa Fenley troupe; and other excursions ranging from dance and humor to music with third-world roots.

Each show begins with a brief skit by Laurie Anderson, the dimpled hostess of avant-garde high society.

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