`No Picnic' on the mixed menu at the Museum of Modern Art
New York — Worthwhile films, videos, and other works don't always arrive with fanfare. Some slip in quietly, but deserve attention all the same. That's the case with ``No Picnic,'' by Philip Hartman, a promising new filmmaker. You won't find it at your neighborhood theater, at least not yet. It will be at the Museum of Modern Art on March 1, though, as part of two events: the ongoing ``Cineprobe'' series and a ``Contemporary Art in Context'' program.
Mr. Hartman shot ``No Picnic'' on about $50,000. Yet the movie is crafted more imaginatively than many Hollywood productions with $15 million price tags. Part of the secret is Hartman's apt decision to let his film mirror the scruffy locations where it takes place. Just as important is his sharp eye for unusual shots and wry performances.
``No Picnic'' takes place during a long, hot summer in New York's rapidly changing Lower East Side neighborhood. The hero, Mac, is a sort of guerrilla jukebox technician who used to be an aspiring rock star. He witnesses a car accident, finds a photo of a mysterious woman in the aftermath, and starts a lonely search for her.
The plot and characters of ``No Picnic'' are less important than the urban landscapes and reveries that give the film its mood. Hartman and cinematographer Peter Hutton have poignantly captured the Lower East Side's mean streets, suffocating storefronts, and crumbling apartments, complete with their attendant landlords, weirdos, and endless rent strikes. And they've done this without making ``No Picnic'' gloomy or depressing. It has tragic moments, including the fatal accident and a bit of bleak sex. Yet the film's spirit is essentially buoyant, and it's somehow no surprise when Mac emerges with his own spirits intact and a new baby in hand, to boot. ``No Picnic'' is no picnic, but it's quite an outing on its own terms.
Coming up March 3 in the museum's ``Video Viewpoints'' series, as well as the ``Contemporary Art in Context'' program, is a dance videotape by artist Mary Lucier and dancer Elizabeth Streb. Its title is more complicated than its content: ``On the blink of an eye... (amphibian dreams) `If I could fly I would fly.''' It combines expressive dance by Ms. Streb and plucky postmodern music by Earl Howard into a dreamily flowing tapestry of light, shape, and motion artfully coordinated by Ms. Lucier, a video artist with a commendable commitment to sheer beauty.
Turning to the stage, meanwhile, the Kipper Kids are making a comeback. Their real names are Martin Von Haselberg and Brian Routh, and they appeared recently at the Kitchen arts center, which doesn't normally sponsor food fights.
If the Kippers have a message, it's that every grown-up has an anarchic little brat bottled up inside. In the first half of their current act - ``Into the Box, Out of the Box'' - the Kids dither half intelligibly through some pop songs. Then they unbottle the little brats inside themselves, performing nutty rituals with balloons, shaving cream, a firecracker or two, and oodles of food that they happily dump on one another.
It's all quite silly, and at moments the act veers into distasteful bathroom humor. But there's a sense of purpose as well as absurdity behind most of it. The Kipper Kids may be on the verge of a popular breakthrough; they'll appear in an HBO special called ``Bette Midler's Mondo Beyondo'' this spring. Is the world ready for their culinary outbursts? Stay tuned.