Lilian Gish in Victor Sj?str?ms The Winds The Wind
Lilian Gish in Victor Sj?str?ms The Winds The Wind

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What’s a man to do after being jilted by his wife and robbed by his benefactor? Seek vengeance? Move on? Or perhaps become lost in self-loathing and retreat into a career as a circus clown, disgracing oneself nightly before a doltish audience hungry for cheap thrills? Art films have always been art films—even in the silent era—and the plot of Victor Sjöström’s 1924 film He Who Gets Slapped probably sat with the jock dads and dullard teens of the ’20s about as well as Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint No. 9 does today—which is to say, not well. However, after years of struggling to elevate what was then a poorly respected mass medium to art, Sjöström probably felt a certain kinship with that clown, repeatedly having to stick on the red nose and entertain the lewd desires of American consumers. In celebration of the pioneering director’s laudable ambitions, the National Gallery of Art will show several of the auteur’s works as part of the film series “Victor Sjöström: Swedish Original.” The Wind (pictured; at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10) finds Sjöström approaching familiar themes of personal anguish, following a young woman (Lilian Gish) as she is driven mad by the howling winds that plague her life on the frontier. Similarly, The Scarlet Letter (at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16) finds the director troubling the prim censors of yesteryear with a bawdy reading of the Hawthorne classic. The series runs to Sunday, Dec. 31, at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th St. & Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Aaron Leitko)

Thursday, Dec. 7

Lady Day—the granddaughter of a slave, raped as a child, a prostitute in a brothel—was given a hell of a voice and little else. Despite a biography that’s part legend, one fact is that her voice, even as she destroyed it with drugs, became the defining vocal sound of jazz, one emulated by the likes of Nina Simone. A tribute to Billie Holiday’s life, with all its pain and glory, is now encapsulated in a modern dance routine. Ronald K. Brown of Evidence Dance Company, who is known for melding ballet, hip-hop, West African, and modern dance, presents Blueprint of a Lady: The Once and Future Life of Billie Holiday, with the weight of crooning falling on Nnenna Freelon. Pay your respects to the Lady and try to figure out what in the world “Once and Future Life” means at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW. $14–$38. (202) 467-4600. (Kim Gooden)

Friday, Dec. 8

English majors, it’s time to ready yourselves for the PEN/Malamud Awards. OK, so it’s not the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Awards, but this prize for short fiction does offer a $5,000 split reward. Honored this year are Adam Haslett and Tobias Wolff, both of whom already have an impressive catalog of degrees, nominations, awards, and fellowships that includes names such as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Pulitzer Prize shortlist, and the Guggenheim Foundation. New York–based Haslett is best known for the no-happy-endings 2003 short-story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here; Wolff, who works as a creative writing professor at Stanford University, won the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1984 for The Barracks Thief. Perhaps dustier in the trophy closet is the 1993 movie adaptation of his memoir, This Boy’s Life, in which Wolff is played by a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro portrays his father. Practice arranging your own bildungsroman when Haslett and Wolff read from their work at 8 p.m. at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Elizabethan Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. $15. (202) 544-7077. (Kim Rinehimer)

“Dynamic Field”—the premier exhibit by Civilian Art Projects—should be required viewing for urban planners and social geographers: The group show examines people in the context of their environments. Jason Falchook, formerly a standout at Fusebox, contributes photographs of the urban environment that show off his deft handling of color, and a small selection of Ken Ashton’s photographs document scenes of urban blight in Harlem, Philly, and D.C. Straightforward photography dominates the show, though some artists take a more indirect approach: Jason Zimmerman’s excellent low-fi film Spotting chronicles a nighttime expedition into the Pennsylvania hunting grounds near the artist’s family’s home. The film tracks deer as they range into and out of the camera’s narrow beam of illumination; bright medallions of light (reflected in the animals’ eyes) hover and zip, leaving eerie traces that recall Bruce Nauman’s Mapping the Studio. Psychic and social tension in the film come courtesy of the Blair Witch–esque whispered commentary and genuine suspense (you’re sure a deer’s gonna buy it). For Red-Roofed Bungalow, Lily Cox-Richard paints depictions of computer desktop images onto screens that form the translucent walls of a makeshift shelter. The cheeky screens are painted only on the interior side, so you can only see the paintings on the walls farthest from you. Circling the installation causes images to appear and fade on the screens, which are illuminated by the glow of electric candelabras. The glow is warm, the sense of hearth is evident, and the comfort seems real, though the source is fleeting and ephemeral: screenshots of Evite and Gmail, the stuff with which urban tribes build communities. The exhibition is on view 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Saturday, Dec. 23, at the Warehouse Arts Complex, 1017–1021 7th St. NW. Free. (202) 783-3933. (Kriston Capps)

Though the films of Iran and Afghanistan have made inroads into American arthouses, African cinema is too often missing in action. Even selecting “African” films presents huge curatorial hurdles—how to represent 50-plus countries and countless languages with a handful of movies? Including efforts from Kenya, Mozambique, and Mali, the AFI’s “New African Films Festival” does its best to give everyone their due. The apartheid themed Drum does feature Day Break hunk Taye Diggs, but the festival’s diverse offerings are mercifully free of explicit Hollywood connections and focus on untold stories; the four North African soldiers battling Nazis on behalf of their French colonizers in Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigènes probably never found their way into your history textbook. Most notable is the inclusion of Abeni, from Nigerian director Tunde Kelani. The film comes from a nation that has seen no shortage of violence, but its simple cross-class love story—absent a short detour into a bleak prison—does not address AIDS, genocide, famine, or any of the other Big Issues the West usually files under “white man’s burden.” Featuring twisted musical sequences and bizarre characterizations of Americanized Africans, Abeni crosses Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts romantic comedy with Bollywood, with nods to Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice along the way. Kenali has stumbled on the first step in “saving” Africa—the recognition that its diverse peoples are more than candidates for U.N. stewardship but human beings who love, lose, and love again. The series runs to Monday, Dec. 11, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $9.25. (301) 495-6700. (Justin Moyer)

Saturday, Dec. 9

Plenty of folks have tried out impersonations of Nat King Cole. Tim Meadows has done an impression of the legendary singer in an SNL sketch, Dave Chappelle mimicked him in a bit about adult movies, and there are countless Nat King Cole look-alikes available for appearances at private parties, fundraisers, and corporate events. The thing all of these imitations seem to have in common, however, is that they are all about either comedy or kitsch. In the stage show King of Cool: the Life and Music of Nat King Cole, actor/singer Jimi Ray Malary plays the crooner, but never plays him for cheap laughs. Malary, who has also portrayed jazz great Duke Ellington, presents Cole’s legacy in the form of a musical tribute, complete with an instrumental trio, and is able to fully embody his character in an imitation that brims with flattery. Malary does Cole at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria; see City List for a complete schedule. $35. (703) 548-9044. (Sarah Godfrey)

Sunday, Dec. 10

A 35-year-old single woman who lives in a city and has four idiosyncratic male friends? That may sound like a desperate pitch to re-imagine Sex and the City—but if you add manic-depression, perverts, gangsters, and Tokyo, you get something with a little more edge and a little less couture. Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator) and based on the novel by Haruhiko Arai, It’s Only Talk follows Yuko (Shinobu Terajima), a victim of mental illness who—in need of human connections—surrounds herself with men, from an impotent old college friend to a cousin who left his family for his mistress (who left him). When she’s not in the depths of depression and acting the recluse, Yuko’s telling her men tall tales. Give yourself lots to talk about when the film shows at 2 p.m. at the Freer Gallery of Art’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th St. & Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (202) 633-4880. (Kim Gooden)

Monday, Dec. 11

Though many notable Japanese punk- and noise-rock bands have come from big cities such as Osaka and Tokyo, the four members of Shift have remained loyal to their hometown and are fiercely proud of their rural roots. In Yamagata Prefecture, located in Honshu Island’s Tohoku region, the main industry is growing cherries and pears. There are no malls or subways; the natural landscape is pristine, and tourists enjoy skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, and the medicinal benefits of natural hot springs year-round. But Shift’s music is hardly provincial—its songs focus on worldly matters, with frontman Yuki Funayama often shout-singing in protest to exploitation, poverty, and the war in Iraq while his bandmates energetically plow their way through the band’s angular, frenetic music. Shift performs with Sentai and Don Zientara at 9 p.m. at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $8. (202) 667-7960. (Sean McArdle)

Tuesday, Dec. 12

On Feb. 7 this year, longtime Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald checked into the Washington Home and Hospice expecting, like just about everyone who enters a hospice, not to come out. Buchwald marked his imminent passing with goodbye appearances on The Diane Rehm Show, This Week With George Stephanopoulos, CNN, and Fox News Sunday, as well as in articles by the New York Times, USA Today, and the Post. Death turned out not to be so imminent—five months later, Buchwald checked out, but the death watch continues with Buchwald’s new book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye. It’s a classically Buchwaldian brew of gentle wit; large, well-spaced type; and plenty of boldface names. (Among his deathbed visits: Donald Rumsfeld, the queen of Swaziland, and Carly Simon’s sister.) There are also some delusions of grandeur—he calls himself “the only person who became famous for dying.” Tell Buchwald all about Mattie J.T. Stepanek when he discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 5312 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mike DeBonis)

Wednesday, Dec. 13

The members of Indian Jewelry don’t assemble songs as much as pile noise on noise. The noise can come from anywhere: the splatter of a rude drum machine, a creepy organ, static from an old hi-fi. Hailing from Houston, the trio arrives on the freak-folk scene as perverted cousins choosing to ignore more obvious finger-picking and Beach Boy–lovin’ influences for roots closer to home—namely their deranged forbearers, the Butthole Surfers. The band’s promo photos show its members as thrift-store fanatics on horseback with heads covered by Goodwill shawls. It’s an apt teaser for the band’s debut full-length, Invasive Exotics, a mesmerizing assault of sound, drone, and left-field sonics melted down into song. “Lesser Snake” and “Going South” beat you senseless with their gnarled screams and baked beats; the other 10 songs knock out whatever is left. You will feel Indian Jewelry’s brand of magick more than you will understand it when the band performs with the Psychic Ills at 9:30 p.m. at the Red and the Black, 1212 H St. NE. $8. (202) 399-3201. (Jason Cherkis)

Thursday, Dec. 14

Scrapping the traditional evolutionary rule book, Joshua Levine rearranges the woodland world by radically revising the features of fauna. Symmetry and redundancy are Levine’s favorite first principles, expressed in the artist’s sculptures—mock game busts, mounted on the wall as trophies—through twisting antler arrangements, hybrid heads, conjoined features, and an awful lot of replica eyeballs. Levine’s sculptures aren’t so much unnatural as re-natural: Trophy Head (JarvalinaMultiHorned) depicts the bust of a long-eared, boarlike creature whose stony tusks and antlers project from its face like the spiraling arms of Shiva. Levine’s exaggerated colors hasten to warn that the conditions that may give rise to such a beast might not lie in an impossible past but in the near future: radiation disasters, genetic manipulation, and other such horrors are all implied. But for freakshow game trophies, the works present a fairly staid sculptural vision. Levine’s magical-realistic resin sculptures don’t look real in the right fake way, a limitation that might owe to the artist’s reluctance to examine his material to the same degree he’s trekked through his imagined alien frontier. “The Trophy Room” is on view 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and by appointment to Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007, at Irvine Contemporary, 1412 14th St. NW. Free. (202) 332-8767. (Kriston Capps)