RON ENGLISH's posters don't just grab you, they flip your worldview.
At least that's the intent. A folk artist who founded agit-pop, a guerrilla-style movement in which artists creatively deface existing products, he chose billboard ads for his "canvas." For instance, a 1990s Joe Cool poster promoting Camel Cigarettes, after English was finished with it, became "The Cancer Kid," holding a bent cigarette. An "Englished" McDonald's fast food ad showed a haggard, piglike Ronald McDonald in front of the famous arches with the logo: "MacDonalds [sic] -- Better Living Through Chemistry." Then there was the "Forever Kool" ad for Kool Cigarettes, featuring a pair of feet apparently reclining in, well, coolness. The English touch? A toe tag.
English's message to the casual gazer is clear: You're just another programmed consumer. English (described by Cleveland Plain Dealer critic Dan Tranberg as "Michael Moore, Andy Warhol and R. Crumb rolled into one") is the subject of Pedro Carvajal's 78-minute documentary "Popaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English." Part of the Underground Film Festival, which runs Friday through Saturday, "Popaganda" screens Friday night at 10:55 at the Goethe-Institute (812 Seventh St. NW). "Popaganda" and other films are grouped into nine programs. Admission for each program is $6, and tickets are on sale at the Goethe box office.
Among the fest's 45 shorts, docs, animation films and experimental videos are "Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge," Stephen Marshall's unflattering documentary look at post-Saddam Iraq (part of Program Two, which starts at 7:40 Friday); and "Burn to Shine" (part of Program Seven, starting at 7 Saturday), which features musical performances by the bands Shellac, Wilco and Tortoise, and was produced and co-directed by former Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty.
You can see the "Popaganda" trailer at www.popaganda.com/popDocumentary.shtml. For more information about the festival's lineup, visit www.dcuff.org.
She was the Julia Roberts of her day -- before the movies started talking. Mary Pickford made her name as a plucky, childlike personality, but she was more than a child when it came to running the show. In 1919, she co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, and was considered "the business brains" of the operation, according to film historian David Thomson. As an actress, Pickford never fully adapted to the subtler acting requirements of sound film, but before that she made more than 200 features and short films. The National Gallery of Art is showing four Pickford features, recently restored from existing silver nitrate prints. The series, which includes selected shorts and live piano accompaniment, starts Saturday at 4:30 with the 1926 "Sparrows." Pickford's penultimate silent film, directed by William Beaudine, is a somewhat dark-themed feature about orphans. Canadian musician and composer Gabriel Thibaudeau will perform the world premiere of his score for "Sparrows" on piano.
In "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall" (1924), a historical drama set in Elizabethan England, Pickford plays a daughter of nobility who rebels against an arranged marriage. It screens Oct. 8 at 1. "The Little American" (1917), in which she's an American at the frontlines of World War I, is scheduled for Oct. 9 at 4:30. Pickford plays an actress who yearns to return to the stage in 1914's "Behind the Scenes," showing Oct. 15 at 1. For more information, visit www.nga.gov/programs/filmmary.shtm or call 202-737-4215.
If those leave you yearning for more Pickford, three additional films will be shown, appropriately, at the Mary Pickford Theater at the Library of Congress's James Madison Building (101 Independence Ave., SE, third floor), in late October. Two will be accompanied by renowned silent movie accompanist Ray Brubacher: "The Hoodlum" (1925), Oct. 20 and "Coquette" (1925), Oct. 21. "Secrets," a 1933 sound film that marked Pickford's final performance shows Oct. 27. All shows are free and at 7.
You can get details by visiting www.loc.gov/rr/mopic/pickford/pickford-current.html. Reservations can be made a week before each show at 202-707-5677 during business hours.
-- Desson Thomson