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Indie Memphis Daily Picks: Friday

The Indie Memphis Film Festival, which runs at Malco's Studio on the Square through Thursday, October 25th, kicks off tonight with an opening-night screening of The Honeydripper, the newest film from John Sayles, the Oscar-nominated writer/director of such key indie films as Lone Star, Matewan, and The Return of the Secaucus Seven.

The Honeydripper is set in Alabama circa 1950 where the titular juke joint, owned by piano player Tyrone "Pinetop" Purvis (Danny Glover), is in danger of closing. But, as in most of Sayles' best movies, The Honeydripper is more of an ensemble, its real subject the workings of a very specific community.

Sayles and producer Maggie Renzi are slated to appear at the screenings tonight.

The Honeydripper will be shown on two screens starting at 8 p.m. at Studio on the Square.

Throughout the festival, we’ll be offering a daily critical guide to the screenings. In addition to The Honeydripper, here are a couple of screenings tonight you might want to see:

Doc Pick: Mr. Dial Has Something to Say

Mr. Dial Has Something to Say is a beautifully made documentary with all the intrigue of a grand conspiracy theory and the ability to make you rethink everything you think you know about modern American art. Made for Alabama Public Television, Mr. Dial tells the story of Thornton Dial, an elderly, illiterate African-American artist, the celebrated Gee's bend quilters, and the artists' relationship with Bill Arnett, an obsessed and often reviled collector. Buoyed by an incredible soundtrack, it's a suspenseful, quietly explosive assemblage of interviews exploring issues of American identity, genius, and institutionalized racism in the art world.

What is it that Mr. Dial has to say? The 78-year-old artist believes that art isn’t about paint or canvas, but "ideas."

"I’ve got 10,000," Dial says. The prolific artist's painting and multimedia constructions are visually arresting, politically informed eruptions of color and form that rival masterworks by art-world saints like Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg. It's not difficult to understand why a massive body of sophisticated work by a poor uneducated folk artist from the blues belt (where "outsider" art is cheap) might be threatening to dealers and critics alike. And the briefest survey of Dial's work makes expressions like "folk" and "outsider" art sound as brutally archaic as "race music."

Dial was born in 1928 in rural Alabama. His parents weren't married and didn't stay together. He grew up like a weed in and around Bessemer, an industrial town where he built boxcars for Pullman Standard. Because his family teased him, Dial made his artwork secretly, and on the side.

Arnett has been accused of exploiting black artists and manipulating the art market. He's also been celebrated as a hero, doing for rural art what ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax did for rural music. Arnett befriended Dial in the 1980s, and promptly set out to prove that African-American artists in the rural South were as legitimate as artists in New York, Paris, or anywhere else.

Dial's work initially stunned critics and it seemed that both the artist and his champion were on their way to fame and glory when 60 Minutes ran a story accusing Arnett of being a combination con man and modern day planter raising art on his farm instead of cotton. Dial was personally shocked and confused by the expose and stood by Arnett. But the damage was done. Big shows fell through. Critics that once praised Dial flip-flopped and called him as an overrated "folk artist."

After investing all of his personal fortune in his artists, Arnett went broke, and suffered a heart attack and all the afflictions of Job. But he never gave up on his quest to prove that American modernism was inspired to some significant degree by poorly documented post-slave traditions running parallel to gospel, blues, and jazz.

The quilts produced by several families in Gee's Bend, Alabama, lent further proof to Arnett's claims that America's "naive" art was anything but. But Mr. Dial is still just another gifted folk artist. Even if he's a visionary with 10,000 ideas, and something interesting and important to say. — Chris Davis

Screening at 5:55 p.m.

Feature pick: Blood Car

Blood Car takes place in a world in the grips of an energy crisis. Gas is now $32.21 a gallon. It's only two weeks in the future, though, so most everything else is still recognizable. The first shot of the film is of a couple having wild sex in a truck in an auto graveyard. Get used to that. This is one naughty film. The best part is the severely perverse humor, which rears its ugly head from time to time but maybe not often enough. The plot is the descent into murder of a mild-mannered vegan, Archie (Mike Brune), who accidentally invents an engine that runs on blood and has to kill to keep his chick-magnet car purring along. Katie Rowlett co-stars as Archie's sex interest, and she gets the best lines in the show, including "The fact is, I'm in the front seat of a car, tackling a rod like a princess." Also co-starring Anna Chlumsky, notable for having played the titular pixie in 1991's My Girl. This role is different. Blood Car is recommended for horror-genre fans and all-around horn dogs who like nudity with their blood and blood with their nudity. — Greg Akers

Screening at 10:45 p.m.

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