Blast from the past 

Eckstein imagines a loopy world of lust and loss

Relah Eckstein is a California art school filmmaker whose short and sweet films suggest Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin crossed with "Peewee's Playhouse" coupled with a peculiar New Wave "Alice in Wonderland" aesthetic.

Eckstein's distinctively nutty output ranges from a 1987 black-and-white film "Ant Farm" shot on Super8 while Eckstein was a student at L.A. Valley College to the more recent 16mm piece "Lucy's Dream" (1999), which Eckstein describes thusly: "Lucy is a cute dog who dreams she's a woman, who's in love with her master, who fantasizes she's a drummer in a rock 'n' roll band. Lucy is currently undergoing therapy."

Eckstein sips frequently at the fountain of frivolity, and such absurdist synopses rarely do justice or clarify Eckstein's enigmatic output, films with ample references to the stylized melodrama of silent films and a heavy dose of obsessive lust, hunger and distress that suggest the tortured dreams of a heavy meal before bedtime. Men sport diabolical twirled mustaches and the chalk-white face-paint of silent movie stars, and girls are Sandra Dee cute, like Eckstein's female muse ex Go-Gos drummer Gina Schock, who still boasts the straightforward blonde prettiness of an '80s video star.

A nimble imagination and a cast of recurring, willing participants (including Schock, Tosh Berman and Kent Moorman) ready to don freaky costumes and to submit to the disordered vision of the filmmaker constitute Eckstein's dream-time narratives always supplemented by Gary Friedlander's merry-go-round scores. Characters struggle terminally to unite with their love objects (as in 1991's "Eye Creature") or escape from lives of domestic drudgery in fantasies of lost beauty and desire ("The Room"). Eckstein's visual imagination is as loopy as her fussy storylines, and her sets and costumes look like a department store window display come to life.

Steeped in a retro fascination for poofy skirts, poodles dyed a bubblegum pink and cat-eye glasses, Eckstein's is a sweeter slice of John Waters' similar jones for the kitschy '50s and '60s. For fans of idiosyncratic business anxious to keep abreast of what other quirky independents are up to, this opus of Eckstein will provide fodder o' plenty.

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