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In the lush, feature-length Prater (2007), German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger captures the garish artwork, creaking rides and uncanny mechanical creatures that populate Vienna's famous Prater amusement park. The film begins in close-up, on the striking visages of a dummy, a monster and a clown, before the camera climbs upward on a gigantic roller coaster to show the colorful, sprawling park below. Ottinger, who for 30 years has made striking and often conceptually challenging films, here melds archival footage with new, showing aspects of the park's earlier attractions, including the various African “villages” set up in the late 1890s to give visitors a glimpse of other cultures, alongside contemporary rides and games. Ottinger celebrates all of the Prater's strange magic, from the snake charmers, jugglers and acrobats to the sideshow in which women replicate the often scantily clad subjects of paintings, and innumerable rides that seem to promise severed limbs or worse. Structured much like an amusement park itself, with quick glimpses at dozens of spectacles and snippets of history, the film moves beyond mere extravaganza to consider the cultural role of the park, which allows normally separate communities and classes to mix in a temporary free-for-all zone. Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elfriede Jelinek adds to Ottinger's subtle analysis, describing the Prater as a place where visitors give themselves away a little, while simultaneously experiencing a strange power riding on machines designed only for their pleasure. Jelinek's mother sensed the subversiveness of the Prater and quickly halted the fun for her young daughter, but for Ottinger, that wonderful power deserves rapt attention. REDCAT; Mon., Feb. 25, 8 p.m. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org.
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