Seen at the Movies:

Brotherhood of the Wolf

is a strange animal indeed, a hybrid of 18th-century French costume drama, horror, and martial arts action. Based on a true incident of a mysterious beast terrorizing the village of Gevaudan in the 1760s, the film speculates wildly about political and clerical misdeeds in Louis XV France; director Christophe Gans proves himself to be an Oliver Stone for the powdered-wig set. But the real attraction of the movie for many people is the elaborate fight choreography by Hong Kong stunt coordinator Philip Kwok. Others will be left cold.

Production designer Guy-Claude François did a marvelous job creating the story's gnarly landscape in the Pyrenees and other locations, bringing an Expressionist hand to such sets as a ruined abbey and the cave where the beast takes refuge. What we see of the creature is unsatisfying—it seems to be clad in armor, and looks rather silly. Jim Henson's Creatures Shop gets the credit for the beast effects, which involve both animatronic and digital techniques. The atmospheric cinematography is by Danish DP Dan Laustsen, and the costume designer is Dominique Borg.--John Calhoun

Seen at the Theatre: Brutal Imagination, at the Vineyard Theatre, is a new theatre piece based on the horrific Susan Smith case; Smith was the South Carolina mother who killed her two children, then told police it was the work of black male intruder. In the text, by poet Cornelius Eady, this imaginary black man, here named Mr. Zero, appears to defend himself and spar with Smith. There is no real action, no confrontation, nothing specifically dramatic. There is, instead, a great deal of high-flown verbiage about black men as the other, etc. None of this is very compelling; in fact, it's borderline offensive in the way it takes this horrifying story, full of rage and blood, and turns it into something abstract, even dull.

Sally Murphy builds up a scary, victimized intensity as Smith, and Joe Morton, as Mr. Zero, is typically skillful, even though he has the unperformable task of playing an abstraction. There is underscoring by Diedre Murray, which adds little to the overall effect. Mark Wendland's set is a sinister junk pile. Kevin Adams' virtuoso lighting design is similar to his work on the Off Off Broadway production And God Created Great Whales, with lots of hanging light bulbs, and racks of strip lights placed in side positions to create eerie, colorful hazes of light. He has also installed two tracks of yellow fluorescent units over the audience, planting the image of a highway even before the production begins. The costumes by Ilona Somogyi and the sound by Brett Jarvis and David A. Gilman have less crucial roles to play. In the end, however, the real problem with Brutal Imagination is that it isn't brutal at all.--David Barbour

Seen at La MaMa E.T.C.: A Mammal's Notebook: The Erik Satie Cabaret, created by Great Small Works with Margaret Leng Tan. Using the drawings, notebooks, letters, and speeches of Erik Satie, as well as observations by Jean Cocteau and John Cage about the French modernist composer, Great Small Works presented this multimedia theatre piece at La MaMa in late December 2001.

Great Small Works, an Obie Award-winning performance troupe, uses dance, shadow theatre, mask performance, film, bunraku puppetry, and vaudeville performance forms, as well as the piano virtuosity of "the diva of the avant-garde," Margaret Leng Tan. Music included familiar Satie works, such as "Gymnopedie" and "Je Te Veux," as well as the less familiar pieces Satie wrote for Rosicrucian rituals. Also featured were pieces by Satie's contemporary, Aristide Bruant; John Cage's "In a Landscape"; and Toby Twining's "Satie Blues," a piece written for toy piano and piano. The La MaMa press release says, "It is a variety spectacle about what it means to make music, art, and theatre at the beginning of the last century, in a society marked by constant, destabilizing change"; fair enough. It also showcased Satie's nuttiness and his influence on subsequent Futurists, Surrealists, and weirdo modern-artist types. And, as all the best La MaMa productions do, the production featured wild inventiveness on a shoestring budget.

A Mammal's Notebook: the Erik Satie Cabaret was performed by John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Aya Kanai, Stephen Kaplin, Margaret Leng Tan, Alessandra Nichols, Jenny Romaine, Roberto Rossi, Mark Sussman, and Isaac Bell. Many performers also double (or triple) as designers: set design was by Mark Sussman and Alessandra Nichols; lighting design was by Mark Sussman and Boualem ben Gueddach; costume design was by Alessandra Nichols, Jenny Romaine, Trudi Cohen, and Mildred Cohen. Puppet and mask design was by Stephen Kaplin, with a giant Satie puppet by Roberto Rossi. Especially successful--and perhaps the simplest element in the show--were the giant 2D masks worn by actors in the "Life in Arcueil" segment of the play. A dog mask/puppet with a wagging tail was an audience pleaser. Satie was known for his green velvet suits--green corduroy ensembles were used here, with funny little cocked hats à la Robin Hood, and the occasional bowler and monocle-and-mustache mask. A rather discordant note was set by the modern sneakers worn by the male troupe members, but perhaps that was a deliberate anachronism.

A highlight was Genevieve de Brabant, Satie's miniature opera for marionettes, which was written for a pantomime destined for the Comedie Parisienne. The manuscript was discovered after Satie's death, behind a piano in his tiny room in Arcueil, a working-class suburb of Paris. The operetta was staged with shadow puppets designed by Kaplin.--Liz French

Heard in the Wings: London-based architect/set designer Mark Fisher continues to put his stamp on the rock world, first with the Super Bowl XXXVI halftime show featuring U2 in New Orleans on February 3. Without missing a beat, he returns to the Dominion Theatre in London, where he has designed the futuristic sets for We Will Rock You, the new musical with music by Queen (previews April 22; opening night May 14). Then without gathering any moss, it's back to the Rolling Stones, as Fisher designs the sets for the band's 40th anniversary tour, set to open next September.

Heard on the Soundstage: TV lighting director Dave Feldman, of Feldman Designs, has just finished designing the lighting for American Morning with Paula Zahn, the new CNN morning show, based in the network's New York bureau. He collaborated with assistant LD Jim Gregory, gaffer Randy Treu, and board op Tom Thayer to squeeze a new lighting design, new set, and a fresh look into the existing studio, which is also the home of Lou Dobbs Moneyline and NewsNight with Aaron Brown, both previously designed by Feldman.

Heard on the Awards Front: The inaugural AFI Awards show, televised for three hours Saturday night on CBS, may have been a dud, but the choices were interesting. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring not only took the top prize, but also nods for Production Designer of the Year (Grant Major) and Digital Effects Artist of the Year (Jim Rygiel). Roger Deakins was named Cinematographer of the Year, for his work on The Man Who Wasn't There…Finalists for the Visual Effects and Sound Editing Oscars have been announced. The films being considered for three final positions in both categories are A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Black Hawk Down, The Fast and the Furious, Lord of the Rings, and Pearl Harbor. Other finalists for Visual Effects are Cats and Dogs, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Jurassic Park III, while Amelie and Monsters, Inc. round out the Sound Editing list…On a less high-tech note, the Independent Spirit Awards nominees for Best Cinematography are Frank G. DeMarco, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Peter Deming, for Mulholland Drive; W. Mott Hupfel III, for The American Astronaut; Giles Nuttgens, for The Deep End; and Wally Pfister, for Memento.