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Flick Chick


Published October 29, 2003 at 5:00 p.m.

Annoyed by the cheesy plastic Halloween lawn decorations that go on display before Labor Day? Tired of forking over bucketfuls of candy to sugar-greedy kids in superhero costumes? For a genuine fright-night experience, you could rent videos to enjoy instead -- say, the Fido fears of Cujo or the flu-season nightmare of The Stand. Spread some Stephen King holiday cheer.

Just in time for All Hallow's Eve, Palgrave has published a book by Tony Magistrale of South Burlington that offers insights about the Maine horrormeister. Specifically, Hollywood's Stephen King addresses how successfully some of his work has been adapted for the big or little screen.

Magistrale, an English professor at the University of Vermont since 1983, has penned more than a dozen previous tomes -- including a few about King. The new one presents a rare scholarly analysis of 25 movies based on the prolific novelist's oeuvre, from chillers in the vein of Firestarter to less occult tales such as The Shawshank Redemption.

"I'm trying to do for these films what I've always done for his books," suggests the 51-year-old Magistrale, who covers King in his American lit courses. "I help people understand there's a lot going on here."

In the 233-page paperback, Magistrale wonders why critics respect only a King book-to-film directed by the likes of Brian DePalma (Carrie), Stanley Kubrick (The Shining) or Rob Reiner (Stand By Me). Other projects tend to receive perfunctory reviews.

When Magistrale treks to Bangor for a 2002 interview with King, the author muses that the supernatural genre's appeal is rooted in the dark side of human nature. "People like to slow down and look at the accident," he says. "That's the bottom line."

And what will Magistrale's bottom line be on October 31? "I'm signing copies of Hollywood's Stephen King from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the UVM Bookstore," he reports, sounding more promotion-savvy than spooky.

In what must have been a "senior moment," I found myself at the wrong theater for a press screening of The Human Stain at September's Toronto International Film Festival. Too late for a dash to the correct venue, I followed a colleague to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Serendipity prevailed.

The big-budget drama starring Nicole Kidman has disappointed most critics so far. But the little, you-are-there documentary -- scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday at UVM's Stafford Hall -- delivers the excitement of a tense thriller. In a nutshell, it chronicles a 2002 attempt to overthrow the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised borrows its title from that of a 1974 jazz/spoken word recording by Gil Scott-Heron. The phrase, which has since become part of the vernacular, now begs the question: What isn't televised in the 21st century? Directors Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain even prove that a counterrevolution can be extremely telegenic.

Nonetheless, the two Galway-based filmmakers benefit from the legendary luck of the Irish. Already shooting a profile of Chavez when the fighting broke out, they remained inside the Caracas presidential palace to capture the entire 48-hour coup. Their chance footage is remarkable, a peek at history unfolding from an intimate vantage point.

Elected in 1998, Chavez ruffled the oligarchy's feathers by trying to help the poor, who make up 80 percent of Venezuela's population. Yet his country is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world. A plan to redistribute some of that wealth also put this charismatic leader in the crosshairs of the Bush administration.

Privately owned Venezuelan TV and radio stations immediately launched a campaign of disinformation. When opposition snipers killed 10 Chavez supporters last year, local media twisted the story so that the victims appeared to be the aggressors. This prompted the military brass -- reportedly urged on by American officials -- to surround the palace with tanks.

Chavez agreed to be taken into custody only when the generals threatened bombing. He was held incommunicado on a remote island. Right-wing politicians and businessmen were swiftly installed to head a new government. But the next day, an estimated one million Venezuelans gathered at the palace gates to demand that their democracy be restored.

Bartley and O'Briain got it all. Although the duo clearly sympathizes with Chavez, events seem to speak for themselves. Their documentary is incredibly suspenseful. You may already know how things turned out, but the scant and slanted U.S. news coverage of this story pretty well guarantees you don't know what went down.