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The Sundance Channel puts the spotlight on Virginia's own Sparklehorse. 

Creative Cross Pollination

The Sundance Channel recently brought back a three-part series called "Sonic Cinema." The last segment of the new series features the music of Sparklehorse, a Virginia rock band led by singer-songwriter Mark Linkous. The program features music from Sparklehorse's recently released CD, "It's a Wonderful Life."

The Sundance Channel's public-relations materials say this program, in its second year, "illustrates the creative cross-pollination that takes place between artists who intersect the mediums of music and filmmaking." Wow, what a mouthful to say these are music videos. But maybe that's their way of telling you that these are not your average music videos.

If you're in the uppermost echelon of cable television viewing, you have access to The Sundance Channel. If you're without Sundance, let me tell you it's quite a bold concept, considering what's available further down the dial. Instead of countless hours of Schwarzenegger and Sipowicz, Sundance offers little-seen short films and features, foreign films, documentaries and other movies you'd have to hike to the video store to get. Sundance shows a lot of great stuff, and it also shows a lot of crap. But that's part of the fun. Not knowing what you're going to get makes Sundance's programming seem all the more real.

"Sonic Cinema" focuses on music video filmmaking, and the "Sparklehorse" segment focuses on the filmmakers, and how each one interprets Linkous' music. Everyone from the established filmmaker to the friend of the band gets his shot behind the camera. There are videos by The Brothers Quay (known for their animation filmmaking), rock photographer Danny Clinch and Sparklehorse bandmember Scott Minor, among others.

Like the rest of Sundance's programming, some of this is good and some is questionable. Avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin creates a lovely interpretation of the album's title track. It's pulsing 3/4 time and scratchy, 78 sound inspired him to make a film reminiscent of the silents, with timeless-looking characters moving in constantly revolving environments.

Three of the directors chose more obvious and somewhat monotonous interpretations, filming in and around Linkous' woodsy Bremo Bluff property. Danny Clinch's is one of these. His still photography is innovative and distinct. As a filmmaker he comes across as someone on vacation with his first camcorder.

The Brothers Quay piece is characteristic of their disturbing stop-motion animation work; so characteristic, though, it makes you yawn. But it's all in the fun of watching this type of chancy programming. Deciding for yourself what's good and what's bad is so much more interesting and rewarding than having some marketing expert at MTV or VH-1 decide for you.

The filmmakers in "Sonic Cinema: Sparklehorse" have eschewed hip-gyrating teens in favor of more artistic-looking images. In the end, though, these are just music videos, and the only cross-pollination going on might be on Linkous' property.

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