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How radioactive is this film? Elephant had a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles last October, and then . . . nothing. It may have won a number of prestigious awards, including the Golden Palm at Cannes and Independent Spirit awards for direction and cinematography, but it was received by distributors with all the enthusiasm of a smallpox outbreak. Well, director Gus Van Sant’s take on the Columbine massacre—indeed, the whole tragic phenomenon of school shootings—is finally getting its area debut.

The film follows, in cinema-verité fashion, a day in the life of an American high school; a day, that is, when a couple of deeply disturbed and/or alienated students decide to go on a killing spree. As Village Voice critic J. Hoberman describes it, Elephant is “less staged than unfurled. . . . Characters are introduced as they hobnob in their school’s cafeteria or pass through its sterile corridors.”

The intention isn’t to figure out why the kids became killers. As Hoberman suggests, Van Sant’s treatment of the volatile material with a combination of “bold aestheticism and documentary whimsy” make Elephant a kind of “poetic disaster film.” And, obviously, well worth your time.

Elephant will be screened tomorrow (Friday, April 16), at 4:30 and 11 PM, at Images Cinema (Spring Street, Williamstown, Mass.). Tickets are $5 general admission, and free for Williams College students with ID. For more information, call (413) 458-5612.

New Model Army

These longtime English punks, known and respected for their fiesty melodicism and sincere, consistent political stance, are back in a semi-acoustic format.

Interestingly, NMA—who took their name from Oliver Cromwell’s army—have been around longer than that stiff-necked Puritan managed to rule England. According to the band’s Web site, this “Back in the USA” tour will consist of vocalist- guitarist-frontman Justin Sullivan, keyboardist-guitarist Dean Whites and drummer Michael Dean. The songs? As ever (or at least since 1985), the songs will focus on the political—in a way, of course, that makes the political personal.

New Model Army, with openers Random Fit, will perform Sunday (April 18) at 8 PM at Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany). Tickets for this 18-plus show are $10. For more information, call 432-6572.

The Magical Glass Armonica

First of all, you must know that the glass armonica—which will be featured in a performance of chamber music by L’Ensemble on Sunday—is not a transparent mouth harp. It’s a totally different instrument, and one with a Trivial Pursuit-worthy origin.

A prototypical version of the glass armonica had been known for centuries in the form of partially filled glasses of water that, when stroked by a fingertip, produced distinct notes. (The pitch of each glass was determined by the level of water in the glass.) The bright, ringing tones were regarded to be “angelic,” but the technique had its problems, including the pesky one of evaporation. Eventually, a particularly ingenious 18th-century amateur musician determined to reproduce those heavenly tones in a more convenient manner, devising an instrument that dispensed with the water tuning (by having a glassblower create vessels of pitch-specific thickness), and nestling the bowls together in a way that was more easily contained and transported. Who was this clever fellow? None other than our man Benjamin Franklin—printer, politician, diplomat, pop musician. So much did Franklin enjoy rocking the armonica that Thomas Penn wrote from Europe to Alexander Hamilton complaining by implication that Franklin was neglecting his ambassadorial duties in favor of dabbling “in philosophical matters and performances on glasses.”

On Sunday, the glass armonica will be employed by Bill Hayes on pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Hayes. The program also includes music by Brahms and Three Songs for Voice Viola and Piano, featuring pianist Charles Abramovic, soprano Ida Faiella, violinist Barry Finclair, violist Jesse Levine and cellist Semyon Fridman.

L’Ensemble will perform at the Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Sunday (April 18). Tickets for the 3 PM show are $20. For more information, call 473-1845.

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