|by Eric D. Snider
[NOTE: This is my daily account of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Each day's diary entry will be added to the end of this feature, rather than posting 10 separate ones. Dress warm when you read it; it's cold here.]
Day 1 (Thursday, Jan. 20):
The first day of Sundance is always a Thursday, and the only event is the opening-night film in Park City, which is preceded by a welcome address from festival founder and timid woodland creature Robert Redford. As a rule, I do not attend this event, because why drive to Park City just to watch ONE movie? Redford is cool and all, but I wouldn't go to all that trouble just to see him speak for a few minutes. Clint Eastwood, yes, and certainly Steven Spielberg. But Redford? Nah.
Day 2 (Friday, Jan. 21):
The first REAL day of the festival is always an exciting one. Everyone has arrived the night before or early that morning, and all the festival-goers are bright with energy and optimism. On the first real day of the festival, no movies have sucked yet.
My reputation is as a person who plans to attend 9 a.m. screenings yet fails to actually do so, but today was different. I awoke at 6:45 a.m., showered, dressed and made the 35-minute drive to Park City, checked in at festival headquarters, and was in my seat at 8:40. Eight-forty, my friends! And more to the point, 6:45, my friends! I had forgotten what 6:45 looked like, at least coming at it from that direction. (I've seen it as I was GOING to bed a number of times, of course.)
It feels good to get up early and get a head-start on the day, though as with most things that are good for me, I decline to do it regularly. Today felt especially good because the fantastic weather we've been having the past few days continued: clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 40s. The low 40s sound cold, but when it is often overcast and in the 20s, you are grateful for sunny and 40. It's nature's way of tricking us into being appreciative of crappy things.
A couple years ago, a third press-screening venue was added at one of the Holiday Village Cinemas theaters -- an actual movie theater, as opposed to a hotel ballroom with ad-hoc seating. That venue only hosted one or two screenings a day, but still, it was nice to have.
This year, further advances have been made. That Holiday Village theater has been upgraded to full service, with six screenings a day, just like the other two venues. That makes a total of 134 press screening slots -- enough for every film in the festival to be shown once, and another dozen or so shown twice.
In addition, one of the press-screening venues has moved. It used to be downstairs from the Eccles Theatre, which is the festival's main venue. The press-screening room was small and often too hot, though it was convenient for when you attended a public screening at the Eccles and wanted to just dash downstairs afterward for a press screening.
Now that small Eccles press venue has closed and in its place there is a second venue at the Yarrow Hotel. So two press-screening venues are in the same hotel, mere feet from each other -- and the third venue, at the Holiday Village Cinemas, is just across the parking lot. For denizens of press screenings, this means no shuttle-busing back and forth, and no reason to even go outside, really, which is a boon to film geeks, since our skin is pasty and sensitive to the elements.
Anyway, my first screening -- the one at 9 a.m.! that I made it to on time! -- was in the new Yarrow venue, and I found it to be large and spacious and as uncomfortable as its older Yarrow brother. But still. The movie was the one that was shown at the big opening-night gala last night, "Happy Endings," from the man who gave us "The Opposite of Sex." It's a fairly funny movie, but at 128 minutes, it's long. Most Sundance films clock in at around 90 minutes, and most comedies in general aren't much longer than 100. A hundred and twenty-eight, that's Oscar drama length, there, and "Happy Endings" is not an Oscar drama.
Next up, in the other Yarrow room, was "9 Songs," from director Michael Winterbottom. I greatly enjoyed Winterbottom's Sundance entry from a few years ago, "Wonderland," though I have found much of his other work to be as cold as his name. (Seriously, "Michael"? *shudder*) "9 Songs" is, um, pornography. Usually I don't stumble onto the pornography until much later in the festival, but here I was, porning it up before noon on the first day.
Technically it's just a movie about this couple who go to a lot of concerts and who, when they are not at concerts, have sex a lot. But I know porn when I see it, and trust me, this was porn. Not very good porn, either, not that I'm a conoisseur. It was only 69 minutes long, though (tee-hee!), so that's a plus. But really, when you're being bored and titillated simultaneously, time moves very slowly.
I had a few minutes after "9 Songs," so I walked over to Burger King, the official sponsor of Eric's diet when he's at Sundance. Then it was back to the Yarrow (which sounds like a pirate hotel if you say it right: "Yarrrrrr-ow"). While in line to see "The Jacket," starring Adrian Brody and his amazing colossal nose, I met up with my pals from HollywoodBitchslap.com, Erik, Scott and Chris ("The Movieman," "The Angry Jew" and "Oz," respectively). I was happy to see them all in good health in spirits since our last in-person visit together, one year ago. They flew in from Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver this morning, and boy were their potty mouths tired! Like sailors they swear, all of them. But I love the little effers!
"The Jacket," which already has a distributor (Warner Independent) and a movie trailer, was a hot ticket for us press types, who like to be able to tell people when a movie comes out in the summer that we saw it way back in January. Inexplicably, it was being shown in the smaller of the two Yarrow venues, so many press people were turned away.
This caused a bit of pre-screening drama when Anthony Kaufman, film critic for the Village Voice, returned from the bathroom to find that Ruthe Stein, film writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, had taken his jacket from the chair on which he had placed it and had begun to occupy the chair. She had stolen his seat, in other words. He had clearly marked it as his by putting his coat on it, and she had simply moved the coat and taken the seat. And now there were no seats left. And Ruthe Stein would NOT relinquish her ill-gotten seat.
Kaufman left the room and returned three times, each time trying to reason with the woman, but she would not budge. I heard him say one time that if he did not see this movie, he would lose his job, which probably was an exaggeration. But I suppose people who are attempting to retrieve their property from madwomen are entitled to a bit of hyperbole.
Eventually, he became quite vocal and caused a scene -- which was exactly the right tack to take, as it made Ruthe Stein's craziness a matter of public record and, in theory, embarrassed her. "Who ARE you?!" he demanded several times, not in the way of, "What is your name?" or "Who do you think you are?," but more like, "Who DOES that? Who steals someone's chair and then refuses to give it up?" The crowd was on his side and applauded him. Ruthe Stein would not move.
Eventually, the man sitting next to Ruthe Stein, perhaps seeking to avoid any further ugliness, gave up his seat and left the room. This meant Kaufman had a seat, but it was a seat next to his nemesis, Ruthe Stein. We found this delightful. We hoped maybe they would fall in love during the film.
But alas, "The Jacket" was not the sort of movie that inspires love. (Ironically, it was a jacket that caused the trouble in the first place.) The title character of "The Jacket" is a straitjacket, specifically one that gets put on Adrian Brody when he's in a nuthouse, and when he's wearing it, he can travel through time. Um, sort of. It's a lot like "Butterfly Effect," but without Ashton Kutcher, which I'm sure you'll agree is a good thing.
Mere moments after "The Jacket," I watched "Loggerheads." This is an ensemble drama taking place in North Carolina on three different Mother's Days. Bonnie Hunt is in it, and man, I love her. I'd go to Park City just to watch her introduce a movie, too.
"Loggerheads" got out at around 6:30 p.m., which meant I had seen four movies in just over nine hours. My previous record for single-day viewing was four movies, so I only had to see one more to break that. I had time to see two more, but six movies in one day, that's crazy talk. Besides, I needed to take a break to write and to wander around Main Street and look for famous people.
So I took the shuttle bus up to Main Street. On the bus, I heard a man and woman discussing the recent influx of Asian directors, particularly directors of horror films. The man said, "I was just getting used to all those Mexican directors we had to know, and now there's all these Korean and Japanese ones." This is the sort of problem that independent-film lovers have.
Main Street was a-bustle with activity, it being the first real night of the festival and a Friday to boot. There is only one Sundance screening venue on Main Street, the classy old Egyptian Theatre, but it's full of shops and restaurants and party venues, thus making it THE place to be if you are a celebrity, although mostly it is populated by people who are merely looking for celebrities. The actual celebrities are hiding.
But I did see Jay Mohr, host of the Sundance Channel's daily updates, being prepped and primped in Sundance's makeshift studios in what I think is usually an art gallery. I also saw two women having their picture taken with a man who looked familiar, so I asked them who he was. They said he was on "Queer as Folk" and his name is Robert Gant. I looked it up on the Internet Movie Database and was able to verify this. Why he looked familiar to me, I don't know, since I've never watched that show. I think he just looks a lot like Ryan on "The O.C.," and hence familiar to me (even though I am so over "The O.C." now).
After I had dawdled long enough, I found a quiet place and wrote for a while, including some of the very words you are reading now. Then it was back down to the Yarrow to kill some more time before my 10 p.m. screening of "Old Boy."
"Old Boy" is a Korean film from one of the aforementioned Asian directors that we have to get used to nowadays. His name is either Park Chan-wook or Chan-wook Park; I know the Asian method of naming is opposite from ours, but I can never tell when it's the original Korean version and when it's been Westernized. Anyway, that's his name, and "Old Boy" is a freaky movie about a guy who gets locked in a room for 15 years then gets out and wants revenge on whoever locked him in there. At one point he extracts a man's teeth with a hammer, rendering him incomprehensible, so that his dialogue has to be subtitled ... in Korean, originally, which means his subtitles have to be subtitled, too. The movie is JUST THAT FREAKY.
Before the film, the publicist handed out a notice that reads (and I quote exactly):
NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT: By entering these premises and viewing "Oldboy" you agree to hold in confidence all information regarding the end of said Film and further shall not directly or indirectly disclose to others such information.
In other words, don't spoil the ending. I'm not sure which specific plot points they were referring to, though, because the movie ends for about 20 minutes. You keep thinking it's over, and then it's not done and you have to let it be over some more. So I just won't tell you anything else about the movie, except that at the very end the main character dies in an explosion.
The screening ended just after midnight. Who scheduled the 119-minute movie as the last screening of the day? Somebody evil, that's who.
And that did it for me. Five movies in one day. I headed home, still thinking about Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle. If she should happen to read this and want to give her side of the story, I'd be glad to print it, though I reserve the right to make fun of it, too.
Day 3 (Saturday, Jan. 22):
Remember how I got up at 6:45 a.m. yesterday? What was up with THAT?
Today I got up at 9:45, which is much more reasonable (though still early, since I didn't get to bed until 3 a.m.). Even still, I barely made the 11:30 film, due to the shuttle-bus system having changed since last year. See, they added a new public-screening venue, at the Park City Racquet Club, which means the shuttle buses have to, you know, stop there. This meant changing the whole route, and the result is that while the Yarrow used to be quite easy to get to from festival headquarters, now it's the last stop on the route. In fact, there are two different routes, and it's the last stop on both of them.
I happened to see Oz from HBS.com, and we traveled together. We arrived at the theater at 11:40, 10 minutes late for "Forty Shades of Blue." Luckily, the movie started nine minutes late, so we had only missed, like, half a shade.
The movie is a slow drama that I found engrossing at first but less so as it went on. Oz had the opposite reaction; he said it grew on him. But I should point out that Oz is Australian, so he thinks it's summer right now, too.
Since the movie started nine minutes late, that meant it ended nine minutes late, too. Hence, instead of having 13 minutes to make it to the next screening, I had four. Luckily, the next screening was just over at the Holiday Village, a one-minute walk -- three minutes to spare, but I do like to use the restroom first, you know?
Anyway, Erik and Scott from HBS.com were there, saving me a seat. It was between them, unfortunately, so I had to endure Scott's asking me every five minutes what time it is. ("Time to buy a watch," I told him. Ha ha! I've got his number!) The movie was "Matador," starring Pierce Brosnan as an alcoholic hitman who is slowly losing his mojo. Greg Kinnear plays the regular Joe who befriends him in Mexico City. It's quite a funny movie, with Brosnan giving one of his most enjoyable performances to date, full of vulgar figures of speech. ("I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the Navy leaves" is one of the more printable ones.)
Halfway through the movie, the words "Press Any Button" appeared on the screen superimposed over the movie, and began moving around, like a computer that's gone to screensaver. Evidently some digital-projection-type thing up in the booth had gone to sleep. If you're curious what it looks like to see "Press Any Button" on Pierce Brosnan's face, don't worry, David Poland of Movie City News took a picture.
I had a few hours before the next screening, so I vowed to get some writing done. This plan was thwarted, however, by my Salt Lake City friends Michael and Jamie, who have no business at Sundance, yet who were calling to tell me they were here. Seeking, as always, any excuse not to work, I took the bus up to Main Street to meet them for a few minutes.
On the bus I chatted with a California-based contributor to a Chicago newspaper who mentioned Santa Monica three times in two minutes.
I found Michael and Jamie. They had already seen Jesse Bradford (of "Bring It On" and "Swimfan," and of "Happy Endings" at this year's fest) and had taken a picture of him, despite not knowing who he was, only that he appeared to be famous. I guess maybe someone was in the act of kissing his butt or something. Anyway, they showed me the picture, and I ID'ed him.
They had also seen noted hobbit Elijah Wood dining with friends at an outdoor cafe, so we returned to the scene so I could gawk. Elijah was bundled up in large sunglasses and a scarf, obviously trying to avoid detection, which seems like it would defeat the whole PURPOSE of Sundance, but whatever. I mean, if you don't want people to recognize you, don't get famous, all right? Anyway, seeing that other people were harassing him for photos (during which he was very gracious, I should mention), we opted not to add to his misery. So we merely whispered and giggled for a few minutes about how tiny he is in real life -- I suspect they actually had to make him look bigger in order for him to play a hobbit -- and then left.
I subsequently had this phone conversation with my friend Rob:
ME: I saw Elijah Wood.
ROB: I feel like I should know that name....
ME: Did you see any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies?
ME: (pause) Why are we even friends?
The HBS.com crowd are staying in a house on Park Avenue, in the midst of the Sundance hubbub. I have no idea how they got it; they have outstanding accommodations every year, possibly via illegal means. In fact, I assume it's via illegal means. This year they are sharing their house with actresses Joan Chen and Elizabeth Peña. I don't know how that happened, either. I don't really understand anything about my HBS.com friends, now that I think about it.
Anyway, I stopped by their house for a few minutes to write and chit-chat, and then Erik and I headed back to the Yarrow for a couple more screenings. We could have taken a shuttle bus, but traffic was so bad we suspected we'd make it there faster if we walked. We were right. It's a 15-minute walk from their house to the Yarrow, and the bus was still behind us when we arrived. This is why public transportation does not work and should be abandoned.
The movie was "Lonesome Jim," a "Garden State"-ish dark comedy about a sadsack who goes home to Indiana to have a nervous breakdown. Steve Buscemi directed it but does not appear in it, THANK GOODNESS. (That man is UGLY.) We found the film quite enjoyable, though I think it often sacrifices realism for the sake of a joke. But then, don't we all?
We had a brief break, and then it was back into the screening room for "Pretty Persuasion." This is a dark comedy a la "Heathers" or "Mean Girls" about high school girls who accuse their teacher of sexual assault. Scott joined us for this film, and afterward we were split. Scott loved it, saying it was a scathing, angry indictment of modern America; I took the opposite view, that Scott is a moron. No, kidding. I thought the first half of the movie was very funny but often too obviously trying to be "outrageous," and that the second half of the film was considerably less funny and eventually ugly and heavy-handed. Erik was somewhere between us. We discussed it in a lively fashion as we walked back to the HBS house, where we discovered Elizabeth Peña. (The alleged Joan Chen was nowhere to be found. Perhaps she discovered she was going to be bunking with three Internet film critics and Elizabeth Peña and got a hotel.)
Elizabeth is an extremely friendly and lovely woman. She is famous, but not the kind of famous that makes me recognize her. (I did spot her voice, though: She was Mirage in "The Incredibles.") I see she's been in films like "Rush Hour" and "Tortilla Soup," but eh; still not ringing any bells for me. Anyway, she's very nice. I hope I get a chance to see her Sundance movie, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer."
Oz, Erik, Scott and I then departed for Main Street, where Oz had finagled an invitation to a party at a restaurant/bar, hosted by Femme Fatale. I had never heard of it, but apparently Femme Fatale is one of those Maxim-type men's magazines with pictures of half-naked women and articles about cars and sex. The party was too full to permit any additional guests without violating fire codes, but Oz knows a guy. Specifically, he knows a guy named Paul from Spin magazine. Paul led us to the door, where he shmoozed like a pro with the gatekeepers. One of them said, "We're totally to capacity," and Paul replied, "Oh, but have you talked to Jamie?" And he dropped a couple other names, too. Evidently this carried some weight, this Jamie person and her associates, because we were allowed into the party.
The party was crammed with fresh-scrubbed pretty people, the sort of people who would either, depending on their gender, appear in or subscribe to Femme Fatale magazine. Erik and I noticed that there was a table with free food on it, so we made a beeline. Unfortunately, a young couple, he in tattered jeans and a trendy tight T-shirt, she in a furry white jacket, were posted in front of the table, filling their plates and taking a good long while to do so. Perhaps they were removing all the carbs manually. I craned my neck to see around them to the table itself and found nothing terribly appetizing anyway, mostly just that froofy party food, like little things on little crackers. But I did see a big bowl of tortilla chips, so I reached over and grabbed some.
Erik said, "Ten dollars if you take the bowl with you and walk around the room with it." I had been planning on doing this anyway, so Erik's dare was unnecessary. The bowl wasn't doing anyone any good on the table, where Trendy Couple were blocking it; if I carried it around the room, it could benefit all in attendance.
So I became Chip Boy. Party-goers were surprised to see a man toting a bowl of chips around with him, but they were grateful to have the localized service. It became a conversation piece, a way to mingle and chat with strangers, and also to maintain my status as someone who is a dork with no dignity. I only regretted that I could not carry salsa with me, as I needed a free hand to hold my beverage.
Day 4 (Sunday, Jan. 23):
There is a film playing at the festival called "The Aristocrats," a documentary in which a few dozen famous comedians tell the same filthy joke, each putting his own spin and personality on it. This joke has been around since the vaudeville days, passed from one comedian to another, and told mostly just in private comedian gatherings like Friars Club dinners and country club events, seldom in public.
Being a fan both of comedy and of secret things -- all of the press materials regarding this film don't even hint at what the joke actually is, only saying that it's the filthiest thing you've ever heard -- I am curious to see it, and I was looking forward to the press screening at noon today. Unfortunately, yesterday they revised the schedule and moved "The Aristocrats" to 8:30 a.m. If you have been reading these diary entries regularly, I'm sure I don't need to explain why that is a problem.
Nonetheless, I set my alarm for 6:45 this morning, and I stumbled out of bed when it went off. I immediately discerned that I was in no condition to do anything other than get back in bed, and that even that task would require superhuman effort. I was unable to speak or even think in English. Only two of my senses were working, and neither of them was sight or hearing. I had had less than four hours of sleep, and no amount of caffeine was going to repair that. I resolved to scrounge a ticket to the public screening set for Tuesday afternoon instead.
So my first movie of the day was "The Dying Gaul" at 11:30 a.m., and I found it extremely compelling. It features performances from Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard that are probably the best of all three of those actors' careers. It is about a gay writer (Sarsagaard) who writes a screenplay based on the recent AIDS death of his boyfriend. Scott plays the Hollywood executive who will pay him $1 million for the script -- but only if he changes the dying boyfriend character to a woman, to make the film more palatable to straight America. Oh, and then the executive and the writer become lovers, even though the executive has a wife; whoops!
After this film I headed to festival headquarters to put in a request for a ticket to "The Aristocrats" on Tuesday, and to pick up my ticket for today's public screening of "Kung Fu Hustle" at the Eccles Theatre. This was my first public screening of the festival, and I was looking forward to it. I don't like regular mulitplex audiences, what with the talking and the eating and the coming in late and the answering cellphones, but Sundance audiences are different. I suspect waiting in the cold for two hours to get into the film makes them determined to concentrate on it no matter what. And it's fun to be at a premiere with the director and cast members, and to see an audience's reaction to a new work.
Before the film started, I happened to see Roger Ebert, the dean of modern American film criticism, in the crowd. I think he has become easily entertained in his old age -- the number of 3-star reviews he gives astonishes me -- and he makes a lot of little factual errors nowadays, but let's face it: The guy can write. Good heavens, can he write. He's not as erudite as the Entertainment Weekly critics, nor as urbane as the New York Times crowd. But in terms of sheer sentence-assembling and brisk readability, he cannot be beat.
I introduced myself to him two years ago at the festival, back when he was still the world's fattest man, weighing well over 1,200 pounds. Then he missed last year's fest due to health problems, so it was good to see him back again now. I don't watch his TV show, so I haven't seen him lately, and I was surprised to see how, well, old he looks. I mean, he looks well -- color in his face, spry and lively as always in his conversation -- but he looked well for an old man. He'll be 63 this year, and I don't want him to be that old, and I don't want him to have health problems, because being that old and having health problems tend to cause people to die. And as much as I want his job, I don't want him to have to die for me to get it. (Actually, if his death DID mean I would get his job, like automatically, I would probably revise that position. But in realistic terms, where I will never, ever have his job, I am firm: I don't want Roger Ebert dead.)
I reintroduced myself to him and said I was a fan of his work as a fellow film critic, and he asked me who I write for. I told him I'd done some pre-festival stuff for Salt Lake City Weekly and that I also write for HollywoodBitchslap.com. He said, "Oh, that's a good site." I was a little surprised he was familiar with HBS.com, so I said, "Really?" And he said, "Well, it's readable." But he said it like a compliment, as in, "Well, a lot of stuff on the Internet isn't even readable, but not HBS.com!"
I had not planned any further conversation with him than "hello," but now he engaged me in further discussion. "Have you seen 'Murderball'?" he asked as he sat down in the aisle seat. I squatted next to him and said, "No, but I hear it's very good." (It's a documentary about quadriplegic men who play rugby in their wheelchairs.) He confirmed that it is, and I said I hoped to see it.
Seeing it now was my turn in the Sundance volley of casual conversation to bring up a film, I said, "Have you seen 'Inside Deep Throat'?" It is a documentary about the adult film "Deep Throat" that became a cultural touchstone in the early '70s, and the reason I mentioned it to him was that I had just heard some people on the shuttle bus talking about how fantastic it was. He said he had not seen it, but that there was a press screening tonight at 10 p.m. that he was considering attending. But he wanted to know: Should he see some other film that was playing at 8:30, or should he see "Inside Deep Throat" at 10? Roger Ebert wanted my advice on what movie to see! Unfortunately, not having seen either of the films in question (I forget what the other one was), I could only rely on hearsay, which was in favor of the porn documentary. So that was the advice I gave him. I returned to my seat, pleased to have had a friendly conversation with one of my professional role models, and fearful my recommendation would turn out to be a bad one and that he would hate me for it and put in his will that even after his death, I am not to have his job.
"Kung Fu Hustle" is a film by Chinese director Stephen Chow, one of about a dozen people I can think of who are always described as "huge stars in Asia but little-known here in the states." Apparently, Asia is brimming with fantastic talent that no one in America cares about. Chow writes, directs and acts in his films; his most recent one was "Shaolin Soccer," which had a little cult following here in the U.S. (Actually, "cult following" was the best it could do, since Miramax never played it on more than about two screens at once, and never opened it at all in most of the country.)
"Kung Fu Hustle" is my favorite film of the festival so far. It's a sheer joy to watch, an endlessly inventive and funny martial-arts film about a little slum being harassed by a gang of ax-wielding thugs. It seems to be set in the '30s, and sometimes the thugs (who are dressed in black suits and tall top hats) break into dance, and sometimes the characters can run super-fast like the Roadrunner. It's a wonderful movie. The audience gave Chow, who was in attendance, a thunderous ovation afterward. I noticed a quartet of geeks wearing T-shirts that said "Disciples of Chow," with pictures from his movies on the back. It occurred to me that these men will have to be content with their love for Stephen Chow, as they will almost surely never know the love of a woman.
I had a couple hours to kill after "Kung Fu Hustle," so I headed up to Main Street to hang out at the Sundance House, an art gallery that becomes a lounge and Internet cafe for passholders during the festival. As it happens, I arrived just in time for the opening reception for members of the press and for any filmmakers who care to show up. Seeing that there was free food and drink to be had, I entered.
While at the bar obtaining a Coke, I was approached by a friendly man who asked if I had a film at the festival. I told him I was but a lowly movie critic and asked if he had a film there. He said he did: "Shake Hands with the Devil." Now, I watched a screener tape of this a couple weeks ago, and it is a very fine film, a documentary about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the same event as the recent film "Hotel Rwanda," except a documentary. It turns out I was speaking with Peter Raymont, the director of the "Shake Hands with the Devil," so I told him I liked his film very much, and he thanked me. He was enjoying the free martinis, and I feel I should emphasize the plural nature of the word "martinis." He had two just during our conversation, and he showed signs of having had some before we met.
He observed that the Nick Nolte character in "Hotel Rwanda" was based loosely on Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian man who is the focus of his documentary. He said Nolte was all wrong for the part, and that the filmmakers didn't even consult Dallaire before making their movie. I gently pointed out that Nolte's character is a composite, based on Dallaire and someone else, but this did not stop Peter Raymont from being mildly annoyed by the whole thing. Nonetheless, he said, anything that causes people to think about the tragedy that occurred in Rwanda is a good thing. And it's true: I myself have not killed a single Rwandan since watching these films.
Elsewhere at the party was enormous magician/comedian Penn Gillette, who, with fellow comedian Paul Provenza, made the aforementioned dirty-joke documentary "The Aristocrats." I told them about the obscene starting time of the press screening and said I hoped to see it on Tuesday, as I'd heard many good things about it. They agreed with me that 8:30 is too early.
I then noticed a table that had a fountain of chocolate surrounded by a host of things to be dipped into it, fondue-style. I made a beeline, as dipping junk food into other junk food is, in my opinion, the very pinnacle of an unhealthy lifestyle. However, I soon discovered that my access to the table was blocked by Crispin Glover.
Yes, the man who played George McFly and who once nearly kicked David Letterman in the head on his own show was having fondue and chatting with some other festival-goers, and being an obstacle as he did so. Glover wrote and directed a movie called "What Is It?" that I plan to see later in the week and that I assume is crazy, just like he is. Seeing me approach, he introduced himself and immediately handed me a card with the screenings dates and times for "What Is It?," then asked if I wanted to participate in a round-table interview with him on Friday. He said we could go find his publicist, who was somewhere at the party, and she could give me the details. I wasn't really interested in doing any interviews, but I was very interested in getting him away from the fondue, so I let him lead me to his publicist, who agreed with me, once he had left us alone together, that he is crazy. ("Esoteric genius" is actually what she said, but she meant crazy.)
After I stuffed myself with fondue, I left the party and went to the lounge part of the Sundance House to write for a while. Then it was back down to the Holiday Village Cinemas for back-to-back documentaries: "Why We Fight" and the aforementioned "Inside Deep Throat." (Both films include interviews with Gore Vidal, by the way. Evidently he is the go-to guy if you are interested in hearing about America's love for war and/or fornication.)
"Why We Fight" is essentially "Fahrenheit 9/11" with Michael Moore removed (which, yes, makes it several hundred pounds lighter). It purports to be about why America has gone into battle in general in the past 50 years, but it's really about why American went to Iraq. (Answer: No good reason.) The film is very sobering, but I wonder if we sort of already did this last year, with Moore's film. Did we need another one?
"Inside Deep Throat," which Roger Ebert did in fact attend, is a pretty entertaining examination of "Deep Throat" and what it did to American society and culture in the 1970s. The film is not itself pornography; it is merely ABOUT pornography. (I got my porn fix already, with "9 Songs.") I don't think the filmmakers make their case very strongly, though. They seem to assume that we already agree with them that adult films should not be banned or censored or prosecuted for violating decency laws. At the end, an onscreen title points out that the same laws used to prosecute the makers of "Deep Throat" are STILL ON THE BOOKS! And we're supposed to be appalled that such archaic laws are still around, but I wasn't appalled, because the film hadn't done a good enough job convincing me that I needed to be. It assumed it was preaching to the choir, I guess, and didn't realize that some non-members might wander in.
With four more movies under my belt, bringing my festival total (including 10 pre-festival screenings) to 23, it was time to retire for the night. On the shuttle bus back to the parking lot that contained my car, I found an unopened, perfectly good package of peanut butter and crackers -- a satisfying conclusion to a satisfying day.
Day 5 (Monday, Jan. 24):
Today I saw many celebrities urinating. But we'll get to that later.
My first film of the day wasn't until noon, so I went to Sundance headquarters first to kill a few minutes and to see what free stuff there was. I found beverages, but since this is Sundance, it was only bottled water and froofy tree-hugger fake sodas. I tried one with the Wild Oats brand on it that was allegedly cherry vanilla but which was made without artificial flavors or colors and which, unsurprisingly, tasted like water that had been vaguely tainted with cherry and vanilla.
The noon movie was "Tony Takitani," a somber 75-minute Japanese drama about a man struggling with loneliness. It is told almost entirely by a narrator, with very little spoken dialogue, apparently keeping in the spirit of the short story upon which it is based. The narration gives it a mythical, fabulous (as in, pertaining to fables) quality, and it's an unusually lovely film.
After this I went to the Eccles Theatre for a public screening of "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School," to commence as soon as they could get all the letters up on the marquee, or 3 p.m., whichever. While in the bathroom at the Eccles, whom should I see at the urinal but James Cromwell. He was the farmer in "Babe," of course, and most recently he was seen on "Six Feet Under" as a crazy old man. When he was done peeing, I said, "That'll do, James. That'll do." OK, I didn't, but man, what if I DID?!
In the audience for the film were Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen, who appears in the film. Neither of them was peeing, at least not that I could tell.
"Marilyn Hotchkiss Etc." turned out to be a rather dismal affair, competent but rough, and consisting mostly of dialogue that bears no resemblance to the way people actually talk. It's about a widower who finds a new lease on life by taking ballroom dance classes, which he starts doing only because a dying John Goodman tells him to. You know how it is.
From there I scurried over to the Yarrow for a press screening of "Thumbsucker." I got to sit with my Salt Lake City film critic buddies Jeff Vice (the Deseret Morning News) and Scott Renshaw (Salt Lake City Weekly). Scott is a regular fixture at Sundance press screenings, but we hardly ever see Jeff because he has a magic special press pass that gets him into all public screenings without having to show up early or wait in line. His crap, as they say, don't stink.
Before the movie, I used the restroom and whom should I see at the urinal but famed magician Penn Gillette (of Penn & Teller). When he was done peeing, he showed me the secrets of how he did it. OK, he didn't, but man, what if he DID?!
"Thumbsucker" is reminiscent of "Tadpole," "Igby Goes Down" and many other quirky, sophisticated coming-of-age comedies. It's about a 17-year-old boy who sucks his thumb when he's stressed, and his attempts to overcome the habit. But it's more about him, his mother and his father, and their various internal conflicts with themselves. It's a very funny movie, and sweet, too, much like the two films I just compared it to. I suppose that's why I compared it to them.
It was about 7:30 now. I had decided to catch the 11:30 p.m. public screening of "Strangers with Candy," a feature film based on the Comedy Central series, and so I had a few hours to kill. I went to Main Street with the intention of hanging out at the Sundance House or the Starbucks/Media Lounge, or some such place. Main Street is loaded with spots like that, written up cheerfully in the Sundance film guide as being places where you can "drop by to check your e-mail, meet up with friends, catch a morning yoga class, or just warm up between screenings." (That's an actual quote.) What they don't mention is that none of these venues have any compunction about closing randomly for private events. So sure, drop by to chill out for a while -- as long as it's not one of the 1,100 times during the week that the place has closed early so that Blender magazine can funnel liquor down Thora Birch's throat.
As you might have guessed, all the places I wanted to sit and relax at were closed. I wandered up and down the street for a few minutes, but nothing much was happening. I suppose everyone was indoors, at those public venues that were closed now. But also, Main Street always slows down a bit after the first weekend of the festival, and probably more so this year, since the Oscar nominations are being announced tomorrow and a lot of the celebrities have fled back to L.A. for the occasion.
So I went to the house where the HBS guys and Elizabeth Peña are staying. Elizabeth was not to be found, but joining us was fellow HBS writer Carina (aka Maegs), up from Provo with her sister to watch a few screener tapes and live the Sundance life vicariously. We all chatted and made merry and watched a Slamdance film called "Abel Raising Cain," about a media prankster. I'm not counting it, though, because mostly I typed on my laptop instead of watching it.
Now, I never saw more than a few minutes of "Strangers with Candy," though I do find the stars -- Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert -- extremely amusing. But apparently the 30-episode series has a sizable cult following, because people were sitting in the wait-list line for tickets to the 11:30 showing as early as 6 p.m. (For a typical screening, people might show up two hours early at the most.) One guy told me he's driven out from Detroit primarily just to see the film. (He was third in line for wait-list tickets, and about 50 of those people got in, so I assume he was one of them.) Earlier in the day, I saw a girl on the shuttle bus with a sign attached to herself saying, "Need 'Strangers with Candy' tickets. Will pay any price." Her male companion's sign read, "Need 'Strangers with Candy.' Am very open-minded." I don't like to contemplate what he was offering in exchange for tickets, but I hope he got them.
My point is, this was apparently a BIG DEAL. I got a press ticket (nyah nyah) and got a good seat early. The cast of the film was on hand, including Amy Sedaris, who I absolutely adore. She was behaving the way you'd expect her to, i.e., wacky. I do believe her brother, David Sedaris (one of my favorite writers), was in attendance as well, though I am not 100 percent certain it was him.
The crowd was obviously packed with big fans of the series, because they applauded pretty much everything that occurred in the film, often covering up the dialogue in doing so. You'd think after they missed a few lines they would realize maybe they shouldn't clap for EVERYTHING -- or maybe not even for ANYTHING, since IT'S A MOVIE, you idiots, not a concert -- but in fact they did not.
Nonetheless, the movie is very funny for the first 45 minutes, just a wonderfully absurd comedy, and then it mellows out considerably. It commits to a particular plot line early on, and then has to see it through, and it gets bogged down in that. You can almost hear the movie saying, "Oh, geez, we introduced this story, didn't we? Crap, now we gotta finish it."
And thus the festival was half-over, and I was more than half-exhausted. I drove home half-asleep.
(Days 6-10 are in a separate feature.
link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1311
originally posted: 01/22/05 20:21:31
last updated: 01/21/06 18:23:33