Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Precious Feelings on the 35th Annual Telluride Film Festival

As usual, I was the first in my party to spot Ken Burns. I somehow end up winning this spirited competition every year, with Burns and I gravitating towards each other within mere hours of the festival’s beginning. Is it because I, too, am a 40-something male sporting the bowl cut hairdo of a 12-year-old?

While waiting in line for Firaaq (a film so pedestrian, I had to depart 30 minutes into it), I spy Salman Rushdie conversing with the film’s director Nandita Das. I briefly considered carrying out the fatwa which has been exacted upon him, but realizing there was no financial reward involved, I quickly lost interest.

Although I am against public stalking in principle, during a screening of Max Ophuls’ newly-restored 1955 epic Lola Montes, I spy my favorite husband and wife filmmakers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor (also known as the Desperate Optimists) taking their seats. Needless to say, I can’t resist planting myself in front of them to blather to them how much I love their films, especially Who Killed Brown Owl, a film which still haunts my thoughts every so often. Thankfully, they are gracious and polite, completely refraining from having security remove me from their vicinity, although the restraining order presented to me after the screening did hurt my feelings somewhat…

If the timing had been a bit more perfect, I could have crossed swords with actor Greg Kinneer in the men’s restroom right before viewing the tepid Danish blockbuster Flame and Citron. Instead, I am a few nano-seconds behind him, performing my last-drop dance at the urinal while he’s already at the sink soaping up. I had an “in” (we attended the same college) but by the time I had worked up my opening statement (“Hello, Mr. Kinneer. You lather your hands with the same dedication you showed in Little Miss Sunshine—and I even walked out of it halfway through!”) he was long gone. Curse me and my long-winded time-consuming verbosity!

Another restroom encounter, this time with UK director/genius Mike Leigh. I briefly entertained reaching out to introduce myself and proclaim my love of his movies, but he’d just left the urinal and had not yet washed up afterwards. Yes, he’s created some of the most acclaimed films in recent British film history, and more than a few of his cinematic efforts are on my Top 100 Favorite Films list, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let his pee-pee backsplash rub onto me as we shake hands. Ewwww!

A day into the fest, I once again spy Ken Burns, this time one row in front of me during the screening of the gritty Italian film Gomorrah. Oddly, he and his wife make tsk-tsk faces at each other during the film’s frequent outbursts of violence, as if to say couldn’t the director scale this bloodshed back a little? Considering it was a film about the present-day Italian mafia, he’s lucky the carnage wasn’t more savage than it already was. If only I’d had a bottle of tequila with me, I could have made their shocked reactions into a drinking game.

Imagine my surprise when Hunger—the film I was most reluctant to watch--turns out to be one of my favorite flicks of the entire fest. The elliptical style and the stark camerawork had me captivated from beginning to end. Bonus points go to those seated near me who did not seem to mind my loud munching on carrot sticks during the hunger strike scenes.

Take the frantic family antics of Capturing the Friedmans, turn the dysfunction up about 10 notches, toss in a third-act link to Orson Welles and you have Prodigal Sons, a discomforting autobiographical documentary by Kimberly Reed. After it’s over, you’ll almost find yourself feeling lucky for being born into your own family. Almost.

Rain is one of my least favorite weather elements (right behind tornados, swarms of locusts and ash clouds spewed from active volcanoes). To avoid one of Telluride’s typical torrents, I reluctantly grabbed a place in the dry tent-covered line for Paul Schrader’s Adam Resurrected merely as a means to avoid the downpour. Had I known what was in store, I’d have gladly chosen a deluge of Biblical proportions instead. Imagine the worst parts of Patch Adams, Life Is Beautiful and (I assume) The Day the Clown Cried tied together in a Holocaust comedy/drama vehicle for Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum is made to behave as a dog under the Nazi thumb of Willem Dafoe, later causing him to engage in dog-like animalistic sex on all fours with sexy nurse Ayelet Zurer (it's quite natural that hot women spread their legs for aged men 30 years their junior). Did I mention he attempts to heal the heart of a young Holocaust survivor who thinks he’s a dog?

One feels a sense of wonder and innocence while watching Jan Troell’s 1966 coming-of-age tale Here Is Your Life. Then the scenes of the where-did-that-come-from? homoeroticism pop up and you just end up feeling like a pervert. Bonus points for the snippet of conversation between two aging film professors I overheard before the screening begins: “My students are on You Tube all the time. I’ll send you the link.”

While exiting Tulpan, the acclaimed new film from Sergei Dvortsevoy, I find myself behind a contingent of marketing brass from Turner Classic Movies, all of them underwhelmed by this subtle award-winning work, utterly perplexed are they by the frequent images of goat herds living and dying on the Kazakhstan plains. It’s good to know the vast cinematic library overseen by TCM is in such capable hands.


jonderneathica said...

Ken Burns looks like Bud Cort. Please tell me that his wife looks like Ruth Gordon.

Disco:Very said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the entire family of Ken Burns all had that same bowl haircut? And if all of them made safe, non-threatening documentaries on such non-controversial subjects as the Civil War and World War II? PBS' cup would runneth over!

General Boy said...

So, just like that? You're back?

Disco:Very said...

Yes, General Boy. I'm back and bigger than ever, baby! You didn't see my press release in the Social Announcements section of the Dallas Tribune?