a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Philadelphia Film Festival: Days 1 - 5

There's a perfectly good reason why I haven't done much with this year's fest so far: work, illness, and Easter. My trusty press badge has done little but collect dust in a drawer. That should change later on today, but for the last five days I've been recharging my juices, preparing my body and mind for an onslaught to make up for lost time. (Not that I haven't seen a lot already -- saw 20 of 'em for my paper before the thing even began.)

Here, then, is a day-by-day account of what has gone on.

Thursday, 8 April

Opening night and it's Shade. I've already seen this eight-generation Mamet knockoff (with extra cribbing from The Hustler and The Sting) and feel no desire to subject myself to it again. I stay home and watch another fest film, the obnoxious Please Teach Me English, and The Legend of Suryothai for work.

Friday, 9 April

The plan is to wake up early, write like a fiend, then make it out to an 7:30pm screening of Bright Leaves followed at 10:30pm with the Danger After Dark entry Haute Tension. This does not happen. Thanks to bad egg-making, my stomach lining gets torn to shreds and, coincidentally or not, I wind up running square into writer's block. I don't even make it into the office later on in the afternoon to post Rep, so rabid I am about finishing up the writing and watching, also for work, the doc Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and the Blacklist: None Without Sin. While everybody else is taking in movies late in the evening, I sit on Jon's couch, deliriously watching Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes I've already seen while imbibing countless bottles of lager. I am a wimp.

Saturday, 10 April

I suddenly spring into action. Bust out what's left of work well before noon, post the shit, and make a hurried decision to saunter home for Easter brunch one day early, so as not to have to wake up at an ungodly hour and catch a train. I still make it out to two films.

Even making it out belatedly, the fest seems to have not pieced itself together yet. Ritz Theater employees are attempting to co-exist with fest volunteers, both of whom are seen frantically telling typically bitchy patrons that, yes, they have to stand outside in fuck off lines for screenings that inevitably start and run late. They point at those of us brandishing badges, who get to wait inside in the air conditioning, and who promise to keep quiet so as not to let our sounds invade the packed theaters. My badge will not let another person in this year so I am horribly lonely standing there, trying not to look at people nearby me. Reasoning: they're crazy-looking. I do spot International House projectionist Robert Cargni and wind up talking to him. Little do I remember that fest-geeks are usually supposed to be on the run, and I start feeling guilty about getting him on the subject of style vs. substance and Lars von Trier when he should be hopping on a presumably tardy SEPTA train to West Philly. He at least tells me She's One of Us, waxed poetic upon in the current Film Comment, is kinda crap. I take note.

A Good Lawyer's Wife (Im Sang-soo, South Korea) Wow: people enjoying sex while acknowledging the downside of it. Not since The Unbearable Lightness of Being has there been an art film boasting so much sex and nudity that wasn't trying to sell you on how evil it all is. Typically South Korean, Im's film mixes up tones -- comedy, drama, thriller -- without feeling jumbled, though the plot is: it's one of those films where the editor has seemingly taken out most of the vital information, forcing you to piece it together if at all. Many of my colleagues were underwhelmed; I was absorbed.

Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee, USA) McElwee-an through-and-through, and a cleansing experience after seeing how many documentarians rip him off without really nailing his style. It's roughly 60% self-absorption, 40% objective journalism as McElwee embarks on discovering the history of the tobacco trade, which starts with a duel between Duke and his great-grandfather. Predictably, all the seams are showing, from random footage to a dog-related blooper to a bizarro stretch with film theorist Vlada Petrovic. Charleen: still rules. McElwee's voice: still weird.

Inadvertent Theme of the Day: Solipsism, but with a need to connect with others.

Sunday, 11 April

Back home for most of this Easter Sunday, though I race home to catch two films, not realizing I will see only one of them. Sickness back in the form of consistently runny nose and frequent light-headedness. Long walk to the Ritz East kinda lovely, with the sunset meshing nicely with the overcast sky. Film fest, however, hasn't gotten its shit together since I left: second film of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre crossed out, replaced by No Rest For the Brave. Assume it's been cancelled or, hopefully, postponed, and I call Steve to tell him not to bother coming. Upon leaving Distant, I realize they've inexplicably switched theaters without noting that to others. I kick myself repeatedly.

Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) To do the despicable: Ceylan's style is random parts Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Tsai, and Jarmusch, with a little Tarr thrown in there for good measure. Needless to say, a hypnotic experience, with long takes punctured by choreographed foreground-background tomfoolery, the timing making for loads of sensual moments, as well as very well-earned yuks. More appropriately, Ceylan's style could be summed up in one moment: well-off character puts on Andrei Rublev, presumably because the film's very Tarkoviskyesque. Little do we know that his housemate will grow drowsy watching it and, when he heads off to bed, our protag breaks out the porn. A beautiful film, filled with subtle and sometimes-cringe-inducing little moments. Wish it added up to more than it does, but you can't have everything. A movie to live in.

Quote of the Day "Alright, I'll pay for your tickets to Valentin," announced the second after Distant's three-minute-long shot ends.

Monday, 12 April

"Non-Drowsy" screams the box for my Sudafed, which becomes puzzling around 6:30pm when I wake up from an accidental three-hour nap. Frankly, it's gross outside -- pouring rain, freezing cold, and windy to boot. I haven't eaten much and don't feel like running from She's One of Us to a doc on Amos Vogel without so much as consuming a hot dog. In lieu of this, I show The Saddest Music in the World to Jon and Jer, in the hopes of finding out if I'm crazy for liking it -- or crazy for not liking it enough. "Sheer lunacy," becomes Jer's mantra throughout its 95 minutes. I make a promise to myself to get on the ball tomorrow.


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