Morning After: I’m Back From Sundance, Emmereffers
*smells the air*
Did something die in here?
Why did someone leave a double-headed dildo in the sink? It’s…covered in… marzipan and cake batter? *licks it* Yes, yes. Marzipan and cake batter. That’s definitely it.
Is that blood on the curtains?
Goddamn. You leave this place behind for a week, and a handful of deviant hooligans just run a train on it. It looks like Snuff Film In Wonderland around here. A gently listing hamster wheel in the corner (sans hamster, a mystery I do not care to answer), a pair of ventriloquist dummies peering out from behind the heating vents, and the distant discordant noise of calliope music. And that smell. It’ll never come out.
Well. The maid is not going to be pleased. She’ll get an extra big tip this week, if you know what I mean.
Get it? Get what I mean? See what I did there?
Oh, stop it. It means I’m going to give her five extra dollars. Pull your dripping chin out of the gutter. Foul-minded mutant.
What I’m trying to say is, holy shit, I’m back from Wild Mormonia, fresh from the Liberal Elite Outpost that is The Park City Snowpocalypse of the Sundance Film Festival 2010. Presumably you already saw my after-report on the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, but if you didn’t, it’s right over there. When the Lab had completed, we were birthed cruelly into the world and thrust headlong — squalling and trying to use the umbilicus like a rope to pull ourselves back into the warm and comfortable womb — into the madness that is the Sundance Film Festival 2010.
So, let’s talk about that. Painting With Shotguns-style. Boom.
Snowblind And Slushfooted
Park City puts about the best face on winter that you can imagine. It snowed a whole helluva lot while out there (anywhere from a couple inches to a foot over each 24-hour period), and since it basically doesn’t melt, that means it just builds up and up and up. Fresh powder atop old snow never lets the place feel too dirty, though the sidewalks and streets eventually coalesce into a gooey, gray-snot slush bog that will eat your feet if you’re not careful. (Seriously, the slush puddles are like some devious D&D trap for confused Los Angelinos; they are mysteriously the same color as the asphalt, so you think you’re about to step on roadway terra firma and really you go calf-deep into a frozen slurry of filthy wintermuck.)
Winter there has a certain charm: gently falling snow, a faint wind, lots of light (like the eerily snaking ski slopes illuminated at night, leading directly into town).
So, yes — it puts the best face on winter.
But let’s be honest. To me that’s like saying, “It puts the best face on Charlie Manson.” You can dress that dude up in a suit and put some concealer over that Swastika on his forehead, but in the end he’s still Charlie Manson. He’s still going to shit in the punchbowl.
I am not a fan of winter.
The snow is pretty, but you stand in it for an hour, and that stops mattering. You almost lose your footing (nearly shattering your ass-bone on the icy, slush-slick sidewalks) and winter’s beauty and grace quickly tally up to a grand illusion. The traffic snarls, not just because there’s a whole lot of it but also because all of it has to wind its way through snowy, gooey streets. You saunter beneath icicles that, were they to fall, they could pierce the skull of a Kodiak bear and pin him to the concrete.
I can’t help but wonder what a Sundance would look like when it wasn’t hip-deep in winter.
So, yes. Sundance. Winter. They’re probably inextricably bound at this point, so what use is there in complaining? It’s pretty. Shut up.
Horde And Throng
One: people who love films.
Two: people who love film culture (read: celebrities, parties, etc).
In the great Ven diagram, there surely exists a reasonable group of people who swim in the commingled waters of both ponds, but in general, I figure it’s good for you to know which you are and plan accordingly.
Me, I was present for opening weekend and the two days preceding it. It gets busy. In the daytime, I’d say the “film lovers” outnumber the “culture hounds.” Lots of packed buses and screenings and wait lines for tickets. When night falls, the streets get fucking busy. The Beautiful People emerge. The culture hounds take to the streets. Parties, music, snow, taxis, limos, madness. Not really my thing, though it might’ve been more my thing had I been there with more people. I did know people there, but getting in touch with them was…
The Mighty Oak Has Fallen
My unabashed tech-love for the iPhone was crushed beneath the bootheel of Sundance. The iPhone service out yonder can eat a dick. I don’t know on whose shoulders the blame must fall, but I’ll just let the shotgun spray of rage take down both AT&T and Apple, thanks.
Seriously, it blew. I guess it’s because everybody and their goddamn Labradoodle has an iPhone out there, but you’d think someone would plan accordingly to have a solid network running. You could literally look at the phone and watch service yoink up and down as if on a yo-yo string. 3G! Five bars! Zero bars! E! Twenty bars! No service! Battery low! Wireless! Existential dread! I’d try to get in touch with people, and… bzzt, good luck with that shit. Text messages would be cast out into the ether, as useful and as recognizable as one mote of snow among millions. I’d leave the town proper to go back to my hotel and — bing! Three voicemails! Three missed calls! New text messages! It was as if the pony-riding mail carrier came hurrying up just as the sun was setting –
“Hey, here’s a message for you. The man with the donkey wants to meet you at 3PM by the Old Jail.”
“But it’s 9PM now.”
“Oooh. Sorry, pardner.”
Once in a while I’d see a pair of AT&T reps — two giggling girls in bright orange shirts — wandering the streets, and I wondered, how long would it be before someone cracked an icicle off a doorframe and jammed it in one of their ears? “Can you hear me now?” the killer would cry, knowing full well that he was cackling a Verizon catchphrase because, really, “There’s an app for that!” doesn’t really make much sense in the context of icicle-caused brain death, does it?
At the Filmmaker’s Lodge during the day (pictured), you could get reliable wi-fi, and at any given time you’d find dozens of iPhone refugees, huddled around the signal the way one might hunker near a campfire.
The industry loves the iPhone.
Which means the industry killed the iPhone service.
Speaking Of The Industry
A large proportion of the people at Sundance are in the industry. This makes sense when you look at it — when you add it all up, you get like, 150+ films there, and if each of those brings 10-100 people along for the ride, that right there is a not insignificant portion of the 40,000 people who show up.
Great thing about it is, it’s a very friendly and welcoming industry. Everybody is happy to talk to you. They want to know what films you’ve seen, what you liked, didn’t like, and so on. Actually, the first question someone usually asks is: “Do you have a film here?”
When I’d respond with, “No, but I’m just coming off the Screenwriters Lab, blah blah blah,” it amazed me how many people were aware of the Lab and its significance. Very exciting stuff, and I continue to feel crazy privileged.
Oh, I did see some, erm, “celebrities?” Short list: Kevin Sorbo, Josh Radnor, Mario Lopez — you know, the big fish. The true Hollywood players.
It’s funny, though, how often you hear, “So-and-So is a dick!”
“Michael Moore is a dick!”
“Dax Shephard is a dick!”
“Tommy Lee Jones is a dick!”
On the one hand, I get it. Last thing you really want is to be swamped by people who probably don’t give that much of a shit about you — they just give a shit that you’re Somebody. Alternately, you paint with too broad a brush, and suddenly you’re alienating real, actual fans by brushing them off and trying to get to your restaurant on time. When I saw Josh Radnor, he stopped every three feet to take a picture or sign something, smiling and gracious the whole time. I’m not some rabid Josh Radnor fan (ignore the posters on my wall, shut up OMG SQUEE he’s so kewt), but I have new respect for the guy because he knows where his cred comes from. His cred comes from the fans, because without them, who is he?
Actually, I’ll say that at Sundance, one of the best things is the shit you overhear. The buses are great for this. It’s a cross-pollination of insightful film commentary and dipshits dissecting film with incisive criticism like, “That movie was fuckin’ stupid.”
Thanks, Ebert, for that thought-provoking review.
Oh, Right, The Films
In order of Least Awesome to Most Awesome –
Howl: I’m impressed that they really went for it with this movie, I really am. Franco as Ginsburg comes alive; his performance is astonishing, and him simply reading the poem aloud through the film makes me fall back in love with a poem that, honestly, I had dismissed in my disdain for poetry. But the project fails to come together. It started as a documentary, and then added in actors to portray the characters, but only in the context of documented artifacts (recordings and transcripts), and then further went on to add… animation? The court case portrayed adds an interesting and complex layer, but it’s all steak and no sizzle. The narrative portion would’ve felt stronger had it actually been a narrative portion rather than an acted rehash of documentary materials (I’d rather have just seen Ginsburg himself). The animated portions, which easily comprise 30% of the film, are almost entirely CGI (which is jarring and arbitrary; why not hand-drawn?) and seems only cursorily married to the poem itself. As I say: it fails to come together. The animation in particular is troubling. It has no place there, and it feels like nobody really committed to it.
Lourdes: This is a nice little film, but I’m just going to have to bow out and say, “It’s good, but just not for me.” It’s quiet, slow, thoughtful — which translates to me having a hard time keeping my eyes open for the first half of the film, which drags. Set in and around the miracle-factory of Lourdes, it aims to have a subtle run-through of satire, but it’s so subtle you really have to comb the material to find it. Satire for me works when it’s not-so-subtle. The characters are nice, but the film only picks up (and even then, at a slow walk) in the second half, when the miracles start happening. It’s a nice film. It is. But it isn’t a horse I can ride.
Four Lions: This film’s a stone’s throw from outright excellence. Imagine, if you will, a sincere, humanist, satirical take on terrorism. Suicide bombers in particular. As Chris Morris, the director, said during the film’s Q&A (paraphrased), “Take four average blokes and have them plan something and they’ll probably fuck it up.” That idea applies here to four wannabe Jihadists in London who want to martyr themselves and get to Heaven. They’re dipshits. Everyone around them is a dipshit. It’s equal turns hilarious and sad and strange, and those tonal shifts are brave, if a little hard to navigate. (Also hard to navigate: muddy accents. Some possibly great lines were lost on me — and I think the audience in general — simply because I couldn’t understand them.) It’s a really interesting film, though the one thing that actually prevents it from being truly brilliant is the fact that the characters are ultimately hollow. We never get insight into who they really are or why these Londoners are so attracted to the idea of martyring themselves before Allah, which is a shame.
Animal Kingdom: This fucker is a gut-punch. I think of it now and I get this feeling of incredible dread. Australian crime film, totally bad-ass, really grim stuff — and not grim in the way that something like Reservoir Dogs was. This is a deeper layer, a septic infection that really pulls at you. These characters are fully-formed and not at all caricatures, which makes their behaviors and fates all the more troubling. It’s like a roller coaster ride where the track takes you only downward, downward, downward — never up. You don’t know what specific misery awaits for these characters, but you know it’s coming. Your balls draw up. Your sphincter tightens so hard it might snap like a broken rubber band. This is hard stuff. It’s also really brilliant. David Michôd is to be commended for this.
Boy: And yet, nothing I saw really pleased me as much as Boy, the new film from Taika Waititi (aka Taiki Cohen, who I assume is half-Jewish, half-Maori, easily the weirdest genetic broth in the history of mankind). Go watch the trailer. It won’t do it justice, but it’s a good start. The film is sweet, funny, and often a little bit fucked up. The kid who plays the titular character (“Boy”), James Rolleston, was hired on a Friday and started shooting on the following Monday, and was not an actor, but he nails it. Waititi’s last film, Eagle Vs. Shark, really failed to manifest, and I think ended up being more a mish-mash of tired Napoleon Dynamite notions. This film, however, fires on all cylinders. I suspect it’s intensely personal for the director, much as he seems to claim it’s not (during the Q&A he said it wasn’t autobiographical, but then went on to say that it’s set where he grew up, that the father character was just like his character, and that the protagonist lives a life much like Waititi’s own), and all this comes out. It’s a world where magical realism doesn’t quite exist, but instead lives in its shadow. Great stuff. I look forward to seeing this again. For the record, Waititi plays the father, and he’s great in that role. Oh, and Taika came through the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. How cool is that? An exciting legacy.
I did attend the Slamdance Filmmaker’s Summit, which was great. Even if Soderburgh didn’t show.
So, I’m back. What now?
Well, I go back to blogging. I have to clean up the blood and cake icing from those miscreants what took over me space over the last 10 days.
I got line edits back from Super Agent Stacia Decker, so that’s my first priority is to bang them out and get this novel up and running.
Obviously we’ve a head of steam on the script — I’ve got to finish transcribing my notes and making sense of all of it, but all told, I have an alarming and almost eerie sense of clarity regarding the script and it’s troubles. Eager to jump on that, too, and knock out a draft over the course of February, then maybe a second draft soon after. We may try to have the right script up and running to submit to the Director’s Lab in June, if we determine it to be a good fit, time-wise.
If I go back to the Sundance festival in the next year(s), I’ll be sure to plan better and not come off a five day introspective think-tank stint beforehand, because holy shit, that’s jarring.
So, that’s that. I’ll be around.
What’d I miss, peeps?