Conducted a discussion after a screening of Sullivan’s Travels at the Denver Public Library last night – a good show, a good chat – with over fifty people which is, actually, not a bad turnout considering we were up against the inexplicably revered The 39 Steps across town as part of my friend Tom’s Denver Art Museum series at the Starz Filmcenter. An unabashed fan of Hitchcock – I think he reached his pinnacle in Britain with The Lady Vanishes (fond, too, of Young and Innocent and The Lodger), and feel like The 39 Steps is something of a piddle. Big fan of Hitch’s first U.S. film, Rebecca - Fontaine, Sanders, Olivier, and, of course Judith Anderson’s iconic turn as Mrs. Danvers – use of subjective point-of-view for an eternally-unseen heroine a precursor in a lot of ways to Preminger’s Laura and a nigh-pioneering work of queer cinema. Hitch made a few of them – just not The 39 Steps.
A fairly light week for screenings and so: a chance to dive into the DVD queue. Coolest new title? The new Book of the Dead edition for The Evil Dead II. Knocked off several others in the last few days, too, but because I wrote something like 10,000 words in about 20 increasingly-weary hours, I’m guessing Bill’s got some fairly grisly, fucked-up prose to edit. Watching the X-Files: Black Oil set now – been watching it on and off for about a month-and-a-half. Shit’s awful – and it’s got lots of special features.
I didn’t get the studio schedule for Monday until today and so missed a screening for that disco/rolloer-skating flick Roll Bounce (thank god) – I’ll catch it in the second run. Also missed the only screening of Flightplan because of my obligation at the library. I’ll see the Jodie Foster on Friday afternoon and intend to catch Everything is Illuminated tonight. With a Sunday Feature interview to write-up tonight, though, I’m not sure I’ll get a review for the Elijah Wood flick logged before deadline. Which brings us to: what’s happened to the Sunday Feature? Was a while there, we were going great guns with oven-fresh interviews if not every week, then at least every other.
Here’s the scoop.
Bill and I decided that we were tired of doing interviews.
90% of the people that you talk to in this business (99% of actors), don’t really have anything to say and some (say 10%?) are obnoxious when they say it. There’s the director who demanded a hair stylist and complained to her studio when I gave her a bad review even though I was nice to her during the interview (she accused me of telling her that I liked her film so I just turned over a copy of the tape – controversy ended) – and the guy who did the same because we shared a couple of tears over recently-lost parents (didn’t make me like the movie any better). It’s hard on me though, the people who can’t separate what it is that I do with what they do – there’s a good, solid reason that we have a standing policy of logging the review of the film before interviewing the subject.
On the other side of it, there are the interviews that I’ve conducted that I later find that I can’t use. I had a long heart-to-heart with Lili Taylor a couple of years ago, only to find that I couldn’t bear to listen to it again afterwards: too personal – just a conversation between two strangers that, for about an hour, talked to one another about things that wouldn’t be interesting to anyone else. Truth is that it’s probably just me being a coward, but there you have it. And a chat with author/historian/filmmaker Paul Cronin that turned out to be a two-hour bitch session about the state of modern film, film historians, and the death of the cinematheque tradition. A Londoner, he was appalled that our central library is closed one day a week (something our mayor recently addressed by shortening all the hours and cutting staff – if we eviscerate government by not paying taxes, you see, we lose all of our public works) – and even more appalled when I told him that for a while there, the DPL was recognized as one of the best central libraries in the country. It is, at the moment, a siege where the focus of every right-wing, racist wacko (Colorado’s own Senator Tom Tancredo is about a half-step away from wearing a hood and hanging the help off the Cyprus trees in his front yard – do a Google search on him, you’ll love it) wants to squat and make a point about how the government wastes money: all this while we’re blowing a few billion a week in the most unpopular war since 'nam.
Hey, where’d this soapbox come from? See? Two hours of that.
A good story as sidelight: when I interviewed John Boorman, I had a terrible cold and while transcribing, realized I’d been mouth-breathing, semi-heavily, into the receiver so that Boorman most likely thought I was jerking off while I was talking to him. Suddenly the question about who the good guys were in Deliverance probably made a lot of sense.
The worst thing about interviews, though, is this presumption that because we’re primarily Internet-based, that we’ll take anything and, on the other hand, that we need to constantly justify ourselves to anyone who might consent to sit with us. If you write for a major daily, Quentin Tarantino will spend fifteen minutes giving you the party line no matter what how you write and what you have to say – if you write for Film Freak Central, a publication that reaches roughly seven-times as many readers on any given Friday (and all of them tuning in to read some fairly specific material) than almost every major daily in the country, you need to convince Paul freakin’ Reiser’s people why it is you’re worthy to sit in the same room with him. So, thanks, and no thanks all the same. I skipped two screenings of Reiser’s film on Monday and declined an invitation to talk with him on Tuesday once the credentials were checked and we were graciously given the greenlight. I look back on the people we’ve devoted pages and pages of space to and wonder how it is that it doesn’t buy us a little grace with 9/10ths of the major studios and boutiques.
The answer’s a pretty simple one so far as I can see it: Sony Pictures Classics and their local representative respect the work that we do and, despite the write-ups I did on Dan Harris and the Maria Full of Grace people, continue to desire the publicity that an actual dialogue can provide for their pictures instead of a dedicated pimping of the party line. I can’t prove it, but I’m deeply suspicious that the write-up I did for the junket trip I took for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind put us on some shitlists but deep. It makes me wish I could go back and actually name specific names. The result is a lot of fighting and scratching for a lot of missed connections and lamented opportunities. Bernardo Bertolucci – one of the great champions of the Cahiers du Cinema and guerilla criticism, declining in his decline to do any non-major-daily press is one thing – but never getting a call-back for the vast majority of our requests feels different. Even a “no, thank you” is preferable to a flat, cold snub: that chill, cosmic “no thanks, but how about Paul Reiser? um. . . Peter Riegert?
Then there’s the story of Gregg Araki who had someone at his tiny distribution company, unbeknownst to us, audit the questions I might ask him ahead of time. Sorry, Gregg. Cronenberg and Morgan Freeman and John Sayles, Errol Morris and Steve James and Paul Schrader didn’t ask for question approval – I don’t think we’re addled enough yet to bestow upon you that dubious honor.
So the short of it after the long of it is that Bill and I decided to take a break from the Sunday Feature in the hopes that one or both of us would feel like rejoining the fight. Frankly, I still don’t remember the prize yet well enough to care.
Everything is Illuminated = The Wizard of Oz + The Holocaust - this is the poppy field
Went to the screening of Everything is Illuminated tonight at one of Denver's older Landmark theaters - small seats, narrow theater, small screen, reek of butter and popcorn. Gotta love it. No cell phones went off, only one person checked their messages, but - and this is a big but - a young woman sitting behind me and to the right would not shut up. You know the type - giggly, garrulous. She would repeat the last thing that people said in the film and laugh, she would coo whenever she saw a dog, she gasped in dismay when the main character discretely and in character, kills a grasshopper, she commented upon a character's suspected zodiac sign ("Oh, that is so Sagitarius!") - and when asked to be quiet, she huffed and declared "But I'm not bothering anybody!". Then she started again. I spent the last half hour of the film standing, leaning against the back wall of the theater, having left my seat to cool in the spit-flecked parabola of my own self-appointed Greek chorus.
Oh, and the movie's not all that great.