Friday, October 27, 2006

Virginia Film Festival, Day 2

Day Two at the Virginia Film Festival was a rainy, cold day. But with my screening over, I felt no pressure whatsoever. (Of course, I was actually a little disappointed that it was over -- nothing to look forward to now!). I grabbed a bagel at the hotel's continental breakfast and got into a conversation with some folks who were at my screening the night before. Terrific people who enjoyed the film and are film enthusiasts in general. They graciously gave a ride to the theater -- I was planning on walking, even though it's roughly 2.5 miles, but the rain foiled my plans.

My first screening today
was Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet. It's one of those classics that I've never gotten around to seeing, for some reason. During the introduction (by a Swedish scholar), the audience learned that the correct pronunciation of the title is actually "or" (without the "det"). The film reminded me of Bergman's The Virgin Spring, partly, I admit, because of the slow Scandinavian pacing and the rather unusual acting style. But the notion of a tragic death in the family and the aftermath -- and the religious nature of the two films -- made me link them in my mind. Bergman's film is obviously more of a repudiation of faith, a film about revenge and death (which nevertheless concludes with a miracle of sorts, when a spring appears from nowhere from the body of the murdered daughter). Dreyer's film is about faith lost and regained, and the improbable possibility of the miraculous in modern times. It's complicated film, with the Borgen family arguing with another family over whose version of Christian faith is right or "good enough, and with one of the Borgen sons having gone mad and believing he is Jesus Christ. I enjoyed it, though that enjoyment was tempered by an unfortunately fragile 35 mm print that snapped at last six times during the screening (and actually burned/melted once, too), often at critical scenes. When they respliced it and got it going, we would always miss the entire scene during which the snap occurred. Frustrating, but it was a very old print. It briefly made me think that the people who are dead-set against digital projection haven't sat through a screening with a truly aged print.

Second screening was Bruce Beresford and Horton Foote's Tender Mercies, introduced by Robert Duvall. I had never loved this film, but I gained a new admiration for it today. It simply works better on the big screen than on a DVD on your television. Robert Duvall's performance is understated in such a special way -- his laconic delivery really defines the character of Mac Sledge. The film is so unusual in the way it unfolds. It doesn't follow any of the rules. Scenes don't build on each other in traditional "cause and effect" ways. And the scenes themselves are often brief and seem pointless. They're not pointless, of course, but they seem like little slices of life and not to be adding up to anything. In the end, however, they do add up in surprising ways, creating a look at a particular period of time in washed-up country singer Mac Sledge's life as he stops drinking and tries to put his life back together.

Third screening: Hitchcock's I Confess (1953), starring Montgomery Clift as a priest who has heard the confession of a murderer and who is then himself accused of the very same crime. He obviously can't break the priest-penitent privelege of the confessional, and there's the little matter of the woman who may be his lover and the fact that she was being blackmailed by... you guessed it: the murder victim. Im a Hitchcock fan, but there's a reason this is considered a "lesser" Hitchcock film. It simply didn't work. Casting Clift as a priest in Quebec is a horrible mistake (especially when he's surrounded by French-speaking and French-accented people), and Anne Baxter as his former (and maybe current) lover is also miscast. Karl Malden as the detective on the case -- well, Karl seems to be in a different movie altogether (and not a particularly good one). The score overwhelms the movie with its unsubtle attempts to tell you exactly how to feel (even when the movie isn't doing that nearly as well), and the script feels half-done. There were a few nice images, as you would expect in a Hitchcock film, but not nearly enough to make it qualify as a good film. On the bright side, the moderator for the post-film discussion was one of my former film school professors, Andrew Quicke. I ran into him on the downtown mall in the early afternoon, sat down for a coffee with him as we reminisced and got caught up, and joined him for the screening.

Had dinner with Andrew and another film school mentor, Terry Lindvall (check out his bio "cartoon"; anyone who has been fired by Pat Robertson is a friend of mine by default, but Terry also has the benefit of ebing a genuinely nice and hilarious person). Then Terry and I went to see Flock of Dodos, a new and very tongue-in-cheek documentary about the intelligent design vs. evolution controversy. The filmmaker, Randy Olson, is resolutely in the evolution camp, but he seems to be trying to understand why it is that intelligent design advocates "connect" with people so much better than evolutionists. You know, the film made some pointed jabs at both sides of the debate, but it ultimately comes off as quite insulting to anyone who thinks evolution has too many flaws to make perfect sense. Without even commenting on the actual debate itself, I thought the evolutionists came off as total jerks (this was, I admit, part of Olson's point -- that evolutionists are so haughty and arrogant that they hurt their cause). The movie's tone and style reminded me of Super Size Me. It had that same "personalized" feel of Morgan Spurlock's dynamic look at fast food, and Olson is pretty sure-handed with material that's a challenge to make interesting. In the end, though, I'm not sure what the film is saying, other than that intelligent design advocates have no basis in science, and evolutionists are "right" but are not good communicators.

I skipped the late movie -- and I know I'm going to regret this, because it was a new indie film with Morgan Freeman, 10 Items or Less. The reason I might regret it? Morgan Freeman is in attendance. As is director Brad Silberling. So, you know, the reality is that it's not like I was going to sit down for a private conversation with them. And the movie sounds good, but not like something I'm dying to see. So I hoofed it back to the hotel. Unfortunately, no one I knew was around to bum a ride, so I figured a 2.5 mile walk wouldn't be a bad thing. Except for the rain. Two-and-a-half miles seems a LOT longer when you're drenched. Trust me on this.


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