34th Telluride Film Festival Day Two: Greil Marcus and writing with one eye
Another anecdote from the previous day: as I wait in the Denver airport for the Telluride charter flight: a young kid, 19 years old, asks me for tips on how to navigate the Festival. He’s part of the student contingent, chosen by application, which I think of as boot camp for the Future Cinephiles of America (take that, Susan Sontag, who once claimed there weren’t going to be film buffs like her anymore.
She hadn’t met my godson, who spent the summer, in between his first and second year of film school at Chapman University in Orange County, subletting an apartment in Oakland – with four roommates, also from film school -- that turned out, completely by accident, to be five blocks from mine. We spent the summer seeing movies at the PFA, and arguing about them afterwards in whatever restaurants we could find that were open, and when I dropped them off at home, they would watch two or three more DVDs. Plus they were all reading stuff like Don Quixote and Lolita, not because of any reading list, just because they felt like it.
Anyway, I told the Telluride-bound youth that all he had to do was to enjoy himself: the students are carefully navigated through screenings, talks, and special classes arranged just for them. So then, just for the hell of it, I asked him what was the last movie he’d seen that he really enjoyed. He said The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, by Jacques Demy. “Oh,” I said, “then you really have to see The Young Girls of Rochefort, another of his musicals – I think it’s even better, widescreen, Technicolor, fabulous dancing, with Gene Kelly!”
I was stunned to see that The Young Girls of Rochefort magically appeared on the Telluride schedule, as part of the tribute to Michel Legrand. I was less stunned to see certain movies that I hoped would be there: especially Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, because (a) he’s one of my favorite directors and (b) that meant that Greil Marcus, Dylanologist par excellence, whose passionate introduction of Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan was the highlight of the 2005 Telluride Film Festival, would be in Telluride, too. Indeed, Todd, Greil, and the movie were there, and I began Day Two by attending a conversation between the two of them, held in the old Courthouse, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet seen the movie. Even though I’ve sworn off reading almost all film criticism before I see a movie, there’s something electrifying about hearing two smart, passionate polymaths discuss their mutual excitement about Dylan’s reinventions over the years.
Next I see a documentary about Norman Lloyd, a 92-year-old actor/director/producer who’s worked with, among others, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Renoir, Elia Kazan, and Hitchcock – plus survived the blacklist, plus still plays tennis 3 times a week. He’s present, and, prompted by Variety scribe Todd McCarthy and Pierre Rissient, tells beautifully-timed stories about his adventures in New York and Hollywood.
Afterwards, rather than rush off to another theater, I stay where I am, because I want to see the first Michel Legrand tribute, a few hours hence, and so in the interim I see the first feature by Alison Eastwood, Clint’s daughter, Rails and Ties, a somewhat improbable tearjerker featuring excellent performances by Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, and an amazing kid named Miles Heizer.
Oscar-winning French composer Michel Legrand rakes his amiable interlocutor Leonard Maltin over the coals a bit; he’s a tough, contradictory interview, and even though he’s seated at a piano onstage, he scarcely touches it: he tinkles the ivories only three times. I feel a bit disappointed, but the movie screened as part of the tribute, Five Days in June, the only film Legrand ever directed, based on a true story from his life, starring Mathieu Rose as the young Michel, Annie Girardot as his mother, and Sabine Azema as their traveling companion, as the three escape from Paris on bicycle during the waning days of WWII, turns out to be utterly charming.
Afterwards, while other Telluride attendees are lining up at eight other venues, I stand in a light rain at the end of a long queue, hoping to get into The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I chat with two other hopefuls, a cute couple who drove up from Wyoming with neither passes nor a place to stay; they’ve been getting into free shows, attending the nightly open-air screenings in the park, and generally enjoying themselves. It seems that they’ve been working on a documentary about a rock musician I’ve never heard of. Playing a hunch, I ask if he’s, well, nuts, since I’ve just seen The Devil and Daniel Johnston, my friend and former New Times Los Angeles colleague Keven McAlester made You’re Gonna Miss Me, about Roky Erickson, and I guess documentaries about crazy-yet-gifted rock musicians are something of a trend. Yes, it turns out, plus their guy just died of leukemia, plus they like Keven’s film.
I get into The Diving Bell, as do my new friends (after I dash out in the rain and tell them not to lose hope, there are seats in the balcony). When I return to the theater, director Julian Schnabel has grabbed the microphone, apparently without being introduced to the crowd. When he asks if there are any questions, the first one is “Are you wearing pajamas?”, which he is (his usual garb): he takes off his jacket to better expose his aubergine (he says) piped with pink silk pajamas, which are made by his wife Olatz (who has a company that makes bed linens that make Frette look cheap). “Why?,” someone asks. “Why are you dressed?,” Schnabel wants to know. He’s not entirely thrilled with the rowdy, insufficiently-awed crowd, still not sure who he is (“I’m the gardener,” he keeps repeating), and he threatens to leave and return to the smoked-trout-and-corn soup waiting for him at a restaurant down the block (“Hmm,” I think, “I know that soup, I had it last year,”). He asks someone in the first row to shut up -- “I didn’t say that,” he muses, continuing, “I don’t like how nice everyone is here, it feels like they’re all from EST.” Despite the fact that Schnabel gives narcissism a bad name, there’s much to admire in his movie, about another narcissist, flashy Parisian editor and bad boy Jean-Dominique Bauby, paralyzed after a massive stroke that leaves him able to communicate only by blinking one eyelid. There’s stunning subjective camerawork by Janusz Kaminski. With the help of patient physiotherapists (one played by the luscious Olatz, who also gets a credit for designing the movie’s pajamas and sheets) and aides, Bauby writes a book by blinking when an assistant reads off the alphabet. And then he dies ten days after the book is published. “I’ll never complain about how hard it is to write ever again,” I say. But I know I’m lying.