Grossed-Out: And now, the NFL trophy for the worst performance by a quarterback in Super Bowl history: To Rex Gross-Man of the Chicago Barely Bears, who lost to the Baltimore Colts — I mean Indianapolis Colts — on Sunday. He set a new standard for futile incompetence and for flinging more intercepted wounded-duck passes than the storied Joe Kapp. Kapp, you may recall, led the Vikings to a 23-7 loss to Kansas City in the 1970 Super Bowl.
Why Is This Man Laughing? “I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States,” the man in the documentary said, to laughter at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Friday night. Then he added, tongue in cheek: “I don’t find this particularly funny.” Actually, the man who won the popular presidential vote in 2000 but lost in the Eleckoral Kollage and Florida poli-tricks, was not only in good humor but so inspirational that the SRO audience was primed to not only elect him president in 2008 but run out and do their best to cool down global warming.
So the real story was whether Gore will emerge as the Demo candidate if Hillary, etc., crash and burn. Asked about the role of big-oil money controlling the White House, Gore replied: “The oil lobby is this White House.” The long national nightmare of Bush, etc., will be over in two years, so we have to work to prevent a new presidential nightmare, I guess. Gore seemed coy about running in ’08. “I’m a recovering politician,” he said. Santa Barbaran Jim Cameron (The Abyss, Titanic) was fired up in presenting Gore and Davis Guggenheim the Festival’s David Attenborough Award for Excellence in Nature Filmmaking for their film An Inconvenient Truth. Cameron found it “obscene” that oil companies have racked up just-announced record billion-dollar profits, while thousands of Americans are dying in oil-rich Iraq. “I beseech you to step up to the plate,” last year’s Attenborough winner urged Gore, making a clear appeal for the former vice president to run. Gore, just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, left the stage without replying to that.
Best of Fest: Make a movie about a slide show? Even one that Gore has given 1,000 times? Surely you jest. But in An Inconvenient Truth Guggenheim not only showed a Gore far more animated than he displayed in 2000 but produced a film that turned the Arlington into an environmental-political rally. It was by far the best night of the festival. Next stop: Oscar night, when the documentary is up for an Academy Award.
Political Warming? Can movies snap us out of our anti-politician funk? “Politics can make for a better world,” contended Michael Apted while introducing my pick as the best feature film of the fest — of those I saw — Amazing Grace. It’s the story of how British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce fought a long but winning battle to outlaw slavery there. “I’ve always wanted to make a film about politics,” Apted said. “Pay attention to politics,” he urged, because that’s the way to get things done. Apted’s an English director.
Unsung at the Fest: It’s over now and too late to take in the unsung gems or ones with a more gritty appeal. Take Barrio Cuba, Humberto Solás’s unsparing story about daily life and family struggles far from the tourist hotels and “quaint” restaurants. Lee Feigon’s The Passion of the Mao (title remind you of a recent movie?), is an irreverent look at the late Chinese leader’s life and times. “Who knew communism could be so funny?” cracked Feigon (pictured left, with the author), who owns a PhD in Chinese history and is a research associate at the Center for East Asian Studies at the U of Chicago.
In Man in the Chair, Christopher Plummer is no longer the genial family man from The Sound of Music, but a grizzled, foul-tempered, retired gaffer — movie electrician. But here he shapes up and sobers up to help a kid make a movie. It’s an Oscar performance but alas, he’s not nominated.
He’s Everywhere: I mean Roger Durling, Film Fest chief honcho, whom I described as frazzled, but that’s just his onstage excited-to-be-introducing-the-next-film-or-actor persona. Otherwise, Durling, man of many hair themes, seemed to be everywhere — smiling, calm, genial, and somehow pulling the whole thing off, thanks to a legion of workers and volunteers.
… And So Am I: I was the target of raised eyebrows Thursday, but played hooky from the festival to sneak out to UCSB for the stunning 1969 French film Army of Shadows. The uneven story of the anti-Nazi Resistance badly needed cutting by filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville but it’s still a gripping, painful story of the dangerous battles in the shadows that all too often ended in death. It’s never been released in the U.S. before. It was named Best Foreign Film of the Year by the New York Film Critics Circle in 2006.
Chowing Down: Best snacks I tasted at Fest parties were when the Food Network came to town for a Dinner: Impossible challenge at the Arlington courtyard after Amazing Grace. Four cameras were taking in the scene when chef Robert Irvine and two sous-chefs sent platter after platter out to the party. (Too bad we couldn’t have magically shipped some of those goodies to Havana.) Look for the show to be aired in April. Aside from the official parties, Opal restaurant (formerly Brigitte’s), convenient to the Arlington, was the place for pre-movie dinners and post-schmoozing.
Photo of Lee Feigon by Sue De Lapa
Barney Brantingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-965-5205. He also writes a column in The Independent’s Thursday print edition and a Friday Barney’s Weekend Picks online.