People attend film festivals for a variety of selfish reasons.
Celebrity watchers go to see the stars come to earth, party people
show up for the Champagne. But filmgoers go mostly for the shock
(and sometimes the awe) of the new. And a good premiere is a
win-win situation: The fest gets bragging rights, the fans get to
feel like moguls, and moguls, as they often do, get to make a
little money on the discovery.
This year’s fest opens with a film
that’s only technically not a premiere. A statistically dinky
portion of the populace got to see Factory Girl’s one-week limited
run for Academy Award consideration at the Beverly Center last
month. The story of S.B.’s own tragic little rich girl, Edie
Sedgwick, is worth seeing soon, if you couldn’t make the fest
opening. But, happily for us serious cineastes, the fest is awash
in films that really have never been seen on this continent, and,
sometimes, in this multiplexed planet. Our extensive network of
spies have leaked some tips to us, and we’ve also got a few
generously supplied by the generous staff at the festival’s HQ.
As luck would have it, two of my
favorites jibe with my insider-spy reports as well. Man in the
Chair stars Christopher Plummer, Robert Wagner, and the great M.
Emmet Walsh in a film that opens like it’s going to be the worst
kind of movie and then blossoms into a sensitive film about aging
in America. It’s touching and, though a bit long, occasionally
brilliant. Equally deceptive in tone at the outset is Counting
Backwards, a jubilantly funny and finely observed romantic comedy
about dying. Ben Montague and Elaine Robinson may not be big stars,
but the chemistry between them is near electrifying.
Expressly dedicated to film nerds, the pseudo-intellectual
documentary The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is a funny confection of
academic hogwash and great clips from favorite films. (You have to
love anything that includes both Vertigo and The Matrix.) Written
by philosopher and psychoanalyst Salvoj Zizek, the film is like the
cinematography doc Visions of Light turned over to some amusing
Lacanian blowhard: the observations are bright and funny, and the
clips are very cool. Director Sophie Fiennes packaged the whole
three-part lecture beautifully, too.
Perhaps less satisfying, though touched with great moments of
momentousness, Spiral seems like a dark counterpart to the joys of
Counting Backwards. Opening in the hell that is a cubicle-hived
office (it could’ve been filmed at ABC-CLIO), the movie yanks
itself spasmodically through a story of obsession, guilt, and (I’m
pretty sure) murder. The ending is obscure enough to frustrate and
elate those kinds of filmgoers (you know who you are) who
appreciate ambiguity and character-driven, capital-C cinema. I
thought it was missing a punch-line but was still very
A host of documentaries also come recommended, including The
Killer Within, a film about a Columbine-like murderer who becomes a
psychologist. Do It for Johnny is one of those
how-hard-it-is-to-make-a-movie movies about getting a script to
Johnny Depp. Perhaps the subtext of all documentaries is obsession.
You think? And speaking of a lifelong obsession, the film henry
comes to us from Canada, a documentary about abortionist and social
activist Henry Morgentaler, a man whose public life has been marked
with contradiction and regret, according to the press release.
He’ll be at the screening, too.
Finally, we get a tip from the man
himself. Speaking candidly to a group of chums last week, SBIFF
Director Roger Durling was overheard recommending Lake of Fire. For
a decade and a half, director Tony Kaye (American History X) has
assembled pros and cons about the quintessential American
controversy: abortion. As many women’s groups remind us, the
anniversary of Roe v. Wade is nigh. Though it is seemingly
impossible, this film takes a balanced view and, in these ragged
times, perhaps that’s exactly what we need.
You should get out to the movies as long as they are here. A
number of fine documentaries, many made here in town, and Latin
American and Asian films are premiering here in the next 10 days
and are covered elsewhere in these pages. It’s a good idea to go to
a lot of them. Then later you can watch a big star walk up State
Street and go get yourself a glass of fine Champagne.