The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

Wrapping Up, Part 2

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My last day in Park City was both fun and frustrating. I tried to get into a screening of James Marsh’s Man on Wire, a doc about rebel tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who danced on a wire between the Twin Towers in 1974, but apparently every last journalist, festivalgoer, and local cinephile had exactly the same idea. I was shut out, along with about 50 other people. (Marsh’s film won both the grand jury prize and the audience award in the world cinema documentary competition later in the evening.) Instead of sulking, I went to Main Street and paid a long overdue visit to the New Frontier Café, a chill-out spot featuring an array of gallery installations, multimedia presentations, and video work. The space is cavernous but cozy, and I was mighty impressed with one of the curated events running in the microcinema theater: a program of six short films by self-taught animator Brent Green, in collaboration with the band Califone. Green’s hand-made cut-out figures and dioramas are a wonder to behold, evoking a bit of Cy Twombly as well as the early surrealistic stop-motion animation of the Quay brothers. Accompanied by Green’s ranting, pulpit-style narration—a cross between the manic monologues of Jad Fair (of the band Half Japanese) and emo-geek autobiography—these are the cathartic artworks of a postmodern beatnik with a fairy-tale imagination. Brilliant stuff. I also managed to catch the tail end of DJ Spooky a/k/a The Subliminal Kid’s mesmerizing recombinant remix of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, and it made me want to see the entire feature, not least because Paul D. Miller, the talented New York turntablist behind the clunky alias, crafted an incredibly groovy score for the project. As far as I could tell, Miller intended it both as an act of cinematic homage and as a sly counternarrative to Griffith’s odious depiction of American race relations. Alas, they weren’t planning on screening it again.

After absorbing a few swinging numbers by a sixth-grade jazz band (complete with brass section, conga player, and freeform solos) in the Galleries that house the New Frontier Café, I made my way across the street to the Egyptian Theater, a grand old venue where my friend, Katie Trainor, was operating the projection booth. She sat me down in the balcony, where I watched Mia Trachinger’s Reversion. I liked the concept of the film, a minimal sci-fi drama about a class of humans who, because of a genetic mutation, cannot distinguish the past, present, and future. Particularly good was the undersung TV actress Leslie Silva as a hardened renegade trying to outmaneuver her fate, but the film’s longueurs added up to a less than enthralling experience, even for this diehard fan of genre works that attempt to allegorize contemporary politics. (President Bush, Trachinger was at pains to explain during the Q&A, is the real time-ignorant mutant: What if we lived in a world where, like him, none of us could learn from the past, or see the future consequences of our present actions? she asked.)

Bringing my Sundance experience full circle, Katie and I later went to the Eccles Theater to check out Martin McDonagh’s tragicomic In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, which was the Opening Night selection of this year’s festival. After a mob hit gone awry leads to the death of a child, two London gangsters hole up in the picturesque Flemish town of Bruges, awaiting further instructions from crime boss Harry, played by a foul-mouthed Ralph Fiennes. If you can stomach this film’s gushy sentimentalism, clichéd odd-couple banter, and sophomoric humor (a racist dwarf, anyone? Anyone?) then stay far away from this mushy Belgian waffle. I sure wish I had.

Looking back at my ten days in Park City, I feel honored to have seen so many fine and challenging films, many of which (like Ellen Kuras’s Nerakhoon: The Betrayal) I’m looking forward to seeing again and writing about. Of course, plenty of good ones escaped my net, too. And I never did get that digital camera. (Photos would have been nice.) Earlier this week, after our on-camera interview, I told Jay Duplass (co-director of Baghead) that I was experiencing a bit of image overload six days into the festival. He nodded and said, “The great thing about Sundance is, you can see fifty great movies in the space of a week.” He paused and smiled. “But those will probably be the fifty best movies you’ll see all year.”

I guess we’ll see about that. One thing’s for sure: the sense of discovery I was hoping to experience amid the shock of winter in Utah at 7,000 feet could not have been better satisfied. Of all the festivals I’ve attended over the years, Sundance 2008 has been my favorite, and I’m already wondering how next year’s edition will compare. The thought is exciting to contemplate. I’d like to stick around and write some more about that, but the Park City bug is still in my veins. So ciao for now. I’m off to the movies.

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Written by eyemaster

January 31, 2009 at 3:30 pm

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