The first day of Sundance is always a Thursday, and the only event is the opening-night film in Park City, which is preceded by a welcome address from festival founder and timid woodland creature Robert Redford. As a rule, I do not attend this event, because why drive to Park City just to watch ONE movie? Redford is cool and all, but I wouldn’t go to all that trouble just to see him speak for a few minutes. Clint Eastwood, yes, and certainly Steven Spielberg. But Redford? Nah.
The first REAL day of the festival is always an exciting one. Everyone has arrived the night before or early that morning, and all the festival-goers are bright with energy and optimism. On the first real day of the festival, no movies have sucked yet.
My reputation is as a person who plans to attend 9 a.m. screenings yet fails to actually do so, but today was different. I awoke at 6:45 a.m., showered, dressed and made the 35-minute drive to Park City, checked in at festival headquarters, and was in my seat at 8:40. Eight-forty, my friends! And more to the point, 6:45, my friends! I had forgotten what 6:45 looked like, at least coming at it from that direction. (I’ve seen it as I was GOING to bed a number of times, of course.)
It feels good to get up early and get a head-start on the day, though as with most things that are good for me, I decline to do it regularly. Today felt especially good because the fantastic weather we’ve been having the past few days continued: clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 40s. The low 40s sound cold, but when it is often overcast and in the 20s, you are grateful for sunny and 40. It’s nature’s way of tricking us into being appreciative of crappy things.
A couple years ago, a third press-screening venue was added at one of the Holiday Village Cinemas theaters — an actual movie theater, as opposed to a hotel ballroom with ad-hoc seating. That venue only hosted one or two screenings a day, but still, it was nice to have.
This year, further advances have been made. That Holiday Village theater has been upgraded to full service, with six screenings a day, just like the other two venues. That makes a total of 134 press screening slots — enough for every film in the festival to be shown once, and another dozen or so shown twice.
In addition, one of the press-screening venues has moved. It used to be downstairs from the Eccles Theatre, which is the festival’s main venue. The press-screening room was small and often too hot, though it was convenient for when you attended a public screening at the Eccles and wanted to just dash downstairs afterward for a press screening.
Now that small Eccles press venue has closed and in its place there is a second venue at the Yarrow Hotel. So two press-screening venues are in the same hotel, mere feet from each other — and the third venue, at the Holiday Village Cinemas, is just across the parking lot. For denizens of press screenings, this means no shuttle-busing back and forth, and no reason to even go outside, really, which is a boon to film geeks, since our skin is pasty and sensitive to the elements.
Anyway, my first screening — the one at 9 a.m.! that I made it to on time! — was in the new Yarrow venue, and I found it to be large and spacious and as uncomfortable as its older Yarrow brother. But still. The movie was the one that was shown at the big opening-night gala last night, “Happy Endings,” from the man who gave us “The Opposite of Sex.” It’s a fairly funny movie, but at 128 minutes, it’s long. Most Sundance films clock in at around 90 minutes, and most comedies in general aren’t much longer than 100. A hundred and twenty-eight, that’s Oscar drama length, there, and “Happy Endings” is not an Oscar drama.
Next up, in the other Yarrow room, was “9 Songs,” from director Michael Winterbottom. I greatly enjoyed Winterbottom’s Sundance entry from a few years ago, “Wonderland,” though I have found much of his other work to be as cold as his name. (Seriously, “Michael”? *shudder*) “9 Songs” is, um, pornography. Usually I don’t stumble onto the pornography until much later in the festival, but here I was, porning it up before noon on the first day.
Technically it’s just a movie about this couple who go to a lot of concerts and who, when they are not at concerts, have sex a lot. But I know porn when I see it, and trust me, this was porn. Not very good porn, either, not that I’m a conoisseur. It was only 69 minutes long, though (tee-hee!), so that’s a plus. But really, when you’re being bored and titillated simultaneously, time moves very slowly.
I had a few minutes after “9 Songs,” so I walked over to Burger King, the official sponsor of Eric’s diet when he’s at Sundance. Then it was back to the Yarrow (which sounds like a pirate hotel if you say it right: “Yarrrrrr-ow”). While in line to see “The Jacket,” starring Adrian Brody and his amazing colossal nose, I met up with my pals from HollywoodB****Slap.com, Erik, Scott and Chris (“The Movieman,” “The Angry Jew” and “Oz,” respectively). I was happy to see them all in good health in spirits since our last in-person visit together, one year ago. They flew in from Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver this morning, and boy were their potty mouths tired! Like sailors they swear, all of them. But I love the little effers!
“The Jacket,” which already has a distributor (Warner Independent) and a movie trailer, was a hot ticket for us press types, who like to be able to tell people when a movie comes out in the summer that we saw it way back in January. Inexplicably, it was being shown in the smaller of the two Yarrow venues, so many press people were turned away.
This caused a bit of pre-screening drama when Anthony Kaufman, film critic for the Village Voice, returned from the bathroom to find that Ruthe Stein, film writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, had taken his jacket from the chair on which he had placed it and had begun to occupy the chair. She had stolen his seat, in other words. He had clearly marked it as his by putting his coat on it, and she had simply moved the coat and taken the seat. And now there were no seats left. And Ruthe Stein would NOT relinquish her ill-gotten seat.
Kaufman left the room and returned three times, each time trying to reason with the woman, but she would not budge. I heard him say one time that if he did not see this movie, he would lose his job, which probably was an exaggeration. But I suppose people who are attempting to retrieve their property from madwomen are entitled to a bit of hyperbole.
Eventually, he became quite vocal and caused a scene — which was exactly the right tack to take, as it made Ruthe Stein’s craziness a matter of public record and, in theory, embarrassed her. “Who ARE you?!” he demanded several times, not in the way of, “What is your name?” or “Who do you think you are?,” but more like, “Who DOES that? Who steals someone’s chair and then refuses to give it up?” The crowd was on his side and applauded him. Ruthe Stein would not move.
Eventually, the man sitting next to Ruthe Stein, perhaps seeking to avoid any further ugliness, gave up his seat and left the room. This meant Kaufman had a seat, but it was a seat next to his nemesis, Ruthe Stein. We found this delightful. We hoped maybe they would fall in love during the film.
But alas, “The Jacket” was not the sort of movie that inspires love. (Ironically, it was a jacket that caused the trouble in the first place.) The title character of “The Jacket” is a straitjacket, specifically one that gets put on Adrian Brody when he’s in a nuthouse, and when he’s wearing it, he can travel through time. Um, sort of. It’s a lot like “Butterfly Effect,” but without Ashton Kutcher, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a good thing.
Mere moments after “The Jacket,” I watched “Loggerheads.” This is an ensemble drama taking place in North Carolina on three different Mother’s Days. Bonnie Hunt is in it, and man, I love her. I’d go to Park City just to watch her introduce a movie, too.
“Loggerheads” got out at around 6:30 p.m., which meant I had seen four movies in just over nine hours. My previous record for single-day viewing was four movies, so I only had to see one more to break that. I had time to see two more, but six movies in one day, that’s crazy talk. Besides, I needed to take a break to write and to wander around Main Street and look for famous people.
So I took the shuttle bus up to Main Street. On the bus, I heard a man and woman discussing the recent influx of Asian directors, particularly directors of horror films. The man said, “I was just getting used to all those Mexican directors we had to know, and now there’s all these Korean and Japanese ones.” This is the sort of problem that independent-film lovers have.
Main Street was a-bustle with activity, it being the first real night of the festival and a Friday to boot. There is only one Sundance screening venue on Main Street, the classy old Egyptian Theatre, but it’s full of shops and restaurants and party venues, thus making it THE place to be if you are a celebrity, although mostly it is populated by people who are merely looking for celebrities. The actual celebrities are hiding.
But I did see Jay Mohr, host of the Sundance Channel’s daily updates, being prepped and primped in Sundance’s makeshift studios in what I think is usually an art gallery. I also saw two women having their picture taken with a man who looked familiar, so I asked them who he was. They said he was on “Queer as Folk” and his name is Robert Gant. I looked it up on the Internet Movie Database and was able to verify this. Why he looked familiar to me, I don’t know, since I’ve never watched that show. I think he just looks a lot like Ryan on “The O.C.,” and hence familiar to me (even though I am so over “The O.C.” now).
After I had dawdled long enough, I found a quiet place and wrote for a while, including some of the very words you are reading now. Then it was back down to the Yarrow to kill some more time before my 10 p.m. screening of “Old Boy.”
“Old Boy” is a Korean film from one of the aforementioned Asian directors that we have to get used to nowadays. His name is either Park Chan-wook or Chan-wook Park; I know the Asian method of naming is opposite from ours, but I can never tell when it’s the original Korean version and when it’s been Westernized. Anyway, that’s his name, and “Old Boy” is a freaky movie about a guy who gets locked in a room for 15 years then gets out and wants revenge on whoever locked him in there. At one point he extracts a man’s teeth with a hammer, rendering him incomprehensible, so that his dialogue has to be subtitled … in Korean, originally, which means his subtitles have to be subtitled, too. The movie is JUST THAT FREAKY.
Before the film, the publicist handed out a notice that reads (and I quote exactly):
NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT: By entering these premises and viewing “Oldboy” you agree to hold in confidence all information regarding the end of said Film and further shall not directly or indirectly disclose to others such information.
In other words, don’t spoil the ending. I’m not sure which specific plot points they were referring to, though, because the movie ends for about 20 minutes. You keep thinking it’s over, and then it’s not done and you have to let it be over some more. So I just won’t tell you anything else about the movie, except that at the very end the main character dies in an explosion.
The screening ended just after midnight. Who scheduled the 119-minute movie as the last screening of the day? Somebody evil, that’s who.
And that did it for me. Five movies in one day. I headed home, still thinking about Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle. If she should happen to read this and want to give her side of the story, I’d be glad to print it, though I reserve the right to make fun of it, too.