Eric D. Snider

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Archive for January 26th, 2005

Sundance Diary Day 6

Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

Day 6 (Tuesday, Jan. 25):

The main reason I saw “Strangers with Candy” last night was that the press screening for it was at 8:30 this morning, and you know how I feel about 8:30 a.m. screenings. Plus, it conflicted with the 9 a.m. press screening of “The Squid and the Whale,” which I had high hopes for. (Its writer and director is Noah Baumbach, who co-wrote “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”) Seeing “Strangers with Candy” last night freed me up to see “The Squid and the Whale” this morning.

In theory, anyway. In practice, again not getting to bed until 3 a.m., the possibility of getting up at 7 and making it to a 9 a.m. screening was remote. And indeed, the 9 a.m. screening and I continued not to be on a friendly basis. However, there is a public screening of “The Squid and the Whale” on Friday. However, it is at 9:15 a.m. Maybe this is on purpose. You know how some movies are only funny if you watch them really late at night? Maybe “The Squid and the Whale” is only funny in the morning.

Anyway, I rolled into Park City at about 10 and went to headquarters to see about the ticket I had requested for the public screening of “The Aristocrats,” a movie that is apparently SO offensive that someone who had never seen it posted a note on my Web site’s message board warning people not to. This only made me more curious, of course, which may have been the guy’s intention in the first place. Maybe he’s a publicist.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I was told by the very helpful Bert in the press office that he could not get a ticket for me. He expressed what seemed to be genuine regret over the state of things, but he only had two press tickets available, and he had to give them to the people who had asked before me (or, possibly, who were more important than me. You accept such matters of hierarchy at Sundance). He said another press screening would probably be scheduled for tomorrow, which is all well and good, except that now my afternoon for today was all screwed up.

I considered going to the theater and simply getting in the wait-list line with the common folk. I would have to stand in line, but if I did get a ticket, it would be free with my press pass. But getting a ticket seemed unlikely; this film was a hot commodity.

Then I remembered my buddy, whose name happens to be Buddy, who is a manager at the Sundance box office and who had said he might be able to hook me up if I ever needed him to. I called, he checked, and sure enough, he was able to finagle a ticket for me. I had to pay $8 for it, but still. As Paris Hilton will tell you, a hookup is a hookup.

In the meantime, I was scheduled to have lunch with Elyssa, an old co-worker of mine from a daily newspaper I used to work for that is now owned and operated by Satan’s minions from the fiery maw of hell. But Elyssa’s cool. We ate Mexican food at a restaurant that is not on Main Street, which means we didn’t have to wait for a table, and the food cost less than $1,000.

Then I headed to the Prospector Theatre to wait for “The Aristocrats.” It turned out to be a fascinating, often hysterically funny look at the inner workings of comedy. There is an old joke called “The Aristocrats” whose middle section allows the teller to improvise and come up with the filthiest, most taboo acts imaginable. The more shocking they are, the funnier the punchline eventually is. Because of the room for improvisation, comedians like telling it in private gatherings or amongst each other. Comics like to put their own signature on it, the way a singer will make a song “hers.” George Carlin’s version has lots of poop in it; Bob Saget (one of the filthiest comedians alive — I’m not kidding, either) includes a lot of sex in his. You get the idea.

The film has many clips of various comedians telling the joke, but mostly it’s comedians talking about HOW to tell the joke — what makes it funny, how it works, and so forth. This leads to a discussion of how comedy in general works, and why things are funny. It’s extremely insightful, in my opinion, and the best comedians don’t just throw a bunch of naughty words into it; they get descriptive and creative, and that’s where the humor comes in.

The film’s directors, Penn Gillette and Paul Provenza, were on hand afterward to take questions. Penn said he doesn’t want anyone to see the movie who wouldn’t enjoy it. He said, “Mel Gibson and Michael Moore — who are really the same person — they think their movies are so important, and everyone HAS to see them, and they’ll save the world.” But for “The Aristocrats,” Penn doesn’t want anyone wandering in who doesn’t have a significant interest in the dynamics of comedy, or who doesn’t like to see movies with dirty words.

I went back to headquarters after this to write and recuperate and such. They have a room with little tables set up, sort of like a coffee shop, but without all the hippies. While I was typing away on my laptop, a trio of Japanese people arrived and began occupying the other chairs at my table. It was one man and two women, and the man was clearly the leader, and he instructed the caucasian Sundance volunteer who was guiding them around to get them something. He spoke in Japanese, which the volunteer evidently understood, and the volunteer went off in search of whatever the item was.

Turns out it was coffee, and he brought back three cups of it. Or maybe he doesn’t actually understand Japanese, and coffee is just what he THOUGHT they wanted. At any rate, the leader instructed the volunteer to sit down and join them, which he did, at which point the three Japanese people began to talk very excitedly amongst themselves for a few minutes, whereupon they ran out of conversation and began quietly reading magazines. The volunteer continued to sit there, as instructed, not doing anything, apparently having been given as a gift to the Japanese people. I continued to type on my laptop and pretended not to notice that three Asians and their man-slave were sharing a table with me.

After a brief visit to the HBS.com/Elizabeth Pe�a house, Erik the Movieman and I headed to the Yarrow for a press screening of “Between.” The film guide made this movie sound very intriguing: a psychological thriller in which the heroine’s memory plays tricks on her and time seems to wrap around itself. Sounds good, right?

Ah, but as it turns out, the movie sucks. It’s about this boring woman who goes to Tijuana to find her missing sister, and she keeps locating all these weird clues, and a mysterious old Mexican woman offers enigmatic advice. Then the Mexican woman drops a framed photograph on the floor and says, “Lou wha’ jew MADE me do!,” with the emphasis on “made” rather than on “do.” She sounded a lot like Al Pacino in “Scarface.” In fact, she was so bizarre, she wins the Christopher Walken Award for Craziest Performance by a Supporting Actress.

Members of the press began walking out of this movie about 20 minutes into it. Before long, the film was, as Scott Renshaw put it, “hemorrhaging viewers.” (Scott was responsible for yesterday’s “That’ll do, James” joke, too, by the way. I’m giving him credit now because he caught me stealing it.) But we stayed for the whole thing, which I’m not sure makes us better people, but at least we can say we watched it. It didn’t have a single swear word in it, either, so if your only choices are this and “The Aristocrats,” and you hate swearing, see this.

Next up was “Hard Candy,” recently purchased by Lions Gate for eventual theatrical release. It is about a pedophile who meets a 14-year-old girl through the Internet for predatory reasons and comes to regret it, because she is hell-bent on teaching his pedophiliac booty a lesson. The star is Patrick Wilson, a Broadway actor most recently seen boring audiences as Raoul in the movie version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” He is a good deal more lively in “Hard Candy,” particularly in the scene where the vengeful girl states her intentions to castrate him. (“Don’t mutilate me; that’s all I ask of you” would be a good song lyric here.)

Tomorrow, none of the films showing at 8:30, 9 or 9:30 are even remotely attractive to me. So for the first time this week, I’m not even going to PRETEND to get up at 7. Take that, Sundance.

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