Sundance Diary: Day 5


Day 5 (Monday, Jan. 23):

I began the day with being ripped off by a bagel salesman.

In the Eccles Theatre lobby, there is a makeshift franchise location for Park City Coffee Roasters, at which coffee, pastries and other goodies are sold during the film festival. I bought a bagel there yesterday morning for the posted price of $1.50.

Today, I bought the same kind of bagel from the same counter, though it was a different employee, an old man with a mustache. I handed him a $5 bill and he gave me back $2.50.

I said, “Isn’t it $1.50?”

“It’s $2.50 with cream cheese.”

“No, this one’s plain.”

“Oh, OK. Two dollars, then.”

“The sign says $1.50.”

“No, it’s $2.

“Then why does the sign say $1.50?”

“The sign is wrong.”

“I paid $1.50 yesterday.”

“Oh, no. No, it’s $1.50.” He said that as though he didn’t believe me that I had paid $1.50 yesterday, as if it were some preposterous lie I had made up.

“No, I really did pay $1.50 yesterday,” I said. “That shouldn’t surprise you, considering that’s the price on the sign.”

“No, it’s $2.”

In retrospect, I should have refused to buy the bagel for anything above the posted price of $1.50. But by this time, I was already handling the bagel with my sweaty mitts, and there were people in line behind me, and the man was so clearly uninterested in making his customers happy that I felt I had no choice but to pay $2 for the $1.50 bagel. Never again, though!

It’s kind of a hassle keeping track of all the establishments I won’t patronize because of their shoddy business practices.

The first movie of the day, again at 9:15 a.m. and again at the Eccles Theatre, was “Stay,” written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite. About 10 years ago, there was a trend for performers to remove all references to wild cats from their names, perhaps due to the feline AIDS epidemic (which is the number one killer of domestic cats in America). So we had the de-cougarization of John Mellencamp, and Mr. Goldthwaite started going by just Bob. He was introduced as Bob, and his festival pass said Bob, but the credits for his movie said Bobcat. So he’s still Bobcat as far as I’m concerned.

His movie is an attempt at randy sexual humor in which a woman has an embarrassing secret in her past that she believes will cause those she loves to shun her if they ever learn of it. (It involves a dog. That’s all I’m sayin’.) The movie is often raucously funny, but it’s really a one-joke affair. Imagine if “There’s Something About Mary” had been centered entirely around the hair-gel scene, rather than just including it as one component in a larger story.

Bobcat introduced the film very graciously and warmly, apparently genuinely humbled at being invited to the festival. “I once rappelled nude from the roof of the Oakland Coliseum during a Nirvana concert,” he said. “I’m more nervous today.”

Afterward, he told several amusing stories about the production, including finding his cinematographer on Craigslist, and breaking into an unoccupied home’s garage to film a scene. He’s a funny guy, that Bobcat.

Next I joined HollywoodB**** pals Erik and Scott at the Yarrow for a press screening of “The Descent,” a horror film that premiered in England last year and is due out in the States in a few months. It bears an unfortunate (and coincidental) similarity to “The Cave” — unfortunate because it’s a thousand times better, but will probably be thought of as a copycat.

It’s about six hot women who go spelunking and encounter danger and/or death. It’s a terrifying movie, I kid you not. Just like “Super Size Me” made some people stop eating fast food, “The Descent” will surely make people stop exploring uncharted caves where there are monsters.

I had a few hours before my next screening — which is to say, there were press screenings right away, but nothing I was particularly interested in seeing. You have to pace yourself at Sundance; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you watch movies for 12 hours straight without a break, you’ll burn out in a few days, no matter how much you love movies. I have learned this from experience.

So I headed up to Main Street. With the weekend over, the crowds had thinned somewhat; people do have jobs to go to, I guess, even during the Sundance season. I stopped at the Sundance House for a while and as I was clacking away on my laptop, a pretty blond woman stopped next to me and said, “Hello.” I returned the greeting, skeptical as to her intentions, as it is not often that pretty blondes speak to me without provocation.

Sure enough, she wanted me for my Internet: She needed to find out the name of some contact of hers, and she wondered if I would be so kind as to go to the company’s Web site. I was glad to be of service. I retrieved the necessary info for her, and to thank me, she gave me a yo-yo emblazoned with her organization’s logo: Animal Content in Entertainment (, a group that apparently wants to see more TV shows and movies about animals. They’re not PETA or anything crazy like that; their Web site says, “We hope that as writers, producers, and directors you will be inspired to find creative and compelling ways to portray animal issues in your story-lines, or to consider exploring a subject for a documentary.” In other words, they like animals, they like how animals are connected to all aspects of human life, and they want to help filmmakers tell stories relating to that. I wondered if the woman knew about Bobcat Goldthwaite’s movie, where a lady has a one-night stand with her dog.

Anyway, I have a yo-yo now.

After I’d spent some time writing, I realized I was hungry, tired, creatively exhausted, and a little out-of-sorts after having run into someone I once dated. (In a perfect world, of course, people would cease to exist once you broke up.) Sundance wears you out both physically and mentally, even when you pace yourself. And when you’re in your seventh year of covering it, there’s plenty of nostalgia when you’re in the mood for it.

I was in the mood for it. Hunger and weariness will do that to you. I walked up and down Main Street and thought about past festivals, about the pals I’d met here, about the friends from Salt Lake and Provo who had come to Park City to visit me while I worked. I have so many fond memories tied up in Sundance — in the movies, sure, but mostly in the experiences. “Sundance” isn’t just about movies any more than “college” is just about classes.

I wanted to eat dinner at Burgie’s, a hamburger place on Main Street that I discovered a few years back and have enjoyed every year since. It’s part of the Sundance experience for me. But I couldn’t find it. A subsequent Internet search revealed that it closed sometime in the last 12 months.

Now, if I were making a film, and if the protagonist’s discovery that his favorite restaurant was gone came at a time when he was already feeling nostalgic and melancholic, critics would say I was being too obvious in my symbolism. The only thing the scene lacked was for it to start raining.

Anyway, I ate dinner somewhere else and read a book for a while. Feeling much rejuvenated and refreshed, and no longer in my funky mood, I headed back to the Yarrow for a press screening of “Stephanie Daley.” This is a movie about a teenage girl who has a baby and either kills it or lets it die, and the pregnant psychologist assigned by the district attorney to evaluate her. It’s not nearly as funny as it sounds.

From there I went to the Eccles Theatre, home of the two-dollar dollar-fifty bagels, to get a ticket for the evening’s big event: “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” a concert film directed by Jonathan Demme. Some members of the press were already in line for their tickets, some two hours before the screening. Civilians were queued up, too, eager to see the movie and Neil Young himself, since the old guy was scheduled to be in attendance.

You should know that in the soundtrack of my childhood, Neil Young plays a significant part. I’ve never paid him much attention, but he’s my dad’s favorite performer, and so his records were played often when I was growing up. In fact, my dad knew about this film already and has indicated his eagerness to see it when it’s released in theaters next month (after having its world premiere at Sundance).

So it was mainly for my dad that I wanted to see it tonight. There’s a press screening later in the week, but Neil Young won’t be there in person. I figured if Dad can’t be here tonight to be in the same auditorium as one of his idols, I can do it for him, as his proxy.

The theater was packed. Some 140 seats were reserved for Young and his people. (Now THERE’S an entourage worthy of a rock star.) The volunteer ushers were strict about not letting people save seats unless their friends were actually already on the premises somewhere, and a woman in front of me became very agitated. I didn’t get all the details, but I did hear her shout, “I can’t sit in two seats at the same time!” I thought: Well, not with that attitude you can’t.

Demme introduced his film by thanking about a hundred people by name, which was boring and a little pretentious. Then he brought Neil Young to the stage, to an enthusiastic standing ovation. Neil said a few simple “thank yous” and returned to his seat so we could all watch the movie.

Turns out it’s a pretty fantastic film. Demme’s style is unobtrusive: He lets Young and his band do their thing, and he stays out of the way. There are no tricky camera angles or cool editing tricks. It’s mostly long, unbroken takes and plenty of close-ups. The movie lets Young’s songs speak for themselves.

And what songs they are! How have I not paid attention to this before? Some of the songs are angry; some are sad; some are wistful; one is even about an old hound dog he used to have. But he sings all of them with conviction and heart. The lyrics are often poetic but rarely pretentious. The musical performances are world-class but not showy.

He sings one that he calls an “empty-nester song,” about his daughter being away at college and living her own life. He tells her the door is always open for her to come home and visit: “Yes, I miss you, but I never want to hold you down / You might say I’m here for you.” It’s so simple and sweet, and through the whole film, but particularly that song, I couldn’t help but think about my dad. I thought about how even if everything keeps changing, and even if Burgie’s isn’t there anymore, and even if what cost $1.50 yesterday costs $2 today — well, Dad and Mom are still there, at home, constant and unchanging.

Will the film make everyone want to call their dads afterward so they can talk about Neil Young? Probably not. I can only tell you how it affected me. After five exhausting Sundance days, it was nice to be reminded that movies can be more than just movies. They can be total experiences.