Sundance Diary Day 7


Day 7 (Wednesday, Jan. 26):

The day began with three movies in a row, bam, bam, bam, with almost no time between them. I felt as rushed as a one-legged man in a thing where he has to watch a bunch of movies. (No time for good metaphors; we have movies to discuss.)

First was “Reefer Madness,” the film version of the recent stage musical that is a spoof of the 1938 anti-marijuana propaganda film “Tell Your Children,” which was later re-titled “Reefer Madness.” Got it?

Despite having no overt homosexual content, this is one of the gayest movies I’ve ever seen. It’s campy and ironic from beginning to end, full of singing, dancing, mincing, gamboling and cavorting. I suspect the crowd that enjoys pop-cultural kitsch (i.e., gay men, and the women who hang out with them) may delight in it. But they might not, too. Irony is fun for a while, but for 108 minutes? It gets old. And the songs aren’t that great, either.

From there it was off to the Racquet Club, a new festival venue this year, for a public screening of “Brick.” I had heard many good things about this film from some friends who caught the press screening earlier in the week, and I’d requested a ticket so I could see for myself. It’s basically a film noir set in a modern high school — “Maltese Falcon” and “Chinatown” meet “Saved by the Bell” (or something). The dialogue is arch and peppered with 1930s slang, and all the noir prototypes are there: the reluctant anti-hero, the femme fatale, the bad guy, the hired thug, etc. Unlike “Reefer Madness,” “Brick” is able to sustain its concept for its entire running time. So hooray for “Brick,” and boo for “Reefer Madness.”

Before the film, I went outside to the waiting area to buy a Three Musketeers at the snack bar. (Does anyone else eat Three Musketeers? Someone told me I’m the only one he knows.) I assumed the price would be a dollar — ridiculously marked-up, of course, but common for vendors who are selling food to people who have no alternatives. But then the guy told me it was TWO dollars. I was so stunned, I didn’t have the presence of mind to do what I should have done, which would have been to say, “Two dollars? Eff that!” and walk away without buying anything. Instead, I got another dollar out of my wallet and, observing the tip jar on the counter, said, “Now I don’t have any money left to leave a tip.” I’m sure that showed him!

(In truth, I did have plenty of money left, and also in truth, I wouldn’t have left a tip anyway. I don’t buy into the notion that putting a jar on the counter with the word “TIPS” on it means that what you’re doing actually merits tipping. Bring food to my table or deliver something to my house, and then you’ve got grounds for a gratuity. But dispensing a cup of hot chocolate or handing me a piece of coffee cake from the cooler? Forget it, Hector.)

After “Brick,” I had to hustle back to the Yarrow for a press screening of “Hustle & Flow,” which, despite its title, is not a 1970s police drama. It is instead a “gritty” (i.e., the F-word is spoken 2,389 times) “urban” (i.e., it’s about black people) “drama” (i.e., it’s not a comedy) about a pimp who wants to be a rapper. Which to me is like a cockroach who wants to be a dung beetle, but whatever. As it turns out, this pimp who wants out of the pimping business and into the rapping business pretty much only raps about his days as a pimp, which makes me think, if he misses it so much, why did he want out?

“Hustle & Flow” was a hot ticket because just a few days ago, it was purchased by Paramount for $9 million — a record for a Sundance purchase, if I’m not mistaken. (I do know that last year’s $5 million for “Napoleon Dynamite” was considered huge.) In addition, Paramount also paid the producer, John Singleton, $7 million extra to do two more, unspecified films for them. So $16 million for “Hustle & Flow,” basically, which is a ton of money for a movie that’s only sorta good.

When the pimp-rap movie was over, I went up to Main Street to meet a couple friends for dinner. Well, one friend, Chris, and his friend who I don’t know but whose name turned out to be Greg (I think). We ate at Burgie’s, a hamburger joint right there on the main drag that was inexplicably uncrowded. Our waiter told us, unbidden, that he made a film that he’s been showing around town, and that he doesn’t even work at Burgie’s anymore, he just came in to pick up a couple shifts while he’s in town pimping his film. I was apathetic and ordered a bacon cheeseburger.

It was about 8:30 when we were done eating, and Chris and Greg(?) scampered off to another film. I was thus left alone with my thoughts, and it was here that I reached the point in the festival — it happens every year — where it starts to feel like a JOB, and not the fun kind of job. I began to feel like my job is that every day I drive to Park City, watch four movies, then drive home and write about it — which, if that were actually a person’s year-round occupation, would get very old, very fast. It’s only been seven days and already my shoulder is sore from carrying my laptop-laden backpack, my butt is sore from sitting in uncomfortable screening-room chairs for hours on end, and my mind is sore from ingesting so many disparate ideas, images and words in such a short space of time.

Watching movies is great, of course; it’s one of my two favorite things to do with other people in the dark. (The other is telling ghost stories.) But Sundance always induces a sort of sensory overload, the result of seeing a wacky comedy immediately after enduring a grueling tragedy, for example. The range of emotions inspired by good films — joy, sadness, disgust, horror, pleasure, anger — is considerable. Sometimes there are movies at Sundance that are so powerful (or so funny, or so sad, or so whatever) that they would be enough for one day by themselves. And then to go watch something else afterward, to force your mind to reset so that you can go into the next one with a clean slate — it’s work! Honest-to-goodness actual WORK!

I was tired now, and I decided to go home and call it a day a little earlier than usual. But I have this odd work ethic with Sundance. For some reason, I feel like anything less than four movies a day is a sign that I am slacking off. I only watched three yesterday, and I didn’t want a repeat of that lazy performance today. So as I sat on the shuttle bus, I decided that if it happened to stop at the Eccles Theatre before 9:30, I would get off there and watch “The Girl from Monday,” which was to commence at that time. And if we stopped at the Eccles after 9:30, I would stay onboard and go home instead. I left my fate up to the bus driver.

And damn him, he made it to the Eccles at 9:20. The one time this week that the shuttle moves with any degree of speed, and it forces me to watch “The Girl from Monday.” This is a bad quasi-science-fiction movie about a girl from another planet who shows up in New York in the future, when America has been taken over by some kind of corporation. The film was written and directed by Hal Hartley, which would mean something to you if you were an independent-film geek, which maybe you are. If so, then be aware that one of your heroes has made a very dull, very flat movie. But he shot it on digital video, so at least he didn’t waste any precious film on it.

When it was over, then, finally, I was allowed to go home. I had seen my quota of four movies, only one of which I especially enjoyed. It was time to punch my time card and hope tomorrow is a little better. I gladly accept gratuities, by the way.