The Sundance Kidding

Narrowly beating out Payson’s Onion Days celebration, the Sundance Film Festival is Utah’s greatest cultural event. This is especially true if by “cultural” we mean “featuring a lot of movies about gay people.”

I sort of covered the festival for the Daily Herald, and I enjoyed watching all the pretentious film people milling around, drinking coffee-based beverages by the gallon, and talking to other pretentious film people on their cell phones. (Prior to the invention of the cell phone, festival-goers had to speak pretentiously to themselves.) As far as I could tell, the only people who actually watched any movies were the reporters and critics; the other 13,000 people who cram themselves into Park City for the festival are there for the chance to look pretentious in front of others, and to enjoy Utah’s entertaining liquor laws. (“No spirits may be sold to a person carrying a pig, except on Thursdays,” is one actual law that I just made up.)

One non-pretentious person I almost met was Julianna Margulies. Who is this, you ask? Apparently, she’s on “ER,” a TV show that used to be No. 1 in the ratings all the time, until “Who Will Put up with Regis Philbin for a Half-Hour for a Million Dollars” came around. She was also in a Sundance film, which is why she was in Park City, although when I eavesdropped on her conversation with her assistant, she was desperately trying to get out of Utah altogether.

They were discussing possible airlines to fly on, and wondering whether it was worth flying on Southwest just because that airline had the soonest flight available. I wanted to pipe up and remind them of Southwest’s motto (“We Hate You”), and how they don’t assign seats to the passengers, so you have to find one on your own, so it’s pretty much like riding a big ol’ stinky flying bus, except with the added bonus of possibly plunging headlong into the sea. But I didn’t say anything, because I’m a big chicken when it comes to addressing celebrities, even if they’re ones I’ve never heard of.

Still, that would have been less embarrassing than what happened to a guy in one of the press screenings I went to. We were watching “American Psycho,” a film whose message is that, despite all its shortcomings, America still produces the best psychos in the world. Near the end of the film, we heard a loud snore. We media types chuckled, because we figured one of our fellows had fallen asleep, and we could all relate. I had dozed during a short film just a day earlier, in fact. (My feelings on shorts: I don’t like them. Either make a movie or don’t, all right? Don’t make part of one and then stop, you big quitters.)

Anyway, someone nudged the guy to wake him up, and then his arms started flailing, such as might happen if you’re in a deep sleep and someone nudges you to wake you up. But for some reason, the conclusion everyone jumped to was that he was having a seizure. So they called 911.

Meanwhile, the guy woke up and was understandably disoriented — up on the screen, Christian Bale was killing a woman with a chainsaw; I had been awake the whole time, and I was disoriented. When someone asked if he’d had a seizure, he readily agreed to that scenario, even though, by his own admission, he’d never had a seizure before, and he was really sleepy when he came to the festival that morning.

People bought the seizure story, which he didn’t even bother to add any details to, and helped him from his seat out to the lobby. Someone gave him a granola bar, and had he not been carrying a pig, someone could have gotten him a drink, too. All in all, he saved face by letting everyone believe he’d had a medical emergency, when the fact was, he’d just fallen asleep.

I don’t blame him for it. In fact, I admire his quick-thinking skills. The next time I doze off in a boring meeting, I might pretend it was a seizure, just so I can get out of the meeting. (Note to my bosses: I am only kidding. I would never try this. If I have a seizure in our staff meeting next week, it’s a REAL one, I swear.)

Payson, Utah, really does have an Onion Days Celebration every August. I don't know what it's all about, but I know it's a BIG DEAL down there. I can't really picture any circumstances under which I would celebrate the onion, but if it makes them happy, who am I to judge?

Notice how I said I "sort of" covered Sundance for the Daily Herald. This is an inside joke that only I understand. Initially, I was asked to cover the film festival extensively. I went to Salt Lake City every day for a week to see advance screenings of some of the films, watched others on special VHS tapes they lent me, all so that we could run reviews of as many movies as possible in the paper.

Then, on the first day of the festival, the bosses saw the overtime hours I had reported. (Watching two or three movies a day, in addition to my regular duties, does add up.) They freaked out. Apparently, it had not occurred to them that having one person cover an entire film festival might result in overtime. So they quickly scaled back our coverage, to where instead of seeing three or four films a day at the festival, they would pay me only to see one. Basically, we started out great, then chickened out just as things were getting good. That's why I say I "sort of" covered the festival. All the Daily Herald had ever done to this point was "sort of" cover it (though they seem to have no problem spending thousands of dollars to send three staff members back East for an entire week just to cover one BYU bowl game, not that I am bitter).

When I told my friend Other Eric about the seizure incident, he said it would be MORE embarrassing for people to think you'd had a seizure than for them to think you'd fallen asleep. He said, "Now whenever they see him, they'll be saying, 'Seizure Boy, Seizure Boy!'" I said, "Eric, we're not in seventh grade." And he said, "Some of us are." I couldn't argue with that.

"American Psycho" was released in theaters in April 2000. It didn't do very well. It's too disturbing and graphic and the ending is unsatisfying. Just like a "Snide Remarks" column.