January 27, 2005
Park City Dispatch. 5.Hannah Eaves sends along our fullest Park City Dispatch yet, featuring not only first impressions of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, Jenny Abel's, Abel Raises Cain and Hal Hartley's The Girl From Monday, but also her own personal impressions of the town, the festival and GreenCine's own party, co-hosted by Res Magazine and DivX. All abetted by photos by GC Managing Partner Dennis Woo. The American Dramatic Competition is finally heating up at Sundance. News hit several days ago that, after an energetic premiere, Hustle and Flow was picked up by Paramount for $9 million (although, after finagling, the grand total will probablybe closer to $16 million). Its story revolves around a pimp who, after hearing a gospel song, attempts to turn his dream of becoming a rapper into reality. No doubt the buyers were influenced by the success of 8 Mile and are looking to market this to the urban crowd. The Dying Gaul, however, seems to be the most popular amongst critics here. Featuring Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson, this stage adaptation by writer/director Craig Lucas is about a screenwriter who sells the story of his dead lover with a devil's clause - he must transform the character into a woman. Brick, a high school noir, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, have all garnered generally positive responses. One notable aspect of the festival this year is the lack of agreement; it's very difficult to name a single film that most people found outstanding. There are some excellent entrants in the World Documentary Competition, however. Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man is a fascinating character study of Timothy Treadwell, self-appointed grizzly bear expert. For thirteen summers, the youthful Treadwell camped in the Alaskan wilderness to observe and commune with grizzlies. His final year there ended in tragedy when he and girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked and completely devoured by an older, aggressive bear. Most of the visuals for the film come from Treadwell's own video footage, shot during his last few excursions. He comes dangerously close to the bears, touching them and swimming with them, all the while convinced that his work as a naturalist and lobbyist is helping to preserve their environment. Unfortunately, we soon come to learn that what Treadwell is filming in the Alaskan wilds is less a nature documentary than a kind of ongoing Crocodile Hunter episode with Treadwell styling himself as a great lone adventurer and the only human capable of understanding the creatures around him. His disturbed mental state becomes clearer through interviews and Herzog's own voiceover. Treadwell was a failed actor and alcoholic, rescued in a sense by the power and individualistic importance that such a reckless undertaking gave him. The bears saved him from obscurity and addiction, but his staying there, against the wishes of the park service, to play out his own narcissistic fantasies and adamant death wish, was bound to end in tragedy. His childlike love for the animals around him seems genuine, as was his belief that the animal world, though admittedly dangerous, was somehow more benevolent than that of humans. In reality, nature is cruel and animals want to survive. The most powerful scene in the film comes when Herzog listens to a tape of the attack (the camera's lens cap was thankfully on during the recording). He agrees that, at over six minutes, this is something that the audience should not hear. Surprisingly, the film doesn't deal with the ethical issue of using Treadwell's own footage to make a film that he, undeniably, would hate. On a far happier note, Jenny Abel's, Abel Raises Cain, screening at Slamdance, is a joyful history of media prankster Alan Abel, the director's father. This film has the potential to be truly fantastic. In the 1950s Abel enlisted his wife and actor Buck Henry in a fake campaign to clothe all naked animals for the sake of decency ("a nude horse is a rude horse"). Many people, unaware of the society's satiric foundations, got on the bandwagon, and through their stupidity inspired Abel to pursue a lifetime of media hoaxes. The film breaks its momentum by cutting back and forth to the present, when what we all really want to know is what stunt Abel's going to pull off next. Within segments the editing is excellent - the opening shots of Abel semi-jogging to canned music are hilarious - but this film is one of few that would benefit from chronological storytelling, up to and including the present. Hal Hartley's latest, The Girl From Monday, is likely to get a mixed response from critics and audiences alike. Starring Bill Sage and Sabrina Lloyd, it is what Hartley calls "fake sci-fi." Though it takes place vaguely in the future there is an undeniable sense that it could be happening right now; that, in fact, our current world is so surreal it could have slipped into science fiction without our noticing. Stylistically, it follows on from The Book of Life and is full of off angles and slow shutter speeds (what Hartley calls the "Wong Kar-wai button" on the camera). In Hartley's vision of the future (or, rather, exaggerated opinion of the present), sex is nothing but a commodity, used to boost one's credit rating. After all, the more sexually powerful we are, the higher our status. Attachment or rejection in any form is a liability, dealt with in court and by insurance companies. Secret, corrupting clubs exist where people have sex purely for pleasure. Common punishment is a long stretch of teaching high school. The title character is from another planet, one without human bodies that relies on a communal conciousness. She is on Earth to find one of her own and bring him back. There are some effective moments, particularly in the first half and towards the end, and Hartley's continual experimentation with narrative and performance is something to be respected. A Personal POV It has become clear from my first visit here that the Sundance Film Festival is just as much about the overall experience as it is about the movies. All sorts of people come to Park City - skiiers after celebrity sightings and post-slope movies, executives looking for a hit, industry folks here for the parties, an excited yet cynical press corp, and, of course, filmmakers full of hope and frivolity. As a first time attendee, I'd like to tell you a little bit about what it's like to actually be at Sundance.
Posted by dwhudson at January 27, 2005 4:05 PM