It was a typical day at a film festival, in that I didn’t end up seeing anything I thought I would when I checked the schedule, the last thing at night – or even the first thing this morning.
At breakfast, I gulp down the essential three cups of strong coffee after passing an almost sleepless night. Lying in bed, wide awake and not wanting to be, even resorting to counting backwards, I wonder why I feel so wired. Part of it is the residual excitement of having seen so much good and interesting stuff, in the company of respectful, attentive, and equally giddy audiences. I go over the day’s screenings and encounters, hoping to nudge myself closer to the land of Nod (instead of the dreaded land of nodding off in a dark, quiet theater, tomorrow). Didn’t I cut the caffeine off early? An image suddenly surfaces: I see myself clutching that cioccolato cone after midnight in the Piazza Maggiore. Stupid mistake.
There’s also what Sherlock Holmes would call the curious incident of the internet service in the wee hours, meaning that the WiFi I’ve paid for mysteriously disappears just as I’ve finished writing up the first day’s adventures. A phone call to the desk doesn’t help. So between the chocolate and the stress I’m vibrating like a temple gong.
I join critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and editor Jackie Raynal for breakfast, and they steer me away from the 9 a.m. screening of “Mary” I thought I was going to see, part of the Alma Reville tribute (it’s a German version of her and Hitchcock’s “Murder”), towards Raoul Walsh’s “Distant Drums,” showing at 9:15, by the simple expedient of saying that “Mary” is “showing again, tomorrow.” (Plus Jonathan’s constant rallying cry is “It’s available on DVD!” But I don’t want to see it on DVD! I flew thousands of miles to see things on the big screen! Plus it’s a German DVD! And so on and so forth.)
Anyway, I need the extra 15 minutes to clear up the WiFi problem and send off yesterday’s post. “Distant Drums” is a workmanlike yet fairly elegant effort, starring the very elegant Gary Cooper, still tall and lean in fringed buckskin, in an unusual setting: Florida in 1840, campaigning against the Seminole Indians, shot mostly on location. I think of it as late Walsh, since he made it in 1951, until I realize that he made nineteen more movies after it, culminating in “A Distant Trumpet,” starring
Rock Hudson Troy Donahue, in 1964 — which is what I think we’re going to see when I tell Jonathan that we saw it together at the Cinematheque years ago. “I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was 8,” he says, and he’s right.
It feels odd to be watching a Boy’s Own Adventure in a huge movie theater early in the morning, searching for bits of Walsh’s style “shoved up the crevasses,” as my old and much-missed friend Pauline Kael would have it in her famous screed against the auteur theory. I think ruefully of her old nemesis Andrew Sarris, who died just six days ago: the battered copy of his “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929 — 1968” that I purchased at the age of 19 in Paris is still my bible, my love and respect for Pauline notwithstanding.
Afterwards we’re joined by Dave Kehr, co-programmer of the Walsh series, who contributes an invaluable weekly column on new DVD releases to The New York Times. We also run into Steve Uljaki, head of the Loyola-Marymount Film School in Los Angeles, and artist Jackie Mancuso, fresh from both a week in Greece and the 9:30 a.m. screening of Duvivier’s “David Golder” which I said they must not miss.
We all head towards the 11:30 screening of Kenji Mizoguchi’s first part-talkie, “Fujiwara Yoshie No Furasato” (1930), which also turns into an exercise, for me, anyway, of searching for bits of Mizoguchi’s style shoved up the crevasses. When I find myself closely examining the art deco costumes and jewelry of some of the cast and thinking back to a couple of recent Berkeley Art Museum and Japanese Society exhibits of Japanese art deco, I realize I’m not fully engaged with the story of a popular singer who vacilates between the love of a good (but tedious) woman and the support of a wealthy (but annoying) heiress. It’s the kind of movie I’m happy to have seen, but will never want to see again: an exceedingly minor film by a major director.
Unbelievably, seven of us squeeze in a hurried but delightful meal afterwards, in under an hour, at a local legend, Da Bertino il Re del Tortellino (dal 1957!), an old-fashioned place that only serves lunch, via del Lame 55. It’s conveniently located right next to the theater where most of us are going to see “Wild Girl,” a 1932 film by Walsh, unseen for decades, in a print that the Museum of Modern Art has just struck expressly at the request of Mr. Kehr. Lasagna Bolognese! Escalope Milanese! Tortellini en brodo! Wine for the brave and/or foolhardy (I would be asleep in minutes, so do not take a chance).
Steve and Jackie head off to see Grémillon’s “L’Etrange Mr. Victor,” showing at the same time, where I thought I was going, also, but “You can see it again tomorrow!,” says J. Rosenbaum, and I guess I’m feeling highly suggestible. “Wild Girl,” based on an oft-filmed story and play by Bret Harte, is something of a delight, featuring the delicious young Joan Bennett (still a blonde à la Constance, before she became a brunette à la Hedy Lamarr), sturdy, boyish Charles Farrell, Ralph Bellamy in a slightly-better-than-usual Ralph Bellamy part, and a raft of character actors, including the sturdy Eugene Pallette and the earthy Mina Gombell. Gorgeously shot on location in California’s Sequoia National Park, Walsh’s deep-focus and the clear light made the film look almost 3-D. Nifty screen wipes that looked like scenes were turning the page elicited moans from at least one cinephile sitting behind me. A good time was had by all.
Afterwards, some headed to Frank Borzage’s “A Man’s Castle,” some to the first part of Raymond Bernard’s “Les Miserables,” some to Agnes Varda’s “Documenteur.” I went to a Scorsese/World Cinema Foundation restoration of a 1948 oddity, “Kalpana,” a 2 hour 35 minute film directed by Uday Shankar, the dancer brother of Ravi Shankar. The movie was brought to Scorsese’s attention during his work on “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.” I watch about an hour of it, loving the dance numbers, guiltily wishing it was in color (despite its gleaming black-and-white), not quite connecting with the story wrapped around the dance. Since “Kalpana” just premiered at Cannes, I think I may some day have another opportunity to see it.
I duck into a screening right across the hall, thinking that Mario Ruspoli’s “Les inconnus de la terre” is just about to begin, and luckily catch the last twenty minutes of a q-and-a session with the typically loquacious and lucid Agnes Varda, after the screening of her 1962 “Documenteur.” A question from UCLA’s Janet Bergstrom about Varda’s history with Delphine Seyrig unexpectedly elucidates a haunting story about running into Seyrig with Sami Frey in the elevator of the Paris hospital where Jacques Demy was also being treated during his final illness, the four of them spending Christmas together, and Varda catching Frey’s eye and the two of them silently shating the knowledge that Seyrig and Demy would not be with them for Christmas the next year. “And they died within two weeks of each other in October.”
Jackie and Steve join me for the Ruspoli, shot in the 60s in a southeast corner of France that might as well have been in medieval times. It makes me eager to see more of his work. Along with the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scott Foundas, we stick around for a brisk hour’s passionate discussion of contemporary cinephilia between Thierry Frémaux of Cannes and the Festival Lumiere of Lyon and his gentle interlocutor, Bologna’s Gian Luca Farinelli. I think Farinelli asks Frémaux only three questions, prompting reams of beautifully-composed, thoughtful response (“He’s spoken for half-an-hour without drawing a breath!,” I marvel to Scott.)
We head out into the happily-cooler night (yes, Bologna is hot and humid in late June), where an organic farmer’s market is in full swing in the film center’s courtyard. Inflamed by the beautiful displays of cheeses, salumi, bread, and vegetables, we head off towards a Sicilian restaurant Steve and Jackie know, Sikelia, Via Riva de Renzo 39. I can’t believe it! Two restaurant meals in one day at a film festival! Unheard-of. (But then the Festival thoughtfully doesn’t program anything between 8 p.m. and the big free outdoor screening at 10.)
We sit outside. I wash down a very good spaghetti vongole with two glasses of thin but perfumed white wine, a decision I rue when I take a half-hour nap sitting in the breezy night air of the Piazza Maggiore right in the middle of John Boorman’s “Point Blank.”
I remind myself that I have seen “Point Blank” many, many times, most recently in January during the Noir City festival in San Francisco, where Eddie Muller interviewed a feisty and flirty Angie Dickinson onstage. And I did get to see and hear John Boorman introduce it with his reminiscences of the feisty, not particularly flirty, Lee Marvin, who generously ceded his casting and script approval to Boorman. I am happy that I woke up before my favorite scene, well, one of my favorite scenes, when Angie Dickinson, clad in a chic bright orange minidress, attempts to beat the hell out of a stolid, unfazed Marvin, and slides exhausted to the floor.
“You’re a very bad man, Walker!” resounds in my head as I walk back to the hotel and hope to fall asleep quickly. Once I’ve written this. More quickly, anyway. I’m going to try to see another Alma Reville-penned screenplay for “After the Verdict” at 9 a.m.