The Werner Herzog Theater, the brand-new and fabulous tenth venue for the Festival, took the back of my head off. For a girl who bemoans the state of exhibition in the San Francisco Bay Area (don’t get me started), it has become increasingly necessary to travel to see movies as they should be shown — on big, well-lit screens, in a dark room not distractingly illuminated by flashes of light from tiny screens, with crisp, layered sound. (Let’s not get into the morass of film projection vs. digital. I’m sympathetic, I love velvety silver nitrate and Technicolor imbibition prints as much if not more than the next geek, but that ship has sailed.)
At the low-key general Festival press conference, an uncharacteristically emotional Tom Luddy spoke movingly of his personal history and the Telluride Film Festival’s with Werner Herzog: how he had shown Werner’s early movies at the Pacific Film Archive, and that, since Werner’s initial invitation to the second TFF in 1975, he had attended almost every year, often with a film (or even two, as with this year’s two hour-long documentaries, “Death Row: Blaine Millam + Robert Fratta”).
Herzog’s birthday falls around Labor Day weekend, and festivities included a baseball game with porn star Nina Hartley. Good times! Tom recalled that it was Ken Burns who first encouraged them to name theaters after living cineastes who would enjoy the honor, rather than, say, Marcel Carne — hence the Chuck Jones, Le Pierre after Pierre Rissient, the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema (Gance indeed came to Telluride) and now the Werner Herzog Theater.
When Luddy called Werner to see if he’d consent, Werner asked to think about it. But when he called back to say yes, he added “I have to confess, I’ve always thought of myself as the patron saint of Telluride.”
So it seemed only appropriate to start my Festival with the first screening at the Werner Herzog Theater, the one-man show “All is Lost,” with Robert Redford as a man adrift in the Indian Ocean, battling the elements, directed by J. C. Chandor (“Margin Call”). (Although the Festival’s ceremonial inauguration is the 7:30 p.m. screening of “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” Herzog’s 1972 masterpiece starring Klaus Kinski, with Herzog in attendance and the presentation of Telluride’s Special Medallion honoring a hero of cinema that preserves, honors, and presents great movies to the elegant Alejandro Ramirez, , who, in addition to running Cinepolis, the fourth-largest chain of movie theaters in the world, founded the Morelia Film Festival, which has become one of the world’s great cinephile festivals in ten short years, expertly programmed by Daniela Michel.)
As with many of Telluride’s other venues, the Herzog is housed in a building with another use: a hockey rink. It can be assembled and disassembled fairly quickly, we are told. But you’d never know: it has 650 glamourous reddish-orange incredibly comfortable seats, a huge screen, and an amazing sound system installed by the world-famous Meyer Sound. A class act.
And “All is Lost” is a class act, too, although I think I had as much if not more fun chatting in line with Michael Pollan and his wife, artist Judith Belzer, as well as Alice Waters (who made me put my Diet Coke into my purse because it offended her organic sensibilities, even though I told her it was for medicinal purposes, i.e., caffeine) and the irrepressible Angelo Garro, a Sa Francisco bon vivant who has somehow ensorcelled both Alice and Michael into giving their first-ever commercial endorsements to his Omnivore Salt.
And we were in line for a good hour-and-a-half, not quite the running time of “All is Lost” (107 minutes), but almost.
Earlier that day, at the Patron’s Brunch held high in the mountains, where the scenery almost outdoes the Waters-influenced spread of divine local products (exquisite salads, farm eggs cooked to order, wild mushroom quiche, unusual cheeses, the best lox and bagels, and this year delicious corn-studded pancakes served with chipotle butter), (and the spread almost outdoes the surrounding star power of Francis Ford Coppola, Bruce Dern, Alexander Payne, Alejandro Innaritu, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, Ken Burns, like that) a woman had told me that “All is Lost” had an “ambiguous ending,” the kind of unasked-for spoiler that I can’t help hearing all through the movie.
At first I found it unambiguous, being a cockeyed optimist. But then I changed my mind, especially finding myself seated next to the erudite Geoff Dyer at my next event, the tribute to Robert Redford, who said “Of course it’s ambiguous,” and cited a line about a thread of light on the darkness from a D.H. Lawrence poem, “The Ship of Death” — and when the author of “Out of Sheer Rage” quotes D.H.Lawrence, I listen.
The day holds two more movies: Gia Coppola’s first, “Palo Alto,” tales of adolescent angst, based on a book of short stories by James Franco, a promising debut — well-acted, interestingly shot, and moving. It’s a home movie of sorts — we glimpse great-aunt Talia Shire as a school counselor, hear the voice of Francis as a judge, and Gia’s mother Jacqui Getty plays Emma Roberts’ mom.
And “Under the Skin,” the second feature from Jonathan “Sexy Beast” Glazer, a sort-of-science-fiction, starring the voluptuous Scarlett Johansson as a resident alien (pun intended) in Scotland, who lures witless and unwitting men to their doom by offering them her body. My notes are few: “men are such fools,” “Soylent Green is people,” “Interesting, stylish, but not compelling.” On my way out the door I run into the adorable Haroula Rose, an associate producer of “Fruitvale Station,” who has come to Telluride expressly to see movies, being unable to while shepherding “Fruitvale Station” at Sundance and Cannes, and Scott Foundas. She’s waiting for a ride. As we walk down Colorado, Scott regales me with tales of avant-garde films he’s just seen in Locarno, by directors I’ve never heard of: it’s almost like he’s speaking another language. It’s too dark to take notes, and I’m too tired to remember. I feel like a film rube.
When I get home, I find an invitation to Morelia waiting in my email. La vie is en rose once again. And tomorrow is another day, as Scarlet (a darker rose) once said.