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Telluride XL Day Five: ‘Nebraska,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘Prisoners’ and a Toast to the 40th Anniversary Fest

Telluride XL Day Five: 'Nebraska,' 'Gravity,' 'Prisoners' and a Toast to the 40th Anniversary Fest

I try not to beat myself up during a film festival.  I try to adopt the Zen-like mantra of
“wherever you are is the place you’re supposed to be.”  Choosing one movie over another is not
a life-or-death situation, and eventually one can usually see anything one
wants.

Except sometimes context is all.  Sometimes, especially here at Telluride, I
think I’ve traveled all this way to see a movie beautifully projected, in the
company of several hundred kindred spirits, whose attention is all directed
towards the screen.  And there can be the
extra frisson of the presence of some of its creators — I’m sure the people
who saw Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejiotor at
their screening of “12 Years a Slave” got quite a thrill.  (I haven’t seen hide nor hair of that quartet
anywhere.)

I’m walking towards the 9:30 a.m. screening of
Nebraska” at the Werner Herzog — because I love Alexander Payne’s
movies, because “Nebraska” won’t open until November 22, because it’s
not playing in Toronto, and because I’ve only been in the beautiful new Wener
Herzog Theater once, on day one of the festival, four long days ago — when I
see Tom Luddy sitting on a bench outside the Sheridan Opera House.

I stop to chat, and soon Daniela Michel, the programmer of
the Morelia Fim Festival, comes up and says to me “I knew I’d find you
here.” By “here,” she means waiting to see Guest Director
David Thomson’s presentation of “Portrait of Jennie.”  I can tell she’s puzzled when I say no, I’m
going to see “Nebraska.”  But
I’ve seen “Portrait of Jennie” several times over the years, both on
the big screen and on TV. I feel a stronger pull
towards “Nebraska.”

Two hours later and I wish I could have a do-over.  Not that I didn’t like “Nebraska”:
I just didn’t like it as much as I wanted to (i.e., as much as virtually every
other Alexander Payne movie).  And I
forgot the cardinal rule of Telluride: choose the unrepeatable experience over
the repeatable one. Everybody that I ran into at the traditional Labor Day
picnic that had gone to “Portrait of Jennie” was floating on air,
describing the end of the movie in a way I’d never seen it, with a widening of
the screen in addition to a shift from black-and-white to Technicolor.  And I also heard that Thomson’s comparisons
of “Jennie” with “Vertigo” (the best movie ever made,
according to the last “Sight and Sound” poll) were masterful. He
promised as much in the last paragraph of his piece in the “Telluride
Watch” — “Ask yourself who else was under contract to Selznick in
those troubled years and then look at the film closely — there’s a man in love
with a woman who is dead; he wants to bring her back to life and lo, she
appears; there are nuns; there is a painting and there is even a strange green
light.”

I trot over to the appropriately-named Galaxy to see
“Gravity,” the lost-in-space 3-D epic helmed by Alfonso Cuaron and
co-written with his son Jonas, starring George Clooney and (mostly) Sandra
Bullock.  (The night before, we’d been
treated at the “Tracks” screening to a mysterious and unsettling
short, “Aningaaq,” directed by Jonas Cuaron, set in Greenland, it
seems, in which an Inuit fisherman miscommunicates over a failing two-way radio
with an astronaut lost in space, voiced by Sandra Bullock. It’s a bit of a
shaggy-dog story, more so seen in light of “Gravity.”)
“Gravity” is preceded by a charming new 3-D Mickey Mouse short, entitled
“Get a Horse!,” which appears to be a witty combination of an old
black-and-white Mickey cartoon with new color 3-D footage, but is actually all
brand-new footage. 

A friend had earlier remarked to me that she was struck by
how many of the new movies at Telluride dealt with the theme of solitude.  I go one further — it seems to me that
“All is Lost,” “Tracks,” and “Gravity” are
basically the same movie: a lone soul struggling to survive against impossible
odds. 

I guess it’s big-movie-day: I take the 12-minute gondola up
to the Chuck Jones Cinema for the first time all weekend to see
“Prisoners,”  a starry thriller
— Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard,
Melissa Leo, Paul Dano — about Jackman’s desperate efforts to find his
daughter and her friend, kidnapped on Thanksgiving, when he feels that
detective Affleck and the police aren’t doing enough. Denis Villeneuve (whose
“Incendies” played in Telluride in 2010) manages to keep things dark
(ably assisted by genius cinematographer Roger Deakins) and taut for 2 hours
and 26 minutes.  It’s so thoroughly noir
that I’m surprised it’s still light outside when we exit.

When I ride the gondola down, admiring the toy-box
picturesque Telluride valley below — we see deer and porcupines threading their
way through the aspens — I don’t realize that “Prisoners” is my last
Telluride XL screening.  I’d toyed with
the idea of finishing up with “12 Years a Slave.”  But a quick drink at the New Sheridan bar
with the criminally charming Mark Cousins; Charles Tabesh, the Senior VP of
programming at TCM who’s been largely responsible for acquiring the many titles
that are supporting Cousins’ 15-hour “The Story of Film,” unspooling
one hour a week on TCM for the next three months; Nicolas Philibert, director
of “La Maison de la Radio,” about Radio France; Ritesh Batra,
director of “The Lunchbox”; and Sebastian Lelio and Paulina Garcia,
director and star of “Gloria,” segues into a festive final dinner at
a lively place called, I think, “Oak The New Fat Alley BBQ,” (there
is some disagreement, even on its own signage).  

Anyway there are several long tables, I enjoy my fried chicken, mashed
potatoes, and succotash tiptop (it is only the third actual sit-down meal I
have had in five days, counting today’s picnic, which was not exactly
leisurely), and I get to tell Pawel Pawlikoski how much I loved
“Ida,” again — he says he was too overcome at his initial screening
to remember much of anything — and thank Buck Henry for programming Mike
Hodges’ “Terminal Man,” again, and Phillip Lopate for programming two
movies by Maurice Pialat, again.  Monique
Montgomery delivers a charming and sentimental speech about meeting Tom Luddy a
week before the first Telluride, forty years ago, and never missing a one since
— “Luckily his profession was my passion.” Luckily for us, Tom’s
passion — along with that of his colleagues — has once again provided us with
a magical few days of total immersion in the joys of cinephilia.  We toast to Telluride.  I’m kinda drunk on half a (big) gin and
tonic, but totally soused with cinema.

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Comments

Jamie

Great descriptions of the festival, but really wish I had been there for the Portrait of Jenny showing. It is one of my all time favorite movies. In fact, the "dream house" I've always wanted and then blogged about belonged to Jennifer Jones http://jdurward.blogspot.com/2011/06/places-i-want-to-be-rich-enough-to.html

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