This week in New York brought one tribute to greatness, one horrorshow of madness, and one tribute to a horrorshow of madness.
Tribute to Keaton
A quartet of trumpeters marched down the aisles of Avery Fischer Hall on Monday night, opening the festivities for Lincon Center's Gala Tribute to Diane Keaton. The annual gala tribute series, founded in 1972 as a means of convincing Charlie Chaplin to return to the United States, serves as a celebration of Hollywood's living legends (past recipients have included Laurence Olivier, Bette Davis and Audrey Hepburn) by those who have known them best. In Keaton's case, the speakers included Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Candice Bergen and treated the occasion as part tribute and part roast, lauding her talent and influence while ribbing many of the well-known idiosyncrasies that have helped make her such a unique presence in cinema for nearly 50 years.
"Tonight in many ways is probably [Keaton's] worst nightmare," said Sarah Jessica Parker, the first of many to discuss Keaton's sense of privacy and discomfort at discussing herself, "because of her insane inability to take a compliment without rolling her eyes."
Despite having creating one of the all-time great cinematic love letters to her in Annie Hall (trivia: Keaton's birth name is Diane Hall, nickname Annie), mentor and frequent Keaton director Woody Allen claimed "I always wrote all the good jokes and all the good stuff and all the good scenes for me. When the picture came out, she was the funny one. She got all the reviews, it was infuriating" To explain her immense appeal, Lisa Kudrow stole the night by reading the transcript of a legal deposition of Keaton in her voice, explaining that the actress' iconic blustering vocal mannerisms did not stop offscreen ("So, is she somebody? I mean... I don't know, maybe? No, I don't know, is she... maybe... did I... I'd hate to think, but I just..."). "That's the genius of Diane Keaton," said Kudrow. "She's so disarming. Nobody's going to ask her to testify."
Every female who spoke discussed their own ill-fated attempts to dress like Annie Hall (as did Martin Short, who claimed it made him look like k.d. lange), with mixed results "Why can't I put together an outfit like that?" asked Meryl Streep. "Clearly I tried."
Keaton, after giving a brief, alarming admission that she has always had a crush on Martin Short, finished up the night with far more heartfelt speech than might have been expected of the woman who giggled through her presentation of Best Picture at the Oscars this year; gone was the familiar stutter and bluster, the self-denigrating deflection, and in its place was a sweet, humble gratefulness for a career well-realized. She thanked all of her costars profoundly, before bringing the audience to tears with a few a capella lines from "Seems like old times." A class act all the way.
Stranger Than Fiction Closes With Crazy
Not such a class act: Burt Pugach, whose mind-boggling tale of obsession, abuse and need with his tragic paramour Linda Riss made tabloid headlines in the 50s, 70s and 90s, and whose tale is chronicled in Dan Klores' astonishing Sundance buzz-winning documentary "Crazy Love," which screened on Tuesday night at the IFC Center as a triumphant conclusion to the second season of their Stranger Than Fiction series, an excellently programmed sampling of some of the more interesting documentaries currently being made.
While a number of critics have taken to casually revealing all of the horrific details of Pugach and Riss' romance in various reviews, it was clear the audience had thankfully not been briefed, as they gasped and murmured during each unthinkable detail unraveled (as programmer Thom Powers stated in his introduction, the title "Crazy Love" is more than appropriate). Also baffling in a lot of the critical coverage has been the insistence in finding the story to be a twisted romance, a viewpoint that did not seem to be shared by director Klores during the Q&A the followed the film. When asked how he was able to keep the film so free of judgment of its subjects, Klores made it immediately clear that they were to be thought of separately.
"Very quickly I got past the place of even thinking of condemning her for anything.... Initially I was most interested in the question, 'what do we do when we have our hearts broken, how far can we go?'... but eventually it became 'what we do not to be alone'.... But with him you can draw your own judgments." While he held back from stating what his own judgment might be, he did continue to mention that Pugach held the same birthday as Adolph Hitler, and let the information stand.
Choosing to show a documentary for more enamored of its flawed subject, Film Forum kicked off its run of director Mary Jordan's fawning documentary/homage, "Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis" with a sold-out showing whose audience consisted largely of remnants of the 60s downtown art scene, many of whom had worked with and known Smith. The film exists mostly as an extended freak-out of Smith's beautifully shot still images, jumbled cinematic experiments, and baffling 7 hour impromptu solo performances, narrated by Smith's frequently shouted throaty, halting diatribes, varying in coherence. It quickly becomes clear that Smith must have suffered some serious mental or emotional disturbances (particularly after Smith's death, in which he deliberately contracted AIDS and refused medication after making the infuriating decision that this was somehow 'glamorous'), but if this is the case it is ignored by the Jordan, who prefers to focus on his position as a largely overlooked influence to Andy Warhol's factory scene (possibly by choice - he did not want anybody 'landlording' his art).
"I personally have been drawn to his politics," said Jordan during the Q&A that followed, (available as a podcast on Film Forum's website, according to programmer Mike Maggiore), "because I find them incredibly contemporary". The audience largely followed the film's lead.
"That was the most inspiring thing I've ever seen," gushed one young woman, and several other audience members confessed to being brought to tears. More interesting was audience member John Waters' leading question regarding what happened to Smith's estate: as Jack had died intestate, his work rightfully belongs to his sister, who is not particularly fond of his art, but has stayed in the possession of various figures in the New York City art scene, including Penny Arcade and J. Hoberman (of whom Jordan did not seem a fan). The case is further complicated by the difficulty in figuring out what Smith's true intentions might have been. Told by one former Smith acquaintance that Smith would have been proud of the film, Jordan responded "I don't know. I think he'd pretty much be angry with anyone who did a film on him." The film is currently self-distributed, and has been making festival rounds.
"Hot Fuzz" in the U.S.A.
Meanwhile, the next night a whole different crowd of moviegoers made their way to Lincoln Center. The occasion was the New York premiere of Edgar Wright's "Hot Fuzz" at the Walter Reade Theater. The Film Comment Selects event from the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted Wright, writer and actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost and featured a post-screening Q & A with Kevin Smith. In the theater's lobby art gallery prior to the screening, Focus Features CEO James Schamus and president Andrew Karpen greeted well-wishers on the sidelines, but the "Shaun of the Dead" trio were the main attraction, mixing casually with guests and chatting about the new movie.
Already a big hit in Britain, the comedy is the story of a London cop reassigned to work in a small village where a series of accidents reveals a dark side of the seemingly idyllic setting. Chatting with indieWIRE at the Lincoln Center reception, "Hot Fuzz" co-writer and star Pegg was enthused after a promotional tour for the film that has taken them all around the U.S., including a stop in Austin for a "Hott Fuzztival" at the famed Alamo Drafthouse. Calling himself a movie geek, Pegg said he was thrilled to meet so many diehard fans around the country, especially when they greeted the new film with a standing ovation. Next up, Pegg is working on a project with Frost, while Wright tackles other material, but the trio intend to work together again.
The GenArt Film Festival continues throughout the week with "7 premieres and 7 parties", among them the middle-school mocumentary "Chalk", Sundance horror film "The Signal", and trippy Berlin vet "When a Man Falls in the Forest".
Dennis Lim's Best of 2006 series at BAM Rose Cinemas (featuring films selected from indieWIRE's 2006 critics poll) continues to treat Brooklyn audiences, this week with "Day Night Day Night", "Police Beat", and "Climates", among others.
In Theaters This Week...
"Year of the Dog" (April 13), directed by Mike White. Distributor: Paramount Vantage. Official website
"Dreaming Lhasa" (April 13), directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. Distributor: First Run Features. Official website
"Red Road" (April 13), directed by Andrea Arnold. Distributor: Tartan Films.
"Lonely Hearts" (April 13), directed by Todd Robinson. Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films/Clickstar Official website
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]