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September 14, 2000 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: Telluride on a Shoestring

FESTIVALS: Telluride on a Shoestring

by Doug Stone



(indieWIRE/9.14.00) --If you're hoping for the kind of Telluride 2000 coverage in the usual complete, professional style indieWIRE readers have come to expect, I
should say from the get-go that my girlfriend and I didn't even arrive
in the picturesque mountain town until September 3rd (Sunday afternoon),
a full two days after the festival began. Why? Simply put, we were on a
strict budget at a festival with a reputation for being somewhat
foreboding from a financial perspective. But if you believe, as many do,
that Telluride is only for filmmakers with work in the fest, industry
types with expense accounts, and local Colorado filmgoers, think again:
my total expenditures for attending for a day and a half were only $600
- $250 for a ticket from NYC to Colorado Springs (a beautiful drive of
only 6 hours in the rental car, which, oddly, was also around $250),
about $50 for food, and exactly $45 for a grand total of four films (one
of which was free), which is kind of the embarrassing part, and $0 for
lodging.


Though we stayed with our friends in the Alloy Orchestra (in town to
perform a new score to "Nosferatu" on opening night), there are plenty
of camping opportunities for those so inclined, most notably in the park
smack dab in the center of town, conveniently located right where free
films are shown at twilight, to be watched right from your tent. The
point of arriving on Sunday is that is the day when the very crowded
festival starts thinning out, and those of us too cheap to fork over
$250 for a festival pass (that being the cheapest) stand any chance at
all of seeing films by buying individual tickets at $15 each (with only
an average 90 minutes of waiting in the Loser Line). Like many fests,
the whole scene is similar to India's caste system, with "Patron-level"
pass-holders acting as the elite Brahmins, able to see any film
hassle-free, all the way down to the Untouchables, or common
waiting-on-long-lines ticket buyers (mostly non-industry Southwestern
locals), whom, I must add, were the most charming, enthusiastic, and
friendliest of everyone there.


Competing with a mind-boggling sunset on Sunday evening was a sneak
preview of "House of Mirth," an Edith Wharton adaptation directed by
Terence Davies and starring Gillian Anderson (insert your own obligatory
"X-Files"-related snide comment here). A detached yet often hypnotic
tale of a turn-of-the-century New York woman's social unraveling, the
film offers some of the same excruciatingly awkward social tensions as
Scorsese's "Age of Innocence," but with none of that film's moral
reassurances. Anderson, Eric Stoltz, Dan Akroyd, and the rest of the
cast offer often bizarrely mannered performances, but it's all part of
Davies' plan: a portrait of the extremes of polite thuggery that lie
just underneath the rituals of the aristocracy. Not a hell of a lot of
fun, but a must for the subgroup of fans into both period costume dramas
and the intense loathing of the characters wearing said period costumes.


A bright and early Monday morning brought us to "Shadow of the Vampire,"
director E. Elias Merhige's fictionalized account of the making of
1921's classic silent "Nosferatu," with John Malkovich as the obsessive
German film director Frederic Murnau, who makes a deal with a devil
named Max Shreck, a vampire pretending to be an actor playing a vampire,
played by the fucking brilliant actor Willem Dafoe.


Merhige was introduced by festival director Bill Pence as a "professor
of aesthetics" at Carnegie-Mellon, and it shows: he's smitten with the
hall-of-mirrors approach of filmmaking within filmmaking, with the
ontological meta-ness of actors playing actors, and silent-film
techniques in a movie about silent filmmaking. But while I'm sure these
ideas looked great on paper (and often do on film), they sometimes
tended to undermine possibilities for some truly visceral horror-comedy.
That said, the premise is so creepy-funny that it carries the entire
movie, the performances, especially Dafoe, are nothing short of
outstanding, and there are many very funny moments which culminate in a
climactic finale that will make you want to rush home to watch the
original "Nosferatu," picking out clues that, just maybe, it's. . . ALL
REAL!!!


A side note: while it was not uncommon to see such luminaries as Al
Pacino
, the above-mentioned Dafoe, or Werner Herzog strolling around the
streets of Telluride 2000, the best celebrity sighting of the fest, in
my opinion, was Mouse-on-Cat-on-Dog. This alarming trio was often
spotted with their snaggle-toothed owner near the park, surrounded by
intrigued passersby. "How did you teach the mouse to sleep on the cat
and the cat to sleep on the dog?" was a common inquiry. "If I told you
that, everyone would do it, and I'd be out of a job," snarled the
tip-seeking trainer. Everyone? Really? Hmm...


Humiliatingly shut out of "Dinner Rush" (on a Monday, no less), some
kind of restaurant flick starring Danny Aiello of "The Pickle" fame, we
headed for "The King is Alive," the newest Dogma 95 film, directed by
Kristian Levring. I'm a big fan of the Dogma films, and this one, kind
of a "Breakfast Club" meets "Survivor" meets "Waiting for Guffman," is a winner. It's a good yarn about a tourist group whose bus runs out of gas
in the middle of the Sahara, so they decide to put on a fun performance
of Shakespeare's "King Lear," and in between rehearsals, psychologically
destroy each other. Kind of a return to the dramatic style of "The
Celebration
", or Fassbinder films like "Chinese Roulette" (or, for that
matter, the last episode of "Survivor") in which certain characters
finally get to say what they REALLY think of each other in no uncertain
(and hysterically scathing) terms, complemented by plenty of harrowing,
demented, and highly sexualized mind games. A great return to Dogma form
after last year's dopey, sloppy "julian donkey-boy."


Finally, we retired to the cool air of the park for a free last-evening
screening of Ang Lee's absolutely wonderful "Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon
." If you're familiar with wonderful films like Tsui Hark's "Once
Upon a Time in China
" series, you'll be stunned at how easily Lee slips
into the role of martial arts director, then bowled over at how he
raises the genre to new heights of lyrical beauty. Few cinematic
pleasures can compare with the sight of a flying Michelle Yeoh chasing
Ziyi Zhang over glowing moonlit rooftops, or Chow Yun Fat and Ms. Zhang battling gracefully above and amidst a lush green forest.


[Doug Stone is a producer for the IFC's Split Screen, as well as for the
upcoming feature documentary "How's Your News?".]

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