Mystic Cinema: The New York Film Festival Unspools
by Brandon Judell
"It's a very glamorous evening, and it's a perfect night for a festival, don't you think?" Tony-nominated playwright Bill (As Is) Hoffman noted. It certainly was.
One could almost hear Zero Mostel singing, "Tradition! Tradition!" as the gowned and tuxedoed folks got out of cabs and swept into Tavern on the Green on Friday night. Yes, it was time again to celebrate the opening of New York Film Festival, its 41st.
The Chinese lanterns were up, the pasta was out, and as always journalists, publicists, filmmakers, festival programmers, donors, film executives, and their much younger dates (male and female), all hobnobbed together as if they truly adored one another -- and this night you might as well have believed them. After all, these attendees knew they were the first to celebrate the film that will no doubt be the landmark feature of 2003, "Mystic River."
Just ask Doris Toumarkine of Film Journal International as she nibbled down some beef product: "Of the Festival's opening night films, 'Mystic River' is going to be the most commercially successful and the most critical acclaimed," she said. "There were a few other stronger openers, but nothing will be as commercially potent and critically well-received as this one."
Yes, the ever-attractive Richard Peña, Chair of the Festival Selection Committee and Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, hit pay dirt with Clint Eastwood's latest offering. Just ask the New York Times's A.O. Scott. In a review that makes Janet Maslin's infamous take on "Titanic" seem even-measured, he opined that Sean Penn's performance is "not only one of the best performances of the year, but also one of the definitive pieces of screen acting in the last half-century." Not stopping there, he goes on to say Penn makes "Brando, Dean, Pacino and De Niro...all look like, well, actors." Only in paragraph nine of his review does he hint the film is not perfect: "The movie almost entirely avoids melodrama or grandiosity." A more balanced critic might share where Clint slips.
At the press conference for the film, attended by Clint, Sean, Dennis, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, Mr. Eastwood poked fun at another Times writer David Edelstein and his piece "Dirty Harry Wants To Say He's Sorry (Again)." Did the director think he was atoning for his past right-wing performances? "No," he replied with grace. "That was then, and now is now. I think that was the angle that guy was taking, and that's fine. But I'm not apologizing for films I did 35 years ago. Times change. People change."
And when Clint Eastwood and cast showed up at the opening gala, the donors such as the svelte Robert Berdow were very happy. Back at the Tavern, he shared, "I love the movies, and I think [supporting the Festival] is a wonderful thing to do. I was happy with the opening night choice. The acting was superb."
David Liu from ITVS, at the party with his stunning wife, was rhapsodic over another Festival offering: "I saw the press screening of the [Claude] Chabrol film, 'The Flower of Evil,' and it's so welcome to see the French back at the Festival. There's nothing like a wonderful Chabrol entertainment. I loved it. It's entertainment. It's like watching a Hitchcock. It's just delightful." [Liu was in town from San Francisco not just for the NYFF, but also for a launch party for the second season of the public TV series "Independent Lens."]
Far from Mr. Liu, in fact three bars over, T.C. Rice of Manhattan Pictures was holding court. In a rather high-spirited mode, he was lashing into Jack Valenti from the MPAA for the recent awards-season screeners controversy. "The New York Film Festival is a wonderful launching pad for independent films. It should especially be paid attention to by the voting members of the Academy because Jack Valenti has once again proven himself to be an asshole," Rice said. "He's sucking up to the studios by trying to void independent thinking, independent filmmaking, independent writing, and everything that brings anybody to the cinema. Now the New York Film Festival is one of the few places where people can actually see films where creativity actually exists, where people have slaved to make film happen that has a voice. It doesn't exist any more other than at film festivals. Thank you, Jack Valenti, for fucking anybody who doesn't want to be censored."
As I left the party, at which everyone was having a grand time, I ran into Paul Schrader who just finished jury duty, Sylvia Miles who would have been glad to tell me what she had just finished, and NYU's Jeremiah Newton who noted, "This party is a lot of fun. It's fabulous." He, by the way, had a Baroness on his arm. [Catch the photos from the party in today's edition of iPOP.]
There are no baronesses in Lester James Peries' "Mansion by the Lake," a Fest offering based upon Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard." This dreary Sri Lanka offering seemed to have microphones attached to its cast's feet. If you're a foot fetishist and like to hear clomp...clomp...clomp...this one's for you. Poorly written, acted, directed, and edited, it deserves some credit for actually being made under trying conditions.
A Polish film that everyone is talking about is Jan Jakub Kolski's supposedly hard-hitting screen adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz's novel, "Pornography." If I get to see it, I no doubt will be talking, too.