TORONTO 2001: City of Lost Children; Dazed and Confused in Toronto
by Ray Pride
(indieWIRE/ 09.14.01) -- Pure joy, pure bliss: I saw a movie called "Amelie" on Monday night that may make my fictional year.
Little tears sting my eyes throughout this dream of a dream world. I am sated. I join friends from New York at a party for a pseudo-documentary about youth and ambition set in Los Angeles. We talk about what we have seen. I think of questions to ask the director of "Amelie."
I wake a little after 10 A.M. on Tuesday to the voice of my festival roommate. CNN is on in the living room. We watch the footage from New York. We're kibitzing in a void, not really listening to each other, just commenting and theorizing so gravity does not pin us to the ground. Toronto local lines work; I can get on-line. Cell phone, forget about it. I have to presume my New York friends are fine. None live or work near the World Trade Center.
He and I watch the footage, ash-covered emergency vehicles slaloming between pedestrians, spilled into the street, faces mostly blank, some bloodied, all urgently getting away: from danger, from cameras, from mad fact.
The philosopher George Steiner has a new book out, "Grammars of Creation." He continues his argument of many years that language is no longer possible, and has not been in the time that has spun out since the Holocaust. I can't follow all his reasoning. But fiction I am concerned about today. Press audiences were shaken on Monday by Tim Blake Nelson's Holocaust narrative, "The Grey Zone." I decided to wait. I wanted joy, not gloom. Distraction, craft, the diversion of art: not the diversion of tragedy to fiction.
Screenings are canceled Wednesday. Nonetheless, the best movies at this year's festival have been about happiness: the search for truth, the search for simple beauty. Much in evidence has been formal or thematic directness, or a willingness to embrace emotions, tempting melodrama. China's "Quitting" and "Beijing Bicycle" are good examples. And Jill Sprecher's fine "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing" is one of the best of that bunch. But all conversations now are about One Thing, not Love or Happiness but instead other things that we do want to see in capital letters, such as America Under Siege.
On-line for only seconds, my AOL Buddy List lights up with names: New Yorkers who are safe, for now, in their own homes, describing the din of voices and vehicles outside, the idea there is nowhere to go. A journalist I know was on her way to get passersby reactions after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. She forgot her police pass. She went back home. The second airliner hit. She is staring at the TV, ready to collect "local color." But stays on line. But stays indoors. "I'm fucked up," she says, the deadpan of typed words as ashen as the faces on CNN.
Word trickles in. Friends are safe. Thousands of others I'll never know are not. Televisions are on in bars and restaurants. Acquaintances huddle, drink, smoke. "This is a bad millennium to stop smoking," said one at the Hyatt bar, lighting up while refreshing a beverage with a mini-bar bottle of vodka.
Wednesday, I make it through Godard's "Eloge de l'amour" -- elegy for love -- which is restless, wise, and stately, partly about language and terror and knowing when it is important to be part of a Resistance and when it is not; a meditation on history, legacy and what one learns as time goes by. I was itchy, other things on my mind, but found it affirming. A screening of the gentle comedy, "Kissing Jessica Stein" distracts some viewers, until repeated shots of the pre-September 11 New York skyline provokes audible groans.
Below the border, U.S. studios cancel release plans. "Big Trouble" has a comic setpiece about a bomb on a plane. The Arnold Schwarzenegger terrorism-revenge-exploitationer "Collateral Damage" has all traces of its existence recalled: prints, trailers, posters, billboards. But these are the artifacts of commerce. After this week, filmmakers must remember that art is not just possible, it is imperative. It is bad art that becomes increasingly unforgivable.
But who wants to go into the dark today? Movies, movie archetypes, they all seem unworthy at the moment. I don't want to find myself at a great movie; I won't be able to concentrate. I don't want to fall into a crap movie like the numb Steve Martin dud, "Novocaine," because life is just too short. The Terror Porn replays. The second airliner pierces its Tower again, again. Can narrative contain chaos?
The movies teach us many things. Even an ambiguous image can be concrete in suggesting the wonder of the world, the horrible beauty of what we know of life and death. As a colleague suggested, last night the pale images of rescue workers wading through debris with the mesh of torn structural elements and the red of fire pulsing behind them resembles a particular style of Japanese painting.
Photographers -- like many reporters, like all rescue workers -- rise to the heights of their power, capturing terrible images with the fearless skill of the chroniclers of war who came before them. The children of Bosch and Breughel are on the streets of lower Manhattan, video cameras in hand. The mind makes connections through facts and images. Tom Clancy is not necessary. Perspective comes: this is the purpose of the passage of time and the mysteries of memory. Get out of bed and life just happens.