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Telluride Day One: Brunch, The Artist, Pierre Etaix, Trip to the Moon, Becoming Bert Stern

Telluride Day One: Brunch, The Artist, Pierre Etaix, Trip to the Moon, Becoming Bert Stern

At the Telluride FIlm Fest, I’m tracking more mainstream titles that folks may actually see in theaters, while Meredith Brody is the lucky one who tracks the rarer events here.

At the Press Office I run into assorted Festival attendees and guests; director/film buff Allan Arkush downloads an app called NeoReader that can scan a Nabokovian figure complete with butterfly net placed around the Festival to learn updates such as TBA slots and whether there are seats available or not in a screening. We run into Nick James, editor of the British Sight and Sound, who’s here to receive a Special Medallion for a “hero of cinema – an organization or individual – that preserves, honors, and presents great movies.” He’s still vibrating from a first-ever trip through the desert to Telluride that included Monument Valley. Whereupon Allan shows him the shot of himself in Monument Valley that is the screensaver on his iPhone.

Walking up towards the outdoor Abel Gance Cinema, we run into Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter’s chief movie critic and a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee, and Larry Gross, screenwriter and contributor of most of the blurbs in the slender Telluride catalogue. Allan tells us that in the early 90s he shot a pilot, a cop show called Bodies of Evidence, for CBS, that starred George Clooney, who he helped cast. After he turned it in, CBS told him: “We don’t think George Clooney can carry a show on his own,” and Lee Horsley was brought in for re-shoots and top billing. “Clooney’s next pilot was ER.” The rest, I guess, is what passes for history hereabouts. And Clooney’s presence in Telluride is making the place ring like a temple gong.

Walking past a Chinese restaurant, I spy Daniela Michele, director of the Morelia Film Festival, with whom I shared my first visit to Monument Valley en route to Telluride last year, sharing shrimp soup with her colleague Mara Fortes, who I last saw at the inaugural International Berkeley Conference on Silent Film. (Totally enjoyable, at least in part for a glimpse into the world of serious, almost self-parodic academia. My favorite was the woman whose paper was on a Chinese director of lost films, none of which she has so far in her researches actually had a chance to see.) Join us year after next for the second! I join them for some tea and sympathy and a window on Colorado Avenue, where we can knock on the glass if somebody we know passes by.

At the tony Patron and Filmmaker’s Brunch on Day One of the Festival, I ride up in the van with Paolo Cherchi Usai, eminence grise of the Pordenone Fim Festival and advisor to Telluride on its silent film programming. He seems unusually happy, and it turns out that after a several-year stint as Director of the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia, he is returning to the US and his former position as senior curator of motion pictures at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film this very month. “It feels like I’m coming home,” he beams. He’ll also resume the position of director of the Eastman House’s L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. I tell him I’m embarrassed that I’ve never heard of the director Karl-Heinz Martin, whose From Morning to Midnight will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra with a brand-new original score on Saturday. “Nobody has,” he says, “and we only have this film thanks to the Japanese, who loved it when it was released in 1920.”

Who do I see at the Brunch that I know or ever want to know? Pierre Rissient wearing a t-shirt from Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and telling a gaggle of TCM executives that he wants to help improve their programming, Agnieska Holland, Peter Becker of the Criterion Collection, Alexander Payne, Bill Kinder of Pixar, Roger Garcia of the Hong Kong Film Festival, Nicholas Pagnol, Anne Thompson, Eugene Hernandez and Scott Foundas from the New York Film Society, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, Ken Burns graciously welcoming Brazilian documentarian Marcelo Machado to the fold, agent Ron Bernstein, Alice Waters, Peter Sellars, Wim Wenders, Mark Cousins in kilt joking that people see 900 minutes in the description of his 15-part series The Story of Film: An Odyssey and think it says 90 minutes. I also see George Clooney, from afar, and the incandescent Tilda Swinton, rather closer.

I descend from the Olympian, lucullan heights (oh that local smoked trout, and an egg strata with chanterelles and cheese) in a van with Columbia University professor and Telluride moderator Annette Insdorf and her husband Mark. When I mention that the first True Grit was shot near Telluride, we start to recite our favorite lines – well, Mark and my 10-year-old nephew Ben’s favorite lines, including the very satisfying “Fill your hand, you son of bitch!”

Soon enough I’m on the Telluride merry-go-round. I head off to the Palm to see Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse. Sometimes I like him, sometimes I don’t. Even though this is almost a curtain-raiser for him at a scant 2 hours and 26 minutes, and shot in frequently beautiful black-and-white, and almost every line – there aren’t many – is, oddly enough, a laugh line, I leave feeling enervated and grim.

I make the cinephilic choice for the next slot, too, choosing the tribute to Pierre Etaix over the sure-fire Wim Wenders Pina documentary in 3-D, which I’ve been longing to see since it premiered at the Berlinale in February. But Etaix is a French comedian I’ve heard of and glimpsed in movies directed by others, but never had the chance to see in his own work, two shorts and five features newly freed from rights problems and restored. Peter Becker tells me that Criterion will bring out the oeuvre in an Eclipse box set.

I sit with Alice Waters, and we both get tears in our eyes when the dapper Etaix, sporting matching red pocket square and socks, tells the audience that the greatest gift he’s received from the tribute is the sound of our laughter, and that he’s truly moved. After the clip show and the onstage interview with Insdorf (who manages to speak in French and translate in English simultaneously), we see The Suitor, charming, uneven, but shot in the always-enchanting early-Sixties streets of Paris. I hope I can fit the 1965 Yo Yo into the upcoming days, as well as Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, in which Etaix plays a small role alongside Andre Wilms, present at the tribute to applaud his colleague. Also rapt are the Dardenne brothers, here with The Kid with a Bike — I spotted them bending elbows with Etaix at the New Sheridan Hotel bar.

The first unexpectedly magical moment at Telluride occurs when I exit the Sheridan Opera House and glimpse Serge Bromberg’s restoration of George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon playing on the big outdoor screen at the Abel Gance Cinema. Tom Luddy is there, too, in the middle of Colorado Avenue, discussing the mystical life and death of Larisa Shepitko with Alexander Zeldovich, the Russian director of Target. After The Trip to the Moon, Penelope Ann Miller introduces The Artist, a charming black-and-white silent directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring his wife Berenice Bejos and Jean Dujardin, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes. I’ve already seen it, I love it, and it’s made me want to seek out their earlier spy-parody collaborations, OSS 117.

After buying a hot dog from the cart on the square, I return to the Sheridan Opera House to see Becoming Bert Stern, a warts-and-all documentary and labor of love by a first-time filmmaker, Shannah Laumeister, who’s posed for Stern since she was 13, some 25 years ago. Interspersed with Stern’s iconic shots, ranging from inventive Smirnoff ads, sexy fashion layouts, insightful celebrity portraits, and his famed photos of Marilyn Monroe taken just before she died, are interviews with ex-wives, girlfriends, children, colleagues, and fans – including a brief glimpse of TOH’s Thompson. Stern, now 82, is unusually honest in his screen presence, and also present at the screening, seeing the film for the first time in this form. Stern’s psyche is naked, as well as Laumeister’s body – the director being part of the story, a trifle disturbing but ultimately understandable.

I trudge home, only 36 hours after thinking I could see it all, confronting the reality of time, space, and stamina. Tomorrow is another day, and too close for comfort.

[From top, the view from the patron’s brunch, IFC’s Ryan Werner and pal, George Clooney and WSJ critic Joe Morgenstern, Roadside Attractions’ Eric D’Arbeloff and filmmaker Joshua Marston (The Forgiveness of Blood).]

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