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Telluride XL Day Four: Mystery Doc ‘Galapagos Affair,’ Guest Directors Don DeLillo and B. Ruby Rich, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and More

Telluride XL Day Four: Mystery Doc 'Galapagos Affair,' Guest Directors Don DeLillo and B. Ruby Rich, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' and More

I started the day with cold leftover coffee and the
truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary, “Galapagos Affair: Satan Came
to Eden,” by the celebrated Bay Area documentarians Dayna Goldfine and Dan
Geller (“Ballets Russes”).  I
cannot imagine picking up and moving to a deserted island even today, much less
in the 1930s, when three disparate groups of people fled Europe for life on
an uninhabited bay on one of the smallest islands of the Galapagos.  

Apparently all it takes for Trouble in
Paradise is two groups — there’s a Nietzschean couple vs. a more homely family
unit — but when the bizarre menage-a-trois of a self-styled Baroness and her
two boy toys move in, all hell breaks lose, ending in mysterious
disappearances, apparent murder and death by misadventure.  The starry voice-overs (Cate Blanchett, Diane
Kruger, Josh Radnor, Connie Nielsen) already suggest the cast for a
mini-series.  We’re told that Zeitgeist,
the distributors who picked up the film before its Telluride showing, told the
filmmakers that they didn’t have to lose a frame, but the film also features
contemporary interviews with some descendants of other hardy Galapagos
pioneers.  Some judicious trims might
speed up the unfolding of the film noir tale, which boasts amazing period
footage, including a short fiction film shot on the island featuring the
Baroness as a temptress exhibiting barely-veiled breasts.

I am thrilled and delighted that there’s been a repeat scheduled of Guest
Director Don DeLillo’s program, and I heed the siren call of Olathe sweet corn
before lining up outside the Sheridan Opera House.

The Don DeLillo program is uniquely interesting, uniquely
Telluride.  The novelist, introduced by
Berkeley professor and author Mark Danner, reads excerpts from his books
“Underworld” and “Libra” (an examination of the life of Lee
Harvey Oswald up to the assassination, inspired when DeLillo learned that he
had lived within a few blocks of Oswald in the Bronx during a year of
adolescence). He presents a short film that repeats the 26.2 seconds of the
Zapruder film of the motorcade before, during, and after the shots were fired
on November 22, 1963.  Afterwards there’s
a conversation among Danner, DeLillo, and documentarian Errol Morris, who also
shows a short film he made for the “New York Times,” “The
Umbrella Man,” about a mysterious man with a black umbrella, held open on a sunny day, visible
in the Zapruder film and other photographs taken that day.  An extra treat! 

And then the program ends, mysteriously, with a beautiful
half-hour film by Victor Erice, “La morte rouge,” made in 2006, about
the first film he ever saw, at the now-vanished Casino in San Sebastian, Spain,
“The Scarlet Claw,” a Roy William Neill Sherlock Holmes programmer,
which Erice invests with beauty, mystery, and meaning.

Afterwards I ask several people what the first film they saw
was: mine was Disney’s “Cinderella,” Michael Pollan’s was Disney’s
“Snow White,” Alice Waters’ was “The Wizard of Oz.”  I don’t mean to sound elitist, snobbish, or
precious, but two of the best films I have seen at this year’s Telluride are
vintage shorts:  this one, and Maurice
Pialat’s ten-minute 1960 “L’amour existe,” (“Love
Exists”).  If I tell people this
when they ask me what I’ve liked best, I’m afraid they’ll find me, well,
elitist, snobbish, and precious.  But I
would like not only to own these films, but to share them.

I line up for “He Who Gets Slapped,”
the 1924 silent starring Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert, directed
by Victor Sjostrom and accompanied by the eery, atonal, metallic stylings of
the Alloy Orchestra — perfect for this film, which presenter Paolo Cherchi Usai
introduces as the product of the entwined emotional sadomasochism of its
director and star.  I’m pleased to be
sitting one row behind Werner Herzog and three behind David Thomson.

The second Guest Director program of the day:  B. Ruby Rich (author of “Chick
Flicks” and the recently revised and reissued “New Queer Cinema: The
Director’s Cut”) presents the sole feature film by Afro-Cuban filmmaker
Sara Gomez, “One Way or Another,” who died shortly after she filmed
it. A simple but powerful love story (boy meets girl, loses girl, etc) is made
less simple by intercutting documentary interludes: anything goes. 

I find myself remembering arguments I had with Ruby, decades
ago, after screenings, when I was a form-over-content girl, refusing to believe
that what a movie said was as important as how it looked. It’s taken me a long
time to appreciate and understand the power and beauty of a film like “One
Way or Another.”  As Ruby says, one
of the wonders of Telluride is that it can put a movie like this back in
history.  The black and white film was
shot in 16mm (the director wanted 16mm for its documentary feel).  We see it on a rare 35mm print from a Berlin
archive.  As with the Pialat short
(available on the Criterion “L’enfance new” disc) and the Erice (available
on a European DVD only, it seems), I wish it could be owned and seen widely.

Afterwards I slip into one of the most coveted films here
for me, “Inside Llewyn Davis” — my appetite for the Coen Brothers
re-whetted by the fabulous clip show I saw a couple of days earlier at the
tribute they shared with T Bone Burnett. 
Before the screening, they give away 4 Blu-Rays of Coen Brothers films:
I win a copy of “Fargo” just by virtue of sitting in a seat whose row
and number they call out.  Not to look a
free Blu-Ray in the mouth, but (a) I don’t own a Blu-Ray player, (b) much as I
love “Fargo,” and I do, what I really wanted to see again after the
clip show was “The Big Lebowski.”

I admire “Inside Llewyn Davis” more than I enjoy
it.  I now know why Coen-cinematographer-turned-director
Barry Sonnenfeld made the Woody-Allen-“Stardust Memories” crack
“I worked with them on the early funny ones” when he presented them
with their Silver Medallions at the Tribute. Not that there aren’t laughs
dotted all the way through “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but its tone is
rueful and bittersweet.  Still, I want to
see it again.

I probably ought to want to see “Tracks,” the last
movie of a packed day, again. The story of a quixotic (mostly) solitary walk
across 1700 miles of Australian desert, undertaken by a girl, four fractious
camels, and a dog, it’s beautifully shot, and tendentiously acted by Mia
Wasikowska.  Adam Driver, who I just
glimpsed in a brief but sweet role in “Llewyn Davis,” shows up here,
too. I find myself sorry that I missed “Red Flag,” a film programmed
at the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which was directed by and stars Alex Karpovsky, who is also in
“Inside Llewyn Davis,” as well as co-starring in “Girls”
with Adam Driver.

Anyway, after four days of getting to bed late and rising
early, something’s got to give.  After
about half an hour, I see “Tracks” in bits and pieces.  It’s the first time I’ve actually fallen
asleep in a movie during this festival, which is kind of amazing, considering,
but still makes me feel bad.  I remember
the quote from Woodrow Wilson when he screened “Birth of a Nation” at
the White House (the first movie ever shown there): “It is like writing history
with lightning.” Struggling against sleep, I see the movie fitfully, as
though it is illuminated by lightning.

The credits reveal that Wasikowska looks amazingly like the
real woman, Robyn Davidson, whose exploits are re-enacted here.  Harvey Weinstein has already acquired the
American distribution rights. I hope I can acquire enough rest tonight that I
can be wide awake and enjoy all of tomorrow, the last day of the 40th
anniversary edition of Telluride.

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