Sunday, September 16, 2012

My film festival

As I wrote here last week, I don’t go to the film festival any more, and I was never even in the vicinity of any of it, except that on the Wednesday morning I walked past the Ritz Carlton and saw four bored-looking photographers monitoring the entrance. I came back an hour later and it was down to two bored-looking photographers. During that hour I did score a celebrity sighting – I saw David Suzuki, but I guess that’s not so unusual in the vicinity of the CBC building. Anyway, maybe it’s just me, but the festival coverage seemed somewhat heavy-hearted this year, even desperate at times, like a girl who keeps rhapsodizing about her boyfriend even though she knows he doesn’t really love her, and she knows he knows she knows, and she knows you know.

It does raise some quasi-interesting issues though. For example, CP24 devoted an inordinate time to a documentary about 60’s radical Angela Davis, a movie which would surely have been submerged by all around it, if not that Will Smith was a producer, and turned up in support, with the whole family in tow. I think it’s generally good to know a bit about Angela Davis, but then a fine recent movie about her and others, The Black Power Mixtape, didn’t even get a release here. Is any new awareness of Davis (even if we assume it’s not going to be largely superficial and transient) undermined by this celebrity anointing? I personally think it is, that this is just a benign example of a displacement that operates more perniciously elsewhere, but I suppose the point might be worth debating.

Madonna Live!

I guess I could count Madonna as a celebrity sighting, because I went to her ACC show on that same Wednesday night, but a “sighting’s” the least you deserve when you spend that much money. The official start time was 8 pm and of course we knew it would be later than that, but we hadn’t picked up on the reports that it would be 10 pm (it was actually 10.20 pm) so we were waiting a long time. It was worth it though. I don’t mean particularly as a “musical” experience – even more than usual, everything tended to blend into an undifferentiated thudding cacophony, and it was impossible to tell how much of it was being generated “live.” But it was a tremendous feat of choreography, willpower and image-making; an eye-popping digitally-enhanced circus, and by no means designed just to protect the star from her advancing years – sometimes you lost her in the on-stage crowd, but at other times she was front and centre and as raw as you’d ever expect her to be.

Ben Rayner in The Star seems correct in noting that the concert’s heavy promoting of her most recent album, MDNA, rather than the older songs that people actually know, seems like a defiant declaration of relevance, and the MDNA songs all sounded pretty good to me. A lot of the greatest hits fell off the table altogether, or were evoked only in video montages between costume changes (as if to say that if the declaration of relevance wasn’t convincing enough in itself, we should bow to it anyway, out of respect for all the earlier stuff); some of those she did perform, such as Like a Virgin, were drastically reconfigured. It was fabulously interesting as a spectacle, but perhaps quite a bit less stirring as a pop concert, and the atmosphere seemed far more muted than at most other gigs I’ve been to, where the crowd loses it just at recognizing the opening bars of something.

The Future is Now!

Anyway, it finished at 12.20 am, so we abandoned our usual practice of going out for a post-show drink, and just went home. Maybe that’s all you need to know about why I’m not suited for the film festival. However, throughout the duration of the event, I did maintain my movie-a-day average, or as I think of it, my own permanent home festival. This included two films by Godard and others by Tarkovsky, Bunuel and Kazan, so that was hardly so bad.

I also watched the recent Canadian movie The Future is Now!, which was at last year’s Hot Docs festival and is now (I mean now!) available from the usual sources after a brief release a while ago. This bizarrely misbegotten project focuses on a journalist (labeled “The woman of tomorrow”) who decides to take a somewhat cynical man (“The man of today”) and reinvigorate his consciousness and optimism by exposing him to a grab-bag of vaguely progressive individuals, such as philosopher Alain de Botton and scientist Craig Venter. Although the film seems to have had some kind of budget, it’s plain in some cases that the man’s encounter with these individuals is created solely in the editing room, giving it the feel of a modern-day equivalent of Trail of the Pink Panther, which Blake Edwards made after Peter Sellers’ death by using outtakes and discarded scenes.

This just adds to the weirdly stilted and arbitrary feel of the whole thing, in which it seems to matter less whether the ideas presented are actually comprehensible or useful (one interviewee gushes about the “poetic” quality of scientific concepts she plainly only understands superficially), just that they’re ideas (I mean, if you have yourself a dog who plays piano, who’s going to complain that he doesn’t actually do it that well…) At least the movie doesn’t ultimately oversell the value of all this – moved by his experiences, the man of today announces his readiness to make small concessions to the future, like using public transit, but it’s plain he’s at least partly motivated by his lust for the woman of tomorrow (played by Liane Balaban, with a grinding earnestness that I hope belongs solely to my yesterdays).

The Dog’s Future is Now!

I had no reason to use public transit during the festival, but I didn’t drive either – I didn’t go anywhere I couldn’t walk to. One morning, my dog Ozu and I passed by a dog tied to a lamppost. It didn’t seem quite right, but who knows, the owner might have been round the corner or something, so we kept going, but we altered our normal route to come back an hour later, and the dog was still there. She didn’t have a name tag, so we took her to the Humane Society (she was very well-behaved – I’m sure anyone observing us would have assumed she was my dog and that the airheaded stop-start Labrador must have belonged to someone else). I’m not saying this amounts to much, but hundreds of other people must have walked by and seen the dog, and Ozu and I were the only ones to say: that dog’s future is our now! That’s because we decided to put our own egos in check and to treat everyone as being the same, just as Madonna does – I know it’s true because she told the whole ACC crowd that’s what we should do. I bet Will Smith thinks so too.

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