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5 Notes on the New York Film Festival's Opening Night

by Anthony Kaufman
October 1, 2006 3:03 AM
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Didn't you wish you were there? All that money, prestige and power at the elegant Lincoln Center, tuxedos and gowns, flashbulbs a-popping, more concentrated wealth in that one setting than a Bush family picnic. While I can't deny my own eager complicity in the pomp and circumstance, here are a few observations of the evening -- of what indieWIRE calls "the most important night on New York's annual film calendar."

1.) Instead of trying to counteract its reputation as a stuffy, elitist cinema showcase for art snobs (of which I am a proud member), this year's festival seems bent on embracing the idea. The festival trailer is self-congratulatory, at best, obnoxious, at worst. As first reported in indieWIRE, the trailer first lists names of its distinguished roster of directors (overwhelmingly white male directors, as my wife pointed out), and then a masculine voiceover is heard: "For 44 years we've been accused of being demanding, inflexible and insanely selective.... Remarkably like our audience."

2.) For similar reasons, the opening night film, Stephen Frear's "The Queen," an examination of the failures of old-world aristocracy, was an inspired choice for the evening. As Eugene Hernandez suggests in his blog, the movie resonates with the festival's own uptight traditional values. Anyway, while the film focuses on Helen Mirren's brilliantly restrained performance as the Queen, our conduit into the story is newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair(!). As a revealing portrait of the Queen's conflicted interior, the film is engrossing; but as hagiography of Mr Blair's early days in office as an all-around, nice, upright family guy who advocates for modernity and monarchy, it's downright strange.

3.) The film is the latest prestige picture from Miramax 2.0, run by respected British exec Daniel Battsek; it seems to follow a distinct pattern for the mini-major. Coming off the heels of their beloved Toronto entry, "Venus," starring the elderly Peter O'Toole in another bravera performance, the model seems based on some BBC playbook: Get a decent script, a distinguished actor, don't get too fussy with the camerawork and watch the old folks and Academy members eat it up.

4.) Everyone who is anyone in New York's film industry does show up at the Tavern on the Green afterparty. But not just everyone in New York; you've also got people flying in from Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, and Chicago for the one-night binge. "What was Ron Howard doing there?" "Eating asparagas," someone replied.

5.) Pliant with copious amounts of free liquor and bleery-eyed late night banter, people share plenty of secrets at New York's opening night party. Gossip travels fast throughout the evening, with revelations about new jobs and lost jobs, bad movies and good, circulating through the Tavern's gaudy light parade like a burning fuse. Stand back and wait for the indie-film bombshells in the coming weeks.

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