"Distant Drums"
"Distant Drums"

It was a typical day at a film festival, in that I didn’t end up seeing anything I thought I would when I checked the schedule, the last thing at night – or even the first thing this morning.

At breakfast, I gulp down the essential three cups of strong coffee after passing an almost sleepless night. Lying in bed, wide awake and not wanting to be, even resorting to counting backwards, I wonder why I feel so wired. Part of it is the residual excitement of having seen so much good and interesting stuff, in the company of respectful, attentive, and equally giddy audiences. I go over the day’s screenings and encounters, hoping to nudge myself closer to the land of Nod (instead of the dreaded land of nodding off in a dark, quiet theater, tomorrow). Didn’t I cut the caffeine off early?  An image suddenly surfaces: I see myself clutching that cioccolato cone after midnight in the Piazza Maggiore. Stupid mistake.

There’s also what Sherlock Holmes would call the curious incident of the internet service in the wee hours, meaning that the WiFi I’ve paid for mysteriously disappears just as I’ve finished writing up the first day’s adventures. A phone call to the desk doesn’t help. So between the chocolate and the stress I’m vibrating like a temple gong.

I join critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and editor Jackie Raynal for breakfast, and they steer me away from the 9 a.m. screening of “Mary” I thought I was going to see, part of the Alma Reville tribute (it’s a German version of her and Hitchcock’s “Murder”), towards Raoul Walsh’s “Distant Drums,” showing at 9:15, by the simple expedient of saying that “Mary” is “showing again, tomorrow.”  (Plus Jonathan’s constant rallying cry is “It’s available on DVD!”  But I don’t want to see it on DVD!  I flew thousands of miles to see things on the big screen! Plus it’s a German DVD! And so on and so forth.)

Anyway, I need the extra 15 minutes to clear up the WiFi problem and send off yesterday’s post. “Distant Drums” is a workmanlike yet fairly elegant effort, starring the very elegant Gary Cooper, still tall and lean in fringed buckskin, in an unusual setting: Florida in 1840, campaigning against the Seminole Indians, shot mostly on location. I think of it as late Walsh, since he made it in 1951, until I realize that he made nineteen more movies after it, culminating in “A Distant Trumpet,” starring Rock Hudson Troy Donahue, in 1964 -- which is what I think we’re going to see when I tell Jonathan that we saw it together at the Cinematheque years ago. “I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was 8,” he says, and he’s right.

It feels odd to be watching a Boy’s Own Adventure in a huge movie theater early in the morning, searching for bits of Walsh’s style “shoved up the crevasses,” as my old and much-missed friend Pauline Kael would have it in her famous screed against the auteur theory.  I think ruefully of her old nemesis Andrew Sarris, who died just six days ago: the battered copy of his “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929 -- 1968” that I purchased at the age of 19 in Paris is still my bible, my love and respect for Pauline notwithstanding.

Afterwards we’re joined by Dave Kehr, co-programmer of the Walsh series, who contributes an invaluable weekly column on new DVD releases to The New York Times.  We also run into Steve Uljaki, head of the Loyola-Marymount Film School in Los Angeles, and artist Jackie Mancuso, fresh from both a week in Greece and the 9:30 a.m. screening of Duvivier’s “David Golder” which I said they must not miss.