Part of the appeal and the mystique of the Telluride Film Festival, aka the Show, is that you’re buying a pig in a poke. Since the Festival doesn’t release any of its program, whether new titles, tributes, or revivals, in advance, you have to trust in its distinguished reputation -- as Roger Ebert has memorably written, “[It’s] like Cannes died and went to heaven…” -- and take a leap into the void.
Or not. Curious cinephiles try to game the system, whether by educated guess or mysterious insider information. Clues can be deduced from previous festivals: since Alexander Payne announced after his much-lauded stint as Guest Director in 2009 that he had become a “Telluride lifer,” would The Descendants be a safe bet? Has Werner Herzog not shown up time and again with his latest – this year’s being Into the Abyss, interviews with death row inmates in Texas? Martin Scorsese’s 3 hour 20 minute documentary about Bob Dylan was a hit in 2005, and his we new one about George Harrison is even longer.
Might previous attendees David Cronenberg and Christopher Hampton reappear with A Dangerous Method, based on Hampton’s ply about Freud and Jung?Such subconscious thoughts churn in the windmills of eager film buffs’ minds. I’m OK with it – how can you help but speculate along these lines? But our inner child, the one that still likes to be surprised on Christmas morning, that yearns for a real sneak preview, can be shocked by a casual revelation imparted to us before we can stick our fingers in our ears and hum “la la la la la.”
Almost two weeks before we emplane for Telluride, as we’re walking up Market Street after a pre-Toronto screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s seriously disturbing The Skin I Live In, our companion casually says, apropos of nothing at all, “Tilda’s getting a tribute at Telluride.” Oh, OK, so I guess that means I can add We Need to Talk About Kevin to the list. And I imagine her fellow jury member from the 2009 Berlinale, Alice Waters, will cook up (literally) some sort of party for her. I can’t fault my friend (although I do wish she hadn’t told me, just before the lights went down in the screening room, that the film was a remake of a movie that it wasn’t. Misdirection!)
It’s clear that the three charming and ebullient Brazilians that are among the party of us sharing a van from Grand Junction to Telluride, two days before the Show officially starts, have been warned not to tell anybody that their film is playing Telluride. But during the course of a three-and-a-half-hour ride, confidences are exchanged and we hear, willy-nilly, enticing tales of Tropicália, a work-in-progress documentary about the new Brazilian music introduced by, among others, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. This makes sense: Veloso is this year’s Guest Director, and I’m eager to learn what his picks will be.
Meanwhile our driver is regaling us with the news that Ralph Lauren’s son David is getting married to Lauren Bush on the ranch we’re driving alongside of this weekend. (Yes, she’ll be Lauren Lauren.) We all think it’s awkward timing, increasing the travel hysteria on this Labor Day weekend – the Laurens are big supporters of the Show. I allow as how I think it’s nice she’s marrying into a Jewish family – I hasten to add, so that the Brazilians don’t think I’m anti-Semitic, that I think she’s marrying up.
Within minutes of entering the house I’m staying in, I hear the hot town gossip: George Clooney is coming! OK, The Descendants for sure, and maybe The Ides of March, which he directed and opened the Venice Film Festival Wednesday.
I don’t want to know any more! Enough. Let there be surprises left for me to discover when the Film Watch comes out on Thursday noon. (Although I’m still perplexed by the Seattle Film Festival’s Secret Festival, a sidebar featuring a number of unannounced films whose titles are not even revealed after they’ve played. Atttendees have to sign an oath of secrecy, which they seem to take very seriously, since no one would tell me a single name. One guy did nervously show me his copy of the oath, however!)
Twenty-four hours later I am perusing the Film Watch, and there are satisfying surprises and jolts aplenty. All the speculations (Payne, Herzog, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Hampton, Lynn Ramsay) have born fruit. Among the Cannes hits and winners (The Artist, Footnote, Shame, The Kid with a Bike, Le Havre) are the only-in-Telluride delights and temptations. Veloso has come up with six eclectic choices including a Rene Clair film I’ve never seen, Les Grandes Manouevres, and a curious and intriguing film called Aniceto by an Argentinean director, Leonardo Favio, that I’ve never heard of. There’s a tribute to the almost-unknown-in-America French comedian Pierre Étaix, colleague of Jacques Tati and favorite of Jerry Lewis, with a 1965 film, Yo Yo. A documentary about a Mexican film production dynasty that made wacky melodramas featuring gangsters and cabaret stars, Perdida, is paired with a suitably high-pitched and hot-blooded example of the genre, Adventurera, which thrilled me several years ago when I saw it at the Pacific Film Archive. The Alloy Orchestra will accompany Karl Heinz Martin’s 1920
(huh? Another new one on me). An original Dennis James score to accompany Boris Barnet’s 1928 The House on Trubnaya Square. And Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film: An Odyssey, listed as 900 minutes, but only 2 hours of which are scheduled in the tantalizingly incomplete grid, to be filled in over the coming 3 ½ days.
And I’ve left out more than I’ve mentioned. Oh God of cinema, give me strength.