Michael Polish and Kate Bosworth
Michael Polish and Kate Bosworth

Choices, choices, choices, choices. My first of the day is "The Daughter," a Russian movie about a village serial killer from an unknown-to-me directing duo. The San Francisco International Film Festival catalogue warns that its English subtitles are "imperfect" (at least, unlike the screening of "The Artist and The Model, they do appear on screen) -- one brief example: "She behaved her unworthily" -- but the film doesn't really suffer.  It's a moving, well-acted story which continues, satisfyingly, after the murder "mystery" itself is solved.  

In the second slot of the day, my choice is made for me: I've already seen the thin and predictable "Unfinished Song," which still boasts interesting performances from Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, the crowd-pleasing "Twenty Feet from Stardom," the boundary-pushing, verging-on-abstract "Leviathan," which sounded so much like an action-adventure a la "The Deadliest Catch" in its festival blurb that at first I didn't recognize it as the experimental film I'd seen last September; and the repeat of "Big Blue Lake," seen day-before-yesterday and already fading from my memory.  So it's Michael Polish's "Big Sur," based on the Kerouac novel.

Polish introduces the film, along with his star and fiancee Kate Bosworth, the two arrow-slender and in complementary dark outfits (black slacks and tight sweater relieved by a prim white collar for him, and a sleek black short dress with a slightly transparent yoke and short sleeves for her). Polish thanks their moms for showing up here -- "a whole lot of Polishes and Bosworths," and by the luck of the draw they all happen to be sitting in the row behind me.  Kate says "I want to thank the city for giving me my future husband," eliciting a whole lot of "aww"s from the audience (and especially the row behind me).

The movie is noticeably better-cast than Walter Salles' recent well-intentioned but misfired "On the Road" -- Polish realizes that Jack Kerouac was of French-Canadian descent, hence Jean-Marc Barr, rarely seen in American moves, and his Neal Cassady, Josh Lucas, may not be as magically charismatic as my imagined (and Kerouac's idolized) Neal Cassady, but he can talk fast and is charming. And it's kinda fun to watch the actresses and actors pop up: Anthony Edwards as Lawrence Ferlinghetti!  Radha Mitchell as Carolyn Cassady!  Balthazar Getty as Michael McClure?!?

Polish's images are seductive, but I'm distracted by the constant voice-over drawn from the novel, in Kerouac's heightened language that, Polish tells us, he couldn't use in dialogues for the screenplay -- "I couldn't have actors speak like that."  And I guess it would have been difficult indeed to re-dress the actual City Lights Bookstore with period-appropriate books, but it's still jarring to see "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" prominently displayed in several shots when it came out 8 years after Kerouac died -- and twenty years after the movie is set.  (They did make sure than the Vintage paperback edition of Gertrude Stein's "3 Lives" is the 1958 edition.)

Programmer Sean Uyehara, who's been hanging out with Polish in the bar upstairs, dares to ask "What was it like to fall in love on the set?"  Polish replies "It took me ten films to fall in love on the set!," whereupon Kate Bosworth says "I wish I had gone to the bar!"  But Polish continues, saying that he said to his first AD, "I'm going to marry this girl!" during her first scene.

Bosworth confesses that she was just hoping she wasn't screwing up the scene, because she wanted to work with him again.  But then she realized "Not only do I want to work with him again -- I don't want to let him out of my sight!  Which is different than most directors I've known."

Susannah Robbins, the head of the SF Film Commission, sitting in the audience, asks if Polish wouldn't like to come to SF to shoot a movie again.  "I asked for the key to the city already!," he replies.

Enough gossip.

Afterwards I attend the program of Persistence of Vision Award, which honors "the achievement of a filmmaker whose main body of work is outside the ream of narrative feature filmmaking."  Jem Cohen, the award-winner, has made sometimes "unclassifiable" films in many formats (including Super 8 and 16mm) since 1983: city films, essay films, music films about bands he liked (Including REM, Butthole Surfers, Elliot Smith, collaborations with Patti Smith), films that blended several genres.