The San Francisco Film Festival folks couldn’t have come up with a better opening night ploy if they’d plotted it.
Things had gone swimmingly, if you discounted the capacity crowd’s brief letdown when Rachel Rosen, Director of Programming (pictured left) had the unenviable task of notifying the audience that Ewan McGregor would not be joining us at the screening of Beginners (trailer below), due to mechanical problems with his flight that day from Paris. He was, it seemed, just touching down in LA, making haste to join us in SF, but more likely to show up at the afterparty than at the venerable Castro Theater.Director Mike Mills, a Bay Area native, confessed to something of a bromance with McGregor. He asked unexpectedly for a volunteer from the audience. And then Mills addressed the fashionably-attired and black-booted young woman who joined him as if she were McGregor, holding her/his hand, alluding to the knowing looks they’d exchange when Christopher Plummer was being, uh, difficult.
The film is quasi-autobiographical, in that Mills’ father came out as gay in his mid-seventies after his wife died, “and we talked about sex and penises and men and women.” The San Francisco audience ate up Beginners, despite its relocation from its Bay Area setting to a sensitively-used Los Angeles. You could feel the crowd’s endorphins rise when Plummer’s movie group night watched The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, SF’s own “first openly gay politician.”
And they rose even higher half-way through the Q-and-A between Rosen and Mills afterwards. At exactly 9:35, McGregor’s rusty head magically appeared at the foot of the stage and he joined the duo, to lusty and relieved applause. (Mills had seemed reluctant to begin without him, alluding to McGregor’s frequent texts to him during the movie.) I don’t think anyone in the room expected him to show up. Let the fun commence!
The guys remembered their first meeting with Plummer, at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel (“the only hotel Christopher will stay at in LA,” Mills said, ruefully), when Joan Collins swung by their table and said, mysteriously, “Will we be naked in the pool again together?,” a fairly transparent allusion that Plummer declined to expand upon.
Mills sent McGregor and Plummer off to Barney’s on a father-son bonding exercise with $300 and instructions to buy a scarf. But Plummer got distracted by black skinny jeans and a pretty young female employee (“He was so FLIRTY with her!,” McGregor gasped), ending up with 3 or 4 pair and a bill of $1000, which McGregor paid. (I trust he was reimbursed.)
Ten minutes later I gasped myself. I suddenly realized that Mills’ father was Paul Mills, once the director of the Oakland Art Museum, and a glamorous figure glimpsed in childhood when I visited the museum with my mother, a California figurative painter and a friend of his.
Afterwards the theater emptied and its high-spirited audience found their way to the Terra Gallery, tucked in between Bay Bridge onramps and offramps at Harrison and First. There were two large spaces downstairs, and a more high-ceilinged space a flight up, lined with blessedly-easily-accessed food and drink stations – the usual odd assortment of Bruce Aidells sausage, beet salad and couscous from Morocco’s restaurant, Divine chocolates (a brand, not the adjective), ceviche and potato soup from Home restaurant, Anthony’s Cookies, La Mar Peruviana cebiches of tuna and halibut, Double Rainbow ice cream, Rouge et Noir cheeses, a bite-size fiesta of sweet and savory, washed down with fest supporter Maurice Kanbar’s Blue Angel vodka.
Everybody was buzzing about McGregor’s dramatic cavalry-to-the-rescue appearance. But if he was at the party, he was tucked away in the invisible V.I.P. room. The festivities were scheduled to go on until the wee hours, and people were still arriving as I tip-toed away towards midnight, pockets lined with Walkers pure butter shortbread and Divine’s 70% dark chocolates. I would need sustenance on the morrow for the SFIFF’s first full day of screenings.
[Photo of Rachel Rose, Ewan McGregor and Mike Mills by Pamela Gentile.]