I try not to beat myself up during a film festival. I try to adopt the Zen-like mantra of "wherever you are is the place you're supposed to be." Choosing one movie over another is not a life-or-death situation, and eventually one can usually see anything one wants.
Except sometimes context is all. Sometimes, especially here at Telluride, I think I've traveled all this way to see a movie beautifully projected, in the company of several hundred kindred spirits, whose attention is all directed towards the screen. And there can be the extra frisson of the presence of some of its creators -- I'm sure the people who saw Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejiotor at their screening of "12 Years a Slave" got quite a thrill. (I haven't seen hide nor hair of that quartet anywhere.)
I'm walking towards the 9:30 a.m. screening of "Nebraska" at the Werner Herzog -- because I love Alexander Payne's movies, because "Nebraska" won't open until November 22, because it's not playing in Toronto, and because I've only been in the beautiful new Wener Herzog Theater once, on day one of the festival, four long days ago -- when I see Tom Luddy sitting on a bench outside the Sheridan Opera House.
I stop to chat, and soon Daniela Michel, the programmer of the Morelia Fim Festival, comes up and says to me "I knew I'd find you here." By "here," she means waiting to see Guest Director David Thomson's presentation of "Portrait of Jennie." I can tell she's puzzled when I say no, I'm going to see "Nebraska." But I've seen "Portrait of Jennie" several times over the years, both on the big screen and on TV. I feel a stronger pull towards "Nebraska."
Two hours later and I wish I could have a do-over. Not that I didn't like "Nebraska": I just didn't like it as much as I wanted to (i.e., as much as virtually every other Alexander Payne movie). And I forgot the cardinal rule of Telluride: choose the unrepeatable experience over the repeatable one. Everybody that I ran into at the traditional Labor Day picnic that had gone to "Portrait of Jennie" was floating on air, describing the end of the movie in a way I'd never seen it, with a widening of the screen in addition to a shift from black-and-white to Technicolor. And I also heard that Thomson's comparisons of "Jennie" with "Vertigo" (the best movie ever made, according to the last "Sight and Sound" poll) were masterful. He promised as much in the last paragraph of his piece in the "Telluride Watch" -- "Ask yourself who else was under contract to Selznick in those troubled years and then look at the film closely -- there's a man in love with a woman who is dead; he wants to bring her back to life and lo, she appears; there are nuns; there is a painting and there is even a strange green light."