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Telluride XL Day Four: Mystery Doc 'Galapagos Affair,' Guest Directors Don DeLillo and B. Ruby Rich, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' and More

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood September 5, 2013 at 11:58AM

I started the day with cold leftover coffee and the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary, "Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden," by the celebrated Bay Area documentarians Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller ("Ballets Russes"). I cannot imagine picking up and moving to a deserted island even today, much less in the 1930, when three disparate groups of people fled Europe for life on an uninhabited bay on one of the smallest islands of the Galapagos.
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'The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden'
'The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden'

I started the day with cold leftover coffee and the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentary, "Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden," by the celebrated Bay Area documentarians Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller ("Ballets Russes").  I cannot imagine picking up and moving to a deserted island even today, much less in the 1930s, when three disparate groups of people fled Europe for life on an uninhabited bay on one of the smallest islands of the Galapagos.  

Apparently all it takes for Trouble in Paradise is two groups -- there's a Nietzschean couple vs. a more homely family unit -- but when the bizarre menage-a-trois of a self-styled Baroness and her two boy toys move in, all hell breaks lose, ending in mysterious disappearances, apparent murder and death by misadventure.  The starry voice-overs (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Josh Radnor, Connie Nielsen) already suggest the cast for a mini-series.  We're told that Zeitgeist, the distributors who picked up the film before its Telluride showing, told the filmmakers that they didn't have to lose a frame, but the film also features contemporary interviews with some descendants of other hardy Galapagos pioneers.  Some judicious trims might speed up the unfolding of the film noir tale, which boasts amazing period footage, including a short fiction film shot on the island featuring the Baroness as a temptress exhibiting barely-veiled breasts.

I am thrilled and delighted that there's been a repeat scheduled of Guest Director Don DeLillo's program, and I heed the siren call of Olathe sweet corn before lining up outside the Sheridan Opera House.

"The Umbrella Man"
"The Umbrella Man"

The Don DeLillo program is uniquely interesting, uniquely Telluride.  The novelist, introduced by Berkeley professor and author Mark Danner, reads excerpts from his books "Underworld" and "Libra" (an examination of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald up to the assassination, inspired when DeLillo learned that he had lived within a few blocks of Oswald in the Bronx during a year of adolescence). He presents a short film that repeats the 26.2 seconds of the Zapruder film of the motorcade before, during, and after the shots were fired on November 22, 1963.  Afterwards there's a conversation among Danner, DeLillo, and documentarian Errol Morris, who also shows a short film he made for the "New York Times," "The Umbrella Man," about a mysterious man with a black umbrella, held open on a sunny day, visible in the Zapruder film and other photographs taken that day.  An extra treat! 

And then the program ends, mysteriously, with a beautiful half-hour film by Victor Erice, "La morte rouge," made in 2006, about the first film he ever saw, at the now-vanished Casino in San Sebastian, Spain, "The Scarlet Claw," a Roy William Neill Sherlock Holmes programmer, which Erice invests with beauty, mystery, and meaning.

Afterwards I ask several people what the first film they saw was: mine was Disney's "Cinderella," Michael Pollan's was Disney's "Snow White," Alice Waters' was "The Wizard of Oz."  I don't mean to sound elitist, snobbish, or precious, but two of the best films I have seen at this year's Telluride are vintage shorts:  this one, and Maurice Pialat's ten-minute 1960 "L'amour existe," ("Love Exists").  If I tell people this when they ask me what I've liked best, I'm afraid they'll find me, well, elitist, snobbish, and precious.  But I would like not only to own these films, but to share them.

This article is related to: Festivals, Telluride Film Festival, Telluride, The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, Inside Llewyn Davis


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.