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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

Photo of Meredith Brody 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.
"He Who Gets Slapped"
"He Who Gets Slapped"

I line up for "He Who Gets Slapped," the 1924 silent starring Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert, directed by Victor Sjostrom and accompanied by the eery, atonal, metallic stylings of the Alloy Orchestra -- perfect for this film, which presenter Paolo Cherchi Usai introduces as the product of the entwined emotional sadomasochism of its director and star.  I'm pleased to be sitting one row behind Werner Herzog and three behind David Thomson.

The second Guest Director program of the day:  B. Ruby Rich (author of "Chick Flicks" and the recently revised and reissued "New Queer Cinema: The Director's Cut") presents the sole feature film by Afro-Cuban filmmaker Sara Gomez, "One Way or Another," who died shortly after she filmed it. A simple but powerful love story (boy meets girl, loses girl, etc) is made less simple by intercutting documentary interludes: anything goes. 

I find myself remembering arguments I had with Ruby, decades ago, after screenings, when I was a form-over-content girl, refusing to believe that what a movie said was as important as how it looked. It's taken me a long time to appreciate and understand the power and beauty of a film like "One Way or Another."  As Ruby says, one of the wonders of Telluride is that it can put a movie like this back in history.  The black and white film was shot in 16mm (the director wanted 16mm for its documentary feel).  We see it on a rare 35mm print from a Berlin archive.  As with the Pialat short (available on the Criterion "L'enfance new" disc) and the Erice (available on a European DVD only, it seems), I wish it could be owned and seen widely.

Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake in "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake in "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Afterwards I slip into one of the most coveted films here for me, "Inside Llewyn Davis" -- my appetite for the Coen Brothers re-whetted by the fabulous clip show I saw a couple of days earlier at the tribute they shared with T Bone Burnett.  Before the screening, they give away 4 Blu-Rays of Coen Brothers films: I win a copy of "Fargo" just by virtue of sitting in a seat whose row and number they call out.  Not to look a free Blu-Ray in the mouth, but (a) I don't own a Blu-Ray player, (b) much as I love "Fargo," and I do, what I really wanted to see again after the clip show was "The Big Lebowski."

I admire "Inside Llewyn Davis" more than I enjoy it.  I now know why Coen-cinematographer-turned-director Barry Sonnenfeld made the Woody-Allen-"Stardust Memories" crack "I worked with them on the early funny ones" when he presented them with their Silver Medallions at the Tribute. Not that there aren't laughs dotted all the way through "Inside Llewyn Davis," but its tone is rueful and bittersweet.  Still, I want to see it again.

I probably ought to want to see "Tracks," the last movie of a packed day, again. The story of a quixotic (mostly) solitary walk across 1700 miles of Australian desert, undertaken by a girl, four fractious camels, and a dog, it's beautifully shot, and tendentiously acted by Mia Wasikowska.  Adam Driver, who I just glimpsed in a brief but sweet role in "Llewyn Davis," shows up here, too. I find myself sorry that I missed "Red Flag," a film programmed at the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which was directed by and stars Alex Karpovsky, who is also in "Inside Llewyn Davis," as well as co-starring in "Girls" with Adam Driver.


Anyway, after four days of getting to bed late and rising early, something's got to give.  After about half an hour, I see "Tracks" in bits and pieces.  It's the first time I've actually fallen asleep in a movie during this festival, which is kind of amazing, considering, but still makes me feel bad.  I remember the quote from Woodrow Wilson when he screened "Birth of a Nation" at the White House (the first movie ever shown there): "It is like writing history with lightning." Struggling against sleep, I see the movie fitfully, as though it is illuminated by lightning.

The credits reveal that Wasikowska looks amazingly like the real woman, Robyn Davidson, whose exploits are re-enacted here.  Harvey Weinstein has already acquired the American distribution rights. I hope I can acquire enough rest tonight that I can be wide awake and enjoy all of tomorrow, the last day of the 40th anniversary edition of Telluride.

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

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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.