This, my friends, is why I live in New York City...
I can't say enough about Linas Phillips' WALKING TO WERNER, which I saw at the IFFBoston last year and caught again on Friday night. Funny, poignant, intense, heartfelt, and uplifting, WALKING TO WERNER is my favorite type of movie, which transcends its boundaries to say something much deeper about the world in which we live. The characters Linas encounters in his grueling trek from Seattle to Los Angeles remind us just how strange and beautiful America--and existence in general--is. It's refreshing to see a work that has moments of deep sadness but that somehow retains a hopeful spirit throughout. WALKING TO WERNER is a special, special movie. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. It's playing at 7:30 and 9:30 through Thursday, so find the time and go see it!
Saturday, 3:35pm, Landmark Sunshine: SUNSHINE
I have to confess, while I was totally engaged with SUNSHINE for its first thirty minutes or so, eventually it wore me down and I had no real connection to it whatsoever. But it's a credit to Danny Boyle--and Cillian Murphy, who is a really good actor--that I was never bored. SUNSHINE is an undeniably thrilling spectacle. I just wish it hadn't devolved into something I felt I'd already seen dozens of times, but it seems like the sci-fi genre is almost impossible to reinvent, at least in this particular context.
The fact that this was my second favorite filmgoing experience of the weekend says something about how incredible this weekend was (see below for number one), because this night was absolutely glorious. I stepped onto the roof of the old American Can Factory in Gowanus just as it was getting dark, to the sights and sounds of "Light.Work.Mood.Disorder" by Anthony Burr and Jennifer Reeves. A perfect way to transition from dusk to darkness, the presentation also provided a nice warm-up for the main event, the New York City premiere of FISH KILL FLEA by Aaron Hillis, Brian Cassidy, and Jennifer Loeber. The technical presentation was flawless, and Aaron, Brian, and Jennifer's film proved to be a perfect selection for that locale (it's even better the second time around). While I've attended Rooftop Films screenings before, it was on Saturday night that I truly grasped just how special Mark Elijah Rosenberg's vision is. The place was absolutely packed. I urge all of you to embrace what Mark and the Rooftop team are doing. I can't remember the last time I felt so thrilled to be living in New York City. Thanks, Mark!
Sunday, 4:30pm, Walter Reade: "Film Comment Selects Presents... Norman Mailer On Film"
I haven't had time to wrap my head around what just happened. Suffice to say, it was one for the ages. At 4:30, a packed Walter Reade audience settled into Mailer's 1987 comedy/noir/thriller/etc., TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE. How had I not seen this before? Mailer's film plays like BLUE VELVET set in the Northeast, complete with an Angelo Badalamenti score and an appearance by Isabella Rossellini. I can't tell you how many times I thought, "This would make for an a-m-a-z-i-n-g soundbite in a song." While I definitely wouldn't put it on par with BLUE VELVET or THE LONG GOODBYE, it certainly deserves to be considered a strange nephew of the two.
Following the film, Mailer emerged, hobbling weakly across the stage with the help of two canes. I had no idea his physical state had deteriorated so extremely, and was worried that he would be a shell of his former self. Not to worry. As soon as he opened his mouth I was relieved--and shocked--to realize that the man is as sharp now as he ever was. Highlights included him saying, "for the record," that Jean-Luc Godard was one of the three worst people he's ever met. When asked later who was number two, he spilled the beans: Ronald Reagan. Later, an accented woman asked him what was the purpose of making the movie and he replied that he did it as a calling card, with the hopes that he would be asked to direct another film. She said something about how that wasn't a good enough answer for an audience member. He said, "So you didn't like the film?" Then he added, "Well, you can always find some friends." I'm not conveying the genius of that statement. I have to confess, I've never read a Norman Mailer book. I had always thought he was too macho and somehow overrated, but after tonight, my opinion of the man has been elevated immeasurably. Which leads us into MAIDSTONE.
I only recently discovered the MAIDSTONE saga, in which Rip Torn and Norman Mailer got into an actual fight. When I watched the clip for the first time, I thought it was an outtake, and when I realized it was actually used in the film, I didn't really understand. I was also convinced that Rip Torn was a maniac on acid and who had snapped and done something horrifically wrong. Well, now that I've seen the whole film and witnessed the fight in the context of it, I can say that I hope Norman Mailer sent Rip Torn a big fat thank you note, because he sparked the moment that completely justified Mailer's crazy undertaking. Torn did what he had to do. He did what needed to be done. If it had happened at the "Assassination Ball" the night before, it would have felt like a scene out of another staged Hollywood movie, which was the complete antithesis of what Mailer was trying to do. But by waiting until the film had seemingly wrapped, when even Mailer wasn't expecting it, Torn helped Mailer to finally, thrillingly make his point. And what a point it was! In Mailer's Q&A, he talked about how he always had a problem with Cassavetes, how his films weren't actually works of improvisation, contrary to what people might think. They were created from improvisation, perhaps, but by the time they shot everyone knew where the story was headed. His first three films were made by true improvisation, with the story developing within the moment. It's a very valid point, and after seeing MAIDSTONE, Cassavetes seems like hyper-exaggerated theatre. While MAIDSTONE clearly has some problems, so much of it is so electrifyingly alive that those problems don't matter. I didn't realize until after the film that Mailer had been sitting just three rows behind us. He slipped out right before the Torn fight, presumably to avoid the crowd afterwards, or maybe it still stung to watch. But my neighbor, Jessica Wolfson, said she turned around to glance at him during the scene when he was making out with and grabbing the butt of a cute blonde, and he had a giddy grin on his face. Atta boy, Norman!
Which leads us back to the Anthology Film Archives. Wednesday night is when their Norman Mailer retrospective kicks off. MAIDSTONE is showing twice. If you live in New York City and you don't see this movie, leave here now. I was ambivalent about Mailer's cinematic output before today. Now, I can't wait to see his other two films, as well as two documentaries on Mailer by British documentarian Dick Fontaine, which come highly recommended.
Thank you, Anthology Film Archives, Rooftop Films, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, for reminding me why I'm the luckiest film lover in the world. Amen.