By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

‘Dancing With The Wildman

Sundance – Day 7

“It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite.”

As I was sitting in the theatre waiting for my first screening of the day to begin, my new indie film community nemesis approached me saying, “Hey man, you know I was kidding, right? I was just kidding.”

Hmmm… Kidding about chanting “Fuck John Wildman” repeatedly during some Hate Karaoke (which, frankly I had never heard of “Hate Karaoke,” but in a big picture sense kind of admire, actually). Or kidding when he said that he didn’t want to move on, let bygones be bygones, blah, blah, blah, indie film non-partisans, blah because “It was more fun.” not to do so?

Curious. An interesting move obviously to soften me up enough to buy time for him to concoct some elaborate plan of nefarious doings – like trying to convince one of the artistic directors of the film festivals I do PR for that perhaps he has been mistaken by working with me. Hmmmm… But, I like the style.

And so the dance between adversaries continues…

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO

Lucy Walker’s Coutdown To Zero takes up the cause regarding an issue that gets very little play in politics or the public’s consciousness today because frankly one side of the political spectrum (Republicans/ Conservatives) can’t make any great hay about it since the other side, led by President Obama has long held this as a major concern and directive. And that is the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose if they get in the wrong hands.

But, to be fair to Walker’s very comprehensive and impressive documentary (produced by Lawrence Bender by the way), the film not only lays out the history leading to our current situation, but provides some truly frightening historical footnotes that are not public knowledge as well as illustrating quite simply and clearly what a nuclear blast really WOULD do and how far the destruction would spread.

Talking heads like Valerie Plame Wilson, Howard Baker, the late Robert McNamera and President Carter all give the soundbites you would expect along the lines of nuclear weapons being bad and scary and we really need to get rid of them. In fact, the most significant thing about this part of the film is the number of people and the caliber of the people willing to go before Walker’s camera.

Among the stuff that really gets you are the details of how lax security is in Russia when it comes to guarding the highly enriched uranium which is the key building block for the bombs, or the sheer impossibility to guard against the import of the stuff 100% (there are suggestions that the best way to sneak it in is to hide it in either a shipment of kitty litter or marijuana – think about that one awhile). Then there are the accidents and near misses; a bomb that fell on South Carolina in the early 60’s (five out of six safeguards failed with one standing in the way of catastrophe), a very near miss in 1995 (the world’s collective ass was saved by Boris Yeltsin not being trigger happy), etc.

Throughout, Walker gives us a birds’ eye view of what a five mile radius of destruction would cover in cities like Paris, New York, Moscow, London and throws in details of how that blast would do its damage on both the landscape of the city as well as the landscape of the human body.

I will admit (and I can’t think that I am unique in the least in this regard) that I went into this viewing with a pre-conceived notion that the topic and necessity of nuclear disarmament was somewhat also ran. Consider that opinion corrected. Whew.

SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s a call to action documentary. Always good here.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not a “sexy” doc per se, but it’s a slickly produced one. I think it could see some play.

Next up were a couple of interviews. The first one being with the star and director of All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, Angela Bettis and Tim Rutili as well as Angela’s co-sat and boyfriend Kevin Ford(who also served as one of the film’s editors). And the interview turned up some facts that may have surpassed the fun strangeness of the film itself.

MCN: Let’s start with the obvious question. What comes first, the music or the movie?
Tim: The music. By that much (holding his fingers very close together). Most of it was song that we had completed; we recorded the album about a month prior to filming.

MCN: You’ve done music videos and smaller projects before. Why a feature at this point?
Tim: It just seemed like the right batch of songs and the right story.

MCN: Angela is such a key for this film, the fulcrum for the story. How did you convince her to become involved?
Tim: I went to her house and Kevin (her boyfriend) was there and he wouldn’t let me talk to her. So then I sat outside the house. I was in a rented car and I sat outside for three days straight. I had juice, I had cigarettes…

MCN: So you were on a stakeout?
Tim: And I just waited. And I waited for Kevin to leave and he never leaves. But once he left, there was a basement window that I managed to get open. I crawled in through the basement and went upstairs, looked around but didn’t see her anywhere. I found the bathroom and knocked on the door and she was in the bathroom. I was like, “I’ve got this movie idea.” And she was cool about it.

MCN: And this was because you’ve never heard of what they call a “casting director”?
Tim: We did not have a casting director. I think we’re heading for a period of time when casting directors won’t be…an issue.
MCN: Obviously, if you are willing to do a stakeout at an actress’ home and then break into the place, it really is all about her. Why were you so inspired that it had to be Angela?
Tim: There was no one else that could do it.

MCN: I would agree with that, actually. And Angela, you were convinced.
Angela: Yes.

MCN: Why?
Angela: His eyes. He has kind eyes.
Tim: It was weird. But I knocked (on the bathroom door). I think that was a sign that I was polite. It’s weird because most people are dying to do me a favor…

MCN: But it was reversed here.
(They both nod.)
MCN: Angela, you also have Drones playing at Slamdance. You have a distinctive persona and presence onscreen. As far as the roles that you choose or end up playing, do you find yourself being sought out? Because, frankly, I don’t know who else falls in your camp, an “Angela Bettis type”. In fact, let’s use Dr as an example. How did you become involved with that film as opposed to this one?
Angela: It was very similar, actually. They kinda sought me out. So, I guess the answer to your question is that yes, I am sought out.

MCN: And Kevin, do you keep her from doing these roles because you’re like her bodyguard too?
Kevin: Yeah, I get really uncomfortable when she’s out of my sight. But Tim wormed his way in and theDrones people wormed their way in. Because if it was up to me, she’d just not do anything.
Angela: (smiles) He’d just keep me in that bathroom.
Kevin: Tim made up for it. He convinced me that if I played her boyfriend in the movie that it would be alright.
Tim: Kevin also edited the film.

MCN: Well, that was good politics right there.
Kevin: He basically bought my permission. That sounds bad, huh?

MCN: Angela, besides Tim’s kind eyes there was also a role to play. What about that role got to you?
Angela: First of all, the music. But secondly, there is a universal issue or theme of “letting go” that I felt I could do a little therapy with Tim and these people and myself. Which I did. It kinda worked. With the other people as well.

MCN: And there is a different approach to presenting the film. Tim, can you explain what you’re planning to do with it after this?
Tim: Well, the band has been touring and on the tour we play the film and perform a live soundtrack. We’ve been doing that at museums, theaters, and a couple clubs.

After an interview with Lucy Walker, the director of both Countdown To Zero and Waste Land (that I’ll add to the next posting) was my attempt to get into a screening of The Kids Are Alright. Unfortunately, this one had quite the line. I had heard stories of various press peeps getting bounced from the (relatively) tiny confines of the Holiday Village Theatres but it hadn’t happened to me yet.

In fact, the guy in front of me complained A LOT to the volunteers about his prior misfortunes. This time, the combination of his haughty accent and indignation worked their magic on the poor volunteer he had singled out for haranguing. He got in.

And he was the last one so I got….shut out. Damn.

But the wait gave me some time to notice one of the volunteers wearing a “Vida” hat. Now, it is most definitely a staple of Sundance to hand out the knit caps promoting your movie or product. For example, the place I’m staying at has one for The Violent Kind and another that says “I (heart) Café’ Bustelo ” sitting on the dining table right now. But something tells me that the guy wearing his “Vida” hat has no idea that Vida is a high-end sex toy line. My guess is that if he knew, then he’d rather have received one of their products from the pretty street team girls I met earlier this week. Or more to the point, his girlfriend would.

Speaking of The Violent Kind… Midnight at the Egyptian (which incidently is my favorite Maria Muldaursong) has always been good luck for me. Old Boy (the couples movie for my wife and I), 28 Days Laterand Grace were all witnessed for the very first time at this spot, so I was hoping that lightning would strike once again.

However, first was a short titled Still Birds.

STILL BIRDS

Sara Eliassen’s Still Birds was introduced (by her) as “a dance horror movie.” Okay, go for it, I thought. I’m primed and ready for whatever your crazy little Norwegian mind can come up with.

Well, that is unless what transpires is a mélange of industrial based dread and choreographed nonsense with pale and creepy kids and teens working their way up and down a concrete labyrinth in the service of getting the one kid (a pre-teen girl) to talk into a machine to do some kind of thing to either start something or stop it. I don’t know. I was rooting for her to speak into the machine to say something like, “The End.”

Honestly, the only “horror” I was experiencing was the fact I had to sit through it. When it, indeed, was over, someone seated behind me said, “Seriously, what the fuck?”

THE VIOLENT KIND

The Butcher Brothers’ film The Violent Kind follows the strange and horrific events that happen following a rough and tumble bikers’ party at a secluded cabin in the woods including some kind of bloody possession of a biker’s girlfriend played by the always reliable Tiffany Shepis. Well, that’s what you would be thinking had you seen or read any of the promo materials and info heading into this screening.

But it’s much more than that. Said bikers and biker babes are “visited” by some eerie/creepy 50s types as well as some kind of Northern Lights shit-storm that would likely be literally tossing everyone to hell in a hand basket if only bikers routinely kept hand baskets in their homes.

Now I can’t say much more than that for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t want to give away any more than I already have. Two, I honestly don’t know or understand exactly what it was that was happening to everyone. I do know that it was all kinds of crazy and weird and bad.

But I do want to take a moment to talk about expectations. Because The Violent Kind has a whole lot of David Lynchian-style Sci-Fi at its core. So much so that I was almost expecting a Dean Stockwell cameo performance of another Roy Orbison chestnut to be sprung on us at any given moment. My point being that if someone went in expecting a “Who will get out alive?” gore fest, I could easily see them being disappointed. However, if they’re putting their money down for a horror stew of violence, gore, science fiction, and biker movies with some 50s flare, then they’d be exiting with big dazed grins afterward.

SUNDANCE FEVER: It’s all about expectations. And this one is more than just a rough and tumble midnight movie.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Selective. But handled properly people could really get into it and trip out on it on some midnight-type screens.

_________________________________________________

John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin