Dear Wide World,
It’s cold. No, it’s VERY cold. The first couple of days were relatively mild, with some light snowfall and rain. That’s all changed very quickly. I left the condo at 9:20 a.m., caught the bus to Main Street, and spent the next 10-15 minutes walking uphill with the snow in my face. Let’s just say I picked a lousy day to wear my glasses. My coat hat and gloves were soaked when I sat down for the first screening of the day, which was…
DOPPELGÄNGER PAUL (Or A Film About How Much I Hate Myself): This one was a pleasant surprise. Writer/director Kris Elgstrand and co-director Dylan Akio Smith spin a sweetly authentic story of two men, Carl and Paul, with self-esteem problems. Carl leaves a matter-of-fact note on Paul’s door to inform him that he believes the two are forever linked as doppelgangers, and what results is a surprising amount of both comedy and pathos. Tonally, the film’s deadpan ironic sensibility serves it well, due in large part to the strong work of lead actors Tygh Runyan (also one of the best parts of yesterday’s Comforting Skin) and Brad Dryborough. Even when the narrative threatens to come across as a little precious, they keep the film grounded in an emotional reality that’s consistent. While their characters might be some strange, strange dudes, these two hardly ever crack. If they had, the film could have easily suffocated on its own ambition. There’s a wonderful scene in a van near the end that would have served as a wonderful closing. But that’s a minor quibble, and the Elgstrand’s ending works too.
The First Season: Paul and Phyllis van Amburg are a normal couple who’ve devoted their lives to providing a healthy environment for their three children. Here’s the catch. The van Amburgs decided that the best way to do that was to quit their jobs, sell their home and buy a dairy farm in the lovely New York countryside. The film depicts the struggles and surprises of their first year in their new home. Director/producer Rudd Simmons is fair to Paul and Phyllis, and their choice is an admirable one. However, where the film falls short is in its lack of a compelling dramatic arc and sufficient conflict to keep things interesting. Over the course of the film, the couple is only shown arguing once. They talk about how tight money is a few times, but the farm never really seems to be in any significant danger. Instead, what the audience gets are shots of cows. LOTS of cows. We see cows give birth, calves being fed, cows being herded, cows being named, cows being milked, and we see most of these things several times. I have no problem with a film that takes a simplistic approach to a straightforward situation, but when a series of tasks is repeated to the point that it becomes mundane, it’s unfortunate. While I’m not suggesting that events be staged, I wonder if the film couldn’t have been better edited to make the van Amburg’s story a more compelling one.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty: Well, friends, today was my lucky day. Thanks to the help of a dedicated publicist, I was able to head across the street to the Egyptian Theater and see my very first film at the Sundance Film Festival. This one was unique, to say the very least. Writer/director Terence Nance’s first feature takes a distinctive look at the nature of relationships and their consequences through the lens of his own relationship with a young woman named Namik. The film’s editing is strongly rhythmic, particularly in a wonderful opening sequence where Nance is seen taking the subway with a few long pieces of pine in tow, the music combining with a remarkably fluid camera to wonderful effect. What’s not apparent in the early going, as the narrator (of which there are three!) explains that an earlier Nance short film How Would You Feel will be combined with new material to provide a more well-rounded experience, is that the film is, in many respects, a documentary. According to Nance, about 80% of the film’s voiceover—and there’s a lot of voiceover—was written in the one pivotal night depicted early in the film. After a certain point, the torrent of v.o., no matter how honest and insightful it may have been, makes it hard to focus on the vibrant images onscreen, as Nance uses a combination of both high- and low-grade cameras, traditional animation, stop-motion animation and a series of title cards to create an effect not unlike a children’s book, which he says was his intention all along. It’s an admirable first feature with a quirky sense of humor, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Terence Nance.
No post-event parties for me tonight. I tried to get into one, but it was already shutting down when I arrived, and my friend on the inside couldn’t help. I ended up going back to the condo early due to the fact that it was about 27 degrees, and when a little wind gets thrown into the mix, it’s absolutely miserable. I had changed jackets and hats mid-day and spent far more time outside waiting for buses (which were packed) than I’d have liked. By the end of the night, I was having a hard time feeling my hands and had no further desire to be out in the snow for any longer than I had to.
Fortunately, it’s much warmer in the condo.
I wasn’t able to get into Neil Young Journeys today, but I’ll be at the “Coffee with Neil Young and [director] Jonathan Demme” tomorrow morning, and I can’t wait.