Friday, October 17, 2008

My Austin Film Festival, Part 1

The picture is from one of the shops in that South Lamar Center that includes the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (South Lamar). Film presenters are, these days, very skittish about cameras and camera phones. Apparently you can shoot an entire feature film in shaky two-minute segments on your point 'n shoot digital and send it to China. Well at least post outtakes of Oliver Stone's "W." with Josh Brolin talking with his mouth full on YouTube. So this picture will have to do for visual entertainment while I talk about my impressions of the Film Festival.

Bare in mind: (1) I don't make films, I just watch them. And I'm not even a professional critic like my friend Jette. (2) I end up spending more quality time talking to friends and FFP or people we meet than really 'reviewing' the festival. Nevertheless, I have opinions. Who doesn't?

I love going to panel discussions and hearing real writers tell how hard it was to get inspiration from head to page to movie. As my faithful readers know I practice not writing. And these panels convince me that the pesky screen play form is not for me. I'll keep my unwritten stuff in novel, poem and short story form. Poem? Not really. Doggerell maybe. But I digress. The festival.

We managed to shake off the vodka martinis and Dos Equis we drank with the fabulous food at the Film and Food Young Filmmakers benefit and go to two panels. We love panel discussions as I said and these had speakers I really enjoyed. One was entitled "Shot of Inspiration" and the other "Common Mistakes Writers Make." Really it doesn't matter what the title is because in the former you get the 'where ideas come from' out of the way and then talk about war stories and movie people antecdotes. In the latter, you get 'two brads or three and no cute covers' out of the way and then do the same. Not really, but I love hearing people talk about what they do, what's worked, etc.

In last year's 'Shot of Inspiration' Dan Petrie passed out shots of booze. That was a surprise, but this year the speakers were Polly Platt and Herschel Weingrod. Polly has been involved with several movies that are, to me, iconic. As a writer, "Pretty Baby" and as a productions designer "Last Picture Show." She was involved with Peter Bogdanovich, but I've heard Polly before and she is an astute woman with a great eye for talent and a wide-ranging intellect. She also has an eye for the ridiculous and she looks at the world as a story with built-in metaphor. She forgets names of the great and not-so-great and asks the audience for help in filling these blanks.

Herschel was interesting talking about how "Trading Places" (one of my all time favorites) and how he managed to make a 'subversive' comedy. He portrayed the long winding road to 'success' with humility and humor.

The "Common Mistakes Writers Make" went through the usual physical appearance bits, the too long, too short, etc. but the speakers were obviously hard-working writers. Stuart Kelban teaches at UT and so is uniquely positioned to talk about mistakes as he shepherds many student scripts. But he writes his own, too. Yaphet Smith is a young local guy we talked to while standing around last year. I don't know that any script he's written has been produced. But he is so interesting and self-possessed. He hammered away at his idea that unless everything in the movie promotes its theme, you aren't doing your job.

Best quote from these two panels came from Herschel Weingrod, I think. "The script is an invitation to make the movie. It's not the movie." See, that's why I don't write screenplays. They are just jumping off places. I'd prefer to not write finished works. [Ed. Then why do you constantly rewrite blog entries. LB. Typos? Yeah, well, anyway.]

We stocked up on food and drink at Ruth's Chris where a gaggle of Yellow Dog Democrats from the Texas Observer and friends were also waiting to see Oliver Stone's "W." It turns out from a little WEB surfing that this is unoriginal criticism but WTF was this about? One minute I thought we were in a Shakespearean tragedy about a son trying to please a father and the next I thought I was in the best SNL skit ever. And, I'm sorry, but does the real W. eat every meal with his mouth open and his fingers popping in that mouth? Rent "JFK" and "Born on the Fourth of July" for good Oliver Stone. See this one because, why not see Richard Dreyfus protray Dick Cheney and Toby Jones protray Karl Rove as a homosexual? Don't look for a message, though, beyond the obvious "George W. Bush screwed up the entire world in the last eight years because he is stupid and trying to impress his Dad." That may be entirely true or the truth may be more nuanced, but there it is. Not an original insight. The only celebrity at the opening was James Cromwell. Oddly, I believed him as Prince Phillip in "Queen" but watching him here just kept bringing to mind that dippy role he had in "Six Feet Under." He spoke before about how important this film is as a sort of political history. Um, no. "Bush's Brain" was all that. Of course, it was a documentary. This was a confection. One you may enjoy, but it doesn't dig into aspects of history that might not be obvious like "JFK" does.

Well, we could have listened to James speak after the movie or queued to see another movie. What we actually did was go with a friend to Ruth's Chris again and discuss "W." while eating and drinking. FFP watched the baseball game. (A pillar intervered with my watching but a play-by-play from FFP and other patrons watching was interesting.)

So, after Part 1 of the festival I have to say: the Manhattans and the carpaccio at Ruth's Chris are to die for! And I love being amidst the movie folk.

No comments: