By Ray Pride
JANUARY 24, 2000: Everyone's circling for some kind of kill.
The planes are circling over Salt Lake City. The publicists are circling over lists of Sundance Film Festival attendees. Journalists and industryites are circling over lists of films that almost no one has been allowed to see in advance.
No one knew what "The Blair Witch Project" was last year and it took a pretty penny home for the filmmakers even before breaking the bank at the box office. Even with radically different subject matter, every director, producer and producer's rep worth their salt seems to have chosen to duplicate last year's tactics in 2000.
Reams of faxes at home and at the office. The mail is cluttered with lists and advertisements from all kinds of dot-com "presences": "We'll have a presence at Harry O's this year," goes the general line. Two kinds of chapstick. Three snow hats. It's usually an hour on the ground in Utah before the swag bombardment begins in earnest. The frontier mountain winter beauty will likely be diminished further than ever by the endless panoply of computer screens and short film displays and offers of cookies, milk and stronger stuff from other kinds of fairy tales.
The rhythm of sunrise and sunset will be irrelevant. Yet feet on the ground, there will be movies, there will be discoveries. There will even be joy. For now, I try to distract myself from the information about more than 100 movies that will be showing at Sundance, mostly premieres. Then there are Slamdance, Digidance, every kind of dance, even Lapdance, an event sponsored by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
I've heard a little about a few films, read a couple of scripts. I want to see Michael Almereyda's update of "Hamlet." Keith Gordon's "Waking the Dead" has a challenging story; Mary Harron's "American Psycho" had a precise, chilly script; there are intriguing shorts from around the world. Claire Denis' brilliant "Le beau travail" is only the first highlight of an entire section devoted to foreign entries. It shouldn't be hard to find three features a day worth staying awake through.
But it's confusing even with schedules in front of you from a few hours and a few thousand miles distance. It'll be easier when there's a warm theater a few yards away to fall into.
I need distraction. I pull out a new translation of Plato's "Symposium." It reads well. The introduction and the early pages are interesting, but then the detailed description of the era's strictures of love begins to be a little too much like studying intricately coded sexual practices.
But before the topics of love, there is a passage that seems all too true to today. It is about a film festival. It is a satire of too much rambunctious behavior by much of the press. As translator Christopher Gill writes, "In late fifth-century Athens... by contrast with the modern dinner party, there was a clear separation between the meal and the subsequent drinking, and the drinking was more fully ritualized." [First a movie, then retire to the bar or party.]
"After the meal was cleared away, the guests had their hands washed, and were sometimes garlanded with flowers and anointed with perfumed oils." [Pick a publicist, any publicist. One hand washes the other, doesn't it?]
"The symposium began with a taste of unmixed wine, poured out in honor of 'the good spirit' (daimon), and accompanied by hymns to the god." [Thank you for the invitation, to your festival, to your party, to your open bar.]
Subsequently, wine was mixed with water in a bowl, normally in the proportion of five parts water to two of wine; the resulting drink was comparable in strength with modern beer." [Except in Utah during Sundance, where seven parts water is customary.]
"One person was elected to set in consultation with others, the precise strength... the number of bowls to be mixed and the size of cups to be used." [Hey, how early's your first screening?]
"Wine and 'taking turns' in song and speech went round the room... the whole context created a sealed and privileged space, in which the attention of the guest was focused on each other and on their shared enjoyment of wine, talk, music and sensuality."
Add movies... Voilá.
O'Hare air is heavy with the smells of cookies and McDonald's French fries and Starbucks. In three hours, I will know the scent of Park City: thin, smelling of snow and fireplaces. And Starbucks.
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