Since I am a creature of habit, and I annually discuss the films I see at the New York Film Festival, which is like Christmas in October, here are observations from this year’s opening night festivities.
As usual, I was with my dear bud, Milton. We had not planned to attend the opening night film, The Walk, because it opens nationwide on October 9th. The Walk is based on the true story about Philippe Petit, a high-wire artist from France, who in 1974 walked the tightrope between the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. When that mind blowing event happened, we had plenty of dinner table conversation about it in my house. That took balls the size of cantaloupes, but if memory serves correct, that was not an exact quote at our dinner table, but my brother, Axel, could have said it afterward when we stepped out to walk the dog.
Tickets to the gala event screening at Alice Tully Hall cost a king’s ransom. Even more distressing was that it was not a tee shirt and sneaker-type screening. The idea of dressing formal to see a popcorn movie in 3D that is opening at every multiplex across the country in less than two weeks, rubs us wrong. Fortunately, a few days before the screening, the Film Society of Lincoln Center announced that there would be additional screenings on opening night in their more intimate surrounding theaters for the come-as-you-are types with stains on their shirts. Those tickets cost $20. Count us in!
Because the gala screening started at 6pm, while the screenings for slobs kicked off half an hour later, we realized that gave us ample time to rubberneck the red carpet ceremony outside Alice Tully Hall featuring the film’s stars. Unfortunately, a horde of autograph hounds had the same idea, creating a dense wall of humanity in front of us.
Autograph hounds are on a mission. Basically, they’re dragon air breathing descendants of paparazzi. Milton explained that they sell the autographs they collect on line. I asked him if any of these autograph hounds had tickets to see the film. He thought that was highly unlikely. Apparently, standing behind a police barricade for hours waiting for a celebrity to pass by for a split second to sign a paper thrust aggressively in their face is their typical day at the office.
As we were waiting, Milton spotted Kate Mulgrew, who is currently appearing as Red in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. She is not in The Walk and she didn’t register on the autograph hounds radar, either. They stood slack jawed as Milton snapped this shot of her.
When the film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, appeared, the hounds sprang into action.
They also pounced all over actor Steve Valentine.
But they went their most bat-shit crazy when Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as Philippe Petit, approached.
What was craziest was as he was being rushed inside the theater a voice among the hounds cried out:
Autograph Hound: Joseph, please come back!
And he did!
The film is a very entertaining story about a wildly ambitious young man with the tenacity to do something historical. Milton thought it was the best use of 3D he had ever seen in a film. At one point when Petit is learning how to walk the wire, he drops his balancing pole. Milton and I both ducked, fearing we were each about to lose an eye. Even though we knew the story well, the film packs a tremendous amount of tension and suspense. Often, I found myself squirming; I suffered so much such anxiety. Afterward, I asked Milton if he thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt actually learned to walk a tightrope for this film.
Milton: Yes, but his wire was probably two inches off the ground and everything around him was superimposed.
Petit’s magical achievement was something that could only be accomplished in a bygone era when it was possible to plot something so audacious almost invisibly in plain sight. The film was also a wonderful tribute to the towers. Before Petit walked the tightrope between them, New Yorkers viewed them as primarily two ugly boxes, but afterward, they took on a degree of humanity and New Yorkers embraced them. The film is peppered throughout with Petit standing inside Lady Liberty’s torch, talking directly to the camera about his feat, a cheesy device that breaks the fourth wall. At first, we found that gimmick irritating, but by the very end, we realized it provided poignant punctuation.
The Walk was a perfect film to inaugurate this year’s New York Film Festival. Don’t miss seeing it in 3D when it plays the multiplex wherever you live.