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Lame Adventure 469: Opening Night at the 53rd New York Film Festival

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.

Better doors than windows.

Autograph hounds making better doors than windows.

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.

Kate Mulgrew wearing red scarf.

Kate Mulgrew wearing red scarf.

When the film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, appeared, the hounds sprang into action.

Crowd surge.

Crowd surge.

He's there somewhere!

Robert Zemeckis is there somewhere!

Milton's gotcha shot proving the new adage that two cameras are better than one.

Milton’s gotcha shot proving the new adage that two cameras are better than one.

They also pounced all over actor Steve Valentine.

Steve Valentine happy to oblige.

Steve Valentine happy to oblige.

Steve Valentine working the horde.

Steve Valentine working the horde.

But they went their most bat-shit crazy when Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as Philippe Petit, approached.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt about to approach the lion's den.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt about to approach the lion’s den.

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!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt a.k.a. Mr. Nice Guy.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt being Mr. Nice Guy.

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.

Lame Adventure 370: People, People Who Need Barbra …

Banner outside Avery Fisher Hall.

Banner outside Avery Fisher Hall.

Are the luckiest people in the world — if they have a friend like Milton. The Film Society of Lincoln Center held their 40th annual Chaplin Award fundraising gala in Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night. This year the honoree was Barbra Streisand. Milton is a HUGE Barbra fan, and I am, too. Both of us have been fans since the 60s when he was a boy in Nebraska and I, a girl in San Francisco, decades before we were destined to join forces in 21st century New York City.

It was a black tie affair with Liza Minnelli, Wynton Marsalis and Tony Bennett performing. The speakers included Michael Douglas, Catherine Deneuve, Pierce Brosnan, Blythe Danner, Ben Stiller and, oh yeah, Bill Clinton was presenting the award to Barbra. With such a superstar honoree and that cast of stellar supporting players, the price of admission cost $200 to $500. Seats at the post-show dinner ranged from $1,500 a ticket to $100,000 a table. On my meager alms, no way could I attend. Milton was resigned to going solo and that bothered him.

A lot.

He is a long-time Film Society member. In March, he purchased his Barbra ticket the second they went on sale to members — members get first crack before the general public. He selected Tier 1, Box 3, seat 5. His seat was close to the stage, directly across from Barbra. The event sold out quickly. It generated $2 million for the Film Society, a million dollars more than any other Chaplin gala honoree. I suggested to Milton:

Me: Maybe they should have held it in Yankee Stadium.

Milton: For those prices, she’d have to sing.

As the honoree, Barbra’s job was to appear, soak up the adulation, accept her award from the 42nd president of the United States and give an acceptance speech. Nice work if you have the resume that rates it.

Last Thursday, something extraordinary happened. The Film Society announced that they were releasing a block of $25 partial view seats in Tier 3. Milton happens to know the layout of Avery Fisher Hall about as well as his own living room. For example, he can point out exactly where he and his mother sat when they saw Sarah Vaughn perform there in 1977. Milton scrutinized the cheap seats and he knew that Tier 3’s, Box 3, seat 15, would not only rock, but it was not partial view. In fact, this was the absolute best nosebleed seat in the house for it was in the box two tiers above his. He pounced and yes, I was there.

The coveted ducat.

The coveted ducat.

Damn fine view.

Damn fine view.

Nerd inside with collector's item Playbill.

Lucky nerd inside with collector’s item Playbill.

I was sitting directly across from Barbra’s box, too. From my bird’s eye view, I could even see where Hillary Clinton was sitting — center orchestra row six on the aisle next to a bald guy that looked a lot like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. I doubted that was who he was. Other celebrities that I thought I recognized were Bill and Melinda Gates. They weren’t sitting in Tier 3. I saw them riding up the escalator as we were people watching in the lobby.

No bland muzak here; guests were serenaded by this fine harpist.

No bland muzak here; guests were entertained by this fine harpist.

The event was bursting with the Swells of New York. Milton being Milton, he did have some qualms with the way some of the attendees were attired, especially the young woman in the short hot pink sheath with tall black boots.

Milton: Hideous!

He did give the two gay guys in matching skinny blue suits with brown dress shoes a pass.

Milton: They’re making a statement.

Me: Like what, they’re both colorblind?

We both agreed that this gent's red patent leather tassled loafers were great.

We agreed that this sockless gent’s red patent leather tasseled loafers were great.

The overall crowd was quite gay or as Milton put it:

Milton: I see a lot of men with their mothers.

There was a significant lesbian turnout, too.

The entertainment, as expected, was top notch. Liza Minnelli took to the stage first. Even though she now has hip problems and was supposed to perform while seated, she forced herself to stand and she belted her heart out.

Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli

Wynton Marsalis serenaded Barbra on his trumpet with Hello Dolly and 87-year-old Alan Bergman, who co-wrote the lyrics to The Way We Were with his wife, Marilyn, sang a very poignant version of that song to her. He wrote some new lyrics celebrating The Way You Are.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Presenters included some of her leading men. Omar Sharif and Robert Redford appeared on a screen in previously taped tributes. Kris Kristofferson, her co-star in A Star is Born was there. He recounted that “the bathtub scene” with her was “a lot of fun”. George Segal who starred opposite her in The Owl and the Pussycat, joked that he did not know what was more improbable in that film; his role as a failed writer or hers as a failed hooker. Amy Irving, who starred with Barbra in her directorial debut, Yentl, recalled that their kissing scene was, “The best girl on girl action a girl could hope for.” Meow!

Ben Stiller, who referred to himself as Barbra’s “cinematic son” — she played Mother Focker to his Greg Focker, in some of the Fockers comedies, introduced Bill Clinton. Clinton declared that every great person is driven, “But if that person has massive talent, big brains and a bigger heart, you want to go along for the ride.”

Barbra at lectern; Bill Clinton sitting behind her.

Barbra at lectern; Bill Clinton sitting behind her.

Barbra delivered an eloquent acceptance speech. She recounted tales from her youth, how she longed to be an actress who would perform the classics, but “no one wanted a 15-year-old Medea.” When she was 16, she had to perform a love scene opposite a guy she felt no attraction to. What she did to make the scene work was place a piece of chocolate cake behind him so she could look longingly at it.  She admitted, “Thank God I was given a good singing voice.”  She knew that her vocal gift was the key that opened the doors to her acting, screenwriting, producing and directing careers or, as she called herself, “a hyphenate.”  As she closed her remarks, she mentioned memories and added, “I feel like I should sing a song or something.” The audience went wild, hoping to hear her rendition of The Way We Were, but she quickly waved away that idea.

Former President Clinton returned to the lectern and delivered one more introduction. This was for Tony Bennett. He closed the event by singing Smile. Charlie Chaplin wrote the music to that song which was first heard in the film, Modern Times. Thanks to Chaplin’s contributions to film, this prestigious honor was started in 1972. He was the first recipient.

Barbra in center on stage at event's close.

Barbra in center on stage at event’s close.

Afterward, I joined Milton outside. We agreed that we had just witnessed 90 minutes of bliss.

Milton: I’m so glad we live in New York!

Me: I’m so glad I know you!

Barbra Streisand, 71 years old today and she still has it. (Invision — Photo by Charles Sykes)

Barbra Streisand, 71 years old today and she still has it going on. (Invision — Photo by Charles Sykes)

Lame Adventure 347: New York Film Festival 2012

The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Milton and I have been there every day since Saturday, even though we’ve only seen three films thus far.  Milton, who has been a longtime member of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, has not been wild about the location of our seats.  For many screenings we seem to be sitting in the nosebleeds.

Guy playing the piano with his dog outside Alice Tully Hall on Saturday.

The first film we saw was Amour, written and directed by one of our favorite filmmakers working today, Michael Haneke.  He won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for this very unsentimental story set in Paris about Georges and Anne, a longtime married couple coping with the ravages of old age after one suffers a stroke and the other is the caregiver. The octogenarian actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both give extraordinary performances. Veteran actress Isabelle Huppert plays Eva, their middle-aged daughter that resides in London, who feels increasingly frustrated and helpless every time she visits her parents.  Although this film is depressing,  Haneke is such a talented filmmaker, it is riveting and packed with brilliant moments including a chilling nightmare sequence that elicited gasps from the audience.  Of course the real horror is the physical decline that likely awaits many of us as we approach our own mortality.   Yee ha.

Paparazzo Milton sees Michael Haneke milling around the Alice Tully Hall lobby pre-screening of “Amour”.

We noticed that our audience was full of senior citizens including a woman that inched toward her seat with half the energy of a sleeping snail before she settled in front of us.  All the while her friend repeatedly bleated in a thick New York accent, “Fran!  Over here, Fran!  Fran, over here!”  This agitated Milton who kept muttering fluent monosyllabic. There was also quite a lot of loud phlegmy coughing around us prompting him to mutter:

Milton:  God, we’re seeing this in a tuberculosis ward.

Fortunately, the film was excellent, even though we were sitting in row U.

The next day we had tickets to Beyond the Hills, written and directed by the Romanian filmmaker Christian Mungiu.

Milton’s iPhone gotcha shot of Christian Mungiu mingling with fans post “Beyond the Hills” screening.

We’re sitting in row T and Milton is fixated on the two and a half hour running time:

Milton:  This better be good.

I reminded Milton about the Bela Tarr screening we attended last year for The Turin Horse, a film about the futility of existence as illustrated through an ill work horse and two peasants eating potatoes. It was 146 minutes long – but we both loved it.

Beyond the Hills, is a story set in the present about two 25-year-old women that were best friends in a Romanian orphanage after they were abandoned at a very young age by their parents.  One woman is essentially an atheist, but the other has joined a monastery.  When they were in the orphanage, the relationship was sexual.  The secular woman, after working as a waitress in Germany, misses her friend terribly, so she visits her in the monastery.  She wants to rekindle what they had before but the religious woman has decided to devote her life to God.  Life in the monastery provides her with security and a sense of home. The besotted secular friend, grows increasingly unhinged.  The members of the monastery, a priest and several nuns, resort to a barbaric religious ritual to control the situation.  It ends miserably.

Milton declared this film:

Milton: Brokeback Mountain meets The Exorcist.

Milton iPhone gotcha shot of Anjelica Huston trying to slip into Alice Tully Hall through a side door.

On Monday night Milton and I had tickets to a film written and directed by Sally Potter called Ginger and Rosa.  We have third row balcony seats, seats he despises because they’re located a time zone away from the screen.

Ginger and Rosa is a pretentious 89-minute film with a terrific classic jazz soundtrack that seemed to run five hours as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  The story is set in 1962 England during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when 17-year-old Ginger, a budding radical suffering extreme anxiety about a potential nuclear holocaust, worships her best friend, Rosa, a full fledged slut, who sleeps with Ginger’s cad of a father.  The worship ends, the world continues and Ginger writes a poem where she forgives Rosa.  Milton delivered a one-word review:

Milton: Awful.

I would have almost preferred watching a black screen with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing on the audiotrack.

Afterward he revised it when he assessed the talent of the 63-year-old filmmaker, Sally Potter:

Milton: She’s too old to be making a film this bad.

Then, he revised his assessment a third time; he was impressed with Elle Fanning’s performance as Ginger:

Milton:  I don’t know what’s in the water those Fanning sisters drink, but they all have talent.  Too bad they can’t find a filmmaker that knows what to do with them.

Elle Fanning sitting in the center during post “Ginger and Rosa” screening q&a. Photo taken from third row balcony seat i.e., the moon.

He added authoritatively:

Milton:  This was so bad it made Beyond the Hills seem like Gone with the Wind.

Red carpet.

Lame Adventure 232: Papering the House

Last week Milton scored an invitation for two to the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s blue carpet 50th anniversary celebration of Breakfast at Tiffany’sThe film is also being released on Blu-ray DVD.

We want you, Milton!

This Hollywood classic stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, in her most iconic role, a free-spirit that accepts $50 from gentlemen admirers for powder room visits; George Peppard, as Paul Varjak, a struggling writer with perfect hair; and Patricia Neal, as 2E, Paul’s cougar sugar-mama.  2E does not exist in author Truman Capote‘s original novella, nor is the writer named Paul Varjak and he actually works a crummy day job, something the filmmakers must have considered too tragic to show on the silver screen.

Perfect Hair George frame left, Audrey Hepburn center, Patricia Neal frame right.

Screen legend in her own right, Julie Andrews, the widow of the film’s director, Blake Edwards, was enlisted to walk the blue carpet en route to delivering an introduction before the screening of the beautifully restored print at Alice Tulley Hall in Lincoln Center.

Even though other attendees paid for their seats, since the screening was not sold out, the FSLC emailed members that they could have a pair of tickets for free on a first come, first serve basis.  Milton said we were being tagged to paper the house.

Milton:  Do you want to go?

Me:  From now on call me Boise-Cascade!

Precious ducat.

Press and photographers crowded the space in front of the blue carpet making it tough for onlookers like us to see much behind a barricade. One of a cluster of women of a certain age who very likely first saw the film when it was initially released in 1961 opined about the blue carpet:

Woman of a Certain Age:  That’s the blue carpet?  It looks more like a bathroom rug.

Crappy blue carpet.

Milton and I agreed that she had the right idea.

A celebrity arrived, actress Bebe Neuwirth and her husband, Chris Calkins.

Bebe Neuwirth with her husband Chris Calkins of the Obscured Face.

The women of a certain age banter amongst each other.

Woman of a Certain Age:  Who is that?  Is that Rachel’s daughter?

Me (thinking):  Who the hell’s Rachel?  That’s Bebe Neuwirth.

Another Woman of a Certain Age:  I think that’s Bebe Neuwirth.

Woman of a Certain Age (who thought Bebe was Rachel’s daughter):  How old is she now?

Another Woman of a Certain Age:  Who?

Woman of a Certain Age:  This Bebe Neuwirth we’re looking at.  What is she, 60?  Do you like how she looks?

I want to scream, but I’m mute.  For the record, Bebe’s 52.  Milton and I thought she looked great.

Press swarming Bebe.

There’s a roar to our left.  For a flash Milton and I think that Holly Golightly has arrived, but it’s second best, Julie Andrews is in the house!  She looks radiant wearing a blue tuxedo, which should have been the shade of the carpet.

Milton times this shot of Juiie Andrews perfectly.

Milton is on a tear taking pictures with his iPhone, but he presses the wrong button and he starts photographing himself beneath the chin, so we have a selection of shots of his goatee at an odd angle.

I am not allowed to post any of those images.

Fortunately, we get a few decent shots, so decent that a woman of a certain age declares:

Woman of a Certain Age:  You finally got a good one!

My good shot of Julie Andrews. Finally.

Once Julie, who takes her time talking to members of the press and posing for photographs moves on, a blonde enters.

Mystery "Who cares?" Woman.

Me:  Who’s that?

Milton: Probably a real housewife of Lincoln Square.

A cameraman starts filming us.

Filming us. We return the compliment.

We lower our cameras and head into the theater.

After I take this shot a guard approaches me:

Inside the theater.

Guard:  There’s no photography in the theater.

I pack my camera away, but when Julie takes the stage with the FSLC program Director, Richard Peña, it seems like every iPhone in the joint is whipped out.

Julie Andrews and Richard Peña moments earlier on the crappy blue carpet.

I could easily breakout my camera again, but instead, I breakout a ham sandwich.  It’s late and I’m hungry.

Julie and Peña conduct an easy exchange about the film.  She was appearing on Broadway when she first saw it on her day off in 1961 at Radio City Music Hall.

Julie:  I never dreamed that the director would be my husband.

This makes sense since she would remain married to designer Tony Walton for another six years.

She speaks warmly about Audrey Hepburn, who became a close friend of hers, and says that Blake Edwards adored her, too:

Julie:  She might have been my competition!

She speaks about the memorable party sequence and says that Blake:

Julie: Cast his friends and everyone he knew.

After praising the contribution of Hubert de Givenchy’s wardrobe, Julie announces:

Julie: When you’ve got Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, I don’t think anyone for a second believed that this was a heavy hooker, for God’s sake.

This is true, the screenplay that George Axelrod loosely adapted from Capote’s  novella takes many liberties with the author’s beautifully crafted World War II era story; a much grittier and poignant tale that I recently read again.  Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe cast in the role of Holly, an excellent choice, but she turned down the part because she was advised that playing a woman of questionable repute would not be good for her image.  Milton thinks that had Marilyn played the part instead of Audrey, she would have won an Academy Award.  Also, happily ever after romance lovers, although this harder, colder creature is recognizably Holly, and the writer-narrator is both fascinated and smitten with her, they’re just platonic friends.  Holly is from start to finish “a wild thing” — untameable, independent and mysterious.  She also eludes to being bisexual, something else excluded from the script.

Milton wonders if Capote was livid about the boatload of changes made to the source material to make it the crowd-pleaser it’s been for fifty years.  He deems this film is a precursor to another highly successful and completely implausible fairy tale romance, Pretty Woman.  I reason that back in 1961, there was no way that this novella’s darker open-ended tale could have been adapted.  Yet,  the audience at this anniversary screening seemed to be watching in a state of bliss.   What brings out the sap in me about this film is the Academy Award winning Henry Mancini score and the song Moon River with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.   That catchy song has been playing on a loop inside my head for a solid week.  Every time I come across the lyric “my Huckleberry friend” I’m stumped.  What the hell is that?  The Urban Dictionary has two answers:

1. A very special, good friend that’s been in your life for years, typically since youth.

2. A fuck buddy.

Outside the theater, following the screening Milton and I are a safe distance from the adoring masses.  He voices a unique observation about this film that surely would have gotten both of us killed if said inside:

Milton:  Just because something’s classic doesn’t mean it’s good.

Fifty years later, we’d like to suggest the unthinkable – not a remake, but a version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s that is true to Capote’s original novella.  Todd Haynes, if you’re wondering what to work on next, how about giving this a try?

Source material.

Milton and I noticed that the one character that perfectly made the transition from novella to screen was Holly’s “poor slob without a name” cat played by Orangey.  He certainly made the most of his close-ups.

Orangey as Cat center frame.