Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Clinton Apologizes for Assassi... | Keith Gessen Reviews His Audie... »

Friday, May 23, 2008

Opening Night Postmortem

posted by on May 23 at 14:46 PM

Ah, opening night. The stress! The gaping! The radical once-a-year fashion statements! Personal favorite moment: Artistic Director Carl Spence’s adorable 7-month-old baby, posing on the red carpet. (Sorry, I didn’t have a camera.) Personal low point: Tromping down to the Very Important Tent after being sweet-talked by a publicist (“of course you’re invited to the dinner!”) and then being denied by another publicist at the entrance (“if [publicist’s name withheld] wants to come down here and argue with me, then sure!”). But let’s get to the important stuff:

The Movie.

Battle in Seattle is bad, but not quite as terrible as I thought it would be. As I see it, the problem is this. Stuart Townsend tried to tackle many of the lofty themes of Medium Cool (the problem of journalistic objectivity, the sacred inertia of women and motherhood in an era of political upheaval), but in the most embarrassing possible shorthand.

Medium Cool

In Medium Cool, a photojournalist continually confronts situations—a car crash, protests, poverty and despair—that invite his participation, and he resists. In Battle in Seattle, a dumb blond, status-quo news anchor witnesses a single act of police violence and promptly joins the protesters. Medium Cool has a fairly uncomplicated, late-’60s view of femininity: The main female character is a dirt-poor widow (her husband died in Vietnam) from West Virginia who’s just moved with her young son to the Chicago ghetto; she’s linked firmly to her native land through a green and gold-flushed flashback to a baptism in an Appalachian river. For this naive, almost earth-mother figure, Battle in Seattle substitutes Charlize Theron, makes her pregnant, and has a police officer club her in the stomach for no reason. I guess it’s tricky to reduce any character in 2008 to an icon of idealized womanhood, but I guess you can always resort to pregnancy. Ugh.

Medium Cool was filmed in part at the actual 1968 Democratic Convention protests. Director Haskell Wexler sent an actor, in character, to weave through the protesters, and stitched together his documentary footage with the rest of the fictional storyline. (Best meta line ever: “Watch out, Haskell, it’s real!”) Battle in Seattle didn’t have that option (foresight?), but despite some skillful editing, there’s an obvious break whenever archival video of the protests shifts to the glossy 35 mm reenactments. They should have used video in the protest scenes to make it blend better.

Also, the dialogue is ridiculous. And there are two apostrophes missing from the closing crawl text. (Got that, Jonas-the-marketing-guy? Take that to the top.)

All that said, this was one of SIFF’s better opening-night picks in recent memory. I’d rank it ahead of The Illusionist, and although it’s certainly a worse movie than Son of Rambow, the local angle gives it massive bonus points. Me and You and Everyone We Know remains the high-water mark.

The Party:

There was no free booze at the regular gala party, eliminating the reason for there to even be a gala party, and even in the VIP tent, one had to beg for extra drink tickets from passing SIFF employees or find a super-VIP to wield their magic wristband. It was a sad scene. Here’s one reader’s report from the regular gala:

Wtf was SIFF thinking charging seven bucks for a drink? I don’t know about everyone else, but as a single mom working two part-time jobs, seven bucks is a lot of cash to throw away on watered down booze. I had a mini-sturgeon on crostini thing (how were they planning on feeding 3,000 people with fish on crackers? I didn’t see Jesus around to multiply the fish, or make free Vitamin water into free wine.) I stayed for 15 minutes, realized my feet hurt in my shoes and wanted to go get some real food. I hope more people rip them apart for this lame and borderline embarrassing event. I don’t want to sound like a malcontent but I thought you should know how much (further) downhill SIFF has gone since last year.

What happened, SIFF? Why no free booze? Did you lose a liquor sponsorship or something?


Oh, rad. I didn’t realize Northwest Film Forum was screening Medium Cool again this summer. You’ll be able to see it Friday-Sunday, August 22-24. (Spectacular timing, NWFF, just before this year’s Democratic National Convention and the opening of Battle.)

RSS icon Comments


Nothing I have ever read about SIFF has made me want to go. The part that I can't wrap my head around is why somebody can have such a high opinion of stars that they go through all that crap to rub elbows with them, yet complain that the scene is inegalitarian.

Posted by elenchos | May 23, 2008 3:16 PM

I agree with you, Annie. The movie was bad, but not nearly as bad as I expected. It had obvious, gaping flaws that still gnaw at me, but I came out feeling like I'd enjoyed myself and not wasted my time entirely. I think Townshend needed someone else to write the script for him.

It was still neat seeing places I see normally on the screen. Although it was very difficult not to point and say "I know that place! I've been there!" That would have been way gauche.

Posted by Abby | May 23, 2008 3:21 PM

irony: the rich vip folk can afford drinks at $5 a pop, the poor folk who layed down some $50 for the film, a film mind you touting a populist message, don't have the left over cash for a single drink.

Posted by apttitle | May 23, 2008 3:31 PM

C'mon people. Seriously. You are missing two very key points:
1. SIFF is a non-profit. Why should they buy you drinks? Shouldn't you buy the staff a drink on opening night?
2. While the film was far from truly great, I was gratified to see that the Hollywood re-enactment stuck somewhat closely to the truth about what happened during the WTO protests. The police instigated the violence and it was portrayed as such in the film. My favorite part was that there was focus on a police provocateur. These provocateurs were everywhere throughout the WTO protests and were likely the fools who were breaking windows and trashing downtown. Many people theorized that they worked for SPD. None of the organizers knew who they were and no one recognized them. These were not hardcore black bloc radicals - they were likely our own police dept. at work creating a situation to justify their violent response. The film could have easily avoided this issue (as the press did at the time) but it did not. Kudos for that.

Posted by Sarina | May 23, 2008 3:39 PM

Sarina, we all did support this non-profit with some $50 tickets. I feel like I paid for at least one beer with that. Moreover, the fact that Stella had some much presence at the event leads me to believe SIFF would have been giving us a donated item not one they actually paid for. Either that or the folks at SIFF have been bamboozled.

Posted by apttitle | May 23, 2008 3:43 PM

Is anyone else amazed by the sheer heft of the festival program?

Didn't the brother of one of the main characters of the film DIE trying to save the trees?

How many trees died for this festival?...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | May 23, 2008 3:45 PM

Well, if you use the online SIFF guide and watch the trailers there ... a lot less than last year.

I'll have to agree that if there was a sponsor (especially the ones that sell alcohol), you should have expected at least one free drink with your $50 purchase ($45 for SIFF members).

That said, other than Michelle Rodriguez, the main women actors in the film didn't do very well, even though most of the men put in decent performances, and the weakest parts of a film I quite enjoyed were the scenese with Charlize Theron.

Never cast your lover in a film you direct - you won't push her to give you the best performance you can.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 23, 2008 4:13 PM

Every other year there has been free booze provided by the sponsors (last year it seemed as if everything had Bombay Sapphire in it. The red and white wines were also provided from the sponsor gratis.) IF they were going to charge for booze that should have been made known before those of us who don't carry wads of cash around - stood in line to get in. Also, if you are going to charge - provide more than three choices. The food? Well, with food costs at an all-time-high I can't imagine there were many restaurants willing to feed 3000 for free (and the hope of some good publicity.) Maybe SIFF needs a new "gala" format - or at least a new party planner with some more imagination. Y'know someone who can plan a kick-ass party on a non-profit's budget.

Posted by ex-siffer | May 23, 2008 4:24 PM

Thank you, Abby, I've been walking around all day thinking Townshend really needed someone else to write that film. The talk he gave beforehand showed his heart was in the right place and he was deeply sympathetic to the activists' cause. Perhaps he was too close to be critical of how people actually talk as opposed to sounding like they were reciting leaflets to each other. It was bad but it didn't reach Bobby levels of earnestness. And I did smile at the end as they all walked in front of the Cinerama.

Did anyone recognize Joshua "Pacey" Jackson as the anarchist?

Posted by madamecrow | May 23, 2008 6:00 PM

@4 Tin foil much

Honestly if I could, I would get the money I paid for the closing gala back. The movie sucked the place was far two crowed and the lack of free booze was oh so lame. Check out WET's annual auction if you want to now how a real event is put on. Plenty of food, lots of free booze and plenty of room for the guests. Not to mention perhaps the greatest venue Seattle has to offer.

Posted by Giffy | May 23, 2008 7:32 PM

@9: definitely. His heart was in the right place, and it did look good, in my opinion. I enjoyed when they weren't speaking. I really liked the Doctors Without Borders guy, who coincidently had the least dialogue. I think if he'd got someone else to write it (and hopefully make it more coherent and the dialogue suck less), it could have been a good movie. As it stands, I'm just kind of frustrated.

Posted by Abby | May 23, 2008 7:40 PM

oh Somehow I missed that people paid $50 for their ticket. Mine came to me via email somehow. Forget what I said. For $50, there definitely should have been free booze. I'd have been super bummed if I paid $50 and I couldn't drink for free.
Can you link me to info about WET's auction? I can't find anything about it.

Posted by Sarina | May 23, 2008 9:58 PM

@4 SIFF has never had much $$, but as long as I have been attending (over 20 years) at the big parties like opening and closing the drinks have ALWAYS been free. That's why people were so bummed. If they could manage to do it when they were crammed in un-air conditioned offices in the Egyptian why can't they do it now when they have a gazillion more sponsors than they did back then? My guess is that SIFF Cinema is costing them more to run and not turning a profit so they're cutting elsewhere, but that is pure speculation.

Second, if they had announced it beforehand it wouldn't have been as bad; we've have grumbled, but been prepared for it. But it was if they just sprung it on you. I felt a bit better on learning even "VIPs" only got a few drink tickets, now you had to be a pricey VIP before there was unlimited booze.

It's not even like it had to be great booze; I've been at SIFF events where they had cheap stuff and everyone drank up, had a roaring good time, and eventually we had to be shoved out of whatever venue, we were having such great fun. Now it seems so exclusionary...Full Series is no longer truly a full series pass...Platinum passes aren't the top you have to be Platinum Plus...etc etc.

That's why it hurts. We loved the SIFF that seemed to care about the little people. Now it's like they've become Republicans...

Posted by MondoPomo | May 23, 2008 9:59 PM

I know it's probably too early to say, but I agree with MondoPomo@13, SIFF so far is kind of disappointing, from the new format of the website to horrible scheduling of movies to an utter lack of good Asian cinema, I don't know if I'm going to see as many movies this year. I'm sure the $11 a movie price tag is a deterrent too.

Posted by Andy | May 24, 2008 3:14 AM

Three Dollar Bill cinema galas are pretty fun... always free booze and snacks at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival!

Posted by Geofre | May 25, 2008 11:51 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).