SIFF Opening Night Postmortem
posted by May 23 at 14:46 PMon
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:
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.
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.
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.)