Jay Meehan: Opening week
January 27, 2015
As always, time flying when you’re having fun and all, the first half of this year’s Sundance Film Festival passed in a blur. Seven quite interesting films, an eclectic session at Music Café, a bluebird day at Sundance Resort with its lore-rich Screening Room and quintessential watering-hole, the Owl Bar, and some excellent repartee with old and new friends.
Of course, there’s been traffic jams entering Park City on school days but the shuttle busses and their drivers appear to be moving the invading force from venue to venue without too much complaint, the stress of the invasion being no worse than normal, I would guess.
Of the films I’ve seen but have yet to write about, both a riveting documentary and a complex character study have made deep impressions and I would highly recommend them both as filmgoer targets for week two.
Taking them on in reverse order, a modus operandi that, for whatever reason, massages my comfort zone, "The End of the Tour" has stuck to my festival ribs while occupying my right-brain since leaving the theater Saturday morning.
The story of Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky hanging with acclaimed author David Foster Wallace during the waning days of the latter’s 1996 "Infinite Jest" book tour took me prisoner from the outset and continues to hold me for ransom.
Wallace has always been one of those writers whose work I keep close at hand but end up tossing away the bookmark, accessing the prose at random simply by flipping open the covers to whatever pages present themselves. It’s sort of like William Burroughs’ "cut up" technique, but without scissors.
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This approach is especially true when it comes to "Infinite Jest," which I began back in the day with a bookmark but, after tossing it, entered upon a "post-it" phase that kind of got out of hand. I mean if you’re going to mark every page that rocks your world, DFW is not the author with whom to hone the craft.
But, of course, I digress! When I first heard that actor Jason Segal had been cast as Wallace in this film adaptation of Lipsky’s memoir, "Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace," I felt, being the ignorant dolt I am, somewhat betrayed.
Although I’m not much of a TV sitcom guy, I have watched Segal in a few features and was duly impressed. But David Foster Wallace? Come on! This was going to take a retro Brando or Pacino or, at the least, a Johnny Depp or an Ethan Hawke. Well, as is often the case when my presumptuously pedantic side gets on a roll, I (we) ended up with all of that.
Segal is more than equal to the role of the deeply quirky, deeply intellectual, deeply troubled, deeply talented Wallace. Hell, he could have waltzed through the assigned emotions with head shots alone. The cat does more with eyes and facial muscles than your average thespian, I’ll tell you that!
Not to say that Jesse Eisenberg doesn’t take Lipsky out for a walk in the park. In fact, it’s his close interaction with the Wallace character that elicits such spot-on reactions from Segal. Let’s just say that various neuroses are given more than just cameos.
"The End of the Tour" has been picked-up but, if you get the chance, you really ought to experience it at Sundance, don’t you think?
Now to the documentary "Meru." Whew! Now, this is a climbing film for the ages. As Conrad Anker put it when speaking of why the "Shark’s Fin" on Mount Meru had seen so many failed attempts by elite climbing teams over the past 30 years, "This is like Yosemite big wall climbing at altitude in the dead of winter."
Featuring Anker along with two of his climbing buddies, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, plus insightful narration by author Jon Krakauer, "Meru" puts you in harm’s way in dreadful conditions with scant resources and few rational options right out of the chute.
No spoilers here, but just remember that you’re going to get extremely cold and hungry and forsaken up on those pitches before all is said and done. How they possibly could have filmed this extreme adventure is beyond me. Epic stuff!
It’s certainly my new favorite climbing film! You know, one of those that causes you to get out your best Himalayan maps and a magnifying glass when you get home and know that they will live on the dining room table for at least as long as it took Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson to "send" the Dawn Wall.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.