January 13, 2009
"Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater."
— Roman Polanski
The guy two rows down nudged what must have been a five-gallon bucket of popcorn toward his movie date about the same time she swung her huge jug of soft drink his way. It wasn’t pretty. You could have probably built a replica of the Taos Pueblo from the resultant concoction.
They didn’t exactly exchange glares and the spreading cloud of tension between the two could easily have been breached with a laser operating somewhere in the 1000-nanometer wavelength. That is, if he cut his losses and assumed the blame without further ado.
We were on a trial run to hone our chops for the almost-upon-us Sundance Film Festival and had driven down to the valley to initiate our rather simple logistical scenario. This particular rehearsal mission featured a film screening in Salt Lake followed by one later on in Park City with a meal and a margarita sandwiched in between.
The films in question came straight off the top of our list, of course. It wasn’t like it was all about the stopwatch and racing from one venue to the next as it will be for the horde of film buffs in town next week. Kick-back casual ruled this day.
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Even if "Frost/Nixon" hadn’t been directed by "Opie" and hadn’t provided another showcase for Rebecca Hall’s "gifts" (another having been "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), it proved to be an excellent choice to get the day underway. Talk about two singular personality types. David Frost and Richard Nixon. Where shall I begin?
Frost first emerged as the host of a rather hip for the day boob-tube lampoon on the evolving strangeness of the early ’60s that the BBC imported to the colonies. "That Was The Week That Was," known as TW3 among the cognoscenti, would die a somewhat quick death, but not before Frost’s foot, for better or worse, became lodged in our door.
Nixon, of course, arrived upon the national landscape as host of an early forerunner to the highly popular "Survivor" series. During his run, he was able to vote nearly everyone to the left of J. Edgar Hoover off his island. Word has it that, before retiring to San Clemente, he spent some time in Washington.
Ron Howard’s film, which evolved from stage productions in both London and, later, on Broadway, centers on a series of televised interviews Frost did with Nixon during 1977. Suffice to say it’s a tour de force! Frank Langella nails the often attempted but seldom achieved rhythms of Nixon’s body language and speech patterns. And, of course, there’s Rebecca Hall.
But, I digress! We’re on a mission here and the next stop is just down the street at a Mexican joint known for its top-shelf margaritas and Diego Rivera wall hangings. The former presented, as always, an almost too-wide assortment of Tequila-Grand Marnier-Cointreau combinations to go along with the lime juice and sweet-and-sour.
The fact that you really can’t go wrong no matter which brand of Tequila or liqueur is selected for inclusion in the elixir never seems to speed up the process. No, time must be spent mulling over the usual suspects. These are important distinctions. Only the proper potion will do. Would you rush Dr. Jekyll?
Admittedly, this is a poorly prescribed preparation for the hustle-bustle that is Sundance. Historically, I’ve survived the Festival by racing around town with a case of water bottles and a couple of dozen power bars splayed out across the back seat. Seldom, if ever, is time taken to weigh the merits of a "chili relleno" versus a "mole poblano."
With the next, and last, stop along this celluloid tune-up trail being the Santy Auditorium in Park City, we nod to the Rivera painting as we head out the door and on up Parley’s Canyon. Although Bill Maher’s "Religulous" is also playing down in the valley, it’s a no-brainer that the cachet and ambiance of the "Park City Film Series" is what we’re about.
There’s something special about pulling into the Library an hour or so before showtime and shootin’ the breeze with the volunteers and board members. There’s a special energy moseying about. It’s the closest we’ll ever come to the spring of 1968 when the students took to the streets following the closure of the Parisian cinémathèque. Now, those cats took film seriously.
Not being one overburdened by film-reviewer credentials, I can’t very well speak to the "art" of "Religulous," but it’s got to be the most side-splitting documentary I’ve ever sat through. They should hand out tanks of oxygen at the door so as to aid in the respiratory functions of the film aficionados. Flat-out funny is what it was!
Not that some more traditionally religious sensibilities wouldn’t be offended by Maher’s hilarious opus but, as a study of freedom of speech and a quite healthy sense of disbelief, especially at the time an overtly faith-based bunch is leaving Washington, it’s a welcome addition to the discussion.
As the day faded to black, even with the acknowledgement that it wasn’t much more than an excuse to take in a flick or two, savor a salsa-drenched dish with a margarita, and cloak it as a Sundance precursor, total satisfaction reigned. Cinema will do that. To the barricades!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.