Crapshoots and goggles
Pertinent landscapes remain familiar when pondering wishlist black holes and ticket acquisition during the annual rollout of Sundance. Not that that eases the angst. The plotting of one’s days gets to be quite personal as the sheer volume of screenings, music acts, and special events overwhelm available timeframes. It’s a crapshoot!
Issues range from not wanting to miss the latest from any number of the iconic independent filmmakers who have made the festival the draw it’s become, to, in the obvious case of your humble scribe, a seemingly endless amount of foreign dramatic and documentary films that you just know will never make it to your local Bijou.
Forces akin to the invisible gravitational pulls of dark matter nudge your evolving culture-lust through each section of the online Festival Film Guide. Must-see lists develop pituitary problems. The sense is of walls closing in. Eyes begin to fog. Brain hemispheres glare at each other. Analytics smolder while intuitions yawn in innocence.
Examples run rampant. The artsy biopic "Richard Linklater Dream is Destiny" screens in the Documentary Premiere category while later the same day "Dazed and Confused with live commentary by Richard Linklater and Jason Reitman" celebrates Linklater’s seminal film with a twist.
Sitting among those lucky enough to be in the theater and flaunting microphones with which to wax philosophically and no doubt hilariously while the mid-’70s kegger classic "Dazed and Confused" follows our adolescent protagonists on their last day of school will be two of our greatest filmmakers. Insider commentary in real-time, what a concept!
Word is that "Becoming Mike Nichols," a conversational-style documentary dealing with the brilliant career of Mike Nichols from his stint reinventing stand-up with Elaine May to directing his first two feature films, "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," and "The Graduate," will have its world premiere at the festival.
All I know is that it’s a single screening and that even if I somehow became aware of where and when it was taking place, gaining access to the theater would still be the longest of shots. I mean even without its covert profile, it’s going to be one of the hottest tix in town. From the first moment I encountered the art of "Nichols and May," my concept of "hipness" had to be modified upward.
As has become its modus operandi, the Sundance ASCAP Music Café leaves me further in the dust each year as far as name recognition of the featured acts. Throughout the years, however, that’s really never been a problem. Many of my post-festival favorites usually came from my now-expanding list of the unknown.
Kelly Joe Phelps, Joseph Arthur, Old 97s, Jill Sobule, Buddy Miller, Nellie McKay, Mary Gauthier, St. Vincent, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, and The Low Anthem I first came upon at Music Café. There was a time when I referred to it as "the jewel" of the festival. I’m sure that to many, it still is. I just don’t seem to get there as often anymore.
The New Frontier category historically blows minds. At least mine. Staring becomes an art form. "Post-gawk" you might call it. With films, performances, art, and virtual reality exhibits, these artists stretch the fabric, as it were. They’ll no doubt once again have their way with my senses, or lack thereof, this time around.
I barely came back to earth from one VR trip that began in Nan Chalat Noaker’s office at The Park Record building a few weeks back. Notwithstanding that virtual reality has always been a technology in which becoming fully mesmerized is the point, this current crop of creators are pushing the experience almost to the point of complete suspension of disbelief.
You’re interacting with a fully tricked-out environment and although a far-away lobe of your brain is trying to convince you that to the outside world your actions look rather comical, you couldn’t care less. There remains much to be done. You couldn’t possibly leave now. You’re just getting the hang of it.
It’s all about the goggles and the goggles are all about you. No one else could possibly pull off the necessary movements required to negotiate such an environment. Right around that corner could possibly be the path to "Becoming Mike Nichols." You were "called" to be here.
Of course, as time goes on, ignoring that voice from the far-away lobe gets more and more difficult. Especially when it begins shouting and you can’t help but notice that something is shaking you and trying to rip off the goggles. They just don’t get it!
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.
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