Teri Orr: In and outside the story at Sundance…
I have written by the light of the screen — for years. The big screen — the theater movie screen. In programs and playbills and the back of envelopes. Sometimes I can read my scribbles just enough to piece together how I was feeling while watching. And other times … I find I have written over the same page, multiple times, and there are letters dancing upon letters in different colored ink and with different intensity from the pens I have used.
This year I thought I was prepared. I had collected a stack of tiny notebooks. A red leather-ish Moleskine one I had been given — a bundle of Field Notes booklets with plain brown covers. I wrote in them all. Sometimes all in one direction and then I would turn the notebook upside down and start from the back. Sometimes kinda sideways.
The notes aren’t always to write a mini review of movie — sometimes I want to listen and make notes while directors and actors speak in Q&A sessions — when the lights were up. Those notes are only slightly more legible.
And then there are events where important people speak and I want to capture those words. What Robert Redford said at the Sundance Film Festival’s Utah Women’s Leadership Celebration — that he felt he was at a tipping point in time. He also laughed and said he thought getting an award meant he wouldn’t have to speak … Redford did talk about the person in his life who never gave up on him — his mother. He said he dropped out of school and “got in trouble” and didn’t see much of a future for himself — but his mother always did. “She always thought I would do something good.” And now, he says, we are at moment in time to honor and respect women — “It is time for women’s voices to be heard … time for men to stop talking and start listening.” And the room of mostly women gave him a standing ovation. A dozen Utah women were also honored for their accomplishments — from the first female sheriff of Salt Lake County, to the woman — complete in her dress cowboy hat — whose family sold their property to the Nature Conservancy but allowed Heidi to run her generational family’s 350,000-acre ranch at the base of Canyonlands. We all hooted and hollered for her. I made notes on all that.
Most notes in those tiny books reflect the films. Like “Wildlife,” based on a novel by Richard Ford. It was treated on the screen with the sparseness Ford’s novels are known for. It takes place in 1960 in Montana during a period when a teenage boy’s father is out of work and his mother takes up with a car dealer after his father leaves for six, maybe eight, weeks to fight a wildfire up in the mountains away from the very, very small town they have moved to. It has the spare bones and tight dialogue that allows for a lot of emotions to find their way through. The music might have been Patsy Cline, the couch with the cabbage flower upholstery, the curlers in the mother’s hair are all carefully telling a story too. I find some notes written sideways … The mother says, as she drives her son up into the fire camp to be in the blaze … “I hope your father doesn’t burn up like a piece of bacon.” Then she cuts the engine of the car and lets her son walk outside and hear and smell and feel the force of the fire rapidly burning up everything in its path. The power and fierceness of nature. And you know — somehow in that moment — that woman is gonna leave her pedantic life where she has spent perhaps 20 years building up her husband who has bounced from job to job and avoided bill collectors at each turn. She is gonna find/be/create her own wild life.
I have always loved Shakespeare — I cannot say I have always understood his works — that would be ridiculous — no one on the planet should ever be so presumptuous. But I love the stories within the stories. The plays on words. The morality lecturers delivered as a soliloquy. The intrigue and the romance. The history told in story form. When I saw the film “Ophelia” was on the schedule, I made time in mine to be in the audience. The film is based on a novel by Lisa Klein. In Shakespeare’s version, the tragic, beautiful, slightly drifty, mysterious teenage girl who loves Hamlet kills herself when she thinks he is dead. In this version, you get a sassy outspoken feminist in the Queen’s court who knows all the secrets and who has an entirely different ending to her strong story. There are pieces of dialogue that are Bill Shakespeare’s words but the author has crafted variations on those themes and given them modern lift. “You’re a lady in waiting” a character says to her, “Learn to wait.” The costumes are elegant — even the peasant’s. The cinematography is lush and imaginative. I scribbled on the paper in the dark about a shot of Ophelia floating in the pond face down, and the shot was taken from underwater — a mirror image of what was taking place above. Flowers floating … hair flowing. It was stunning.
For days on end we have lived as a town in a movie. A crazy caper filled with characters who are smart and funny and rude and crude and angry and thoughtful. The scenery has changed from sunny to snowy not quite on cue but close enough. And the storyline — well that continues to be a work in progress for a few more days at least — including this Sunday in the Park…