Saturday, April 30, 2011

Like You Were There: Ebertfest 2011 (Day Three) (JB's Take)

JB is taking over Like You Were There this week, as he reports daily from Champaign, Illinois, while attending Roger Ebert's annual film festival, Ebertfest.

On the advice of my therapist, I will no longer comment on the line...

Day Three began with 45365, an ambitious and interesting documentary on a small Ohio town. Filmmakers (and brothers) Turner and Bill Ross eschew voice-over narration and linear narrative to make a film more akin to a poem or, as attendee Wendy put it, a piece of folk music. While I thought it was very good (the editing is exemplary-- whittled down from 500 hours of raw footage), I clearly did not enjoy it as much as the rest of the crowd. I thought the second half was weaker than the first half. I thought they had captured some incredible moments, but the finished film is less than a sum of its parts. I realize I am in the minority on this. I am the Ohio documentary heretic.

The brothers were entertaining guests.  They love to shoot, and it shows.

I had great expectations for Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles. I am stunned that this film was not given a wider release; it is a very commercial film. The story of Orson Welles’s famous modern dress Julius Caesar, the show that solidified his reputation as a theatrical genius, is told through the eyes of a fictionalized teen actor (Zac Efron). The film discusses the nature of creativity, the nature of artistic temperament, and the nature of a young Orson Welles. Christian McKay not only impersonates Welles, but somehow channels his spirit as well. Every scene featuring McKay is a standout, especially a monologue that equates degrees of great acting with degrees of self loathing. The period detail of Broadway in the thirties is painstakingly recreated in a film that never set foot in the United States, much less New York. Highly recommended.

Ignatiy Vishnevestsky, the gift that keeps on giving, moderated a very informative Q&A with Linklater. He started the ball rolling by mentioning that this was the third time he had seen the film. The woman sitting next to me actually hissed under her breath, “It’s not about YOU.”

Last up was an improbable choice, Norman Jewison’s Only You. I cannot for the life of me understand why Ebert picked this film to represent Jewison’s work. It is, at best, pleasant. Bonnie Hunt steals the show. Sven Nyquist photographs Italy beautifully. If one is going to invite Norman Jewison to the party, and one wishes to show a romantic comedy, one should not forget that Jewison directed Moonstruck.

The moderators of the panel did not forget; they spent time on Moonstruck and all the other, better films that Jewison has made in his long career. I respect Norman Jewison’s body of work, but his talk was a bit of a snooze. A director should know the titles of his own films better than the audience. Can we make that a rule?

NOTE TO AUDIENCE MEMBERS DURING ALL Q&A’s: A question is something you do not know the answer to!

Ebertfest: Day One Recap

Ebertfest: Day Two Recap 

Ebertfest: Day Four Recap

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