Sunday, June 11, 2006


Ok... totally just saw Kevin Corrigan crossing the street on my way back from taking my sister to the train. Should have let him cross in front of me, got flustered for some reason... Oh, Kevin.

Trying to figure out where and when the winning films are playing. Perhaps Kevin is going to see one of them?

I will not use art to sit next to Kevin Corrigan. I will not use art to sit next to Kevin Corrigan. I will not use art to sit next to Kevin Corrigan.

Art is sacred. Art is fun, art is best when it's one-on-one.

Slow down, Columbus, I tell myself.

Well, bye bye Newport, for now. You make me feel like Grace Kelly circa "High Society," one of my favorite movies of all time, in my convertible and scarf. Of course I enjoy more cheeseburgers and I am not driving on a sound stage.

I may post more tonight when I get home - I have plenty of notes on other films and whatnot that I'd love to include. Either way there will be something this coming Wednesday in the Mercury about the times we've had together, fair Newport. Maybe I'll write about my boys, Kevin and Horatio... not that I had a real conversation with either of them. But a girl can dream.

My boyfriend and perhaps bone-in ribeyes are waiting for me at home and I haven't seen him in sometime. And if I don't sign off now, the sun and the leaving here are going to prompt me to start plaintively quoting Brian Wilson, from "Pet Sounds."
Living the chaw-coh-lott lifestyle

The closing night party at Belcourt Castle hummed among the antiques and chandeliers. I had to change my outfit about six times before my sister and I ventured out because I’ve probably gained mucho pounds this week, enjoying much of the delicious food Newport has to offer. And if I don’t reel myself in right now this entry will turn into a chronicle of sumptuous menus instead of an account of things film-related. (Though I will tell you my breakfast order for tomorrow morning is for the stuffed French toast).

Tonight I spied the lovely Sarah Clarke who played Nina Myers on the first season of “24” and was killed off because she was a mole. She is just as pretty in real life and maybe a little less deadly, but who knows? My sister said to me, “Look behind you – why does that woman look familiar?”

“Oh,” I said. “Because she looks like that woman who played Nina on ‘24’.” Little did I know until Jim Gillis pointed it out to me that she of course did play the diabolical Nina. Diabolical, but hot, hot, hot, hot stuff. Tiny, beautiful.

Then I spied Kevin Corrigan. Now, I think “Grounded for Life” is just a great show. But my favorite thing about it is Uncle Eddie, played by Kevin Corrigan. (Wait – I must admit I adore it when Lily screams her teenage banshee scream, as well). But I love Uncle Eddie and his male-slutty ways so much that my best friend Wil and I find ourselves quoting him flagrantly.

“You can’t just sell the chocolate,” he says on one episode where the kids have to peddle candy bars to benefit their Catholic school. “You have to sell the chocolate [pronounced ‘Chaw-coh-lott’] lifestyle.” He is just as handsome, alluring and delightfully odd in real life as he is on the show. And that voice. Mmm-hmm. He is in the film that played tonight, “Champions.” It seems most people remember him from “Goodfellas” and the whole sauce-stirring situation. Apparently he had no facial hair at the time and they had to glue some on or something, if I heard right this evening.

He was so pleasant. I wanted to talk to him more but the whole party was strong-armed out of the place. So much so that other partygoers were complaining on their way out. I believe I saw a young woman smash a martini glass into the gravel on the outskirts of the castle. I know we tried to grab a drink for last call but snoozed and lost, which was just as well, I suppose. Though I would have loved to have jammed Kevin Corrigan, Jim Gillis, Janine Weisman (my charming editor) and her husband Larry into the back of my convertible to go grab a drink somewhere else. Instead, though, my sister and I had one at Mudville, which was good too. Still, I don’t think anyone was ready for the party to end. But the men in the maroon polo shirts delivered unto us the verdict, at 12:36 AM, and the dudes must abide.

Sometimes one must live the chaw-coh-lott lifestyle somewhere else.

PS. The food that I did taste at the party was delish. I especially liked the mini cones with tuna sashimi bits inside. It was like a fried hand roll. And Larry brought Janine over a dessert item that was a marshmallow on a toothpick dipped in chaw-coh-lott and then rolled in some shredded something – coconut or nuts? It looked good.

Ok. The Chaw-coh-lott lifestyle dictates than Jenn Sutkowski needs to be in bed pronto. A bientot.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Short chunks on shorts chunks – it’s the little things

I’ve watched about four rounds of shorts now. Before I came to the festival I reviewed a chunk of adult shorts and a chunk of shorts for non-adult-aged humans. Most I’ve enjoyed.

I figure I’ll offer some details that stand out for me in some of the shorts I’ve viewed since then, the first being a chunk of comedies.

Sean Ascroft’s “The Story of Bubbleboy”: The narrator sounds like the voice in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, reading Dr. Seuss and the film looks like it is conceived and shot by Edward Gorey. It is fun, dark and shot beautifully. What I don’t like is that, of course, Bubbleboy is saved at the end by a lovely young woman – an “angel,” the narrator gushes. It’s just such a typical thing that irks me. What about her life? And what, exactly, is she going to be able to do to keep him from wearing bubble wrap constantly? Isn’t wearing bubble wrap/wrapping everything one sees in bubble wrap the sign of a larger problem that should be talked about with a therapist instead of just expecting the girlfriend to keep one “sane”? Women are real, dammit, and when you start jamming halos on us, you get in trouble.

Jenny Bicks’ “Gnome”: Very cute – who doesn’t love a drag queen? The drag queens bringing the gnome all over the place and photographing it because they feel bad it does not get to travel is a little too close to “Amélie,” but it works, thematically. Lauren Graham’s buttoned-down Pucci-scarf-wearing empanada-sneaking suburbanite is great, left standing on her huge lawn at the end of the day, wondering. Girl power with fairy godsisters, even if the girls are anatomically boys. Good times.

Jay Rosenblatt’s “I’m Charlie Chaplin”: Is there a cuter child than Rosenblatt’s daughter, Ella, dressed up like Charlie Chaplin for Halloween? I don’t think so. What I love is that by the end of the day, little Ella as Charlie has had so much activity and candy (double-fisting it, at one point, with two different lollipops) that she ends up resembling Ron Jeremy more than Charlie Chaplin.

Ian Gelfand’s “Pitch”: Two damn lucky NYU students really screw up their big chance. Rather, Jason (Jason Fuchs) blows it because he just can’t get over people wronging him on the street, in restaurants, etc. It’s funny, but hard to watch because of his inability to let things go. There are touches of Woody Allen in the writing, delivery and talking to the camera, interview-style. Charming and twenty-year-old Jason Fuchs is at the screening for a Q & A and I swear he’s related to a Fuchs with whom I attended grade school. He doesn’t think he has a Brian in the family, though, but he promises to ask his dad.

Scott Calonico’s “Safety First”: Five minute film about two crazy, irritating characters who can’t seem to drive the hell out of a parking lot. Irritating, yes, but funny, weird, yes, irritating. Funny. I can’t really decide how I feel about this one. Though I do like the fact that they cannot even get through a knock-knock joke! Perhaps it is all attributed to the Bush/Cheney sticker in the back window of the car, the filmmaker seems to suggest.

Alam Raja’s “It’s Cool To Be Bad”: Hmm. I’m not sure about this one either! I think the filmmaker might really think it is supercooler than anything else to be bad – lots of drugs, random sex and the diseases incurred therein. Cool! I guess those can be good times, being bad is fun, etc. Perhaps it is the persistent superficiality I find boring, MTV editing and all. I guess, though, if you are honest about your disinterest in venturing below the surface, well, rock on. It’s funny though, because the main character makes this whole stink about Britney Spears and how she is obviously not a virgin but how she is teaching young girls to save themselves (how dare she?) under false pretenses and yet he buys/eats 20 kilograms of chicken under false pretenses just to get into some pants. I feel like the main character may be the real 20 kilograms of chicken.

The short films about relationships are all quite good and original:

Andrew Blubaugh’s “Hello, Thanks”: Comedic film based on Blubaugh’s experience with meeting people through personal ads. The way he points his toes, claw-like, when he puts his legs over one of the guys is for some reason, quite funny. Like: Murphy bed, painting on wood with tape to make a tree that will make him sexually attractive to someone else, “GWM, scruffy,” “maybe I just like words more than I like people.”

Matthew Lessner’s “Darling Darling”: I think it is (thematically) a fantastical (and hysterical) account of how odd it is, as a teenager, to meet the girlfriend’s father for the first time. Michael Cera (who plays George Michael on “Arrested Development”) as Harold experiences an odder meeting than most could think up – the girl’s father literally has a horse head, shredded newspaper and helium balloons fly all over the windy kitchen as the horse-headed father serves Harold “fresh Kool-aid” from a giant skull and plays guitar for him, gyrating in his face, while standing on the couch. Among other things. I like the song “She Comes in Colors” by Love.

Alex Rose’s “Call It Fiction”: Stop motion shots of the main character while he writes a personal essay for graduate school. Great cast, cute little boy, strings of interesting male and female characters in and out of the little asthmatic boy’s divorced parents lives/beds. Apparently Rose is at the screening but leaves right after his own film screens so no Q & A for us, lowly audience members!

Gwyneth Paltrow and Mary Wigmore’s “Dealbreaker”: All of the men Fran dates end up doing something really annoying, weird, or gross, marking the end of the honeymoon period and hence, the relationship. “I love jeans that are shorts,” one says, cheerfully, caressing the shorts’ legs. Another talks baby talk, another sings opera, one writes her a terrible poem/song, another snaps at the waiter and on and on. We wonder what the current guy’s thing will be? How about he takes a crap while she’s relaxing in the tub? But that’s not all. He doesn’t wipe. But that’s not all. He moves to get into the tub with her and she screams bloody murder. Funny stuff.

David Dean Bottrel’s “Available Men”: Robert, Rob, Stephen and Steve. Robert and Steve are supposed to meet to date. And Rob and Stephen are supposed to meet so that Rob can try to become Stephen’s agent. (I think that's the arrangement). But they get mixed up and the result is tension-filled and hilarious. “Service is key,” “Left me for somebody bigger,” “When it gets hard, and it gets hard sometimes - not all the time” and “Not afraid to roll up his sleeves and really get in there” are tossed about.

Ok. I’d better get myself pretty for Belcourt Mansion so that I can “roll up my sleeves and really get in there.”

Friday, June 09, 2006

Feast or famine

Thanks so much, Sanchez100 for responding to my blog, popping my comments cherry as it were. Yes, I am up for the final two days of the festival (wish it could go on longer, actually). Perhaps we can catch up at the closing night party at the Belcourt Castle tomorrow evening, assuming you’re still in town. I’ll be wearing the red, er, head of hair.

My day was sort of incongruous, but in some way balanced in its extremes.

(Extreme! Breasts blurred to protect the innocent. Danger, Will Robinson – mammary glands).

And now for the seriousness…

Laura Greenfield’s “Thin,” a documentary about an inpatient eating disorder clinic in Florida, elicits a physical, visceral response. My only complaint, really, is that the film is framed with flourishes of manipulative music that seem to say, “We are disturbed. And SO SAD! Oh, all of we Daddy’s little girls gone bad; lost little girls.” Their eyes are already saying the same thing, but for real. Not sappily with strings and melodies reminiscent of a music box containing a ballerina and dirty razorblades used for cutting.

(Brittany, fifteen, one of four young ladies chronicled in "Thin").

Even with the music the film is a deep view into these young women’s tenuous lives. Everyone knows at least one person with an eating disorder and it is incredibly eye opening to be able to see into this world, usually fraught with secrets and lies. Eating disorders are about hiding, one of the therapists at the Renfrew Clinic points out. So as I watch the film, all I want to do is tell these ladies – the patients – how strong I think they all are for being so goddamn open.

I’ll think about these young women for a long time. Shelly, Polly, Brittany and especially Alisa. Alisa is such a positive force in “the community” of Renfrew that it is very hard to watch her later, at home with her children, stuck. The viewer kind of dreads the last part of the film, knowing there will be news of how these ladies are doing.

There are funny moments, too. Shelly’s father actually says he thinks her eating disorder stems from the time she spent in Utah.

“Have you BEEN to Utah?” he asks the therapist. He goes on to say how different Utah is. I expect him to talk about Mormons or the anal restriction of alcohol consumption. (“Anal constriction.” Huh).

“Everybody eats vegetables,” he says, of Utah. “They don’t eat good food. They walk their little dogs.” Wow, right? Shelly’s problem couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that her father put her in the hospital to move her feeding tube (the film doesn’t cover why she needs one) from her nose to the less visible, less upsetting (to him) stomach area, without her consent. So of course she begins to purge through the tube.

The most amazing part of the film, I think, is at the end when the young women are all concerned about Brittany, fifteen, who has to leave because her insurance is running out. She will most certainly lapse back into restricting her meals and purging, having started her eating disorder at age eight and coming from a mother who very clearly has an eating disorder as well (she and her mother would play “chew and spit,” going through bags and bags of candy). The other young women in the group try to get through to Brittany, explaining what they would give to have gone through recovery at that early age. They would have enjoyed their lives, they say. They would remember things other than bringing their own food to Thanksgiving dinners and counting calories and the like. And Brittany says she wishes they would let her die. It’s heavy.

Because these women’s problem is enabled by secrecy and lies, full disclosure is necessary for treatment to work. One of the therapists tells Shelly that when she starts to assert herself in the world and be authentic the symptoms (i.e. the anorexia/bulimia) will probably wane. It is fascinating, and good advice, I think, for anyone. B-E A-U-T-H-E-N-T-I-C, Be Authentic, Be-e Authentic.

Must be time to go to bed if I’m showing my eighth-grade cheerleading colors. Yikes.

Not about the film festival, but: our bed and breakfast was supposed to have wireless Internet access. It didn’t. And the young woman working there this morning seemed terribly put out by the whole shebang and my need to “do my work.” (“But I’ve got homework to do.” “That’s ok, son, you can do it on the boat!”) So we switched B & B’s, and as I write this to you, I am, no kidding, eating a chocolate-covered strawberry and feeling luxurious, resting up for more films tomorrow and of course that hot closing night party.

Following is a brief photo essay of the events…

Me at the old place, trying to get on the Internet to deliver the chocolate-coated film festival goodness to you:

Me at the new place, luxuriating before a nice, strong airport signal, delivering the chocolate-coated strawberry goodness to my gullet:

And now, good night fair readers:

PS. Tucker’s Bistro? You kidding me? How freaking good is that place (not to mention the Am-Bi-Freakin’-Ance)? Asparagus salad, shrimp nachos (Thai seasoning), medium rare sirloin, Cakebread Chardonnay, fallen lava cake, homemade Bailey’s. Again – YOU KIDDING ME?
Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
My brief moment with Mr. Sanz uncomfortably prolonged by some man.

The Kodak Filmmakers’ Party at the Sky Bar at the Clarke Cooke House has a very long name for a mediocre time. The music was just fine – classic rock songs, disco, etc. – but was basically the play list from my local classic rock station. (Even though the DJ seemed like a “really nice guy,” “concerned with the crowd,” my sister pointed out).

I suppose I should hold the party in some esteem higher than that last paragraph does, since I am obviously grumpy and hung over from the free-flowing white wine – the sign of a pretty good party (even if everyone’s favorite waiter would ask if we needed anything and then walk away before we could say “yes”). Oh, and there were free t-shirts too but I didn’t get my mitts on one. I didn’t really try.

Until the young woman in the red top and beads started shaking what God gave her (for the SNL table, my sister pointed out) and everybody got good and liquored up, the liveliest thing at the party were the blinking red light thingers placed on the tables amongst red leis. And then the young lady began to wiggle HER blinking red light thingers, if you catch my drift.

“What makes one put the flashing light thing on one’s person?” we wondered. Only a handful was wearing these lights. The cleavage and the love handle were noteworthy places to wear said lights.

Once again, this year, I have to say, it makes me angry that the music plays so loud that humans coming to experience art cannot carry on a decent conversation. We sit in the dark theaters all day, quiet, and then must yell above the din of our Rice Crispies, as it were, when we come in contact with other viewers/participants.

I chatted with both my pal (may I call you “pal”?) Jim Gillis (of The Newport Daily News) and assistant programming director Cullen Gallagher (and swell guy, as far as I can tell) last night and pretty much gave up after. How can one yell “ART CHANGED MY LIFE AND I SAT IN DARKENED THEATERS AFTER MY MOTHER DIED IT CHANGED MAY LIFE I LOVE COMING TO THE FILM FESTIVAL IT REALLY REMINDS ME HOW IMPORTANT ART IS AND IS SO INSPIRING” set to a much too loud soundtrack of “Copacabana”? I guess at least the young booty dancer was happy – and that’s whom we’re really trying to please, isn’t it?

Of course, I am a dewy-eyed daft film lover thinking everyone who makes a film or writes about film or just gets jazzed by art wants to talk to likeminded individuals, but my sister pointed out that often it comes down to the fact that at the end of the day, most people are asking themselves, “How much can I drink and will I get laid?”

The white wine served me relatively well and I talked to Horatio Sanz. Briefly. I had plenty of things to say to him but I felt he had already been bombarded with scads of “here’s why you should be annoyed by everyone else in the room but me” speak. So I went for a picture instead, which was prolonged uncomfortably by a well-meaning, if technologically inept partygoer.

I wanted to slip in and slip out – taking the picture myself, as we whippersnappers are wont to do. But the guy at the adjacent table wouldn’t have that.

Picture I took where my teeth jam below my whitened lower lip:

GUY: “Let me take one of you!”

ME: You don’t have to do that – I don’t want to hold him up.

GUY: No, let me.

ME (to Horatio): Is that ok?


We stood there while the guy tried to take the picture. I coached him through several, which didn’t happen, but he thought they did, grinning from ear to ear each time.

ME: You have to hold down the button until the flash goes off.

He “took” one more, not holding down the button long enough.

ME (politely, but louder): You have to HOLD DOWN the button until the FLASH GOES OFF.

He held down the button until, and only until the flash went off.

Picture where I look like Buddha and Renee Zellweger’s lovechild:

ME (looking at picture): Aye aye aye.

HORATIO: Let me take one.

ME: Ok, thanks.

Horatio takes the picture:

ME: That looks good. Thanks a lot. Have a good night. Big fan.

The whole time near Horatio I wanted to start singing “Christmas Time Is Here” and simultaneously jump on him and yell, with a spitty lisp, “RICK!!!!” like Amy Poehler in the sketch where he has a mullet. But I kept my composure and left the verbal farts to the others.
Cheers for taking the high, er, low road – which is it?

“Live Free or Die” is a good, funny film. Not necessarily as AWESOME as it’s been touted, but good. Some might even call it “a romp,” if some are so inclined. It’s certainly easier to experience a film to be “a romp” when the filmmakers are present at the screening. It makes for a more receptive crowd. The film is, though – make no mistakes – worth the reception.

The biggest nutty treat in “Live Free or Die” is the actor Paul Schneider, playing the rather slow, hair-flipping (and well-meaning) Lagrand. Schneider also appears in “All the Real Girls,” which I’ve yet to see but am pretty sure I will, a Schneider kick certainly in order after “Live Free or Die.”

While I did love Schneider so much, props must be given (and hard) to the hardware store guy’s character, who throws the C-word around so flagrantly when he finds his porno stash has been looted (“Vintage sh--!”) that it is just ridiculously comical.

According to writers/directors Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin during the Q & A after the screening, an alternate ending for “Live Free or Die” was shot. And damn am I glad they chose the one they did. I don’t want to spoil anything, of course.

During the Q & A the writers explained, when questioned, that they chose New Hampshire because it, like the main character John Rudgate, has “an inferiority complex,” but is “trying really hard all the time.” An “inept state.”

“Be careful,” a man in the audience warned. “I’m a native.”

One lady in the audience – bless her heart – had no idea who Zooey Deschanel or Michael Rapaport were (or the other well-known actors). She probably also did not know that Kavet and Robin wrote for “Seinfeld.” She asked if the filmmakers trolled college campuses for actors, as if these guys suck so bad they couldn’t possibly have a real casting director. To be fair, her tone did not suggest condescension. It was just kind of a cringe-worthy moment. To Kavet and Robin’s credit, they were very gracious.

“What do you have to do to get it onto [inaudible] or PBS?” the same lady asked.

“I don’t know,” Kavet answered.

Some behind the scenes junk revealed by the Q & A:

The character John Rudgate was inspired by a guy who sold speakers out of a van and the filmmakers wondered what else he did with his life. Glad they pondered it.

During the beginning/final mini-mart/gas station scene are real New Hampshire police! Real police giving it their all and driving in, wildly, doing stunts crazier than anyone else in the film! Takin’ names. (Well, more than takin’ names). And it must have freaked out the assistant director during filming because he was so concerned with safety that he would not allow people onto roofs if they looked less than stellar.

The man who owned the gas station was also apparently a total annoyance while filming. But when those real police jammed their way in there, Mr. Owner Man had instant respect for the filmmakers and changed his tune, leaping to shake their hands.

I’ll shake ‘em too. Hopefully they’re not covered in raw sewage like John “Rugged” Rudgate (see it, enjoy, maybe you’ll be blown away, maybe not).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Big sister is watching – eavesdropping, border patrol, the usual

Jacqueline Marque (gal pal photographer extraordinaire) and I enjoy perfect breakfast burritos at that new place Bliss Grocer and Café on Broadway and Bliss (where people still go in and angrily try to get mocha cakes thinking the old bakery is still there). The rest of their menu looks so good we think about going back for lunch and dinner. Highly recommend.

Entertaining conversation abounds before my first screening today. There are teenagers scattered throughout the audibly leaking theater and I wonder if they’ll be shouting to each other for the next hour and a half. (I also wonder if the Opera House won that ebay auction I so angrily lost for that six-sphere hanging swag lamp).

GIRL (to boy in back): You smell mold? Go and get some and look at it under a microscope.

BOY (in response to pre-movie onscreen messages): What are Jujubes?

GIRL: You hear that WATER? Somebody should TELL somebody.

MAN: When I go to Toronto I see seventy films in seven days. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.

LADY: I hope everybody stops talking.

I’m checking out two feature-length (roughly) films this afternoon at the Opera House. Laura Richard’s short “Breach,” playing before “The Other Side,” is a moving personal account of a very pregnant woman struggling to decide whether to cross from Mexico into the United States. The actress’ physicality is such that by the sheer force of her moving those little legs, lurching around with that bursting belly on an American golf course, the viewer becomes committed. Her husband sneaks to meets her but has no papers and is escorted away before the birth.

GIRL: Why they taking that guy away?

“The Other Side” is not quite as successful or evocative as “Breach” – forty-six minutes of landscape and long neighborhood shots of Texas and Mexico, sometimes penetrated by the filmmaker himself, running in and out, bopping, similar to how I’ve seen several art schoolboys dance to They Might Be Giants. His voice, which seems to annoy many people in the audience, accompanies the film throughout, and I have to admit, even though my love for well-meaning art schoolboys is vast, I find myself drifting off.

When filmmaker Bill Brown briefly gives up the microphone to other people, the film comes alive. We learn more in the five minutes that an expert speaks about how the border has been for all intents and purposes moved out of sight, to the desert, and what the authorities consider justified “collateral damage,” than we do during the whole rest of the film.

Bill Brown does have some interesting, quirky, fantastical things to say about the nature of immigration. He describes a house burning right over the border in Mexico and says he can’t help thinking that it knows exactly what it is doing, transforming itself to cross the border. All of the border patrol with a whole bunch of vacuums can’t possibly contain it and send it back where it belongs, he muses. But his interest feels peripheral because it is – he is very obviously on a road trip with a camera.

The film fades out.

BOY: Thank GOD.

LADY (with a strong sigh of relief): Oh, thank GOD. I reviewed [inaudible] and I can’t believe they got through the whole thing after hearing his annoying voice for more than [inaudible].

Damn. Poor filmmaker Bill Brown! Isn’t his obvious influence by Ira Glass and soft-palate lisp worth some endearment? Didn’t the people see? He bounced for us! Though, I suppose in a film about immigration no amount of bouncing can make up for a pervasive dryness not caused by the deserts filmed.

We trudge out of the theater and I try to nudge past them so I don’t miss too much of the beginning of “51 Birch Street” playing upstairs.

GIRL (pulling a Parliament out of her bomber jacket): The first one was good but that one just SUCKED.
Late night ramble: On 6/6/06, “Quinceañera” taught us some sh---

Well, since it was, up until about forty minutes ago, allegedly the day of the devil (6/6/06), I thought the title of my first blog entry ought reflect that. And what better way than with a fragmented, bastardized quote from a Morphine song (“On six-six-sixty-six, I was little I didn’t know sh—“). Here we are, in New England, and Mark Sandman, front man of that incredible Boston band Morphine died onstage in the nineties. (Tenuous connections, but it feels appropriate at this hour). They were a band that seemingly came together in a musical epiphany, with the hand of God pointing at them. “You will make this music for the people,” God may have been thinking. Assuming that’s how God works.

Being the devil’s day and all (even though scholars have suggested the real devil’s number is “616,” merely mistranslated over all of these years), I’ve been expecting something somewhat spiritual or at least oddly synchronous, to be in the air for the start of this Newport International Film Festival. When art, earnestness and kismet come together, well, miracles are possible. In ‘yo face, Satan!

(I’ll tell you about the miracles in a moment – forgive me for jumping around. It is late and I was just at the opening night reception at the Colony House where the fruity tequila drinks flowed freely and the “band” played loud, well, fruity music. But I digress, fair reader).

Oh, yeah - and the party ended long before the ice sculpture melted but right around the time I blinded the bartender as I took a picture of it:

So, miracles. I don't know whether programming director David Nugent and the NIFF powers that be had in mind that it would be 6/6/06 when they decided to run “Quinceañera” as the opening night film. Perhaps its Christian themes would bolster against the frightening number of the date. More likely is that they just had to show it – it’s that good.

Earlier this evening the packed house at the Jane Pickens watched the wonderful “Quinceañera,” a film based in Echo Park, California, about a Latino community being infiltrated (among other things) by what hardworking real estate agents refer to as “an up and coming community.” Basically, white people are buying up the neighborhood for big bucks and cooking their bland cauliflower soups in their expensive Le Creuset pots (in “flame”) while old men selling the best soup you could ever taste are being evicted in the holy name of gentrification. It is interesting to see the process from the other side.

“Quinceañera” refers to a girl’s coming-of-age party, for her fifteenth birthday. It is a ritual wherein the young Latina lady becomes a woman (and if she can help it, be ushered into womanhood by a Hummer limousine). There are fancy dresses, blooming roses and waltzing. When the adults aren’t watching (or are drunk) there is wild booty dancing, a limousine with a stripper’s pole inside and well, other things that you’ll just have to enjoy once the film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Virginal Magdalena, the main character, gets pregnant. It is a rare case, but scientifically explainable. Her father, though, a pastor, is much more comfortable believing it a miracle. Magdalena lives with her uncle Tomas (probably the most touching character in the film), as does her cousin Carlos, presumably disowned by his immediate family. Their relationship develops through hardship, and as a testament to the filmmakers, not sappily.

The characters are complex and the acting real. Some of the actors are non-actors, bringing to the film successful neo-realism similar to that of Cassavetes. Some of the scenes are ad-libbed, since the writers weren’t sure how these fifteen-year-old girls in Echo Park would normally converse. It makes these scenes ring true.

The writers of “Quinceañera” answered questions after the screening. One of them explained (answering the last question of the night) that it was miraculous that this film came about because of having “the right people, at the right place, at the right time.” What better way to start a weeklong festival of pieces of art on celluloid (and video, like this film) by ardent individuals and groups? (Again, take that, Satan!)

Also after the screening the women swooned when handsome Jesse Garcia, who plays Carlos, graced the stage. When asked if in real life he has the tattoos his character sports in the film he answered, “maybe.” The women tittered. He revealed the back of this neck which doesn’t have his character’s “213” tattoo.

One woman even told Jesse Garcia, instead of asking a question, that he is better looking in real life than in the movie. The activity onstage threatened to turn into a strip tease when he provocatively lifted his shirt to reveal that the “TRAVIESO” tattoo on his character’s stomach is also faux. "Oh well," the ladies collectively sighed. Still, I think the ladies appreciated that Jesse is a little bit of a troublemaker, as his character's tattoo suggests, translated.

More tomorrow. Mwah. The rain is coming down and it’s time for everyone in Newport to sleep well.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Free Buddy
A film about politics that is actually 'fair and balanced'

Long-serving mayor. Ex-Providence Mayor Vincent A. 'Buddy' Cianci Jr. enjoys the fruits of the city's renaissance he engineered in Waterplace Park in this January 1997 photo. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY CIANCI ARCHIVES

A Big Orange Films Production
Produced, written and directed by Cherry Arnold
86 min.
Fri., 6-9, 4:30 p.m. Jane Pickens
Sat., 6-10, 1 p.m., Newport Art Museum


Filmmaker Cherry Arnold grew up three doors down from ex-Providence Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr. But she knows a universal story when she sees one, and tells it with humor and focus in the award-winning documentary film "Buddy," narrated by James Woods.

Those who only know Buddy Cianci as the name of the junior high school in "Family Guy" might question the entertainment potential of a film chronicling a politician's rise to power and imminent demise. It quickly becomes clear, though, in the viewing of "Buddy," that Arnold's keen artistic and journalistic instincts coupled with Cianci's lightning-quick wit and tendency to attract a scandal create a film that is riveting, educational and funny.

Most Rhode Islanders either love or hate Cianci. The response Arnold has gotten to the film, however, speaks to her ability to keep neutral, an all-important tenet of great (and real) documentary filmmaking. She does not give viewers a comfortably judgmental place to stand and was surprised they took it so well.

"I was really braced to have the extreme ends of both sides - the people that love him, the people that hate him - trash the film for their various reasons, but even those people actually liked the movie," Arnold said.

Those who don't know Cianci will find this a classic story, but distinct because he has always been so unmistakably and singularly himself. Even though Cianci dismisses the notion that he resembles a Shakespearean figure, the viewer senses the parallel. Shakespeare resonated with Arnold in college and it shows in the film, though never ham-fistedly. She demonstrates that there is more to Cianci's story than the falling of a figure of national myth or the decay of the body politic.

"It's also this universal story where everyone's flawed to a certain degree and people really love to see someone down and then come back," Arnold explained. "In a lot of ways he's sort of the proverbial underdog."

The rising underdog theme is always interesting to watch and vindicating. "Buddy" exhibits it very well. It shows a man who slapped Providence's inferiority complex into a renaissance, a man who sheared "the Armpit of New England," and didn't just spritz perfume on the spot. He made it happen like a warlock: art museums, a new convention center, restaurants - which he rattles off onscreen with ardor and alacrity, illustrating his deep love for this city he had "as his mistress," as one commentator notes.

Perhaps the magic Buddy seemed to wield is what made the FBI investigate him in the first place, leading to his April 2001 indictment on federal criminal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering and mail fraud. (Cianci was convicted of a single count of conspiracy and is serving a five-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, N.J. He is scheduled for release in December 2007.)

Perhaps it was Providence's notorious and lengthy pas-de-deux with machine politics. Perhaps the feds were out to get him. Arnold subtly shows the irony of Cianci's extremes, down to his 1974 campaign, pinning him as "The Anti-Corruption Candidate."

This was a difficult film to make, even after Arnold finally convinced Cianci to agree to let her follow him during his last year as mayor. Arnold said she was eventually "the last man standing" of the press: "He got really burned by Time Magazine. He thought they were doing some great article in the middle of the trial. I was like, 'Oh my God, how could you be so dumb?' And sure enough they just lampoon him like every other national media entity that was covering him during the trial."

Various factors must have prompted Cianci to allow in Arnold, and no one else, and it is lucky for viewers. She was probably a calming presence among the craziness. An on-again off-again yoga instructor, Arnold was sure to refuel her energy during the film, which may explain why "Buddy" constantly keeps its focus and the viewer's interest.

"Just to be able to leave the office and go connect with a group of people was so great, it was so helpful," Arnold said of her yoga instruction. "It just gave me so much energy, because I was just alone in this office for three years, except working with my editors. It's tough to spend that much time by yourself, doing battle with this movie."

Damn glad she did.

This story originally appeared in Mercury on Oct. 19, 2005.