Ebertfest 2011 - Friday

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Every small town is small in its own way. Inspired by Roger Ebert's review of Hoop Dreams, the brothers Turner (Bill and Ross) began documenting everything they could in their home town, Sidney, Ohio, zip code 45365.

We see moments collected over a seven-month period. A guy whose cable isn't working calls a cop, who with infinite patience suggests they call the cable company; later the same - or perhaps another - cop promises the man he's just arrested that he'll send someone by their house to tell his wife what's happened. A couple individually and nervously practice their vows while putting on their wedding clothes. A mother berates her son about the $50 missing from her purse. The high school football team prepares for the season and then the game. There is an election: the local judge records his endorsement tagline for his ads; campaigners go door to door and discuss with residents where to put their posters. A pair of older men discuss what to do about a bunch of bats and then fall to talking about the use of guano for growing marijuana. "You ever try it?" one asks, and then looks at the camera with a grin.

That's actually one of only two moments in the film where anyone seemed conscious of the camera. There is trick-or-treating. A car makes circles in pristine parking lot snow. A young father reads a book about ducks to his toddler. "Daddy duck," she says, pointing. And then, making a connection, snuggles into his arms. "Hi, Daddy." A cop talks about the lack of parenting skills that leads to a cycle of arrests: he's now arresting the children of the 25 to 30-year-old adults he was arresting ten to 15 years ago when he came to town. "For the same crimes," he adds. The brothers culled all these moments out of 500 hours of footage over a year of editing that saw them toss the narrative structure they first thought of and focus instead on the collection of clips Bill Turner assembled into a folder labeled "Things I like".

We never find out who won the game.

In folk music circles there are always arguments about what makes a new song a folk song. One thing is a connection to a specific place and way of life; another is a focus on the lives of others. 45365 is a folk movie.

Unfortunately, unless you can get a Netflix subscription so you can watch it streaming, you can't see this movie commercially: the brothers can't afford the $30,000 they estimate it would take to clear the rights to the music they've captured and used. "It's a black market movie." Even more like folk music, then.

I have a particular discomfort with fiction about real people, historical or living. This extends as far as biopics, and it definitely includes Me and Orson Welles (2008), in which a 17-year-old kid (Zac Efron) gets drafted to play Lucius in Welles' famous 1937 production of Julius Caesar, the moment at which Welles became a star. The Welles in this movie is a tyrannical megalomaniac with a habit of bedding the actresses. How much of this is a fair portrayal is unclear: the movie is based on a novel. In the post-screening panel, the director, Richard Linklater, said that the kid was based on a real person, Arthur Anderson, who was 14 when he appeared in Caesar, and who went on to have a lengthy (and continuing) radio career. He did not, like the kid in the movie, get fired: he played his role for the run of the show.

That's fair enough: the real person's name was not used for the movie. What I find more difficult is the casual way that Sonja (Claire Danes) assumes that Welles has the right to demand a sexual relationship at his convenience (the Welles character has a pregnant wife and is already sleeping with at least a couple of the actresses in the show). Granted, attitudes about sexual harassment were different then, but requiring the favors of his ambitious non-actress employee ("He'll introduce me to David O. Selznick," she explains) makes him much sleazier. Which is fair enough if that's actually true; but not if it's inaccurate. It's the uncertainty that I dislike so much about the use of historical figures in fiction: I feel obliged to go do as much research as the authors did to make sure I remember the facts and not the fantasy.


I have liked so many of the films, both high-profile and lesser lights, that Norman Jewison has made in his varied career - most especially ...And Justice for All and The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, but also Agnes of God, Best Friends, and Moonstruck. Only You, which I saw for the first time tonight, is one I missed. There are many good things in it, most notably Robert Downey's character's intensity and machinations and Bonnie Hunt's character, who gets all the best lines ("If I had this dress, I'd give it to someone," she says, seeing Tomei's prospective mother-in-law's wedding dress). There is only just the slightest hint of stereotyping of Italians in the ending (which I think was unavoidable, as it was needed for bookending; Jewison had been living in - and, he said in the panel afterwards, was in love with - Italy at the time). I guess it's just me, but I hate those oft-repeated scene of everyone on-screen clapping when the lead couple finally come together. This one is mercifully short.

Is Only You a "chick flick" (as offensive as that term is), the panelists asked? Jewison calls it a romantic fantasy that has the kind of innocence that the movies he directed with Doris Day (yes, his career is long enough to include The Thrill of It All and Send Me No Flowers). I think one reason the movie ought to appeal equally to both genders is that once Downey's character appears to grasp hold of the situation the plotting has the twists and turns of a mystery novel.

One of the people I met here this week said that Hollywood should be prohibited from making romantic comedies for ten years until they remember how to do it. There's a lot to be said for this: I'm hard pressed to think of a good romantic comedy produced in the last ten years. Jewison is old enough to remember how the good ones are done; he says we forgive Downey's character his deceptions because we know he's in love with the girl. I think also that the complications that beset Peter as a result of his own muddled attempts to hold onto the best thing that's ever happened to him help us root for him to win out in the end (even though we know this is a Hollywood movie, and he is the star who has to win). The desire for romance and passion, one of the audience members said, is equally true of both males and females in this movie.


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This page contains a single entry by Wendy M. Grossman published on April 30, 2011 6:47 AM.

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