SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL January 20-30, Park City, Utah. Rating: NNNNN
Park City, Utah - The hub of this town is called Main Street, which is ironic. The name conjures up picket fences and soda shops, but Park City lost its innocence a long time ago.
Each night, revellers from both coasts slosh up and down the street's steep incline, looking for where the party at. Last night it was Ludacris performing at Harry O's. Tonight, it's Snoop Dogg . One of these SUVs crawling by has Paris Hilton in it. It's all so sordid.
But then morning comes, the sun lights up the Wasatch mountains, and you find yourself walking through a crisp winter paradise.
The Sundance Film Festival is like that - raunchy one minute, wholesome the next.
Robert Redford spoke on opening night about holding Sundance true to its mission as a "festival of dissent." The buzz documentary so far is Murderball , about an inspiring team of wheelchair athletes. Last night, Daniel Day-Lewis premiered The Ballad Of Jack And Rose , a gratingly earnest drama about an environmentalist, written and directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller .
And then there's The Aristocrats , a documentary about the dirtiest joke ever told. It's a kind of after-hours riff among comics, something you'll likely never hear performed, until this film.
Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) crisscross America polling comics for their own improvised versions of the joke. Everyone from Robin Williams to Drew Carey to Whoopi Goldberg to the editors at satirical rag the Onion weighs in. Kevin Pollak tells the joke as Christopher Walken.
Early on, George Carlin sets the stage with a beautifully crafted version, complete with liquid feces and inappropriate gargling.
"It kinda makes its own gravy, this joke," says Michael McKean .
If The Ballad Of Jack And Rose is Sundance by day and The Aristocrats Sundance by night, then there's a pretty rich twilight in between.
Seven years after The Opposite Of Sex, Don Roos returns to savage indie satire with Happy Endings . Lisa Kudrow and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in three interwoven stories of angsty liars looking for love. Kudrow was in Opposite Of Sex and has perfected Roos's bitchy-pathetic dialogue. Gyllenhaal gets it half-right.
Adrien Brody shunts between innocence and anguish in The Jacket , playing a Gulf War veteran thrown into a mental hospital for a murder he may or may not have committed. Once there, Kris Kristofferson locks him up in a straitjacket and stuffs him in a morgue drawer, where he hallucinates himself into a future with Keira Knightley (King Arthur) as his future girlfriend. At least that's what I think happens. British director John Maybury embroiders The Jacket with dazzling visual effects that have a way of obscuring meaning.
Yesterday I interviewed Brody in the cellar of a Main Street restaurant. We talked about his attraction to characters who suffer abuse (The Pianist, The Village, The Jacket), but what got him really excited was talking about producing hiphop. He's released tracks as A. Ranger , and recently Dr. Dre let him in his studio to work up some beats.
If there's one film that perfectly straddles night and day - and straddling is what this film does best - it's Inside Deep Throat.
A rousing cultural history of the landmark 1972 hardcore film, it was directed by the guys who did Party Monster ( Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ). But it was produced by Hollywood veteran Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), and it'll be released into theatres by Universal.
Grazer's touch means Inside Deep Throat has the inspiring arc of a Ron Howard movie, although there's plenty of "sword swallowing," as Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano quaintly calls it. My biggest regret so far is not making it to the Inside Deep Throat party.
Riffing off both Sundance earnestness and America's current choking patriotism, the place was festooned with American flags everywhere, including the bikini bottoms of the hired dancers. People leaving the party got a gift bag not of sponsored goodies but of a printed excerpt from the U.S. First Amendment.
It was exactly the clever, pointed comment on this place that Sundance both encourages and desperately needs.
So, too, with the hands-down best film of the festival to date, Dear Wendy .
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) from a screenplay by Lars von Trier , it's the story of teenagers who form a solemn secret society founded on elaborate respect for guns. The leader is a pacifist, so their interest in guns is erotic and spiritual rather than immediately practical. But as in any von Trier story, trouble always finds paradise.
Like Dogville, the story is set in a pastiche America. But the perverse abstraction that drove some Dogville viewers nuts has been modulated by Vinterberg's superb, naturalistic direction. It's got the moral complexity and narrative texture of the best von Trier, and the added shock of an action movie turned inside out.
Even in the cross-winds of hype up here in the mountains, it's clear that Dear Wendy is a brilliant movie, and that it'll last.
This is a town that swells from 7,500 people to 44,000 every January. Many of them look like the woman climbing up Main Street this evening, in mukluks that resemble two terriers climbing up her legs. Maybe she's on her way to see Snoop Dogg to get the night started.