Friday, February 09, 2007

SF IndieFest 2007 - Opening Night

The 9th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival or SF IndieFest to its fans, opened tonight at the Castro Theatre! It. Was. A. Madhouse! AND it was oversold, though there were a pair of empty seats directly in front of me, which were reserved for that doyenne of the SF press, Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle. Though it was a shame that those two seats went empty and wasted due to her apparent cinematic ennui, it was a blessing that I didn't have to be distracted and annoyed by her broad and theatrical 'page flipping' of the legal pad on which she takes notes during the film, not to mention her obnoxious across-the-row arm stretches. ALSO, the SF IndieFest has been spared what would have been her typically inarticulate report and/or review of the evening. But I digress with my carping and now return to what was a great night, overall!

Jeff Ross, the SF IndieFest founder and executive director greeted the excited crowd and began the annual role call of sponsors, which he always appears a bit bored with. The crowd grew restless. He also had the unfortunate duty to inform us that Mary Sweeney, producer and ex-wife of David Lynch, would not be present as was previously announced. This is mixed news, as the 3 hour Lynchian Epic would probably be best followed by cocktails and munchines (aka The Opening Night Party!) than by a Q&A. So, let's begin.

"Inland Empire" (dir. David Lynch, US, 2006, 172 mins. - though I THOUGHT I read it was 190 somewhere...) is another 'dream film', in the same spirit as "Eraserhead" and "Mulholland Drive". It sometimes annoys me that David Lynch fans feel the need to speak of his films as enigmas or inscrutable puzzles that should just be experienced and not psychologically explored as the Jungian exercises they are. For me, I look for the 'object of reality' that usually and quite briefly appears at the very beginning of the film, and then I spot the 'entrance' into the dream. These two keys seemed fairly obvious to me in "Inland Empire", but I will not divulge them here as spoilers. I will let YOU figure out who is the dreamer and what is the dream. I will say that David Lynch drops us down a literal rabbit hole (in Polish!), following our 'Alice' as she navigates through the dreamer's hysteria and catharsis.

Laura Dern's nearly marathon performance through out this psychic nightmare is spectacular. Her role in the film is so complex that her character alone is throwing critics and audiences into analytical whirlpools. I will admit myself, that deciphering her character's purpose kept me busy and fully vested within the film. The three hours flew by while watching her work! She is ably supported by some Lynchian regulars (Justin Theroux, Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton) as well as Jeremy Irons, Diane Ladd, Mary Steenburgen and an unrecognizable Julia Ormond! As far as the giant rabbits were concerned (voiced by Naomi Watts, Lara Harring and Jack Coffey), I found their inclusion to be a bit gimmicky, but I came to understand their purpose.

Speaking of gimmickery, Mr. Lynch's 'discovery' of digital video has reportedly changed his idea of what filmmaking is all about! He shot "Inland Empire" over a two and a half year period, without a script until the day of the scene. He uses, if not nearly absuses, the technology to its furthest limit, without going into CGI. He and his other camera operators (there is not a 'cinematography' credit) ply every trick in these little cameras' bags to create some truly unsettling, surreal and violent imagery. The framing is always exemplary! He has taken his close ups to extremes he only imagined on film. The manipulation or discontinuity of the actual 'grain' of the image seems to have some purpose depending on which reality or dream the scene is in. However, I found the necessary subtle refocusing one must do to adapt to the different 'textures' a bit distracting. The art direction, set decoration and costume design were crafted by an unusually large team of six artists. They ably created the innumerable worlds in which our 'dreamer' travels. The sound design starts before the film does with the trademark Lynchian bass level machinery that makes a sub-woofer purr! There is not a composer credited, though there are quite a few song credits at the end (including Cy Coleman's "Colors of My Life" from 'Barnum'?!). However, Angelo Bandelamenti's influence is felt throughout.

With all its fantasy and nearly circus of images, the film does not feel the weight of its three hours. However, that time commitment might be what keeps it from taking its place alongside "Mullholland Drive", "Eraserhead" or even "Blue Velvet" as being his latest dream piece to be watched repeatedly to fully appreciate and experience the nightmare he created. My friend JimmyD attended with me, and appeared to like it A LOT, though as houselights came up, he turned to me and said, "Ok. Explain it to me!" I did my best as we made our way to The Party!

The Opening Night Party was held at The Porn Palace,'s party space and previous studio rental space (before recently acquiring The Armory). The place just smothers you with atmosphere! It is also large, with numerous spaces, which helped break the crowd up. click to commentThe "Pancake Playhouse" (a Burning Man camp) were present, flipping pancakes at us, as well as some yummy quesadillas! There were three large and well stocked bars tossing drinks at us! (I remained on ginger ale, since vodka is no longer sitting well with me. Pity me!) The music was OK, though perhaps a bit generic. The crowd was filled with semi-costumed Club-Kid-Wannabes. It is so cute to see a bunch of Mission area thirty somethings party like they were 20 again. Ha! But this party ROCKED the socks off compared to last years! Good job, guys!

Maxxxxx says re "Inland Empire": "Wooooo...! Such a good bird!"


JimmyD said...

I did. I LOVED it. Tho it does have stretches of dreamy, droning, soft focus, wandering down corridors while the camera is rocking and swaying with fast cuts and flashing lights that does require me to doze off a tad. I did go away for a minute or two early in the film and then amused myself with rearraning my legs and feet during one long dreamy, droning, soft focus, wandering down corridors while the camera is rocking and swaying with fast cuts and flashing lights sequence. Sometimes I think he goes a bit overboard with some of this, as I GOT THE DREAM-LIKE SUGGESTION. Ok David? I GOT IT! But then again... it's all part of the David Lynch ride!!

Brian said...

Thanks for the report, Jay. I'll definitely be catching this this week.

I'm happy for you that you didn't have to sit behind Ruthie Stein. Just read her clueless review of Tears of the Black Tiger at sfgate today and seethed for minutes. I liked what Noel Murray had to say about it; he obviously didn't go ga-ga for the film but he was fair to its intentions.

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...

You might love "Inland Empire" or at least admire it. It does play out like a live action Warner Brothers cartoon at times! Rabbits and all! HA! Well, not really, but that sounded good... ;)

Hope to see you at IndieFest this week!

Oh. I loathe Ruthe Stein. It can not be said enough!