The Los Angeles Film Festival: Day Two

Friday, June 20, 2008. The first full day of the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival, after the previous night’s premiere of “Wanted.”

You’ll forgive me if I digress for a moment, but during the current gas crisis, with the costs of crude oil hitting all-time highs and causing insane gas prices, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk on the radio about what will get us Angelinos to get out of our cars and start taking public transportation. You see, when one works in Glendale and has to spend an hour and a half plus in traffic driving from work to the film festival, as I do, one either listens to a lot of music one has heard a thousand times before, or one listens to something like NPR. Not wanting to hear “Aqualung” for the thousand and first time, I find my radio continually set to KPCC, where a lot of people talk about how to change how we think about travel. Now, having spent several years in New York City, I could say that while ridership may be up slightly on our light rail lines, what Los Angeles needs is a more inclusive system. When I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Yankee Stadium was three stops up the 4. Work or most of the screening rooms was down the 6 to 51st and catch the E to 8th and 50th. The Tribeca Film Festival was also on the 6, down to City Hall, where I could catch a shuttle to the theatre near the World Trade Center site. If I needed to go to JFK, it was like going to work, but I’d stay on the E to Howard Beach, then take the AirTrain to the airport. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, whose BAMcinematek had some of the best programming in all New York, was accessible from no less than eight subway lines. The Film Forum and the IFC Film Center were also near several different lines. No matter where I needed to go in New York, I could read a book while I took the subway wherever I needed to go.

In my home town, I can’t hop on a subway in Glendale and go straight to Westwood, where LAFF is held, or make a transfer downtown to get there. Sure, there are busses I could take, but how many people want to spend two plus hours on a smelly bus filled with all kinds of strange people who are only concerned with their own wants and desires. The last time I took a bus in Los Angeles was when I was working in Santa Monica, and it was a single Metro Rapid bus I could take that picked me up one block from home and dropped me off one block from work. Convenient, to be certain. However, I ended up missing my stop because the bus was so overcrowded I could not make it to the back exit door in time, a journey of no more than three feet, because the people between myself and the door wouldn’t let me through and the driver wouldn’t wait. And then, after I had carefully gotten through the crowd and made it to the door for the next stop a half mile away, some jackhole punched me because he thought I shoved him. Why would any person who had a car and the ability to pay for gas and insurance and maintenance willfully give up their car when this is what you have to look forward tor

What does all of this have to do with a film festivalr Nothing, really. It was just something I started thinking about during my drive. In New York, public transit has been such a part of the fabric of life there for so long, one wouldn’t need a car to do much of anything. When I decided to move to New York, I sold the 1972 Mustang Mach One Fastback I had at the time, because I wasn’t going to be driving in New York City, and in fact the only time I did drive in New York in the four years I lived there was driving the U-Haul in from Jersey to my new place in Brooklyn. Here in Los Angeles, most of us haven’t had a viable, accessible train or trolley system in half a century. We are our cars, and there is no way the transit system will able to ever afford the kind of New York-style grid coverage to make us change. On the other hand, a monorail system, like at Disneyland…

For this second day of the film festival, I knew for certain the first title I was going to see, James Marsh’s Man on Wire, which documents the life of French tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his infamous 1974 walk across the top of the World Trade Center towers. A heartbreaking and beautiful moving portrait not just of Petit but of his group of friends who helped pull off what he called the “artistic crime of the century.” As amazed as I was Marsh did not go for the cheap sentiment that would go along with what happened to the Twin Towers, I was astounded to slowly realize during the screening so much footage that I assumed was Errol Morris-like recreations of past events (which the film does indeed have) was actual footage Petit and his friends shot during the planning of the walk. Magnolia Pictures will be releasing Man on Wire into theatres starting July 25th, so make sure to check our weekly Early Report to find out when the film plays in your town, and a full review of the film is forthcoming.

My second film this evening, the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead, was not quite what I expected, even though I am not certain what I actually did expect going in. Not knowing much about the Duplass Brothers or the supposed mumblecore movement, I was simply hoping for a decent comedy, which Baghead is, for the most part. It’s one of those movies where the creation of the story is better than the actual story itself, which is not to say the film is a complete waste of time. Baghead is quite funny at times, poking fun at the conventions of the horror film in general and The Blair With Project specifically but not directly, and the four leads come off exactly as their characters should, but the film still feels a little too long despite running only eighty-four minutes. And would it kill indie filmmakers shooting on video to invest in a tripod or learn to shoot just a little bit of coverager Sony Pictures Classics has already opened Baghead in a couple theatres in Austin in advance of a traditional Los Angeles and New York City opening in late July. You can also track Baghead’s expansion through our weekly Early Report to find out when it might be in your neck of the woods (pun fully intended), and a full review of the film is forthcoming.

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