Friday, April 27, 2012

Ebertfest Day 1

It didn't take long for me to realize I would absolutely love Ebertfest.

OK, that's a bit of a misnomer. I knew I would love it even before I got there. C'mon. It's me, movies and Roger Ebert.

Still, knowing something in the abstract is still only the abstract. Actually experiencing it? That's something else altogether. I had been to any number of special film events before. The people I've been lucky enough to see include effects maestro Phil Tippett, the lovely Patricia Neal and Janet Leigh, and another Lee called Spike. I've even seen Ebert before, when he came to Columbus for a long interview with this director I like named Scorsese.

I'm only two days into Ebertfest, and I can already tell you this experience trumps them all. First off, there's the theater itself. The Virginia in Champaign is one of those classic movie place with a huge screen that has to be at least 50 feet long. Some of the plaster is crumbling, and it's not quite as resplendent as the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, but the Virgina has character out the wazoo. One look at the place is enough to set the tone.

Then there's the other thing about movie theaters like this - the sound. And I don't mean the speakers, although it's top notch here. I'm talking about the sound of the audience. First, there's the sound of laughter coming from more than 1,000 people. I had not heard that in too long. Second, and more important, is the mood of the place. Every single person is there to SEE MOVIES and not just munch popcorn and dick around. Too many people treat movies, even good ones, like pieces of gum - they enjoy it while it lasts and then they forget about it not long after. Not here - not with these folks.

Our first film is Joe Versus the Volcano, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie no one saw. I would say it defies description, but it really doesn't. It defies simple description. It's a little Terry Gilliam, a little Fritz Lang, a little Frank Capra, a little Howard Hawks, a little Coens and a lot its own animal. The movie's a strange bird, and it revels in it. The film, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck/Doubt) is very loosey goosey, and it doesn't always hang together, but that very freewheeling quality is what makes it so charming. Not only do I urge you to see it, I urge you to see it not by yourself, and not even with just one other person. This movie is best viewed with a group of people who can infect each other with slap happiness.

Afterwards, cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (The Help, Lethal Weapon etc) came out to discuss the film with AP critic and Ebert Presents at the movies co-host Christy Lemire, and one of Ebert's "Far-Flung Correspondents," Pablo Villaca from Brazil. They talked about the stylized look of Joe Versus the Volcano, my favorite moment being Goldblatt's explanation of how he gets shafts of light. "Smoke. Where there's smoke, there's Goldblatt," he said.

The second attraction was sort of a double feature about black comics. The first was a short called The Truth about Beauty and Blogs by Kelechie Ezie, who spoke. It was a very funny piece about a woman who essentially lives on the Internet and has, shall we say, relationship issues. Attention Saturday Night Live - HERE is how to take a one-joke premise and NOT run it into the ground.

Next was a feature-length doc called Phunny Busines: A Black Comedy about All Jokes Aside, the groundbreaking comedy club that was a stomping ground for pretty much every working African American comedian you've heard of. What I most liked about the doc was that it wasn't funny just because comics talked on camera - it was funny because of the way it was made. It cracks its ow jokes, partly because the central figure, former club owner Raymond Lambert is such a figure of fun. He was refreshingly willing not only to crack a joke, but be the butt of the joke.

The evening didn't end until 1:30 a.m., so I was dead tired by then, but I was also deliriously happy. I couldn't wait for more.


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