It’s good to be back in Champaign-Urbana for Ebertfest. This is my third year going and it’s wonderful to meet up with the same people, volunteers, staff, other guests in attendance. It has a very homey atmosphere, a family atmosphere. Mum and I have been having a great time, going to films, talking about films, and then crashing in our hotel room at night. We are in love with our room and the two of us basically never want to leave. We may never come home.
Seen thus far:
Goodbye to Language, (2014, d. Jean-luc Godard). I had already seen it, but that was in a press screening that had kind of a reverent silent atmosphere. Seeing this film in a gigantic PACKED theatre was an entirely different experience. It felt like a whole other film. It is funny, playful, profound, provocative, and uses the 3D in really interesting ways (unlike anything else I’ve seen in 3D). What was also surprising to me watching it in that environment was how clear, ultimately, it really is. The structure is broken-up and fragmented, scenes are cut off, the sound is uneven (on purpose), every image is futzed with in some way … but there really is a story there, and it’s really a quite simple one. A couple trying to work things out. I would imagine that seeing it in 2D would really lessen the experience (unlike a lot of other 3D films where they really only use the 3D to make explosions “come at you” and things “lunge” at you). But here? The 3D is woven into the storytelling, it’s another tool of the trade – like music and color and editing – and it’s integral to how the whole thing works. I loved it. Mum loved it too. Actress Héloïse Godet was in attendance as a guest. Some special moments: While up on the stage, she took a photograph of all of us in that massive theatre to send to Jean-luc Godard. Adorable. She told some great stories, about Godard’s playfulness, his inventiveness with 3D, his sense of experimentation and openness.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014, d. Roy Andersson). I had never seen a Roy Andersson film. I will rectify that now. You wouldn’t think that a film with such a title would be an uproarious experience. Or maybe you would. The first 20 minutes had the audience (Mum and I included) rolling in the aisles. I was CRYING. (Nothing like the sound of 1400 people bursting into laughter at the same moment.) There is a radical tone-shift in the final 15 minutes, but on the whole, the thing – made up of self-contained vignettes that build on one another, talk to one another, and feature recurring cast members in different situations – was a fascinating experience. Producer Johan Carlsson had come all the way from Sweden to be with us. I had met him at breakfast that morning and he, as Andersson’s regular partner and collaborator, had a lot to say about Andersson’s process, how they work (I was amazed to learn that every single thing we saw was a set, built in their own studios. My God!) What a bizarre movie. It’s rare to say “You’ve never seen anything like it” and mean it. In the case of Pigeon it applies.
Moving Midway (d. Godfrey Cheshire). The hit of the festival, thus far. Directed by Godfrey Cheshire, a film critic for Rogerebert.com (with a long career behind him at the New York Press and other venues), made a movie about the tumultuous process of moving his family’s ancestral home, Midway Plantation, to a new location. It involved running huge steel beams beneath the old house (built in 1848), and lifting it up. There was a Fitzcarraldo element to all of it. The image of this huge house being pulled along on the edge of a massive rock quarry is totally surreal. The process of moving the house is documented in full, but the film is really an examination of race, life in the South (told by Southerners, not an “outside” perspective, which often gets it wrong), and the “plantation myth” and its importance to American culture, black and white. It’s an extraordinary film. SEE IT, if you haven’t already.
The End of the Tour (2015, d. James Ponsoldt) Ponsoldt, a Georgia native, is a regular guest at Ebertfest. Two years ago, his wonderful film Spectacular Now, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, screened here. You should also try and see his first film, Smashed. The End of the Tour, based on the book by David Lipsky, is about Lipsky’s weekend-experience interviewing David Foster Wallace at the end of Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest. Wallace was 34, Lipsky (also a novelist) was 30. I have not read Lipsky’s book, but the film takes place over the course of a couple of days as Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) travels to Bloomington, Illinois to interview Wallace, who had just exploded on the literary scene with his 1,079-page novel Infinite Jest, wiping out the competition in one fell swoop. Lipsky was enamored of Wallace, and also intimidated and envious. All of that comes across in the film which is basically a two-hander (most of Ponsoldt’s films amount to two-handers.) Jason Segel plays David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky. Both Jason Segel and director James Ponsoldt were in attendance for the screening. The movie hasn’t even opened yet! Keep your eyes peeled for it.