Sunday, October 01, 2006

Stop, Go, at the New York Film Festival

After five-plus years of faithful service I suspect my Vaio is about to go bye-o. It's been singing a slumbering "Daisy...Daisy..." to me since yesterday, when Outlook developed a paralyzing glitch that took an hour of phone calls to not-really-fix, and we know what happened to HAL the computer in 2001 when he went all buggy. Not to mix my movie metaphors here, but I'm waiting with an empty bucket in hand if she starts taking on more water, like the African Queen.

Which means, natch, that those "intelligent and involved posts" have taken a backseat, and at an inopportune moment, at the start of the 44th New York Film Festival (NYFF). But I'm annoyed with the festival this year, and can't say I've been all that eager to cover it. Let me get this off my chest, and I'll move on.

I've been a Film Society of Lincoln Center member since 1994, well before I got on press lists, which have enabled me to see some of this year's films. But even with that, I'd still pay to attend the movies--if only they'd get the pre-order forms to me promptly, as every member rightfully expects. It didn't happen last year, and it didn't happen this year, either. This year, the order form didn't come till after the announcement of films had appeared in The New York Times, by which time it's far too late to get tickets for the biggest films.

Now, it used to be that even the smallest, distributor-less movies were sold out by then, but rising prices--$16 and $20, up from the $8 and $10 I paid back in the 90s--seem to have left swatches of empty seats in their wake. Even with a Q&A attached with the attending filmmakers that's pricey for a film, especially ones that will open for $10.75 the next day following their premiere, like The Queen (pictured) and Little Children. And cost-conscious buffs are less likely to take a chance on an unknown quantity at that outlay. I liked to mix it up--seeing, let's say, three films on a Sunday, one of them a big fish, and the other two "mystery movies" that sounded enticing. I saw 16 films one year, and loved it, regardless of the expense, which was smaller back in the day. Who knows--I might have done the same this year and last, though I noticed that a number of films are only screening once, down from the usual two showings, for reasons unknown.

I'm being slightly disingenuous. Yes, I am on a few press lists, but I'm not "accredited" for the festival, as I was for Montreal, where I breezed in (and out) of screenings with the ease of an X-Man. But as I said, I would have paid full freight. What has changed is my life, which, happily, no longer revolves around chronic cinematosis (it now revolves around Battlestar Galactica, which is a different story). But whether I buy two tickets or 20 is immaterial: The materials should arrive, as they always did till last year (when I was still living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan) the week before Labor Day, allowing ample time for consideration and organ donation to pay for it all. [Not that Brooklyn has changed my trip any; it takes the same amount of time to get to Lincoln Center as it did from there. Strange but true, life with mass transit.]

When I called to inquire, I was told that I wasn't the only member to complain, that due to an "aging computer system" a number of us had been left in the lurch. I can relate, but no one except me loses out if my computer crashes and burns. A core constituency is being ignored by this technical deficit.

I will add that the documents arrived via e-mail a few minutes later, followed by that way-too-late mailing, but the damage had been done,compounded by last year's slight. Adding insult to injury, my Film Comment, free with my membership, didn't arrive, either, necessitating further e-mails.

And to think, I interviewed festival honcho Richard Pena for once. And copy-edited their programs for Stagebill. Richard, where is the love?

I had reupped my Film Society membership before this little fiasco. I considered canceling, but held on. I'm not so sure about next year, and I bet I'm not alone. Get on the ball.

Back to our regular scheduled programming.

I went to a press screening of veteran filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Go Master. More history: A few years ago, I had to write about the design of a play dealing with the ancient Japanese board game for the Public Theater's Stagebill. I couldn't see the play beforehand, and it was a tricky story to write, as the play centered on a subject I knew nothing about and the designers had a hard time verbalizing the Go-specific look of the set. Four years later, I was hoping this film, about the life of master player Wu Qingyuan, might clue me in more. No such luck: Go is the backdrop to Wu's life story, which sees him exported to Japan from his native China to play the game, as the two countries gird for war. Later, a religious cult tries to manipulate his celebrity. [Wu is in his early 90's today.]

Tian, whose 2002 NYFF entry Springtime in a Small Town has taken up residence on the Sundance Channel, is more interested in the life of the mind and the hardiness of personal values and beliefs as circumstances change, sometimes drastically; in a way, the quiet, meditative, lovely-to-look-at film reminded me of the equally cloistered Last Emperor, which had a much less cerebral character at its center. [Not that the movie lacks humor; there is a good fart gag, up there with the ones on Deadwood.] The Go Master is ideal NYFF fare, and screens tonight at 6pm. Too bad the Film Society couldn't pass "go" with me this year.

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