HANGING OUT AT TELLURIDE: Buck Henry with Laura Linney.
Hear ye! Hear ye! Back from the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, I proclaim a renaissance of American cinema, a rush of smart, challenging, and genuinely terrific fiction movies not seen in years, maybe since the legendary 1970s. Hooray for a magnificent six new features, coming at you in fall/winter 2007!
Okay, I haven’t seen the Julian Schnabel–directed THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, or the Coen brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Everyone cool raves about both. The four films I did discover at Telluride were ample evidence of a startling moment in American filmmaking that includes instant masterpieces.
At the top of the mountain stands Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD, a mesmeric rendition of Jon Krakauer’s true-life bestseller about Chris McCandless, a post-collegiate on an impossible mission. The 23-year-old rejected his conventional parents, posted his inheritance money to Oxfam, and, penniless, took to the highway, on a madman’s quest toward deepest, coldest Alaska.
Greet a winning new star, Emile Hirsch, as the Arlo-Guthrie-meets-Gary-Snyder backpacker. Chris’s northward trek becomes the most intense spiritual journey a mere movie can contain. Here’s the perfect dharma picture, at the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road.
With I’M NOT THERE, filmmaker Todd Haynes becomes the American Fellini, detonating the trippiest circus of images since 8-1/2. Others have tried, but Haynes triumphs with the daring conceit of having diverse actors all play the same person — here (though his name is never uttered) Bob Dylan. There’s Dylan the acoustic-guitar protester, Dylan the electric-instrument hater of folk music, Dylan married with kids, Dylan as the womanizing sexist, Dylan as the Beatles-pal mod, Dylan as Jesus freak, and so forth. Haynes makes it all work, from a little black kid (Marcus Carl Franklin) as young Bobby Zimmerman to (fabulous! Oscar material!) Cate Blanchett as Dylan ’66: flower-shirted, strung out, lost in London.
“I haven’t talked to Dylan, or met him,” Haynes said at Telluride. “I sent to Jeff Rosen, his manager, a one-page on my characters, and DVDs of my films. Two months later, I was contacted: ‘Let’s give this guy the rights.’ ” Haynes’s brilliant cinematographer, Ed Lachman, got in touch with Dylan’s son Jesse, saying a special theater screening could be arranged for his father. “Jesse said not to worry,” Lachman told me. “His dad can watch the movie when it comes out on DVD.”
More at Telluride? Tamara Jenkins’s THE SAVAGES, a beautifully written humanist comic tale of mismatched scrambling-and-searching adult siblings (grand, nuanced performances from Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) brought together to put their demented dad in a nursing home. Jenkins is married to Sideways co-screenwriter Jim Taylor, and her film is a lovely, fully realized companion piece to the classic comedies (Election, About Schmidt) of Taylor and writer/director Alexander Payne.
Also, Noah Baumbach’s sharp, razor-intelligent MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, a follow-up to The Squid and the Whale that’s an even rawer look at selfish celebrity-intellectual American parenting. It’s Woody Allen meets Chekhov’s The Seagull, edited in odd French-movie rhythms, and shot wonderfully weirdly by Harris Savides, the cinematographer of Gus Van Sant’s Jerry.
Finally, praise for a Telluride-debut documentary: Tina Mascara & Guido Santi’s exquisite, perfect CHRIS & DON: A LOVE STORY, the saga of writer Christopher Isherwood (whose Berlin stories were the basis for Cabaret) and his long-time Sal Mineo-like squeeze, artist Don Bachardy, 30 years his junior.