So we’re midway through the 13th annual Ebertfest.
How’s it shaping up?
Well, for me, I was exhausted Thursday after having only four hours of sleep Wednesday night and Thursday morning. I was so stanca — Italian for tired — I had to skip "Tiny Furniture" on Thursday evening, though it was among the movies I had most wanted to see.
I’ll try to catch it at the Art Theater’s Ebertfest Encore festival, or on DVD. Two friends told me it's suitable for the small screen; after all, one said, writer-director Lena Denham is of the "small-screen generation." She was not here in person, another reason I decided to skip the screening in favor of going home and sleeping, and hanging with my dog, Bix.
So far five movies have been shown as I write this late Friday morning. I have to agree with an old friend who taught film that "My Dog Tulip" has been the most brilliant, along with Fritz Lang’s "Metropolis," which opened the festival.
"My Dog Tulip," Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s faithful and shrewd adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s memoir about his relationship with an Alsatian or German shepherd, is multi-layered, both figuratively and literally.
The Fierlingers created the 83-animated film themselves, with Paul drawing, using a stylus and Wacum digital drawing tablet, in a loose style and his wife later laying on what appears to be layers of watercolor.
Friends told me they thought of me while watching "My Dog Tulip" and even felt they had entered "Mimi’s mind." I’d give anything to write as well as does Ackerley — Fierlinger called his beautiful prose the King’s English. Indeed.
I do relate to Ackerley in his relationship with his dog, other than his hitting his dog, when young, when she misbehaved and his urge at first to drown her eight newborn puppies. I would have felt the loss he felt as he gave them away, not knowing their fates.
I have worked with some of the best dog trainers in this area; they adamantly speak against any form of physical punishment for dogs. I figure during Ackerley’s time physical discipline of our best friends was accepted.
I also took umbrage a bit with Paul Fierlinger’s statement that he does not view his dogs as children, just part of nature. I don’t know if he was setting himself apart from the canine species, but his comments brought to Mimi’s mind abstract-expressionist painter Jackson Pollock’s famous commment, "I am nature."
We humans are nature. Dogs are nature. Though I sometimes am in danger of viewing my dog as my fur-child, I pretty much know she isn't. She is my loyal, dependable co-hort through this weird, mysterious journey we call life, and the dangers that we might encounter from the rest of nature.
I have foud the human-canine bond primal and profound. When I had to put down my first dog, Scoop, last year, after she was paralyzed by a heart attack or seizure, I was bereft. My grief overwhelmed me. For days I felt as if someone had repeatedly punched me in the gut.
For a few weeks I existed in a zombie state, missing my beautiful, intelligent dog’s intense presence.
But I digress.
I admit I had to miss "Metropolis" too, because I had to write a story on deadline for this newspaper, and because I felt compelled to spend time at home with, Bix, my border collie. I had been watching at home the complete version on DVD of the silent film classic, but that, of course, does not compare to seeing it on a big screen.
Friends who saw "Metropolis" told me the restored print was amazingly pristine; one said he could see the makeup on the actors’ faces. Another friend told me Alloy Orchestra’s original score was the best she has heard at any Ebertfest and that the complete version of the film filled in plot elements, making the story make sense.
I did hear, toward the end of the post-screening discussion, one Alloy member say that the owner of "Metropolis" had rejected, for the Blu-ray DVD release of "Metropolis," the Alloy score in favor of the original one by Gottfried Huppertz. Interesting factoid.
After "Metropolis," the new movie "Natural Selection," the jury and audience winner at the recent SXSW Film Festival, was shown, late Wednesday night.
It’s an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Robbie Pickering, and has a fabulous, convincing, nuanced performance by Rachael Harris as protagonist Linda White, a long-suffering and sexually frustrated Christian wife.
"Natural Selection" has a wonderful premise, but at least one viewer told me he considered its plot predictable. But I’ve found few movies with plots that are not. "Natural Selection" is still an entertaining and engrossing watch.
Thursday opened with Vittorio de Sica’s neo-realist masterpiece "Umberto D," about a retired government clerk who faces eviction by his mean landlady in Rome.
Some of the discussion afterward focused on whether the movie, released in 1952, was set in pre-war or post-war Rome, with 24-year-old Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, co-host of Roger and Chaz Ebert’s new TV series, "Ebert Presents at the Movies," suggesting the movie was set in pre-war Italy.
People in the audience, among them UI philosophy professor/Ebertfest sponsor Richard Mohr, disagreed. I think the consensus was that it is set in post-war Italy; I could have told you that because the mean landlady’s clothes were early ‘50s, not ‘30s or ‘40s
The males in the audience in favor of a post-war setting cited scenes showing American Jeeps, Italian police not wearing Fascist uniforms, and the fact that Umberto and other pensioners were demonstrating against the government for higher pensions. If Mussolini were in charge, the dudes argued, there would be no such street demonstrations.
As usual at Ebertfest, there have been sweet festival moments, among them emcee Chaz Ebert’s asking the audience to stand and send good vibes to film scholar David Bordwell, who was to have appeared as a panelist but was felled by illness and was presumably watching and listening to the Ebertfest live stream online. Chaz believes positive thoughts can heal. Who’s to say they don’t?