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"We can't stop the dancing chicken!": Ebertfest photos #2

View image David Bordwell (who needs no introduction to readers of Scanners), Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, and Werner Herzog discuss Herzog's "Stroszek."

"Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world." -- Werner Herzog

I could listen to Werner Herzog talk all night. And I have. (See this transcript from Ebertfest 2005, for example.) Watching the marvelous "Stroszek" (I think of it as Herzog's Fassbinder movie), with Werner, as everyone calls him, seated in the audience two rows behind me, the famous dancing chicken at the end reminded of the quote above. ("Stroszek" has one of the great final lines in movies: "We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off and we can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician. We're standing by..." Those of us who are not waiting for Godot are indeed waiting for the electrician, or someone like him...)

View image The vibe you get from this picture perfectly captures what Ebertfest feels like. Here, David Bordwell shows off his midnight-hour chocolate-banana shake at the Steak 'n Shake (yes, there's only one apostrophe in that). Somehow, when he began drinking it, he got the banana and the chocolate to stay separate on either side of the plastic straw, too. These are the things that make life worth living. (You see, the chocolate represents the movies and the banana represents the people and Roger is the glass and Chaz is the whipped cream and cherry on top and...)

Later I asked Herzog if he had changed his mind about chickens, dancing or otherwise. "I only like eating them," he said. In response, I naturally quoted a great exchange from "Chinatown":

Noah Cross (John Huston), peering at a fish on J.J. Gittes's plate: I hope you don't mind. I believe they should be served with the head.

J..J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson): As long as you don't serve the chicken that way.

View image Writer Anna Thomas ("El Norte") interviews Prof. Samba Gadjigo (director of "The Making of Moolade"), actress Fatoumata Coulibaly, and actress/activist Marcia McBroom-Small ("Beyond the Valley of the Dolls") for "Moolade."

I also asked Herzog if he'd seen Michael Winterbottom's fantastic bio-comedy about the Manchester music scene, "24 Hour Party People" (perhaps second only to "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" among my favorite films of the new millennium -- and the one I've enjoyed re-watching the most), in which the lead singer of Joy Division commits suicide with the last scene of "Stroszek" playing on television in the background. Herzog said he'd heard about it, but hadn't seen the movie. Well, he has something to look forward to.

View image Filmmaker Eric Byler ("charlotte sometimes") and actor Scott Wilson ("Come Early Morning") -- both Eberfest vets.

If you'd like to listen to part of the discussion between Herzog, David Bordwell and Michael Barker (a low-fi MP3 recording made on my Treo 680 -- have I mentioned how much I love my Treo 680, the life-changing "TiVo" of handheld gadgets?), click here.

It was remarkable to see how the Angry Young Herzog I remember from the '70s and '80s (in Seattle and especially Telluride) has evolved into such a congenial elder statesman. As his friend Paul Cox (who cast Herzog to play the father in "Man of Flowers," a film he described as being about "male loneliness") lamented technology (Cox is irrationally terrified of computers and cell phones), and proclaimed the imminent end of mankind's time on Earth, Herzog was more genial and philosophical. Yes, he said, it may be our turn to become extinct, like many species before us, but that's no reason to be "gloomy" in the time we have left: "Let's keep making films and treasuring friendships and drinking beers."

(When Cox, who spoke of women almost as if they were another species -- claiming they were "closer to the soil" in a way that made them sound almost bovine -- said that he couldn't think of any films about "female loneliness," Kristin Thompson came up with three masterpieces off the top of her head: Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue," Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman," and Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Gertrud.")

OK, now a few more pictures from Ebertfest 2007, after the jump...

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"This is where he wanted to be, this is where he is..."

Roger and Chaz Ebert on opening night. Roger gets his own La-Z-Boy recliner in the back of the Virginia for the duration of the fest! (Thompson-McLellan photo)

Three cheers for Roger Ebert, for the 9th Overlooked Film Festival (aka Ebertfest, now in progress) and for technology! I wrote and filed the following story for Thursday's Sun-Times, sitting on the stairs to the balcony in the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL, Wednesday night -- between 7:30 and 8:30. Had my PowerBook G4, which I typed on. Then transferred the story (via synch) to my Treo 680, and wirelessly e-mailed it to the paper in Chicago. More about Ebertfest soon -- I'm kind of in the middle of things, and I'm waiting to borrow a cable or card reader to retrieve my own photos; for some reason mine can't read the XD card....

"It's my happening and it freaks me out!" said Chaz Ebert on behalf of her husband, Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, on stage at opening night of the ninth Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign-Urbana. The line (memorably quoted by Mike Myers in the first "Austin Powers" movie) is from the Ebert-penned screenplay for Russ Meyer's 1970 cult classic "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," which is among the titles in this year's festival.

It was Ebert's first public appearance since he suffered complications from surgery last June, and it brought down the full house at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. As he announced in a message featured in the Sun-Times and on his web site (rogerebert.com) Tuesday, Ebert is not able to speak now, pending further surgery, so Chaz had to do the talking for him. As Ebert wrote on a pad before the screening, "After we go onstage, Chaz will read one line from me that will say it ALL."

View image Jim Emerson, Boy Reporter, at Roger's first public appearance -- a reception at the house of U of Illinois President Joseph White (and his wife Mary and dog Webster) Wednesday night. Roger's head is in the lower left; Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribute is also comfortably seated on the floor at the right. (Thompson-McLellan photo)

Chaz recounted how the festival was nearly cancelled late last year, when Ebert was in the hospital and the pace of his recovery was uncertain. But Festival Director Nate Kohn visited Ebert in his Chicago hospital room with a message from Mary Susan Britt, the festival's Associate Director: "The festival passes sold out in a little over a week in November. You have to get out of that hospital bed and come down to Champaign-Urbana."

"At that moment," Chaz said, "Roger made a commitment. If it was at all possible, he would be here tonight.... This is where he wanted to be, this is where he is, this is where he's staying," she said, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Through his wife, Ebert reminded the audience of the personal importance of Champaign's Virginia Theatre, the restored movie palace in which the Ebertfest films are screened. "I saw 'Gone With the Wind' here, and my father saw the Marx Brothers on this very stage."

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Ebertfest '07: "It's his happening and it freaks him out!"

Supergroup: The Carrie Nations jam with the Strawberry Alarm Clock in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." The latter band will also perform at Ebertfest '07, after a screening of the film.

Set your Strawberry Alarm Clocks: The annual spring ritual of Roger Ebert's Film Festival in Urbana-Champaign (now in its ninth year) runs April 24 -29, 2007, at the gorgeous old Virginia Theatre. The name of the fest has always been rather flexible: "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," "The Overlooked" (sounding like something from "The Shining"), "Ebertfest"... Next year, the event will been officially re-named: Ebertfest -- the Roger Ebert Film Festival.

The tradition of appreciating "overlooked" films (by any criteria Ebert chooses to apply) continues, however. The festival will climax with a closing-day screening of Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (screenplay by Ebert himself) and a live performance by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the psychedelic rock band featured in the film (and in Jack Nicholson's 1968 "Psych-Out," as well).

Roger Ebert will be there, introducing the festival and watching the films with the audience, but because he's still recuperating from surgery, will rely on an "expert group of colleagues" to conduct the on-stage interviews this year.

Other guests of the fest will include Werner Herzog (appearing with "Stroszek," Paul Cox (director of "Man of Flowers"), actress Fatoumata Coulibaly ("Moolaade"), writer-director Joey Lauren Adams and festival favorite, actor Scott Wilson ("Come Early Morning"), director Andrew Davis ("Holes"), film scholars David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Samba Gadjido, musician Jim White, producer/distributor Michael Barker (Sony Classics), and plenty more.

The 13 films featured in this year's Ebertfest are listed below, with titles linking to Ebert's original reviews of the films, where applicable. Other blurbs come from the festival's official web site, where the complete schedule and details can be found: www.ebertfest.com.

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