American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The Australian film director Paul Cox, spoke to a group of students earlier this afternoon. While I've met Cox a few times before at the annual Ebertfest in Champaign-Urbana, IL, I'd never heard him speak freely to a crowd and was interested in what would be said. Paul enters in casual clothes and walks to the seat in front of the class, unfolds a few pages of yellow papers full of scribbly handwriting and begins speaking in a soft, slow, accented voice.
The title of the speech is "Invent not Imitate," encouraging our generation to break the rules and push the limits. So at first, of course, I'm into it. Slowly, the speech turns from an encouraging nudge towards originality and prioritizing values, to a pretty full blown revolutionary anarchist speech.
There is a pessimistic rant about the lack of genuineness and how many artists are "rubbish," specifically at this film festival. Cox rags on any one who even considers the nearby Monaco Grand Prix and car racing relevant or acceptable, and then stomps on organized religion, ex-president Bush, fashion and films like "Pulp Fiction." A student in the crowd asks Paul if there was anything he thought was worth doing, seeing or knowing about and beyond Cox's personal hero, Vincent Van Gogh and some rural Aboriginal tribes with which he'd spent time. It seemed he was not.
I was able to understand where he was coming from on most of his points about movies based on violence, and paradoxical car speed limits, but I wasn't quite sure how realistic his desires for the elimination of such things actually were. According to Coxian ideals, the only things worth doing are those in the motivation of beauty or relationships, everything else comes in at an unimportant lower number, even "ambition is rubbish." The students are pretty much in awe; no one is moving, talking, or even writing. At the end of his speech, Paul asks for questions just before re-stating how much he believes in everything he has just preached at us for the past hour.
Paul Cox with his friends Roger Ebert and Pierre Rissient at the American Pavilion
One tall girl near the back of the group gets brave and asks if Paul has respect for people who find beauty through mediums he disgusts, such as race car driving. This one stumps him for a minute. Paul acknowledges the intellectuality of the question, forthrightly answers "yes," then proceeds to say, "I can respect the stupidity of people who think that speed is beauty." We all know that a key part to the liberal and modern mind is in respecting the happiness of others even when it differs from our own. While it seems that Paul recognizes this, all he has said with his extensive wisdom on the world's corruptness assumes he is on the "right" side of this question.
A blond girl near the front is really into Paul's speech and asks for a copy to take home as inspiration. She tells Paul "I feel repressed at school, sitting inside at desks for several months" and how she feels most alive when in touch with beauty and nature. After that I realized how lucky I am to be hearing this speech. American college students are the perfect audience for this. We are impressionable, liberal, and looking for a cause. Any group of people over 30 wouldn't have thought more than a few hours about his revolutionary, "eff the man," type lyrics, and here I am, 18 and still thinking about it two days later.
While I was very impressed that Paul, probably in his 60's. has held for so long such a strong stance on life, I wondered if 20 years ago he would have approved of his own words. I admire Paul Cox's opinions and boldness to go out and preach them as he did. Even if I don't take everything away with me, and feel as if I'm going to change the world today, I can accept that I let a wise, experienced, yet cynical lover of art teach me the importance of thinking for myself in less than two hours.
An interview with the amused Paul Cox. (Entry continues below)
I arrive at the Palais at 10:20 to see a movie in the Salle de Bazin titled "Le Pere des mes enfants" ("The Father of My Children"). I walk to the entrance and hold out my badge to the Palais bouncers. The guy checks my badge and nods for me to enter... and then waves me back outside. Uh, oh.
Palais Bouncer: "Ce n'est pas une image de vous."
Me: "Uhhh oui, c'est moi." Nervous laughter.
Palais Bouncer: "Ce n'est pas une image de vous."
Me: "Oui, it's me."
Palais Bouncer (wags finger): "No, n'est pas vous."
Me: "Really? That's me! Look!"
Eventually the other Palais bouncer at the door notices the hold up and peeks over at my badge picture and nods for me to go inside and submit to the wand.
The Palais bouncers, a.k.a. Gorillas
I don't know what that was about, and if my French had been a little better I would've stayed and complained. The picture on my card was taken less than a year ago and I look exactly the same. The entire time that we're going back and forth, I'm laughing at him. I later realize that's not such a good idea unless you're sure that the other person is laughing with you, which...I'm still not.
It wasn't a big enough scene to draw any security guards, the bouncer was a young guy, and he had a smirky smile on his face. Was he just messing with me? Did he really think my badge was a fraud? Hmm.
Later that night, re-entering the Palais cautiously, I ran into a large group of American students going to "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell" based on the book by Tucker Max. It was a relief talking to these students and not worrying about personal space violations, extreme rudeness or communication barriers.
In this group of students I met a fellow Pomona (chirp chirp) student working in the American Pavilion at the festival. We chatted for a bit about flex dollars, the coop menu and room draw, until I realized how few weeks into summer break it is. I finally sat on the bed the other day and spread out the all of the various screening schedules and tried to make my own hesitant schedule for the rest of the festival.
Yesterday I saw "Samson and Delilah," an Australian film about love, drugs and rural life for two Aboriginal teens. After my Palais entrance fiasco, I did get to see "Le Pere de mes enfants," which confirmed my suspicions that little French kids are the cutest. "New York, I Love You" was also screened less than a block away from my hotel yesterday. I'll admit that I spent the first 10 minutes of the movie wondering if the character Ben is played by Mark McGrath of sad 90's pop band Sugar Ray, and embarrassingly later found that it's Hayden Christensen with some pretty creative facial hair. Oops.
Other than that mix-up I was really into the movie. There are some beautiful shots, and hilarious characters, one of which is played by one of my favorite "young Hollywood" actors, Anton Yelchin, who goes to prom with Olivia Thirlby's character. Shia LaBeouf was also a pleasant surprise in this movie, but I won't give away his character. The soundtrack was great, and even though the movie combines completely separate stories of love in New York (different directors, actors, etc.) it works out quite well.
The last movie I saw yesterday was a tribute to David Foster Wallace, the novelist who was a teacher at Pomona, directed and written by The Office's John Krasinski. Sadly, over half of the people in the theatre walked out during the movie. While the point of the movie is the interviews, the quantity of 3-5 minute monologues reminded me of a casting call. Even apart from the interviews much of Wallace's book was inserted into the movie as this odd commentary by Lou Taylor Pucci and Max Minghella. My favorite part of the whole film was an interviewee with a voice exactly like my old music teacher Mr. "Funksoulbrotha" Bell. It was just some smooth, jazzy, guy talking about the types of men that exist, and what women want, and...oh, wait...isn't that already a movie?
Trailer for "New York, I Love You"
Tucker Max opens under heavy fire in a speech at OSU in May 11.
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