Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TIFF: Days 6 & 7 (Tuesday/Wednesday 9/14-15)

Note: Click here to check out the Metro Times version of this post, which contains photos.

Today began the Great Bruce Springsteen Adventure…

For those of you that don’t know, I’m quite a big fan, and I contacted Backstreets (Springsteen’s fan club/magazine/site), in the weeks prior to TIFF to see if they needed any help covering the gala premiere of his new documentary—The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Luckily, they did, and they arranged with Springsteen’s publicist, a very nice lady named Marilyn Laverty, to get me into everything. It was an unbelievable degree of treatment that I was truly not expecting, but incredibly grateful that I received.

It actually started last night, when I had to trek over to the hotel of the stars, The Four Seasons, to pick up my tickets. I got there at about midnight and figured, what the hell, why not hang out in the hotel bar for a drink and try to stalk the rich and famous? One thirteen-dollar beer and no sightings later, I made a quick exit.

At the volunteer shift on Tuesday morning, I was working again in the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is where Bruce Springsteen’s 6:00 p.m. interview with Edward Norton would be happening. There was an indescribable buzz about the place all day, and Bruce fervor reached a high enough decibel by early afternoon that the volunteers were actually instructed to tell people he wouldn’t be in the building (a blatant lie). It’s funny that the entire week of TIFF overruns Toronto with a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities, and yet the lone rock star seemed to be a much bigger deal than all the rest.

Just as I was heading out for lunch and a nap before the big evening, a cab pulled up and Jon Landau—Springsteen’s longtime manager/producer, and the man responsible for probably the most famous quote in the history of music criticism (“I saw rock ‘n’ roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”)—and Dave Marsh, Bruce’s biographer, got out right in front of me. I quickly ambushed them and introduced myself, and told them I was looking forward to everything that would be happening that night. “You’ll be blown away,” Landau said to me. This seemed like a good omen.

First up was the interview actor Edward Norton would be conducting with Springsteen (presumably) about the documentary. This was part of TIFF’s Mavericks series, which happens every festival and involves interviews between attendees that might not normally be associated with one another. It turns out this event didn’t even go on sale to the public; all tickets were either press or “know the right person” status, the rush line to get any vacant seats formed the night before, and the rumor of the day was that tickets were being scalped for thousands of dollars. This caused a momentary crisis for me; if I were just willing to ignore my writing obligation and have Springsteen’s publicist potentially send a hit out on me, I could pay off quite a bit of credit card debt. Nah, bad idea.

One of the tenets of the amazing access I was given to the Springsteen camp was that my reviews of the content I became privy to were exclusive for Backstreets, so I can’t actually write about the Mavericks interview on this forum, but you’re welcome to check it out here.

Next up came the movie premiere, where I was seated in a small closed off section with the Springsteen entourage. Landau, Marsh, Marilyn Laverty, Barbara Carr (Springsteen’s co-manager and Marsh’s wife), Thom Zimny (the director of the film), and Patti Scialfa (E Street Band member and Springsteen’s wife) were all present, along with a lot of people from Sony Music. And there I was, seated three rows directly behind the boss himself. Again, I can’t cover the documentary here, but you’re welcome to check out my Backstreets coverage.

After the lengthy standing ovation, Bruce went on the handshake rounds for those of us in his section, and I briefly met the man… though it’s fairly likely he had no idea who I was. Still, it was pretty awesome.

But meeting Bruce wouldn’t even be the best part of the evening. No, that came a few minutes later when Marilyn Laverty and Jon Landau invited me to a special sneak preview of the upcoming six-disc box set being released in November. Taking place at a small theater the next morning, a handful of foreign journalists were being shown never-before-seen video footage and previously unreleased recordings from the late 1970s. Only two Americans were invited—someone from Rolling Stone, and me.

This preview ended up being one of the highlights of the whole TIFF experience (even though it wasn’t associated with TIFF and nobody knew about it except the invited). You can read my Backstreets coverage of the preview here. Bruce and Patti were there, and Bruce even gave a sort of impromptu press conference for us. I also had a good long talk with Dave Marsh, and he invited me on his radio show Friday morning to talk about the preview we were given.

The Bruce Experience ended early afternoon on Wednesday and I spent the bulk of the rest of the day writing my Backstreets coverage, but I did have time to hit up two TIFF screenings…

Movie: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

What Is It? A 3D documentary about Chauvet Cave, which was discovered in southern France in 1994, and contains elaborate cave paintings dating back over thirty thousand years—human kind’s earliest know works of art by a pretty substantial margin. To preserve its pristine condition, the cave has never been opened to the public and images from it have rarely been seen. Director Werner Herzog and his small team were granted access by the French government to fully explore the cave and its evocative imagery.

Director: Werner Herzog—One of World Cinema’s most ambitious and interesting directors over the last forty years, Herzog’s films often involve quests that border on the insane. His greatest films starred Klaus Kinski, and include Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). Recently, Herzog has been on a bit of a tear with the great documentaries Grizzly Man (2005) and Encounters at the End of the World (2008), as well as the Christian Bale starring Rescue Dawn (2007).

The Grade: A-

Thoughts: First thing’s first—this is a two hour documentary about cave paintings. If that doesn’t immediately sound interesting to you, then it probably won’t be.

But warnings aside, this is a great film, and it turned into one of the talks of the festival. Herzog fulfills two purposes here; first, and perhaps most importantly, he shows us the cave. In 3D. This cave is the greatest historical record we have of an entire era of pre-history, and this film is the closest the public will ever get to it. In that sense, we’re simply lucky that Herzog has created this historical document for us. The 3D works extremely well here, and, unlike most 3D films, it feels necessary rather than superfluous.

But beyond just showing us the cave in obsessive detail, Herzog guides our thinking with pointed questions about what it all means. Is this, he asks, “the beginning of humanness?” Is it the origin point of the human soul? The images in this cave predate all evidence we have of any human activity other than simply surviving… so what are we to ascertain from this? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions when you see the movie, but if you’re interested in reading more, check out Roger Ebert’s long journal entry about the film, which contains several images from inside the cave.

Movie: The Bang Bang Club

What Is It? The true story of four ambitious and slightly crazy young photographers, who captured the end of white rule in South Africa from 1990-1994. Their names were Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva, and they came to be known as The Bang Bang Club. Collectively, their works earned a hefty amount of controversy, as well as two Pulitzer Prizes. But two of them wouldn’t make it out alive.

Director: Steven Silver, who had only worked in TV documentaries prior to this.

Notable Cast: Ryan Phillippe and Taylor Kitsch (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) star as two of the photographers, while Malin Akerman (Watchmen) plays a newspaper photo editor and love interest.

Notable Crew: Silver wrote the screenplay, while one of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren, Kwelu, is an executive producer.

The Grade: B

Thoughts: From a directing perspective, this is an extremely well made film, with a plentiful amount of evocative imagery. Silver gives us a lot to think about, and this could be the launching pad to a notable career. But as a screenwriter, Silver leaves a bit to be desired. The movie just feels like it glosses over too many important aspects, and it seems unfair that two of the subjects are given first rate treatment while the other two feel like background characters. The pacing is generally good, but that comes at the expense of developing enough emotional investment in South Africa’s political climate.

The actors do a pretty good job with the accents, though they are by no means perfect. It’s actually Akerman, who had never exhibited any previous evidence that she even could act, who does the best job in that department. But even though his accent wanes in and out a bit, Kitsch is the revelation here. In his first major role outside of TV, he just exudes movie star quality.

On Tap For Tomorrow: My only two foreign films of the Festival, one of which won the coveted Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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