Apr 4, 2009

Sarasota Dispatch #2

By Evan Louison

David Carradine’s face is bizarre.

That’s the first thing I can think of to say as I rush into the Shorts Program where Nowhere Kids is playing, late from an appointment with Mr. Carradine and le maitre Ashby. They’re doing a career retrospective of Hal Ashby here and showing such cinematic beauty and wisdom as The Landlord, Lookin’ to Get Out, and The Last Detail, along with other unknowns such as the late career The Slugger’s Wife and 8 Million Ways to Die. Filmmaker Magazine's Nick Dawson is here with his book on Ashby, which Jon Voight cannot stop talking about. Literally. While in terms of resemblance to Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Carradine, the man who drove Bruce Lee out of work in American TV, might seem miscast, and yet it remains an American macabre quality that his expressions, his smile, his low-sunk brow invoke. He is truly captivating in the film, titled Bound for Glory after one of Guthrie’s notable lyrics, which stands as yet another reason why the great Hal Ashby has no place being one of the filmmakers whose brilliant, prescient work always seems to, like contemporaries Jerry Schatzberg and Stuart Rosenberg, get overlooked when one considers the great post war directors.

It is difficult to determine at times if I am on the same planet as others here. It would appear that way at first, I maintain all the identifying marks of a normal, legitimate human being. But then an encroaching nausea creeps up through my throat and I need to re-up. Good thing I brought supplies with me. Lantern, 30 feet of rope, and paregoric.

We screen the short (Nowhere Kids by Eric Juhola) and I am immediately floored, blown away by what I’m seeing. It’s the first time I’ve seen it in any finished form and the result is palpable, as intense as I remember it. There is something in the process of making films and working in front of cameras that requires a certain disassociation with the endline resultant product, and a certain acceptance that what we experience in the making of the film is not what we must in turn take in as how it looks, feels, reads in finished form. I am usually nerve-wracked and drunkenly shy, but in the case of this one, pleasantly, assuredly surprised, and breathing at ease for once, the pounding on my chest subsiding. People seem to respond to it, which is more than I can say about anything else I’ve ever done, so I feel some level of relief in it all. People walking out tell me they couldn’t recognize me in the picture, that they didn’t think I was, well, me. I begin to tell them that I wasn’t but think better of it.

Our film plays with a number of others from New York filmmakers, most notably The New Yorkist, by Dana O’Keefe, with editing by Tze Chun, who’s here as well with his feature Children of Invention. The New Yorkist is certainly worth checking out; slipping between narrative storytelling, music video, travelogue, and PBS children’s education show pretty effortlessly, it escapes lazy motives and merely operational aesthetics, which are now, more than ever, all the rage among the hipster/mumbler set.

Closing out our screening is Sundance winner Don Hertzfeldt’s new short I am So Proud of You, which, violence aside, is a love letter of sorts between a boy and his mother. The title is a reference to a blandly described note from an unloving mother to her unwanted son, which is the same, every day for years, in the same place in his school-packed lunch. The many silverbacked ex-New Yorkers (colloquially known here as “whiteheads”) in the audience didn’t seem to jive with Mr. Hertzfeld’s breed of fatalist humour - the subject appears slightly close to home for some of the local constituents who patronize the festival. The screening went from a full-house to a lonely eight remaining interested parties, for some reason glued to their seats. It would appear that the term cartoon violence does not resonate with those of us who may be confronting mortality more immediately than others, and so those precious curmudgeons of the Sunshine State flee, like rats from a ship, in droves. I send Sheila after our fugitive audience, with the explicit instruction to not return empty handed. Sheila, being the local lunatic woman I picked up for a drink or two earlier that morning, woke me ranting obscenities about the state of her sidewalk from just outside the window to my hotel room. Dressed in a rather enticing nursing home nightgown, she looked as ravishing as ever at the screening. I believe it must have been the lipstick. However I think she took it personally, my orders for her to pull her weight or cast off, and not to return without some results; I haven’t seen her since. I think the Q & A really suffers because of her absence.

Later on, some of the filmmakers take to the sea, for a night of rather uninteresting cocktails and for some people, what would appear to be prescription medication (there are a lot of pharmacies in this part of Florida it seems). During the late evening boat ride, people's drinks, menthol cigarettes, hair, and sundresses whipped out of their control by the Gulf winds and someone asked me again, “So are you an actor? What do you do?” “Swiss Army Knife,” I reply, “there’s an arm and extension for every task…” Just then we hit rocky waters and it appeared that the ship’s captain might have been headed for shore on his own recognizance. I reassure the pretty lady next to me, saying “Don’t worry dear, I can drive this thing…” Truth is I can’t swim and fish terrify me - their eyes never close. Just then I miss Sheila terribly and wonder what she’s up to. Probably her nightly neighborhood watch patrol, busy waking the dead.

On the television in the Comfort Suites later there plays a Public Access documentary about the Holocaust. A woman stands in what looks like a summer campground during the off-season and gestures: “They just waved at us and drove off in the trucks and we never saw them again…”