Apr 5, 2009

Sarasota Dispatch #3

By Evan Louison

William, the Germanic, hulking driver for the festival, tells me he’s really Australian, but nobody knows it, as he hangs from the exercise equipment in the YMCA above the press office. “Is gut for the stomak!” he grunts, and I wonder if it’s good for the machine itself. I just nod and wonder what I’m doing here.

Scott Teems’ film That Evening Sun is easily the best thing I’ve seen at the festival. I’m not sure what it is behind Hal Holbrook’s eyes, but there is a sensibility, a reasoning, with the air around him, with the character’s life, that I feel in every inch of me when I watch it onscreen. Teems’ film is his second adaptation of a William Gay short story, this one from the longer titled I Hate It When That Evening Sun Goes Down, and is not really so much a vehicle for Holbrook, as much as a binding, quantum-sealed promise of the power in this performer, and in these kinds of stories. Holbrook appears in nearly every frame, and plays an 80 year old man named Abner Meecham in Ackerman’s Field, TN, whose son has him warehoused to a nearby “old folks home” and rents the property he has lived on all his life to a drunken local with a wife and daughter, a family that appears depending on Meecham’s rightful home as their last chance at something of a normal life. The violence in the story is more in the words of the characters than their actions, and the score by Michael Penn doesn’t hinder it as melodramas can be so awfully rendered, stagnated and lifeless from their soundtracks and choices for cues. No, instead what we have is a musical, living document of a land feud that spirals, brewing and simmering and with true grace, out of control, while the film’s construct and its maker seem quite soundly still within it.

Jon Voight and Burt Young make an appearance overwrought with sentimentality and stuttering efforts at tribute at the premiere of the new Lookin’ to Get Out, Hal Ashby’s largely unseen 1982 gambling comedy that Voight co-wrote and starred in with Young and Ann-Margret. The cut being screened is a lost gem rediscovered by Nick Dawson in the archives at UCLA, apparently donated by Ashby in the hope that it would be safe there from any further meddling, a curse that seems to have plagued many of his later work. The film is brilliant, Burt Young’s performance bordering on quiet genius, and Voight’s character’s voice and brooding seem to be a precursor to almost all Chazz Palmienteri’s work, to the point where I spend most of the screening furious at myself for not being able to place whom or what he’s reminding me of. Overall enjoyable, the presentation is marred by an exhausting, winded Q & A where everything gets repeated and applauded multiple times, Burt Young has to sit down due to the sheer eternity of Voight’s answers, and Voight’s insistence upon showing the DVD extra documentary about the discovery of this cut, with interviews with him, Young, and a well-preserved Ann-Margret, before the film. I feel like calling out, “We haven’t seen it yet!”, but then I remember the terror I felt once seeing a film called Anaconda and prefer to step outside for a smoke and hope the snake gets me instead. This is a festival after all and while I may not be into that kind of thing, people do tend to enjoy it and get a lot out of it. The film is long though as is, and with the documentary and the questions, my few remaining braincells begin to seep out my sunsoaked pores and into the popcorn and gumstained steps.

Afterwards, they roll my lifeless body up in the red carpet and unfold me again at the Night of a Thousand Stars party following the film. I rise from the dead and am surrounded by flashbulbs, women cosmetically altered and stretched to fit perfectly in slightly less than perfect attire, men with gold chains to rival the Pope, and drinks, drinks, drinks. It’s like one of those moments in Orson Welles’ The Trial where Anthony Perkins runs aimlessly through the judicial buildings, finding nothing but empty rooms and other condemned men. I find myself thrust in front of a live local TV outlets camera, the young feline correspondent shoving the microphone towards me and struggling to read the name on my event badge. She asks me, unwittingly, “So what do you think of Sarasota so far Mr…Louison?”

“Well, I’ve seen a lot of pharmaceuticals, fake tits, funny makeup…Not you dear, you look very nice…”

She tries to hustle me away but the director behind the camera calls after, “No, no, get that guy back here, we want more from that guy!”

The incriminating comments never seem to find a state of rest. They flow through me like God’s song. I manage to articulate good mention for Eric’s film (the short Nowhere Kids, my whole reason for being here) and try to make a point of explaining just how important a picture it might be, something for people to pay some notice to, and not at all because I happen to be in it.

I then spend most of the remainder of the party traipsing around a nearby ghetto street corner, looking for an answer, and smiling at the beautiful Spanish speaking waitresses, all to no avail. Outside again at the party’s close, the beautiful woman I just barely got to talk to for a few seconds is no longer at my side. Turning frantically, people all around me asking if I’m going to last call, if I’m holding, if I’m really an actor, I see William. There he is, a Visigoth standing like a 7 foot pillar of light, an imminent offbreed of Lou Ferrigno’s body and Ralph Richardson’s face, and I repel those who drunkenly surround me, saying things like, "Excuse me, this is my driver,” and “This guy works for the KGB!”

Back at the hotel I tell the lady at the front desk I aim to play the piano in the lobby a while. She smiles and points at her watch. I tell her it’s ok, I know what I’m doing. She replies, “I’m sure you do,” and waves me on. “Joke’s on you babe,” I think as I walk away and sit down to lift the cover, “I can really play,” before I look down and see that while that might be marginally true for me, it is not true for the piano: It’s a fake, and there are speakers where the strings might have been.