The 2007 Maryland Film Festival
Due to work and other distractions, I only saw three films at the 9th annual Maryland Film Festival (May 3-6), which is a shame. But, as John Waters says in the festival's online promo trailer, the festival is about more than just watching films - "It's a great social thing in Baltimore," too. So, while the festival went by in a blur, like a quick flip through a flipbook, I enjoyed just hanging out and running into old friends and new acquaintances alike. And, as always, I was amused by the shennanigans of all the fringe "players" working the crowd with their bottled water and cellphones, trying to blend in with genuine auteurs via name-dropping and vapid come-ons (has anyone noticed that "I'd like you to take a look at my script" is the new "Would you like to come over and see my etchings?" pick-up line with scam artists working the Club Charles?)
Plus, I had to try out my new "Producer Pants" from Express to see if they really lived up to the hype on their tag, which read:
"Hollywood power player with his finger on the pulse. Known throughout the industry as the guy who knows the guy who knew the guy when he was nobody. Knows star power when he sees it. Can make or break a career with a single phone call. His name is on every list. It gets him into every door. The Express Producer Pant - The clothes that make the man."
Alas, my pants failed me; they didn't give me a leg up on the competition. I was especially de-pleated On Sunday when I was shut out of the sold-out closing night screening and after party, a crushing blow to a former member in good standing of the local press. (Maybe I need to network more with Michael "All Access Pass" Rabineau, who managed to schmooze his way into the post-screen gala.)
Friday On My Mind
But let's start at the beginning...I skipped Thursday night's opening screening and gala at MICA's Brown Center because I couldn't afford to shell out $35 for a ticket, deciding instead to catch John Waters' annual film pick presentation on Friday night at The Charles Theatre. I came alone straight from work, but as a film geek (not to mention a former Man About Town), I was bound to run into someone I knew, and I did, almost immediately. Namely, Kelly Conway, Baltimore's answer to Edie Sedgwick, who under her alias "Stella Gambino" was an erstwhile Atomic TV star, former Cafe Hon hon queen (you can see her in character at the Hon Fest in Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker's documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America), and the MFF's 2003 "Uncommon Exposures" poster gal (as shown below):
I hadn't seen Kelly in about a year; in fact, the last time I saw her was probably at last year's film festival! In that time she had gotten married and divorced to some guy named Jose, who subsequently got deported back to Honduras following a domestic dispute in which Kelly called the police to charge Jose with biting her. Like Edie Sedgwick, Kelly leads an adventurous life - with an emphasis on misadventure. (Case in point: Kelly traveled to NYC to attend the world premiere of the aforementioned documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America in NYC - on September 11, 2001! - and was stuck there all week.)
But with my girlfriend both sick and mad at me, I needed a movie date and Kelly (pictured left, with ubiquitous coffee-in-hand & always ready for her close-up) was kind enough to sub - plus she gave me a free pass to the film John Waters was presenting, Bobcat Goldthwait's 2006 "sleeper" Sleeping Dogs Lie. I had read mixed reviews about Bobcat's controversial romantic comedy ("My least favorite genre," as John Waters said later during his introduction, which, as always, was alone worth the price of admission), but it turned out to be a great little film, professionally shot (Bobcat an auteur? Who knew?), and with a witty script. I guess the subject matter hurt it at the box office - it's a movie about how a woman's world falls apart when she reluctantly reveals a past "indiscretion" to her fiancee: namely, that she blew her dog when she was in college. That T.M.I. admission blows her financee's mind, opening the door to a dark comedy about the complexities of honesty and a philosophical rumination on how maybe we should check certain secrets at the dog park and carry them (in a plastic bag) to the grave. (At least until some sort of Girls Gone Wildebeest bestiality kick becomes the latest college craze. By the way, the sappy John Cusack romantic comedy Must Love Dogs has nothing to do with bestiality - which is too bad, because some inter-species erotica might have added some much needed spice to that vanilla-bland romantic comedy.)
The movie, starring newcomer Melinda Page Hamilton (who plays a nun on TV's Desperate Housewives, but more importantly is pictured at left with moi) as the dog lover and Bryce Johnson (a dead ringer for former Berserk and current Texas Sapphires guitarist Brent Malkus) as the fiancee, was released in Britain as Stay, where its "indiscretion" was downplayed and the dog reference taken out of its title. In fact, Waters commented that he would have probably called the film Sit Happens, after the name of a pet store he saw in the Midwest. Despite the controversy surrounding its subject matter, Sleeping Dogs Lie was nominated for three awards: Melinda Page Hamilton's performance was nominated for the Gotham Film Festival's Breakthrough Award, and Bobcat's direction was nominated for both the San Sebastian International Film Festival's Golden Seashell and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Anyway, be sure to check out the Website for this "new breed" of romantic comedy here: www.sleepingdogsliethemovie.com.
Bobcat was supposed to attend his MFF screening, but Waters reported that he hurt his back fooling around with his wife. This was a letdown for fans like myself who brought along their DVD copies of the Shakes the Clown ("The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies") to get autographed. But it did force Melinda Page Hamilton (no relation to the band Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds - who remain best known for their 1971 creampie hit, "Don't Pull Your Love Out On Me Baby") to get up in front of the audience and read a note from Bobcat that started: "'My balls ache. No, not really, I justed wanted to make Melinda say that in front of you all.'" Oh that Bobcat!
Afterwards, the crowd spilled out into the Charles lobby and the sidewalk in front of the Tapas restaurant, where Ms. Hamilton was kind enough to pose for photos with admiring fans, like Kelly (pictured right, still holding her ubiquitous coffee, still ready for her close-up).
The Usual Suspects
Out in the lobby, Kelly and I ran into Jay Berg - Baltimore civil servant by day, film fest fanatic by night - who recently added another title to his resume, courtesy of Aint It Cool News, namely: "King of Sundance." Le Roi Jay de Berg was handing out capsule reviews of films he "screened" (watched) at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (that's Jay pictured at left, looking like Roy Schneider as Bob Fosse in All That Jazz, surrounded by his adoring movie minions). For the record, Sleeping Dogs Lie was JB's 2nd fave film at this year's Sundance (after the Maggie Gyllanhall rehab pic Sherrybaby). Jay attends all the big film fests - Telluride, Sundance, New York, though he hasn't made it to Cannes - yet. Jay is the son of another local media maven, Manny Berg. Manny was an acclaimed Maryland horse jockey in the 30s and 40s who, when he retired, opened Baltimore's first downtown sports bar with TV (pictured below):
Jay says the bar was frequented by many famous celebrities and politicians of the day. The ad pictured above is from Playboy Magazine: This Week In Baltimore, an events-about-town publication dating back to the 40s.
My Dinner With Rabineau
Eventually, Kelly and I made our way across the street to get something to eat at The Zodiac, which was packed with hungry cineastes like Charles Theatre impressario John Standiford and his talented filmmaker wife Karen, Gabe & Trin Wardell, MFF head honco Jed Dietz and his cast party crew of John Waters and Melinda Paige Hamilton, and so on. After eating our delicious portabello sandwiches (a mere $10 - the Economy Plan Diet is the only option for wage slave workers like Kell and I), Mr. Waters stopped by to invite us to go bar hopping with his entourage at the Holiday House in Hamilton. But Kelly was two weeks into her Quit Smoking campaign, and figured hanging out in a raucous Hamilton bar might push her over the edge of temptation, so we decided to bail.
But just as we were getting up to leave, in strolled Michael Rabineau with his B-list cast party, a confused looking woman and a middle-aged guy in a biker's jacket who was missing more than just a few teeth. They proceeded to take over our table. Apparently Rabineau had just hooked up with these folks at the free outdoor screening of a Don Dohler movie next door in the Filmmaker's Tent parking lot and was bringing them into the Zodiac to network. I never follow entirely what Michael is talking about, but I gathered that the woman was a French actress (she spoke very little English, that's for sure) who had worked with Dohler and the guy was some local Northeast Bawmer burnout named Larry who also had something to do with a Dohler production. Anyway, we paid our tab and left the table to Rabineau's posse. As we left, I remember hearing the waiter say, "Look, you can't sit here if you're not ordering anything to eat or drink." Given MR's ficsal conservatism, I wonder how long his crew stayed there.
Later, the next night, Scott "Unpainted" Huffines told me he ran into Rabineau, who said that he "had dined with Tom Warner and Kelly Conway" the previous evening! Wow, perception is everything. I now have a new name for Michael: Michael Rashoman.
Saturday Matinee: A Triple D-light
Saturday at Noon, Baltimore Sun film critic Chris Kaltenbach presented a great dual projection polarized 3-D print of the Man in the Dark, starring Edmund O'Brien and Audrey Totter. Though Chris apologized to the audience for its lack of "comin' at ya" 3-D effects, I thought Man in the Dark stood on its own as as a pretty good film noir, with or without 3-D. I especially liked its hard-boiled dialog. Like when one cop asks "Where'd you have lunch?" another replies "I'd tell you if you weren't a friend of mine," rubbing his stomach and grimacing. Or when the great Audrey Totter, who normally played a hard-edged femme fatale (who can forget her seductive Adrienne Fromsett in The Lady in the Lake or perhaps her best bad girl role as Mrs. Claire Quimby in Tension?) but here plays a romantic softie underneath her tough veneer, is described as "A blonde, 5 foot six, something you wouldn't be ashamed to be seen walking down the street with."
Besides its fanous roller coaster scene (filmed at Ocean Park in Santa Monica and actually shot in 2-D with rear projection giving the look of 3-D), Man in the Dark is probably best known for being the film that beat Warner Brothers' highly touted House of Wax's release by two days - Columbia Pictures rushing its release so it could claim to be "the first feature produced by a major studio in 3-D." I sat enthralled with Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) - who correctly pointed out that the hood named Cookie was the same guy (Nick Dennis) who played Mike Hammer's mechanic Nick ("Varoom varoom!") in Kiss Me Deadly - and Scott Wallace Brown, as pictured below in the three 3-D glasses pics. (That's' me making a plea to give peace a chance, followed by Big Dave holding his big Bladder Buster Iced Coffee and SWB playing peek-a-boo with his 2-D and 3-D specs)
Alas, choosing the 3-D film meant I had to miss the Avant-garde Shorts program going on at the same time, which I regretted because I really wanted to see Allen Moore's short 4 x 8, which the program guide described as "two abstract studies of light, using double 8mm film projected as 16mm, with all in-camera editing." I know what you're thinking, but Allen Moore is not to be confused with the legendary graphic novelist Allan Moore, though Allen is legendary in his own right as a cinematographer and filmmaker. The Maryland Institute College of Art film instructor does a lot of cinematography for public television documentary series (if you watch The American Experience, you've probably seen his work), especially for the Burns brothers (Ken and Rick). He's even been nominated, along with Buddy Squires, for two Emmys - one for Ric Burns' New York: A Documentary Film (1999) and one for Ken Burns' Baseball (1995). When not shooting someone else's work, Allen makes his own films, like his experimental 4 x 8, in which he wanted to divide the screen into four separate images, kind of like what Mike Figgis did in Timecode (2000). I met Allen through my job; he often stops by Pratt Central to check out 16mm films to show his students. Pratt even owns one of his films, a short he made for kids called Food On Hand (look for it on Picture Start's 1986 video collection Supershorts for Kids).
I also missed Suzan Pitt's beautifully animated Mexican fantasy El Doctor (2006), but that's OK because I had previously screened it in March at Pratt as part of a "Queens of Animation" film program. I was just glad that it played the festival. I remember e-mailing Suzan about my library program and asking her if she was going to submit El Doctor to the upcoming Maryland Film Festival. When she asked what that was, I put her in touch with MFF programmer Skizz Cyzyk, a huge Suzan Pitt fan, dating back to her mind-blowingly suureal magnum opus, Asparagus (1979), which Skizz used to screen at The Mansion Theatre. The rest, as they say, is history.
After the movie, Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) and I hung out at the Atomic Books kiosk, where Benn Ray had a number of book and zine authors in tow to sign merchandise and glad-hand fans. There I met Don Salemi of Brutarian Magazine and Records, as well as Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg and Andrew Hershberger (pictured below), co-authors of the wonderful book Zombiemania: 80 Films To Die For, which was an essential purchase for my burgeoning film reference library.
Later, I ran into erstwhile Maryland Film Festival programmer Gabe Wardell (now running the Atlanta Film Festival), Mike White (Cashiers du Cinemart and Cashiers du Cinemart Online publishing mogul) and MFF head programmer Skizz Cyzyk (who, with the tragic death of James Brown, R.I.P., is now officially "The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz"), and Scott Wallace Brown representin' on the pavement (pictured right). Gabe was engaged in conversation with a middle-aged woman who wanted to know if one could ask someone if they were gay and, if not, how to tell if they were. Gabe explained the concept of the new playing field of metrosexuals and (being from Hotlanta) people "on the down-low" who fly under the gaydar, but ended up suggesting this less subtle lithmus test: offer the person in question their choice of tickets to see either Barbara Streisand or the Baltimore Ravens. It's a no-brainer! (Everyone knows all football fans are gay - case closed!)
Saturday Night Massacre
Saturday night I made the ill-advised decision to drag my friend Caprice (Saturday night's Designated Movie Date) to see Murder Party. She didn't seem to mind because a) we went out for a great meal at the Korean restuarant up the street (Nak Won) and b) her ticket was free (courtesy of patron of the arts Scott Wallace Brown, whose entourage we met up with at the screening). But it was a pretty dumb film, taking narrative elements of Hitchcock's Rope and Terry Zewigoff's Art School Confidential without any of their imagination or artistry in this unnecessary tale of arrogant Brooklyn, NY artist manquees who plan to kill for art - and thus also get the perks of fame, sex and grant money. The only cool thing about this movie were the costumes: the victim dork guy was dressed up like the Sir Spamalot knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail, a girl was dressed up like Daryl Hannah's Pris character in Bladerunner, and some guy's baseball get-up remidned me of the rollerblade thugs from The Warriors. Beyond that, nothing. I did spy Mr. Waters in the front row of the screening, sitting with Kelly Conway. I wonder what he thought. Hmmm.
Most of the cast turned up afterwards across the street to schmooze and follow John Waters around like doting puppies.
Out in the Charles Theatre after the film, the Charles Theatre Lobby-ists were working their magic. I spotted former Traden, Burden & Charles adman turned screenwriter Carey, a Kelsey Grammar lookalike who showed us his highly annotated schedule of all the screenwriting workshops and seminars he was attending in the Filmmaker's Tent across the street (and I do mean all literally - he was attending everything! - his program guide looking like a cross between a game of Tic-Tac-Doe and a Periodic Table). Caprice pointed out that he managed to mention that he was single, a script writer and a filmmaker all in his opening flirtatious parry. "Pretty fast-paced exposition there," I said, wondering whether that was something they taught at the screenwriting workshops ("Establishing Your Character's Characteristics in the First 30 Seconds") or at Speed Dating.
Off in the corner I spied my previous evening's Movie Date, Kelly Conway, sitting at a table flanked by John Waters and Michael "Rappin'" Rabineau. What an amazing example of seredipity and yet another example of the Smalltimore Factor: it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before The Pope of Trash met The Mouth That Roared. I checked quickly to see if Rabineau was wearing those Express Producer Pants, but they looked too well-worn and thrifty. What is his secret?
Inevitably, the theatre crowd makes it way across the street for a drink at the Club Charles, and that's where Caprice, Big Dave Cawley (King of Men) and I wended our way. I saw Scott "Unpainted" Huffines, Chris Campbell and their women folk at the bar, but we had to scurry up the steps to avoid one of the regulars. Ever the romantics, Scott and Chris had managed to score a table for their ladies with a breathtaking view of that night's lunar landscape, as shown below (that's Chris and his missus Dawn trying hard to refrain gazing at the man in the moon):
Like Hampden's Rocket To Venus, The Club Chuck is a who's who of hipsters of every stripe. Guess I'm getting old, but the more outre the clothes, make-up and hairstyles of CC's regulars, the less shocked I am. Same old dogs, just sporting variations on their old tricks. Check your Hipster Bingo Card: at the bar were two Louise Brooks clones, sitting next to The Narcisistic Hot Asian Guy who gets up every 15 minutes to saunter up and down the steps to the men's room like a supermodel working the runway (just in case any chicks missed him), who passes by the Shampoo-era Warren Beatty Man-Whore slowly batting his booze-dulled eyelids at one, two, three barstool slags (visions of multiple partner orgies no doubt dancing in his empty head).
Meanwhile, down at the bar, CC regular John Swift had secured strategic bar positioning for the Club Charles' latest gimmick, Nicolette Le Fay's Trapeze Act. Nicky is a local quasi-celebrity and CC bartender who periodically climbs over the bar to get the crowd into the swing of things. This was my first time experiencing her show, and helped Caprice's earlier query, "Why is that chick wearing that get-up? Half her ass is hanging out!" Nicky's show has even been posted to YouTube, as shown below:
And here's somebody's Dio-sweetened mix of Ms. LeFaye's act set to "Rainbow in the Dark" that uses every cheesy digital editing effect in the Jerry Todd Playbook:
I gotta admit, I wanted to dislike Ms. LeFaye, but couldn't do it after I checked her MySpace page. She doesn't fit the traditional hipster paradigm. She lives in very unhip Towson, for one thing (I thought all hipsters had to live in Hampden or Charles Village, by law) and she likes Hall & Oates - unironically!
Show over, Caprice and I finished up her Blue Moon Belgian beers and headed outside to air out our clothes from the smoke.
Closing Night: Mission Accomplished
In the Charles Theatre lobby Sunday night, I ran into Chris the Plumber's sis Patty Jensen and her boyfriend Adolf Kowalksi, my former bandmate in Thee Katatonix Version 1.0 (the late 70s/early 80s pre-vinyl, pre-talent edition). The last time I had seen Adolf at The Charles was about five years ago when we caught John Cameron Mitchell's transexual punk rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch there. But Patty was an extra in that evening's featured screening of Rocket Science, which was filmed in and around Baltimore, and scored passes for it. I told Adolf it was weird that I ran into him because I had just passed a flyer down the street announcing CD releases of vintage vinyl by "the legendary" Katatonix, namely the Divine Mission album (first released on vinyl in 1984) and the All Sold Out EP (originally released in 1988).
"That was me," Patty laughed. Mission accomplished. I took a photo of the Katatonic Kouple (who first met All Those Years Ago when Patty tended the Marble Bar bar and Adolf was usually passed out under it) with Adolf quipping that he was probably too fat to fit in frame. "You'll be even fatter after the movie when you chow down on the barbecue at the closing night party," I told him, eying the spare ribs being grilled across the street.
And that's all the fat I care to chew about the 2007 Maryland Film Festival.