Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flippin' The Birds With Hitch

by Odienator

My introduction to Alfred Hitchcock came courtesy of two PIX’s: The Pix Theater in Jersey City and WPIX-11 on my VHF dial. The Pix Theater is where I saw the only Hitchcock movie I saw in first run, Family Plot. WPIX is where I saw my favorite Hitchcock movie for the first time, and a few of his more respectable ones as well. Both events occurred around age 6. Since then, Hitchcock has been a part of my life. My obsession with the Master of Suspense led me to view every available film of his, his television show (both incarnations), and to read the superb book-long interview with François Truffaut. The For The Love Of Film Blog-a-Thon, for which I am writing this piece, is looking to raise money so that I may continue my obsession with Hitch—the monies donated will allow streaming of the first known film Hitchcock was associated with, Graham Cutts’ The White Shadow.

Now I truly hate when bloggers ask for money, but I’m coming to you today with my hat out, begging like Mr. Wendal from that Arrested Development song. Look a bruva out and click at the bottom of this entry. Or click here. Toss a few bucks. Do it for Hitch. Don’t make me have to star in a real-life To Catch A Thief so I can get my fix.

 Speaking of thieves, Family Plot is about one played by William Devane. The only thing I remember from my first viewing was a car chase. It would take a viewing on WPIX years later to fill in the blanks. By this time, my cinematic education allowed me to make a connection between my second favorite director’s last movie, and an earlier one by my favorite director: Hitchcock’s kidnapper demands the ransom be hidden in the same location Billy Wilder’s drunk hid his booze. I have NYC television to thank for allowing these connections, and for my introduction to so much of the old cinema I love. I had so fewer channels at that age than a kid nowadays, yet my cinematic horizons were broadened exponentially more than any contemporary viewer. All they have is Turner Classic Movies; every independent channel in NYC was Turner Classic Movies to us.

But I digress. Lesser Hitchcock or not, Family Plot is a good movie, one I enjoyed and would like to revisit. However, it had little effect on me as a six year old. Plot’s lead, Barbara Harris, would be far more effective that same year when she switched personalities with Jodie Foster in Disney’s Freaky Friday. A different Hitchcock actress would penetrate my Afro and embed her film into my memory. All she had to do was get half-eaten by a bunch of flying shithouses.

When asked for my favorite Hitchcock, I usually say Vertigo. This is a lie. Vertigo is Hitchcock’s best movie, to be sure, but it is not my favorite. Vertigo is the “critically correct” thing for me to say, but let’s face it: I grew to love Vertigo the way I grew to love jazz. No such evolution of my maturity was required to love The Birds. It bypassed adult-level explanation and went straight for the eyes.  WPIX played it a million times in my youth, and it never ceased to scare the everlasting gobstopper shit out of my younger incarnation whenever he watched it. I can attribute that fear to one shot in the picture—a broken pair of glasses.

I was weaned on horror movies. Both my parents love them, as do my siblings. At the time I encountered The Birds, however, a few things were still sacred in my horror viewing experience. For example, horror movies never went after kids. Not even the badass kids like Bill Mumy on The Twilight Zone. The giant ants in Them! didn’t eat kids. Neither did The Blob. And though pig-tailed, murderous wench Patty McCormack got struck by lightning, she had it coming, so I was fine with that. The Birds was the first time I saw helpless little kids attacked by forces beyond their control. Watching the scene now, I’m surprised how scared I was by it; its build up is far more terrifying than its execution. But as a kid, I thought Hitchcock played dirty. I was disturbed by shots of crows nibbling on tender, exposed kiddie flesh not unlike my own, but when that shot of the broken glasses appeared, I became almost inconsolably terrified.

Because I wore glasses.

I got a 30 year respite from glasses wearing when I switched to contacts at age 11, but I am now permanently re-enslaved by my Transitions. I see fairly well without them nowadays—the loss of an eye seems to have sharpened my vision—but as a kid, I was blind as a bat without them. It was bad enough to be rendered practically helpless because I couldn’t outrun a flying instrument of destruction. Without the gift of sight, I would have been rendered completely helpless. Those birds would have eaten my blind ass up, then Tippi Hedren would have spat on my carcass for all the bad reviews I wrote about her daughter’s movies.

Poor Veronica Cartwright! She’s been through bird attacks, aliens bursting out of ribcages, and demonic possession by cherry pit or whatever the fuck it was she threw up in The Witches of Eastwick. As the owner of the shattered spectacles in The Birds, she endures all manner of horrors. Closer to my age than anyone else in the main cast, I identified with her. As I grew older, I found myself identifying with Tippi Hedren, the outsider whose presence the close-minded Bodega Bay townsfolk (correctly) believe has brought about the avian Apocalypse. No matter where I go, I feel like an outsider and wacko things happen. If I put on a green dress, I am sure birds would take over the world.

Regardless of what age I’ve watched The Birds, Hitchcock’s masterful setup of the kid-attack sequence never ceases to amaze me. It deserves mention in the same breath as Psycho’s shower or North By Northwest’s crop duster. The Birds is famously cited for having no musical score, but there is a musical number of sorts. As Hedren’s Melanie sits outside smoking a cigarette, the schoolchildren in Suzanne Pleshette’s class sing some childhood ditty a capella. I was always lulled into paying attention to what they were singing—the lack of music makes it creepy—and therefore was distracted  by Hitchcock as Melanie is. The scene seems to go on longer than comfortably necessary, which makes Hitch’s pan to the shitload of birds on the playground bars all the more shocking. To this day, that shot is more of a spine-tingler for me than even Mrs. Bates pulling back that shower curtain.

When I first visited Sonoma County in 2004, my host took me up to Bodega Bay, the town depicted in The Birds. I admit I did not want to be there, and as luck would have it, this was a day my contacts were not cooperating. So I wore my glasses. I kid you not, without warning, some crazy ass bird flew so close to my head I had to duck. “What the hell was that?!!” my host yelled. I couldn’t answer him; I was running like Jesse Owens on crack, holding my glasses and swatting the air. Somewhere in the great beyond, Hitchcock was standing, birds in hand, laughing maniacally. 

"Which one of you wants to eat Odie for not liking Rear Window?"

Folks, don't forget! Please donate to our cause! As an added incentive, here's the piece I wrote on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Demander Sings of EbertFest: Post Five

by Odienator

Unless you’re a VIP like yours truly, you’ll have to stand on a line outside the Virginia Theater to gain entry to an EbertFest screening. The line is intimidating—long enough to stretch around the corner and back again. But in the fourteen year history of the festival, the Virginia Theater has never turned down one patron on that line. Unlike the balcony on the old Siskel and Ebert show, her balcony is open, ready to accept those ambitious enough to climb the stairs to visit. Last year, I sat in the balcony for a few films. This year, we VIPers had our own aisle. But the balcony never forgets, and my favorite picture of me was taken from her heights by Columbus, Ohio’s own Mark Pfeiffer. I met him last year at EbertFest, yet another friend I can attribute to the Virginia. See if you can find me and my festival buddy, Michal, in this picture. Here’s a hint: Look for my hero.

In Sight It Must Be As Addictive As Crack

Gurrrrl, have I got some gossip for you about those Far Flung Correspondents! They’re all addicts! You know what their drug of choice is? Steak ‘n Shake. You wanna find an FFC? Look no further than the restaurant whose slogan is “In Sight It Must Be Right.” Maybe it’s because Steak ‘n Shake is unavailable in most of the corners from whence Roger draws the FFC’s. So when they’re here, they fill up like camels on it, going 100 times during the Festival. They didn’t have them in my neck of the woods either, at least not until recently when Steak ‘n Shake’s second biggest fan, David Letterman, opened one next to his theater in New York City. Since it’s the only one for about 250 miles, I’m sure the line stretches from Seventh Avenue to Peoria, Illinois.

My introduction to Steak ‘n Shake came in the worst place in the universe, Cincinnati, Ohio. My best friend Chris took me and I got hooked on their patty melts. Being somewhat lactose intolerant, their shakes are a bad idea I can only get halfway through, but what sweet pain it is! Every time I eat there, however, I’m reminded of Cincinnati, so I’m far less inclined to go there with the frequency of an FFC. This is why Roger made me a Demander, I am sure. This Demander did, however, make his first EbertFest 2012 trip to Steak ‘n Shake courtesy of the boxcar the EbertFest Hobo was riding in on Saturday. Host Joey Klein drove the Hobo and Klein’s regular rider to Steak ‘n Shake Saturday at lunchtime, where I had my usual and I bought my festival buddy his first. Before his own team could introduce Michal to Steak ‘n Shake ecstasy, a Demander got there first! I trump thee, FFC’s! 

In Sight It Must Be Right.

Little did I know Steak ‘n Shake was going to trump me in an even larger fashion on Sunday! They catered our EbertFest VIP Brunch. Shockingly, this was the first year Steak ‘n Shake was a sponsor of the Festival. I say shockingly because we all know who Steak ‘n Shake’s number one fan is.

Roger and Me, or Big Media Vandalism Comes To EbertFest

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are the reasons I wanted to write about film. I watched them on PBS as long as they ran on my local WNET affiliate, and I watched them on WPIX after that. I started reading Roger when he was syndicated in New York City papers. If memory serves, he was in the NY Post (Pew, Roger!), the newspaper that proves its founder, Alexander Hamilton, deserved to be shot by Aaron Burr. I bought all his review compilation books and interacted with him back in his CompuServe days. I still have the first correspondence I had with Roger. It was about "Airport 1975" and what a Pulitzer Prize winner gets. Roger told me a Pulitzer winner gets “$1,000…and when you die, your obit will say ‘Pulitzer Prize winning writer Odie Henderson died today.’” I think Roger meant to say “Razzie-award winning writer Odie Henderson.”

No matter. Last year, I had the pleasure and honor to meet Roger at the Ebert Club Meet and Greet. I  packed my copy of “Questions From the Movie Answer Man” for him to sign. I’m in that book—I even have an INDEX ENTRY—but I forgot to bring it to the Meet and Greet. The same fate would befall me this year. I packed the book but completely forgot to bring it to Roger.  But I brought something even better to the Steak ‘n Shake sponsored Sunday Brunch, my benefactor, Steven Boone.

So here I am with two of my biggest influences, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to record for posterity the reason why I started writing about film and why I continue. Boone may be one-half of our Poitier-Cosby team (he’s Bill, for the record), but he’s also a major influence for which I am eternally grateful. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in crime. In fact, if I can be really fucking mushy for a second, I am grateful to be part of the fine group of writers who make up both our teams. I tease the FFC’s, but I really do have undying respect for them, and for my fellow Demanders (and even more for my Demander-in-Chief!).

So how did I show my gratitude to Roger, for not only his festival, but for the great opportunity he created for me?

I fell asleep during Roger’s DVD commentary of "Citizen Kane," the last film at EbertFest.

Odie Finally Gets Some Sleep

It was only for a few minutes, but still, I was incredibly embarrassed by it. I own the "Citizen Kane" DVD and have listened to Roger’s commentary numerous times. My dozing was not a result of the film nor Roger’s wonderful voice. I could have been watching Explody McExplosion: The Loudest Movie Ever Made (dir. Michael Bay) and I still would have passed out. I think I got 5 hours of sleep during the entire festival, and I spent most of my post-fight Saturday night doing something I assure you I had no business doing (and enjoying every minute of it).  So I conked out.

Making matters worse, I snored. At least according to our youngest FFC, Krishna, who was sitting next to me. I believe him—I have sleep apnea. I wanted to hit him with my EbertFest magazine and ask “why didn’t you wake me up?” but I remembered that earlier (sorry, Krishna), Mr. Shenoi fell asleep at a different screening and I didn’t wake him up. So this was his revenge! 

 FFC Wael Khairy stands between sleepyheads Krishna and Odie

It was a sheer joy to hear Roger's voice resonating through the Virginia Theater. For those of us who grew up with both Citizen Kane (it was run constantly on Million Dollar Movie when I was a kid) and Roger Ebert, the merging of the two on a big screen made for a memorable event. If you haven't heard Roger's award-winning commentary, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. I admit I dozed off a few times, but I managed to wake up in time to discover that Rosebud was (SPOILER ALERT!) a bottle of Paul Masson wine.

Nuclear Warheads Make Great Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

There was one other thing I needed to do before the Festival was over. Being a VIP gives you a busy schedule, so I hadn’t an opportunity to spend much time with some of the friends I met last year. To rectify that, I met up with Twitter’s own TheAngryMick, Donny Carder and the aforementioned Mark Pfeiffer for a last lunch in Champaign. The EbertFest Hobo finally got out of other cars and drove his own. To atone for my car-hopping sins, after lunch I drove my festival buddy to the train station. He and many of the FFC’s and Demanders were Amtraking back to Chicago that evening.

During the lunch, Donny and I filled our Polish buddy’s brain with talk of the most indestructible substance on Earth, gov’ment cheese. “You  can hit gov’ment cheese with a nuclear warhead and it won’t melt,” I said. “You know those wire cheese cutters?” asked Donny. “They didn’t exist before gov’ment cheese! You’d go through about 2 of them per brick.” Mark looked at us like we were crazy, but this conversation truly belonged in context with the rest of the film festival. Gov’ment cheese is the perfect metaphor for my love of cinema. It’s free, it’s indestructible, and it will last forever.

The End of the Festival

Standing in a train station, saying goodbye to so many friends old and new, was the perfect way to end my time at EbertFest 2012. I was reminded of the end of an old, romantic movie, where the guy runs after the train, waving goodbye to his lady love as she leaves the station. As the train speeds up, so does our hero, just in time to see the handkerchief drifting down from his lady’s window. He picks it up and holds it to his face, remembering the time he spent enjoying her company. The bittersweet sound of the train echoes in the distance as the camera glances once more upon our hero, still absorbing his memories. For him, the return of his sweetheart is uncertain and improbable. For me, I know I’ll get to live through the experience again in 12 months at EbertFest 2013.

Fade out.

The Set I'm Claiming: Jana Monji, Roger, Jim Emerson, Steven Boone, Odie "Odienator" Henderson, Donald Liebenson. (Not pictured, but in spirit, Jeff Shannon and Kevin B. Lee)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Demander Sings of EbertFest: Post Four

by  Odienator

A good movie is like a good sermon. For those of us who grew up in church (or “ch-yurch” as the Black pastors say), the most effective sermon was one where you felt the preacher was speaking directly to you. Growing up in the church, I had those moments more than once. I’d be sitting in the pew assigned my family members, sweating my ass off in a suit and fanning myself with one of those popsicle stick fans that were an insult to cooling systems—and then BAM!! The preacher’s words would strike a chord within me. The church would suddenly go dark, illuminated only by a spotlight beaming down from the heavens and onto me. Sometimes my direct message was one of empathy. Sometimes it was one of reassurance. And sometimes it was one of scorn, telling me I was living foul. Regardless, when the sermon was good, when it hit home, I felt it jolting through my nerves like gum wrapper foil on a filled tooth. This is what a good sermon—and a good movie—can do for you. It can speak to you as if only thine ears can hear its message.

On the list of EbertFest films this year, a few spoke to me in ways that cast that spotlight down into the Virginia Theater, illuminating me and resonating their messages through my nappy soul. I pause a moment to speak of each with the reverence they deserve.

The Son Of A Preacher Man Tells All

When asked, I always describe myself as “a lapsed Baptist,” but I know better. If I stepped into a church today,  I’d be in trouble. A loud voice from the sky would boom “Oh NO YOU DI’INT!” This would be followed by a lightning bolt enema. I’ve no use for organized religion anymore, but nothing short of reverse-exorcism can remove the things I got, pro and con, from my time in the church. Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground” spoke to me, highlighting both the reasons I stayed so long in my religion and why I left it. Serving as both director and star, Farmiga commendably crafts a non-judgmental ramble through the life of her character, from youth to motherhood. Based on the memoir of Carolyn S. Briggs, who appeared in a great, informative Q&A with Nell Minow, “Higher Ground” resists the urge of most religious themed movies; it neither preaches to the choir nor attempts any converts. It accepts the world it inhabits, and treats it with dignity. Like Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle,” it leaves you to contemplate your own belief system while coasting on the kind of energy that drives old fashioned tent revivals.

Seeing it for the second time, “Higher Ground” hit me harder than my initial viewing. It made me nostalgic and angry in equal measure, provoking not only confusion at my emotional response, but also some unexpected tears. What were those tears for? I honestly didn’t know. I was undergoing some form of catharsis. More than any other film at EbertFest, this one got to me.

Love: Iranian Style

My third viewing of "A Separation" did little to diminish its power. The film I put at #2 on my ten best list for 2011 grows richer with every viewing, allowing me to marvel at how well the screenplay uses an almost standard construction as a springboard for a dissertation on human behavior. What really hit home for me this time was just how integral the daughter’s actions are to the film prior to its ending. Played by the director’s daughter, Sarina Fahardi, in heartbreaking fashion, the character of Termeh loses her innocence while desperately clinging to the hope that her parents will cancel their separation. As a child of divorce, I felt the collateral damage Termeh feels. The ending, which drew audible groans from the audience the first time I saw it (the Virginia Theater crowd was more forgiving), seems an act of mercy on the director’s part, sparing not us but Termeh herself. 

At the Q&A for "A Separation," Sony Classics president Michael Barker, Paul Cox and FFC moderator Professor Omer Mozaffar discussed some of the purely Iranian elements American audiences would miss, as well as an answer for the film’s final, unanswered question. I was glad to hear their answers, which agreed with my own: There’s no right answer here. Not even King Solomon could have provided one.

Paul Cox Sits Behind Me

The EbertFest record-holder for appearances is director Paul Cox. Cox finds himself the subject of the documentary that opened Saturday’s EbertFest screenings, “On Borrowed Time.” It’s a bracingly honest documentary, much like the director’s own work, with talking heads occasionally saying some rather brutal things about the subject. “On Borrowed Time” was made while Cox was waiting for a liver transplant, so it shows, to paraphrase Cox, its subject falling apart onscreen. We hear from Cox, his actors and the producers for whom he worked. “Time” has an eerie parallel with the one film of Cox’s I really like, “A Woman’s Tale.” Like that film, “Time” follows its subject through what may be the end of life.  Actress Sheila Florance was dying during the filming of “A Woman’s Tale,” and like “On Borrowed Time,” the film is purely matter-of-fact in its pity-free depiction.

EbertFest 2012 was dedicated to Paul Cox. Before the screening of “On Borrowed Time,” Chaz introduced Cox to the audience. I turned around to find him standing directly behind me in the audience. During the film, after an actor said a particularly snarky thing about Cox, I heard a boisterous laugh from behind me. Mr. Cox was clearly enjoying this, and I thought to myself, this is how I’d like my funeral to be. Screw that Baptist funeral shit, with people jumping on my coffin in grief and the playing of my least favorite song in the world, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Instead, I want people to get up and say “I loved that Odie. But sometimes he was a real dick.” Don’t be dishonest out of respect for the dead. It’s not like I can come back.

Let’s Go To Prison

People say I look like this guy too. I do NOT have that much chest hair.

Saturday morning bore witness to a fascinating panel discussion of science and the special effects behind “The Tree of Life’s” famous “what the fuck is this?” Creation of the Universe section. Director Jeff Nichols, whose “Take Shelter” was screening in the Saturday evening slot, was also there to talk about the effects in his film. These effects take the form of visions seen by “Take Shelter’s” star, Michael Shannon. The tie to “The Tree of Life” comes in the guise of Jessica Chastain, who plays Shannon’s understanding wife. Chastain, who could do no wrong in 2011, and Shannon turn in superb acting work, but full disclosure forces me to admit I wasn’t crazy about “Take Shelter.” I wasn’t going to tell that to Michael Shannon, though. He’s a big guy! Also, since even more near-sighted people than the ones who say I’m Cee-Lo think I look like Chi McBride (pictured above, with rubber duck and sodomy in mind), I was hoping to run some lines with Mr. Shannon from the guilty pleasure in his canon, “Let’s Go To Prison.”

“Do I even have a scene with Chi?” Mr. Shannon asked me. “You have one,” I said, proceeding to describe it.

“It’s obvious I’ve seen this film more than once,” I sheepishly admitted.

Mr. Shannon found that amusing, and rather than kick my ass, he posed for a picture with me.

Speaking of ass kicking…

Odie Gets His Ass Kicked

The title is homage to James Thurber.*

I was hoping for my Saturday Night to turn out like the Bay City Rollers song. (You know you want to sing it: “S-A-T-U-R…D-A-Y…NIGHT!”) Instead it turned out like that Elton John song, “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting.” Throughout the festival, I had plenty of people calling me Cee-Lo once or twice. However, there was one festival guest who clearly relished doing it. Whenever I’d see him, he’d yell out “Cee-Lo! It’s Cee-Lo!” He was real pushy too, both sober and when he’d been drinking. He became unreasonable once he’d had a few. Now, I normally relish putting people on blast, so I should say his name. But I’m trying to craft a tasteful series here…

(Lightning strikes Odie)

OK. OK. Taste has nothing to do with it. I promised I wouldn’t say who it is, so you’ll have to forgive me. But this director was pushy, demanding that I see his movie whenever I saw him. I tried to avoid him but ran into him EVERYWHERE, including the one place I couldn’t run into Kelechi Ezie, the men’s room. On Thursday night at the karaoke, he went after some people after getting lit up on dat Devil’s Brew. I wasn’t paying attention to this prescient scene, but some of his victims shared horror stories with me when I told them mine.

During the festival, I’d gotten a reputation as the EbertFest Hobo because I bummed a ride off anybody who had a host driving them around. (VIP’s get their very own host. I drove, so no host was necessary for me.) I’d bummed rides with Jana’s host, Boone’s host (who was a party animal and loads of fun) and my festival buddy, Michal’s host (who will get a shout-out tomorrow). It was a good idea for me to bum a ride Saturday night, as the post festival party was being held at Betsy Hendrick House, a domicile I would NEVER have been able to find with my constantly confused Verizon GPS. This was a really nice place, an intimate setting with delicious food and hard liquor. It was hardly the place for a fight. I mean this joint had a piano player, for Cripe’s Sake!

I hadn’t seen the director since I’d seen his film. I was terrified I’d run into him and have to tell him I didn’t like it. So my desire for avoidance increased hundredfold. Of course, I was the first person he saw when he came into the party at 1:30 AM.

Immediately he started up with the Cee-Lo talk. After I jokingly said “Fuck You,” he continued. It was Cee-Lo this and Cee-Lo that.

“I have a name,” I said, “and it’s Odie.”

“I’m calling you Cee-Lo because Chaz said so,” he said, with a little menace in his voice.

 “I have a name,” I repeated, “and it is Odie.”

He leaned in closer, until our faces almost touched. He acted as if this were about to go down at Ray-Ray’s Pool Hall on Martin Luther King Drive, not a fancy home in Champaign. He repeated his line with even more menace. 

 “I’m calling you Cee-Lo because Chaz said so.”

He smelled like the inside of a used bourbon barrel. The piano player, who was directly behind us, started playing “Misty.” Clint Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut popped into my head, but I couldn’t focus on the irony of its title right now.

I turned my face away from his. “Dude,” I said tersely, “I’m not interested in fighting, especially not here. It’s Saturday night. That Cee-Lo shit was played out on Thursday. You wanna talk to me? My name is Odie.”

He looked even angrier. I expected him to hit me, which was the last thing I wanted. But the next question completely threw me off.

“Did you see my movie?” he asked.

“And what movie was that?” I asked, clearly being a sarcastic dick. I knew exactly which movie he was talking about, but I wasn’t in a satisfaction-giving mood after he stepped to me like a tough guy. Plus, I really disliked his movie, which would have really made him hit me.

His wounded expression got to me. He was visibly hurt. Thirty seconds ago, he was ready to slug me—and now THIS?!!! “Everybody has a heart,” Bette Davis echoed in my head, “except some people.” I ain’t some people. I’m actually a very sensitive human being despite my gruff, New Jersey exterior.  I felt like I should have just let him drunkenly harass “Cee-Lo,” but after three days of being called out of my name by half the fucking festival, I’d had enough. My sympathy hardened back into aggravation.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and walked off. I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Whoa,” said another party attendee who was near enough to hear the entire thing. “That was tense!”

“I need a drink,” I said.

*When I was a freshman in high school, I had to read a story by James Thurber called “The Night The Bed Fell.”  The bed in the story didn’t fall, and I felt lied to and cheated by the author. So I titled this section “Odie Gets His Ass Kicked” knowing full well I’d emerge unscathed. I feel just as badly for misleading you as Walter Mitty’s creator felt for misleading me.

Tomorrow: In Sight, It Must Be As Addictive As Crack; Odie Finally Gets Some Sleep; Roger & Me; Nuclear Warheads Make Great Grilled Cheese Sandwiches; The End of the Festival

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Demander Sings of EbertFest: Post Three

by Odienator

When Hamlet said “to sleep, perchance to dream, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” he must have been at a film festival. EbertFest provided us with late night social events that ran later than my old teenage curfew allowed, at places where people could mingle, mangia and possibly hook up. But even if you’re not a VIP, there are still plenty of reasons to burn the midnight oil at EbertFest. Perhaps you have a deadline for festival coverage to meet, or you’ve found your own festival buddy with whom you’ve talked and drank until dawn. Maybe you’re an insomniac whose brain remained filled with the barrage of images flashing from the Virginia Theater screen, images that provoked, cajoled, informed, entertained and inspired. If you were lucky, you were kept awake by someone else, basking in the afterglow of what had just transpired, your senses afire and your brain still reeling from the surprising, climactic way your evening ended.

On Thursday night, I couldn’t sleep because I was freaking out over the goddamn panel I had to do in the morning.

I knew the panel was being streamed over the Internet, and I have a face for radio. In fact, I saw some of the pictures after the panel, and there’s a close up of me I wish I could burn. Laying awake, I feared the worst, perhaps the appearance of the angry woman I encountered at the Virginia who, when she discovered my identity, growled “oh, you’re the asshole who wrote that piece on The Help!” When I finally succumbed to the one hour of sleep I obtained, I dreamed that the panel had turned into a Comedy Central Roast, with Roger as the emcee and my mother getting huge laughs by showing those horrible naked baby pictures of me she drags out for anyone who visits. I needed a hero. I was Holding out for a Hero like Bonnie Tyler on the Footloose soundtrack.

Ladies and gentleman, my hero.

Clothes make the man. The more insecure I am about my appearance, the more I compensate for it with my attire. This hat was supposed to be a one-time deal. I wore it to this year’s Noir City Festival party in San Francisco. My attire was to evoke the 1940’s gangster era—I was going to be the star of a Warner Bruvas Gangsta Movie—so I went to a San Francisco men’s store to buy a suit. There was a beautiful woman behind the counter, as there must always be in a men’s store. Her job is to distract you with her insane beauty so that she can get a better commission. You’ll buy something you don’t need because she says it will look good on you. I’ve been trapped in her web before. I’m a big ol’ metrosexual, and she could see me coming a mile away. Next to her was a gay man. Both of them looked at me as I approached the counter, wordlessly offering help. It was like that story, The Lady or the Tiger? Which door would I choose? 

I went with the gay man. He wasn’t going to lie to me about what looked good on me to get a better deal. Walking out of this store, I’d be representing him. “I’m your Ken doll,” I told him. “I need a suit for a 40’s shindig.” The woman looked at me with daggers in her eyes. “Next time, I’ll flirt until I get you to buy that $300 pair of drawers!” her eyes said. I’ll probably buy them too.

The salesman helped me pick out two suits, one for the noir festival and another because of a buy one get one for $100 sale. We mixed and matched shirts, ties, hankies, cuff links and socks. We fought twice: Once over a white tie he wanted me to wear with a white shirt, the other over this hat. He said I needed a lighter colored hat, I said I needed a darker tie. “Look,” I said, “I’ll wear the white tie, but in exchange, you gotta let me buy this hat.” Earlier, when I’d put it on my head, it was like Frosty the Snowman: I looked in that mirror, and I came to life. I didn’t care how much it cost. I was going to be buried in this hat.

The salesman mulled it over. “No,” he said. “Honestly, a lighter hat works here.”

I looked at him the way that saleswoman would have looked at me while holding up that $300 pair of drawers. He relented.

Putting on the suit for alterations, I turned to the salesman and put on the hat. “Be honest. Do I look good? Was I right about the hat?” He tilted the hat slightly, then looked at me, hand on his chin.

“I’d fuck you,” he said.

He sounded honest. We made the sale.

I kept my word; I wore the tie.

Causing Trouble With The Boone-inator

The above picture was taken at Wednesday night’s Presidential Gala. The gentleman to my right is Mr. Steven Boone. More on my Poitier-Cosby style relationship with Mr. Boone later. For now, what you need to know is that he is what made the Demanders panel heat up Friday morning. Over at Big Media Vandalism, the blog Boone founded and I currently run, we have a series called “Causing Trouble With Odienator,” where I show up in the role of our resident instigator. At the Demanders panel, I didn’t get to start any trouble at all. Boone dropped the bomb on the conversation immediately, and I started looking for C-SPAN cameras because this turned into one of those Congressional hearings. 

I was worried that I’d be on camera too much, so I overdressed, but the cameras stayed pointed away from my side of the table most of the time, capturing the intense discussion between Boone and David Poland. Their back and forth about the studios, audiences, and the kinds of movies being made was the highlight of the panel. All I got to do was sit there and look sexy. Which I did, and quite well I may add. As a result of this, and its opening night appearance, my hat became the talk of EbertFest and was more popular than its owner. I hear it has its own Twitter account too, with which I have nothing to do. Not only am I being overshadowed by Cee-Lo Green, I’m now being cockblocked by my hat.

Spending Time With The Gay Dragonfly

The Alloy Orchestra was back at EbertFest with a  new batch of silent films under which they’d work their magic. Last year, they opened the festival with their fantastic scoring of the most complete cut of Metropolis shown thus far. This time, they showcased a series of silents all over 100 years old. The silents focused on special effects and crass humor I wasn’t expecting in “old movies.” The series lived up to its moniker: There was plenty of “Wild and Weird” shit in these movies!

The two most prominent elements of the series were bugs and rarebit. Both were the stars of numerous shorts. Rarebit, which I’d never heard of before this, is some kind of cheese and beer dish that must also contain LSD. Two shorts, both entitled “Dreams of A Rarebit Fiend,” bring home the drug reference both in the film’s subject (the fiend) and the hallucinogenic dreams he had. Wikipedia says it’s a British dish, but we Americans can buy a frozen variety from Stouffer's. Anything in a Stouffer's box is already a fucking nightmare before you eat it, so I guess it’s appropriate they make rarebit.

The bug shorts made me incredibly itchy, as their execution implied that someone took hundreds of dead bugs and made stop-motion animation with them. One featuring a fly doing “tricks” grossed me out more than Lucio Fulci’s "The Gates of Hell," but another, about Mr. and Mrs. Beetle, played right into my trashy love of Harold Robbins and telenovelas. Mr. and Mrs. Beetle were having marital problems, which I at first thought were caused by their infidelities. But while Mrs. Beetle carried on at home with another bug, Mr. Beetle went to a club to pitch woo to “The Gay Dragonfly.” The visual of the Gay Dragonfly, who would have made Rick Santorum immediately reach for the Raid can and a shoe, was worth the price of admission, but so was the whole interspecies insect sex “on the down low” angle of this short. The Alloy Orchestra was at its best underscoring it too. Watching them work is sometimes more fun than the movies.

My favorite short in “Wild and Weird” proved that gross out humor is not some phenomenon created in the 1980’s. A clarinet player winds up with his instrument protruding both from the top of his head and out of his mouth. The visual is profoundly disturbing, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop laughing at how absurd it was. (I hope The Movie Mom, Nell Minow, who was sitting next to me and Michal, didn't think me psychotic.) And yes, someone tries to play it. But watching people try to yank that clarinet out of his head through his mouth almost made me lose consciousness.

The Truth About Odie and Blogs

The Odie Way dictates that, if I don’t want to run into somebody, I will CONSTANTLY run into that person. He or she will find a way to cross paths with me, even if it means falling out of the ceiling like the duck on You Bet Your Life. I kept running into two people that gave me pause whenever I saw them. The first is Kelechi Ezie, the director of “The Truth About Beauty and Blogs.” Don’t get me wrong—I WANTED to cross paths with her because she’s talented, witty and beautiful. But her beauty made me feel unworthy of her presence! Whenever I saw her, I felt like that corner of gov’ment cheese you manage to saw off the brick before your chainsaw breaks. I swear I ducked her twice, and this was after I rode the elevator with her Wednesday evening. I was dressed to the nines and I couldn’t even say hello. So, a highlight of the festival was her approving fist bump after my Prince imitation on karaoke night.

The other person I kept running is the person I alluded to in my first post, the one who wanted to kick my ass. Unlike Ms. Ezie, I eventually couldn’t duck this guy.

Tomorrow: Paul Cox Sits Behind Me; Love: Iranian Style; The Son of A Preacher Man Tells All; Let’s Go to Prison; Odie Gets His Ass Kicked

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Demander Sings of EbertFest: Post Two

by Odienator

One of the greatest by-products of attending a film festival is meeting people who share your love of the cinema. I’ve been to several well-known cinematic gatherings—Toronto, New York, Tribeca, SXSW, Bath—and along with the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City Festival, EbertFest provides the most intimate settings by which to meet and get to know your fellow film fanatic. EbertFest is apparently habit-forming as well; you run into the same folks year after year. I was happy to see people with whom I spent numerous hours of debate and discussion last year return. Our conversations picked up where we’d left them the year before.

To promote such camaraderie, the Ebert Club hosts a meet and greet with the FFC’s and the Demanders every year. This year was looser than last, but it still afforded the opportunity to meet not only readers of but some of the new Far-Flung Correspondents and my own Demander brethren. We come from different corners of the world, and I enjoyed discussing my eventual mastery of understanding the Brummie accent with FFC Scott Jordan Harris, and my ballroom dance training with fellow Demander Jana Monji. Most importantly, I finally got to meet the elusive Jim Emerson. Jim put a body to the voice that called me the night before, and soothed my fears that he might be an AS/400 computer rather than an actual human being. The idea is not as strange as it sounds: I’m a computer programmer. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve spent years unknowingly talking to an IBM product.

Why I Came To EbertFest 2012: Jeeem 'n Odie

Rise of the Planet of the Far-Flung Correspondents

A highlight of last year’s EbertFest was the Far-Flung Correspondents’ panel. Led, as it was this year, by the always hilarious and very intimidating Professor Omer Mozaffar, the FFC’s discussed the cinema in their hometowns, with Turkey’s own Ali Arikan using his sinful accent to steal the show. This year, Ali’s accent was in traction from overuse, so he was unavailable to attend. The FFC panel was still a must-see, with plenty of humor, movie piracy and camaraderie to go around. I hope the FBI and the MPAA weren’t watching!

The FFC panel is so popular it usually gets the coveted, primo Friday at 10:30 AM spot. This year, my merry band of Demanders—Jana, Jim, Steven Boone, and yours truly—landed it. Next year, Roger will make us arm wrestle for it. Crank up those DVD’s of Sly Stallone’s Over the Top, Far Flung Correspondents, and we’ll meet you halfway across the sky in 2013.

Odie Bogart Finds His Claude Rains

One thing everybody needs at a film festival is a festival buddy, someone with whom you can roam around and/or get into mischief. It’s great if you’ve brought your own, but it can be even better if you manage to find and befriend one while onsite. This year, I managed to do the latter and, lo and behold, it was one of those pesky FFC’s. Though familiar with his writing, I’d never met Michał Oleszczyk before EbertFest. His tie to the Demanders came courtesy of fellow Demander Kevin B. Lee (whom I refer to by his full name at ALL times). We spoke briefly at the Presidential Gala and at the Meet and Greet, but it wasn’t until we played hooky from an EbertFest screening (a tradition for me, bad influence that is I) in favor of Blue Moons and burgers that we discovered we had much in common despite being from different corners of the world, he from Poland and I from the Garden State. Such is the beauty of this festival. Michał's majestic piece on EbertFest is here, and like what you are reading now, evokes the personality of its writer. By festival’s end, I realized that, if I were Bogie in Casablanca, Rick Blaine had just found his Captain Louis.

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Time to bring some Joisey attitude to Champaign-Urbana.

They Might Be Giants Fans

New Jersey is a bipolar state. On one hand, my birthplace is responsible for Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson and Springsteen. On the other, it’s to blame for Snooki, “Nork” Airport and the thing that single-handedly destroyed the ozone layer, Jersey Hair. Nothing provides more evidence of the state’s warped duality than sports. Sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey residents root for one city’s teams or the other with Civil War style intensity. For our great state has a Mason-Dixon line called Interstate 195, which cuts a craggly swath across New Jersey’s waistline. North of that line is Yankees-Mets-Jints-Jets-Rangers-Devils territory; south of it is Philly Nation, home of the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers. ‘Tis only appropriate that 195, or Exit 7A on the Noo Joisey Toinpike for our “What Exit?” fans out there, takes you to Great Adventure, an amusement park with a drive through safari from which animals occasionally escape. Once, a colleague of mine from my AT&T days opened his door to find a misplaced lion sitting on his porch. It was eating his Giants jersey, which he’d left hanging outside to dry. 

That lion was from the south side of Interstate 195.

Though based in Staten Island, Robert Siegel’s “Big Fan” understands the rivalry between New York and Philly fans. The opening feature on EbertFest’s second day stars Patton Oswalt as Paul, a rabid Jints fan so devoted to the former team of The Tuna that he scripts long, rambling monologues to spout on sports radio at 2 AM. His intensity is met by the voice of Michael Rapaport as Phil, an equally rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan.  Both men are well beyond obnoxious sports fans, but “Big Fan” refuses to pass judgment nor does it allow Paul to solicit pity from the viewer—even after a Big Blue player beats Paul black and blue. He’s happy in his dead-end job, living at home with his increasingly pissed off mother and tailgating in the parking lot of the old Giants Stadium while listening to the game. He can’t see it live because, unless you’re a season ticket holder or Jimmy Hoffa, you’re not seeing the inside of a sold out Giants game until 2020.

According to the Q&A with Siegel, Patton Oswalt is no fan of football. This makes his performance all the more astounding. Not only does he successfully channel rage, disappointment and suspenseful slow burning, he nails the standard issue, crazy ass Giants fan. And I should know. I live 3 miles from Met Life Stadium. I grew up in a house full of Jints fans—all three of my brothers and my Pops worshipped Wellington Mara’s team. I spent lots of evenings sleeping on the couch during football season in the 90’s because I was married to a Giants fan. My heart belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. It’s a lonely existence living along the Hudson River.

After the film, I overheard some audience members tsk-tsking Paul and his passion. I wanted to scold these cinephiles for their hypocrisy. “Look inside yourselves, sinners,” I wanted to preach, “and find that slavish devotion you have to some filmmaker, some actor, some screenwriter. Thou can’t cast the first stone!” I’ve seen bigger arguments over movies than any other subject besides God. Hell, I once saw a guy get punched in the face at the New York Film Festival for loving Rohmer more than Godard. Knocked the fuck out over dry as hell Eric Rohmer! Fanaticism isn’t just for sports lovers, folks

Cee-Lo Goes “Crazy”

Thursday night is Karaoke Night at EbertFest, and, for my second year in a row, I attended the shindig thrown together by FFC Olivia Collette and her energetic, delightfully humorous husband, Russell. The bar was lively, with people dancing, drinking and singing their hearts out. Olivia did a rocking version of 99 Luftbalons and, fresh from our screening of “Terri,” the delightful and surprisingly frank teenage drama about a kid more comfortable in his own skin than those who judge him, was Terri himself, Jacob Wysocki. “Hey, Cee-Lo!” said Jacob’s best buds. “Fuck you!” said I. Terri and his pirates' karaoke performance almost made me like the Backstreet Boys.

“I guess I’m going to have to sing a Cee-Lo song,” I told Raymond Lambert. “Let’s give the people what they want.” But Cee-Lo was nowhere to be found in the karaoke book. “Thank God,” I thought to myself. “Well, you have to sing something,” said Raymond, who was contemplating Al Green. “Let’s see if there’s any Prince,” I said. Scrolling down the book, I discovered “Let’s Go Crazy.” “You should do THAT,” said Raymond, pumping me up. So armed with some liquid courage courtesy of my new buddy Michał, I stepped to the mike and imagined I was purifying myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

I sang my ass off, screaming and acting like His Purple Badness. Even so, "Let's Go Crazy" was still easier to sing than my supposed doppelganger’s song about crazy. I was photographed by FFC Pablo Villaça, who had a great camera and a greater eye.

I must have made an impression because, upon running into the "Terri Crew" at the Union, one of the guys yelled out “Prince!” Had I shaken the Cee-Lo Green curse for good? Don’t bet on it.

Tomorrow: Spending Time With The Gay Dragonfly, The Truth About Odie and Blogs, and Causing Trouble With the Boone-inator

A Demander Sings of EbertFest: Post One

by Odienator

2012 marked my second visit to EbertFest, the film festival sponsored by the heart, mind and soul of Roger Ebert. Last year, I pounded the pavement as a member of the press. This year, I entered the hallowed halls of the University of Illinois as one of the motley crew Roger calls “The Demanders.” More than once at the festival, someone asked what it is “The Demanders” demand. The short answer is: your undivided attention …and a plane with enough fuel to take us to Brazil. For your troubles, we write about upcoming On Demand features you can watch from the comfort of your home. Our work is skillfully edited by our Demander-in-Chief, Jim “Jeeem” Emerson.

Until I set out for Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Jim Emerson existed in my consciousness as a series of still photos and well-written words from numerous E-mails and posts on his Scanners blog. In 2010, I committed to driving to the festival to meet one of the biggest supporters of my work, but the weather had other ideas. Tornadoes hit Indiana, and unless Jim was also The Wizard of Oz, I wasn’t going to see him if I’d taken the risk. In 2011, he was absent from the festival, but this year, not only would he be present, he would also be moderating our Demanders panel. This event would be streamed into the universe and would mark my legitimate Internet video debut.

And yet, this year’s potential meeting seemed threatened by forces beyond my control. For starters, I broke my toe in yet another demonstration of my clumsiness. Far more ominously, I was in the throes of a full emotional and psychological meltdown that kept me from writing anything for two months. My Demander-in-Chief edited the first two things I wrote after I emerged from my breakdown, so I owed him big time. Meeting Mr. Emerson was the primary reason I went to EbertFest. All that other crazy shit that happened to me?  All gravy, baby.

In the Shadow of Celebrity

I was not only a Demander in physical representation at the festival; I was also representing us on the Demanders blog. My piece on “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” greeted any festival-goer who ventured to the site. So the pressure was on for me not to disgrace the brand. “Do not embarrass me in public,” said the brand, quoting my mother’s oft-repeated demand. Last year, my public behavior wasn’t flawless: I had to sleep in my car one night and I got into a bar fight. This time, my VIP status guaranteed that I wouldn’t have to do the former: I was being put up at the Illini Union with my fellow writers for the duration of the festival. The latter…well let’s just say somebody wanted to kick my ass this year too.

By definition, I was no celebrity. I was, and am, a humble writer, part of one of’s two superb groups of talented writers. That other group, The Far-Flung Correspondents, came first and are more numerous. This would be a problem if and when The Demanders challenged them to a West Side Story-style rumble. For now, we were all there to mingle, speak about and enjoy the festival. There was the classic definition of celebrity roaming around, folks like Michael Shannon for example, but the one who cast the biggest shadow had his name as the prefix in this festival.

Or so I thought. There was an even bigger celebrity shadow looming over me, and he would cause me no end of trouble, aggravation and threat. That celebrity is this man:

Cee-Lo Green is a lot of things. Former member of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley, current co-host of The Voice, producer and songwriter extraordinaire. He is also, according to far too many near-sighted people, a dead ringer for me. I say that he looks like me, and not the other way around, because I was here first. I have four years on Mr. Green, and quite frankly, I don’t think I look very much like him. I’ll let you be the judge.

This is your friendly neighborhood Odienator

 This is NOT your friendly neighborhood Odienator

Keep your answers to yourselves.

News travels fast at film festivals, and after Chaz Ebert introduced me at the Opening Night Presidential Gala by pointing out how I’d been mistaken for Cee-Lo by a bunch of starstruck Jersey City prep-school kids, everybody and their mother started calling me Mr. Green’s nickname. I’d usually respond, in a joking tone, with the title of Cee-Lo’s biggest hit. Almost every time, the person would think I was uttering a command and not a title, and he or she would apologize. “No no no,” I had to constantly say, “Fuck You--like the song!”

 “Ohhhh,” the person would say.

I must have said fuck you to about 75 people, allowing me to snatch the title of “The Fuck You Man” from Eddie Murphy.

In the ghetto, cee-lo is a dice game one should never play if one likes to keep one’s head free of bullets. Like spades and dominoes, cee-lo is a game that almost always leads to violence. By virtue of appearance alone, I was “playing” Cee-Lo. It was only a matter of time before he’d lead me to violence.

Dying is Easy, Comedy Is Hard

EbertFest 2012 opened with two feature films and one short. The short, “The Truth About Beauty and Blogs,” was an entertaining tale of how YouTube and social media have become integral parts of the lifestyles of this generation. I must confess that, as someone who watches very little YouTube and hardly ever tweets/FB’s anything outside of the shameless self-promotion of pieces like this, I am sure I missed some of the subtleties and satire of the piece. I guess this is the price one pays for being old. In my 20’s, cell phones were still as big as laptops and AOL was the shit. Sad times they were.

I looked forward to the opening feature, John Patrick Shanley’s “Joe vs. the Volcano.” In my original review, I wrote “no one liked this movie besides Siskel, Ebert and me.” The appreciative theater audience at the Virginia begged to differ: They laughed at the right moments and enjoyed the film as much as I did the first time I saw it. Shanley’s opening sequence is audacious, a daringly drawn-out, repetitive series of scenes that visually depicts the hellish feeling one gets in the pit of one’s gut when faced with another day at a dead-end job. Stephen Goldblatt’s cin-tog accurately drains the life from the proceedings, as Tom Hanks and the first of three incarnations of Meg Ryan suffer through a day at an anal probe factory. Dan Hedaya plays their horrible boss, and Hanks makes Joe’s malaise a physical manifestation.

The dingy fluorescent lights that adorn the factory set look dangerous enough to cause one’s demise, making the revelation of Joe’s fatal “brain cloud” oddly plausible despite its 4th grade description. Soonafter, Joe quits his dead end job and accepts an offer from The Big Lebowski’s dad to go to a remote South Pacific island to throw himself into a volcano. Joined by the other two incarnations of Meg Ryan, and a fine, nuanced turn by Ossie Davis, Joe buys the last sets of clothing (and suitcases) he’ll ever own and heads out for his ultimate destiny. I don’t know how much pain brain clouds cause once they finally erupt into thunder, but unless you’re a brick of government cheese, you won’t last more than a second in a volcano.

Hanks is at his early-career goofy best, but his one scene of awe and gratitude struck a poignant chord with me. Adrift at sea on an unusual boat, and nearly delusional, Hanks’ Joe is suddenly dwarfed by a huge, rising moon. As the satellite breaks loose from the horizon en route to a cozy perch in the sky, Joe throws up his hands in shock and surrender. Sometimes we focus so much on the problems of our own little world that we fail to see just how inconsequential they can be. The universe keeps on ticking. For compulsives like me, who find strange comfort in patterns and order, this was a salve for my fried nerves and burned soul, a symbolic rebirth akin to my emerging from the darkness of the last two months.

Jumping into a volcano is a helluva lot easier than running a comedy club in Chicago, at least that’s what I gathered from "Phunny Business: A Black Comedy." This documentary about Raymond Lambert’s groundbreaking, influential club touches not only on the superstars who graced its stage on the way to their ascent in the celebrity sky, but also on Chicago politics, racial and otherwise. Plus it’s funny as hell, and not just from the comedians. The audience wanted to smoke weed with the film’s Honest John, and the Q&A panel featured Everybody Hates Chris’ Ali LeRoi and Lambert himself. Mr. Lambert would play a role in psyching me up for the craziness I’d tend to on Thursday.

 Mr. Raymond Lambert and Cee--I mean, Odie

As Wednesday night drew to a close, it became the only night I would actually get to sleep during EbertFest.

Tomorrow: They Might Be Giants Fans; “Mr. Emerson, I Presume?”, Terri and the Pirates, Rise of the Planet of the Far-Flung Correspondents, and Cee-Lo Goes “Crazy.”