Thursday, September 25, 2008

GANESHA & Other Sponsors

This just in: Renato Canciani, super-salesman at Ottica Vascellari, reports that he sold Aaron Betsky, the Director of the Architecture section of La Biennale, a pair of eyeglasses. I knew Aaron was cool -- as is Renato.

To read more about Aaron, go here:

To read more about Ottica Vascellari, go here:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Live! From the 11th International Architecture Festival in Venice, Italy

(Venice, Italy) Another little miracle – I am writing to you from inside the press room at Arsenale from the next section of La Biennale: Architecture. This morning, Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, spoke at the press conference, together with a dynamic American, Aaron Betsky, who is the Director of the 11th International Exhibition of Architecture. Entitled, OUT THERE: Architecture Beyond Building, the festival opens on September 14th, and runs through November 23, 2008. I have just viewed the portion inside the Arsenale, and report that if you are in Venice during this time, YOU HAVE GOT TO COME! Do you see that image up there? That is the first thing you see when you walk into Arsenale. You can make all the points of light connect and change and move if you dance around and flash your energy up at the screen through your fingertips, just like a god. Any architecture exhibit that opens with something like that has got to be a window into the big brain, n'est pas?

Paolo Baratta said he was pleased that attendance is growing rapidly for the Architecture Biennale, both with the architects, and the journalists. Aaron Betsky confirmed that when it comes to cutting edge architecture that Venice is the place to be -- for the vehement criticisms. For the uncanny ability to debate. Betsky said, “You have to come to Venice.” The reknown architect Frank Gehry will be honored with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and he has an installation here.

Aaron Betsky, who was born in Missoula, Montana in 1958 is feisty and outspoken, and, again, I am so happy to see Americans arriving here with this kind of energy. He began by thanking the staff at La Biennale for making his job easier, and said he was flabbergasted by the ability of the team here in Venice who worked to make these architectural concepts a reality. He said these were not final products, but catalysts.

He made a provocative statement: “The road to Utopia leads to the gas chamber.” He elaborated by saying that a totalitarian regime which uses technology and industrialization to control the environment can only hope to create a perfect static state. He said his idea of a beautiful city is one that is continually changing, both growing and shrinking. There was a lot of talk about pixels and molecules, which is right up my alley.

For example, I chatted with a young architect from Guallart Architects, "MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms," from Catalunya. I said, "So, tell me what this is." He said, "Tell me what you think it is." I said, "I think we are finally physically manifesting the unseen connections in the universe." He said, "On the planet." I said, "Okay, the planet, but, to me, the planet is part of the universe."

He said, "We want to show how that chair can also be the same as a table, and the same as a theater. That it is made up of the same corners, the same molecules." I said, "Very good, but I like that pineapple thingy you've got over there. I can't wait until architects incorporate even more fractal geometry. Mandelbrot discovered the formula for a tree, for the coastline. I'd like to see more of that -- not just in the movies."

Another one of my favorites was Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who are based in NYC. Their project was a two-screen film from the point of view of a passenger inside a gondola, with swiveling stools so you could look forward and back. The scene was the original Grand Canal (with a nice view of my apartment:), and the same scene from copies of Venice in Las Vegas, Macau, Doha, Nagoya and Tokyo -- I did not know we had so many Venices these days. In every city, there was a voice-over. Now, what, you might ask, does that have to do with architecture? Everything. When you see it, you will understand. Betsky said, "We are not proposing solutions. These are not final products." He used the word "catalyst" many times.

In any event, as I keep saying, I am totally in love with La Biennale, the organization. Perhaps it can only exist inside Venice, inside our "as it was, where it was" mentality. Perhaps the ancient, dusty energy of the past is a balance for the dynamic, creative energy of the future.

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wim Wenders Declares: "I Will Never Be on a Jury Again!" - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) By now, you probably know that The Wrestler won the Golden Lion at La Biennele di Venezia 65. Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica, otherwise known as the 65th International Venice Film Festival. If you were to translate that word by word, it would look more like The Biennial of Venice 65 Exhibit International of the Art Cinematography. To add to the confusion, La Biennale, which means something that occurs every two years, is now practically non-stop here in Venice, what with the art, architecture, music, film and theater. And at an international festival, many different cultures collide. Add to that just how... um... Byzantine the city of Venice itself is -- not to mention its politics -- and you could run screaming to the hills.

When the German director Wim Wenders made that declaration during the press conference after the awards ceremony: "I will never be on a jury again," a journalist said, "That is a headline. You have just given us a headline. Would you care to explain why?"

Wenders thought for a moment, and then said that in his heart he thought it was best not to talk
about it. He looked to the rest of the jury (Wim Wenders presided over this year’s jury, which included Juriy Arabov, Valeria Golino, Douglas Gordon, Lucrecia Martel, John Landis and Johnnie To), and they agreed it was best not to speak. Earlier in the evening, during the ceremony, Wenders had criticized the rule that the same film could not win Best Actor or Actress, and Best Film. He was very careful to clarify that his statement had absolutely nothing to do with the Italian actor, Silvio Orlando, winning the top award for his role in Il Papà di Giovanna. Later in the evening, Valeria Golina, another member of the jury, supported his statement, saying the selection of Orlando was unanimous.

We can only imagine what went on behind the scenes. I rather liked Wim Wender's honesty and frank speaking; I found it refreshing. (He is a Leo). I would also imagine that, in the future, he will probably be on a jury again:)

When the Best Actress Dominique Blanc arrived, he asked her: "I have a question. Was that a real hammer?" (See my blog

When the Russians arrived to talk about their Silver Lion for Paper Soldier, he asked them, "How did you guys create that rocket? Did you launch a real rocket or what?" (I didn't see the film.)

Another journalist asked Wim Wenders (that's Wenders with his wife) why Mickey Rourke went up on stage with Darren Aronosfsky, the director, to accept the Golden Lion. Wenders said he didn't know, but he was happy that Rourke did. Later Darren Aronosfsky arrived at the press conference, and did not enter with Mickey Rourke. I thought, ah, ha, now you'll all be disappointed if Mickey Rourke is not here. Moments later, Mickey entered, and I did not hear anyone complaining.

Again, it was many of the same journalists asking the questions, and everything was okay until an Italian journalist asked Mickey Rourke if the Golden Lion for The Wrestler owed something to the long line of boxing movies like Rocky that had gone before. Mickey had said the day before that they had hesitated about bringing The Wrestler to Venice because the wrestling culture was so... American. He had explained and explained the difference between wrestling and boxing. So, Mickey was a tad piqued, as was I, because it was as if nobody had understood a word he'd said. He said: "You are comparing apples and oranges. That question does not make any sense."

The journalist ended up apologizing, but I don't think he understood what he had done wrong. After speaking to other Italians, I think we have a classic cultural misunderstanding, and I am going to attempt to put my spin on it.

Pro wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, are sort of like cartoon characters, while professional boxers, like Mohammed Ali, are like artists and athletes.  

The Wrestler is not a Rocky story. After examing my own feelings, and speaking to people-on-the-street, I believe The Wrestler is striking an archetypical chord -- something uniquely human. We all destroy ourselves to some extent and attempt to rebuild. Most people do not destroy themselves as spectacularly or publicly as Mickey Rourke, either in real life, or in the film. To me, the reason The Wrestler works so well, and appeals to both men and women, different nationalities and cultures, various ages, is because of its universality -- the story of a man struggling to become human. It's a story about individualization and differentiation against all attempts by society to crush the original spirit. Since I climbed out of the New Jersey suburbs myself, I related to it on a personal level.

After the press conference, I chatted with John Landis. I said, "Do you live in Los Angeles?" He said, yes. I said, "I used to live in the hills of Los Feliz, but now I've lived here for ten years." He said, "Do you live on the Lido or in Venice?" I said, "I live on the Grand Canal right at Rialto, right in the thick of it. Don't you think I should get an award just for surviving?" He said, "Venice is not real. It's Disneyland." I said, "Venice is not Disneyland. It's the Magic Kingdom."

I spoke to many people on Saturday night, after the awards. I took an informal survey at two extreme locations, Harry's Bar and the Communist Festival at Rialto. The Harry's Bar people echoed the words of the journalist that it was a Rocky movie (which makes me think it's gossip running on that circuit), while a Venetian I have known for many years at the Communist Festival said, "You want to understand how Venetians feel? You are keeping alive a dead corpse using artificial respiration. All this --" he waved his hand, indicating the Communist celebration in the background -- "the film festival, everything... we are being suffocated. Venetians just want to do their jobs, eat good food, spend time with their families and go out on their boats."

I went to the wrap-up press conference on Sunday morning headed by film festival director, Marco Mueller, and the new La Biennale director, Paolo Baratta (a director of Telecom Italia, which is sort of like AT&T).

A journalist asked if the plans for the new Lido, (which is in the process of being transformed into a mini magic kingdom for the movies) will include a hospital and other real-life buildings for real-life people. Baratta replied that Venice could not only create four and five star hotels and everything that goes with that and hope to survive. That it needed to create housing and activities for young people.

I will add that Venice also needs Venetians to survive. Living, breathing Venetians are the soul of Venice manifested into human form. In fact, it is almost as if dead people are making crucial decisions about Venice's future. Doesn't that sound spooky?:) Hey, I'll bet that would make a good movie! Wait -- didn't Robert Rodriguez already do that?

Another journalist asked about the Toronto Film Festival, which overlaps Venice this year (next year they are going to have a war and go head to head). Mueller replied that there was no mass decampment by journalists to Toronto. As I've said, I quite liked what Marco Mueller did with the American films; I didn't see enough of the entire festival to comment overall, but the jury did say more than once that they had seen a lot of bad films. It's too early to tell the difference between La Biennale directors Davide Croff and Paolo Baratta, but I liked that there were busses waiting nearly every time I stepped off the vaporetto, and at the festival itself. It made life so much easier.

Today Infostrada called me to try to get me to switch phone companies. I said I was happy with Telecom:)

Ciao from Venice,

From La Biennale's website:

"The Venice Biennale has for over a century been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Established in 1895, the Biennale has an attendance today of over 300,000 visitors at the Art Exhibition.

The history of the Venice Biennale dates back from 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. In the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival ever organized). In 1980 the first Intl. Architecture Exhibition took place, and in 1999 Dance made its debut at the Venice Biennale."

Go to La Biennale:

Friday, September 5, 2008

MICKEY ROURKE JUMPS BACK IN THE RING - "The Wrestler" Scores a Knockout - Venice Film Festival

(VENICE, ITALY) Prediction: Mickey Rourke "The Ram" will win Best Actor at the next Academy Awards. (Sorry for those headlines, but I couldn't resist:)

When Mickey Rourke arrived at the press conference this afternoon, everyone burst into spontaneous applause. Half the spectators gave him a standing ovation, including yours truly. I know I keep using words like deeply "shaken" and "emotional," but this film festival has been a roller-coaster ride for me as an American. I just told the Director, Marco Mueller, that he even though there were only five American films, they were five perfect American films, and that he had done a brilliant job. He said he had been criticized for not having more. I said, "Don't listen to them. It was perfect; the films were shown in the right order, and culminating with The Wrestler was brilliant." He had just finished the press conference with Ermanno Olmi, who is receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and is one of the most beautiful speakers I've ever heard. Olmi spoke about the current lack of courage to say what you are thinking, and had asked, where are the writers? Where are the journalists? Why isn't anybody writing about these things? So I told Marco Mueller that I had a blog, and that I could write about these things.

Anyway, back to The Wrestler. Again, this is a very New Jersey film. (JERSEY RULES!) I blinked during the scene with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Randy the Ram's (Mickey Rourke) daughter, because the house she lived in could have been yanked from my hometown. I was dying to know what town it was. All towns in NJ look alike, but this town really looked like Pompton Lakes!

One of the first questions to Mickey Rourke was if he had studied one wrestler in particular to prepare for the role. Mickey (who used to be a boxer) said that to be honest, he had looked down on wrestling, and that he had never taken it seriously. The director, Darren Aronofsky forced him to train, and after two months, he had a new respect for wrestling. He said, "Even if it is staged, when a 250 pound guy throws you across the room, it hurts."

An Australian journalist (who always seems to be called on to ask one of the first questions -- do you think it's a conspiracy?:) said there was talk of an Oscar; that Mickey was fantastic, gushing on and on. She said she had seen Kim Basinger earlier in the festival in The Burning Plain, and was wondering if Mickey and Kim were both making comebacks. Mickey looked bewildered. He said, "The last time I was in a movie with Kim Basinger, we were on two separate continents. I haven't seen her for twenty years." Then he added, "But she still looks great." (I am paraphrasing the press conference, as usual.)

The director, Darren Aronfsky said that people had said, "You are going to work with Mickey Rourke? Are you crazy? He is impossible to work with." Darren replied, "Not the Mickey Rourke I know. The Mickey Rourke I know is a sweet, sensitive man. Underneath all that armor there is a puppy dog."

Mickey raved about Evan Rachel Wood's talent. He said, "The first time I saw her, she had to do a very emotional scene. She's like 20-years-old. She's got so much talent. When I worked with her, I thought, that bitch can act!" Evan Rachel Wood said, "I never met Mickey until the first scene when I worked with him. Darren told me to open to the door and see who was there. I think the first thing I ever said to Mickey Rourke was, "You're such an asshole."

Marisa Tomei, who plays an aging stripper, was not here. But she looked absolutely fabulous, dahling, and can do a mean pole dance:) If I had to criticize one thing about the film, it would be that I thought that role was underwritten. I loved that she was a stripper, but the dialogue was bare to the bone. Marisa Tomei did a valiant job with what was written, but compared to the other roles for women here at the festival, that character did not hold up.

Someone asked Darren about how he managed to get the Bruce Springsteen song at the end of the film. He said, "That was because Bruce is such a great friend of Mickey's. I had nothing to do with it."

Mickey said, "Bruce wrote that song, and he had had a very heavy year. He lost one bandmate after thirty years, and then he lost another. He was touring. But he still managed to write that song."

Mickey was asked the same basic question over and over by journalists of different nationalties, which was: Is this your comeback? Is this character you? Are there parallels between this character and yourself? Mickey answered over and over and over very politely, with humor. It was really getting to be too much, as if none of the journalists were listening to each other, and they all thought they had come up with this unique, fabulous question. (Remember, I had my hand up all this time, and was not being called on, and was growing frustrated.) Mickey was speaking in East Coast slang; Darren was speaking in East Coast slang with a touch of Harvard;I wanted to splash some East Coast slang out there and let them know there was a comrade in the crowd, but I didn't get the chance. Mickey remarked that they weren't sure they should bring the film to Venice because there was no wrestling culture here. He said, "But an aging athelete, no matter what the sport, is in the same position. It's painful because you can no longer do what you want to do. And then someone -- usually someone else -- not themselves -- tells them it's time to retire. Whether you're a wrestler, a boxer, soccer player, whatever, you feel the same."

Anyway, after answering that question over and over and over again, finally Mickey was brutually honest: "What is a comeback? What are you coming back from? The character is living in shame. His wife divorced him. His daughter hates him. The emotion he feels is shame. Fifteen years ago I threw my career away. I know what it feels like to have been something, and then to become a has-been. Sometimes you think it might be better to never have been anything at all. It was shameful what I did. I have no one to blame but myself."

He said that matter-of-factly, directly, honestly, with strength. Just the way he played Randy "The Ram" Robinson. He is so incredibly likeable! Yes! Mickey Rourke is humble and sweet and likeable! Plus, he can still kick ass!

Someone asked if the movie was hopeful. Darren Aronofsky turned to the spectators. "Who thinks the movie gives hope?" I raised my hand, but many people didn't. Darren said, "Well, I am an optimistic person." Once again, the filmmakers said they felt like they were making a fictional documentary. I think they all said that, everyone except the Coen Brothers.

Anyway, I have only heard one other American voice ask a single question during all these American film press conferences (do you think it's a conspiracy?:) Yesterday, instead of pressing the matter, I just called Kathryn Bigelow's representative and asked him to give her a message, which was: "Please tell her I think she's incredibly brave. Please tell her I really respect what she did." He said, "Thank you. She will be very happy to hear that."

With that in mind, today I just walked up to the podium after the conference and said, "Yo, Robert!" Robert Siegel, the screenwriter, turned to me. "I'm Cat Bauer and I live here. Don't you think it's funny that there wasn't a single question from an American?" Robert said, "Um, yeah! If I had known you were American, I would have called on you myself." I said, "I'm from New Jersey. Are you?" I think he said he was from Brooklyn. I said, "What is town is that house in the film, number 29?" He said, "Evan Rachel Wood's house? Gee, I don't know. I'll ask." He asked someone and came back. "Hackensack." I said, "I'm from Pompton Lakes." Then we sort of gave each other the thumbs up.

They were dragging Mickey Rourke away, so I said, "Yo, Mickey!" Mickey stopped. I said, "I want to thank you. I was crying when I left the theater." Mickey said, "I was crying all during the film. Darren made me cry." I said, "You're making a comeback? I'm making a comeback, too. We're all making a comeback." Mickey said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Then we sort of gave each other the thumbs up:)

Did Mickey Rourke just made a comeback with Randy "The Ram" Robinson? To me, he made a breakthrough to another level of existence. As did America. When you all see what I just saw, you will understand. Here is the list, and there is only one movie on this list I don't recommend:

^Burn After Reading by the Coen Brothers (not in competition)
1. The Burning Plain by Guillermo Arriago
2. Vegas - Based on a True Story by Amir Naderi (I did not like this film)
3. Rachel Getting Married by Jonathan Demme
4. The Hurt Locker by Kathryn Bigelow
5. The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky

Which movie will win? I don't know yet if I'll come out to Lido tomorrow night to find out or not. It might be interesting. I am still betting on the The Burning Plain, but now lots of people (especially the guys) want The Wrestler. I think Mickey Rourke will definitely win Best Actor.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,

Thursday, September 4, 2008


(VENICE, ITALY) This morning at the International Venice Film Festival, I came out of the screening of director Kathryn Bigelow's latest film, The Hurt Locker, deeply shaken. As I've said repeatedly, I have deliberately isolated myself from images of war. According to the speakers at the press conference, Americans, too, have been deliberately isolated from images of war -- but not by personal choice.

Here is the Director Statement:

"Fear has a bad reputation, but I think that's ill-deserved. Fear is clarifying. It forces you to put important things first and discount the trivial. When Mark Boal, the writer, came back from a reporting trip to Iraq, he told me stories about men in the Army who disarm bombs in the heat of combat -- obviously, an elite job with a high mortality rate. When he mentioned that they are extremely vulnerable and use little more than a pair of pliers to disarm a bomb that can kill for 300 meters, I was shocked. When I learned that these men volunteer for this dangerous work, and often grow so fond of it that they can imagine doing nothing else, I knew I had found my next film." -- Kathryn Bigelow

Bigleow starts the film with a quote: "War is a drug." She said she was inspired by Chris Hedges' work, "War is the Force that Gives us Meaning."

A French journalist kicked off the press conference by accusing Bigelow of making a movie that was "too sweet." That the soldiers thought three times before acting was not believable. That they were too human. (Apparently he missed the part that these were elite, highly-trained soldiers, doing a very particular kind of work.) To be honest, the question seemed overly provocative, the undertone being that Bigelow had either glamorized American involvement in the war by creating characters that had depth, or that she was a woman and had feminized the war, or who-knows-what -- the journalist must have used the word "sweet" three or four times. Bigelow responded with dignity and poise, saying that accuracy and truth underscored all the images. Mark Boal, the writer, said the movie was based on first-hand observations he had witnessed while in Iraq, or interviews with soldiers. They said they had depicted a small slice of war -- that of these elite men who disfuse bombs -- with accuracy and authenticity. One journalist expressed disbelief that a soldier could disarm more than 800 bombs, as the character Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) claims in the film to Colonel Reed (David Morse), and still be alive. Jeremy Renner, the actor who played Sergeant James, answered and said that he had spoken to soldiers as part of his homework, and that number was not an exaggeration.

Another journalist remarked that the actors looked much smaller in person, and asked if they had worked out to prepare for the roles. (And they really did look much smaller! In the movie, they seemed huge!) Only one had, Brian Geraghty (originally from New Jersey:) -- but they all gave great performances, every one of them. The film was shot in Jordan, right next to Iraq, during a heat wave. The temperature was 125 degrees, and the suit that Jeremy Renner wore to disfuse bombs weighed 80 pounds.

My only complaint is that there was too little of Ralph Fiennes and David Morse, two of my favorite actors. Long, long ago, I actually had the opportunity to be part of a theatre company in Los Angeles of which David was also a member. We read a scene together once... I can still remember how it felt, he is that good.

Let's at least have a look at Ralph Fiennes as he appears in The Hurt Locker -- coming soon to a theater near you.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married - Reality Blurs at the Venice Film Festival

(Venice, Italy) I predict the Academy will have a difficult time deciding who is the Best Actress next year. I am seeing such amazing performances here at the Venice Film Festival, and incredible roles for women... finally.

Rachel Getting Married is a real Tri-State area kind of film, and if you are from the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), you'll know what I mean. The general buzz is that it's a winner. Written by first-time screenwriter Jenny Lumet, director Jonathan Demme said he was busy with documentary work when Sidney Lumet asked him to read his daughter's script. It's kind of like a home movie, if you happen to have folks at home like Jonathan Demme, Jenny Lumet, Debra Winger, Anne Hathaway, etc., along with a bunch of talented musicians.

Since I am SO FAR out of the loop, I didn't know Debra Winger had exiled herself from Hollywood for a while, or that Jonathan Demme had been making documentaries. I didn't know who Anne Hathaway was, and I've never heard of Rosemarie DeWitt -- who I thought was Debra Winger the entire movie! Now, of COURSE she couldn't have been Debra Winger because that is Debra Winger up there on the left, who played the mother, but the last time I saw Debra Winger's image, she looked like Rosemarie DeWitt, over there on the right.

The movie is about a dysfunctional family coming together for a wedding. One journalist -- I think he was Italian -- but he was definitely not American -- asked if the movie was an accurate portrait of America today. Ha! It was an accurate portrait of America thirty years ago as well! What was a bit surreal for me is that the last time I had seen Jonathan Demme was many years ago at a Bar Mitzvah in Los Angeles, so watching the movie about this family event, and then going to the press conference was sort of like a reality blur for me -- actually living in Venice, being yanked into Connecticut during the film, then yanked again to the present to the press conference in Venice to listen to Americans from the East Coast. Plus, it turns out that Anne Hathaway is from New Jersey (where I grew up), and that she studied at the Paper Mill Playhouse, which is where I saw my very first play as a child. It felt sort of like when I saw The Merchant of Venice while I was in New York City in 2005, but the other way around. You come out of the movie and sort of lose your sense of time and place -- it's jarring.

In his director's statement, Jonathan Demme says (he is intentionally not using capitalization): "because i wanted to present the possibility of a really wonderful wedding, there was very little 'extras casting' for the movie -- basically, we created a guest list of people i knew -- actors and civilians -- that seemed to fit with the couple, and proceeded to let the weekend unfold on film, with everybody getting to know each other as we filmed, in the way people actually become a momentary community at 'real-life' special events."

It mostly worked, although I did think it got bogged down a bit during the wedding itself with too much music, and we lost the protagonist, Kym, Anne Hathaway's character.

Since I don't know her work, I read up a bit on Anne Hathaway, and learned that she has a "squeaky clean" image. You can be sure she has shattered that image with this movie, and that is an understatement. From the production notes: "I love Kym's almost compulsive need for honesty," says Hathaway, "and how direct she is. Her timing may not be appropriate, but she's trying so hard to get across the chasm of tragedy that separates her from her family, trying to acknowledge and atone in her own way. At the end, maybe her sister Rachel understands her journey, and that acceptance is crucial."

During the movie, I thought, where is the mother in all this? And that is the beauty of Jenny Lumet's screenplay. Kym is the one who everyone is blaming, but, to me, I thought, where the hell is the mother? And just as I was thinking that came one of the most powerful scenes in the film between Debra Winger and Anne Hathaway.

Here is a little production note trivia that will make sense to you after you see the film. It is such a great moment, it's interesting to know Anne Hathaway was improvising: "At one point," says Demme, "Anne Hathaway was trying to act out a very intense scene while the musicians noodled around outside. She was distracted and the assistant director came to me and said that she was having trouble, so I said: 'Tell her to do something about it, then.' That's when Kym yells at them to shut up -- all unplanned and improvised but completely in character."

I was encouraged to hear that Jonathan Demme is also having problems with distribution companies -- I was beginning to think the ineptitude was personal! He completely blasted distribution, saying they don't do their job. He said the reason he worked with Sony Pictures Classics was because they were the only distributor he knew that worked as hard as everyone else on a picture. I guess films and books are not much different these days when it comes to the job of capturing the attention of people who want/need/appreciate the product.

Another journalist asked if the movie reflected America itself coming together again, as well as this fictional family. Jenny Lumet said she hadn't thought of it before, but yes, she felt as if America is trying to come together again.

I feel it, too. I know there is a lot of grumbling about what is wrong with the International Venice Film Festival, but from my point of view as an American who completely dropped out during the Bush years -- not only physically from the country, but also from news, television, films -- everything except music videos -- the festival gives me great hope. As I've said, I am attending the festival from a very particular point of view. When the festival began last week, I was exhausted just from being American, always on the defense here in Europe -- not with everyone, of course, but with enough people who are either too ignorant or lazy to differentiate between individuals. Like everything, people appreciate things more if they are gone.

Everyone seemed so happy to see Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron, and Jonathan Demme. Everyone seemed so happy to see familiar faces like Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who gave no interviews except at the press conference, but appeared briefly like gods and then vanished again.

I am so pleased with the quality of the American films and the demeanor of the representatives from my country that I feel like waving the flag:)

Ciao from Venice,

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Let's Talk About Stars - Venice Film Festival

(Venice, Italy) Natalie Portman made her directorial debut yesterday with a short film entitled, Eve, starring Lauren Bacall and Ben Gazzara as an elderly couple out on a boozy first date, granddaughter in tow. Although no longer young, Bacall still radiates beauty, warmth and charm. When Bacall takes off all her makeup at the end and looks at herself in the mirror, I thought, how brave she is!

When Natalie Portman arrived in the theatre, girls cheered and cameras flashed, and I started thinking about the power of a star. There are only five American films this year at the festival, and no British films at all. But when an American star shows up, everyone goes wild.

Let's be honest: AMERICA CREATES THE BEST STARS! Even if the star is from another country, once they are in an American film, they become a Shining Star. And what is a film festival without stars? I think it is a curious thing that human beings make movies to begin with, and that other human beings pay money to watch them. Well, it's something we all do, project our images. How imaginative is your projection? How beautiful are your protagonists? When people ask me what the point of life is, I reply, "To live as if people are paying good money to watch your movie." I am quite sure that many people will not agree with that:) In fact, I would venture that the majority prefer to watch.

There are plenty of movies here with no stars at all. I saw one yesterday called Birdwatchers - The Land of the Red Men (Italy-Brazil) directed by Marco Bechis, which is a haunting, beautifully constructed story about endangered Indians in Brazil. I quite liked it because I thought it was provocative, and I loved the shaman character. Some Italians I spoke to thought it dragged; I disagree completely. Perhaps it is because I am American and concerned about our own Indians -- and our own Venetians. I ran into Roderick Conway Morris on the bus, and we both agreed we wouldn't mind if it won the Golden Lion. To read Rod's review for the International Herald Tribune, go here:

Then there was a movie called Vegas: Based on a True Story directed by Amir Naderi, who is Iranian based in America. I almost walked out of that one because I thought it was too boring to watch working-class people rip up their lawn for two hours, hunting for buried treasure. Although, perhaps, if you are working-class dreaming about buried treasure, you might like it.

I saw a French film called L'autre, or The Other, directed by Patrick Mario Bernard/Pierre Trividic, which began with the actress, Dominique Blanc, slugging herself in the head with a hammer while gazing at her image in the mirror. It was not a comedy. Hhhhmmmm... Now, if you are going to hit yourself in the head with a hammer so hard that you end up in the hosptial, you'd better have a damn good reason besides that the guy you left has started seeing someone else. It could have been a good film, I think, if it had dug deeper into why this woman became so insanely jealous. Dominique Blanc's performance was excellent, but the script had gaping holes. It's based on Annie Ernaux’s novel; perhaps the answer lies there.

The point I am attempting to make is how subjective movies and their stories can be. Perhaps if I were a jealously obsessed French woman, I would have loved L'autre. Anyway, I've still got my money on The Burning Plain, which comes complete with a great story, great stars, great writing and great directing.

I'm focusing on the American films because... well... I'm American! I've become surprisingly patriotic. Jonathan Demme is coming with Rachel Getting Married, Kathryn Bigelow with Hurt Locker, and then we've got Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

Ciao from Venice,