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:

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