Oh man, how great it is to have liked almost everything you've seen after days of viewings! By the end of day six I had seen a meager 14 films - trust, people are at, or over 20 films already - and liked all but one of them. I haven't had this consecutive level of positive reception to any opening slate of films in how long I've covered this fest.
I don't know how to explain, but there have been strongly rewarding factors to every film I've seen thus far. The acting and stories in "A Private War" made me forgive its sloppy narrative style and made it my least favorite film of the festival before day five. As I had indicated earlier, this has been a better start compared to years past when I would normally walk out of at least one film within the first four days of the fest. So far the only disappointment has been the Prince Theater dash.
After a string of success with the first nine films I saw I knew the next, and only, film I would see on the fifth day would be an automatic triumph: Frederick Wiseman's "Monrovia, Indiana."
Wiseman is an over 50-year veteran of documentary filmmaking and has covered the gamet of social stratospheres through the eyes of his camera(s). After last year's enormously enriching "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" he turns his camera on a more solace environment. The hustle and bustle of New York City moves to a quiet town of no more than approximately 1,500 people as of this writing in a Midwest town where things move a little slower, but with no less a level of importance that afflicts all of our towns.
"Monrovia, Illinois," is true to Wiseman's style of giving us a matter of vignettes of ordinary life as focused on by his camera. The art of the documentary is to focus in on a particular subject or issue and can be deliberate or not to take a subjective or objective point of view. For whatever opinion the filmmakers wish to consider it should be done with factual and artistic integrity. An audience wishes for that story to be told well through a compelling narrative and with the dignity to tell a story story. No one can capture the true story of any person/place/thing like Wiseman.
In turning his camera to a Midwestern town of less than 2,000 people we are privy to a society that has low-country charm that is not the focus of many news features or films without some sort of political lean. This film is free of political agenda and represents the ordinary goings-on of its community members. The importance about fire hydrant/water jurisdiction in the small town is given just as much coverage as the procurement as a public bench. It may seem mundane to the masses, but these are the type of "lower-level" issues that some people take to heart. Trust me, I've covered such activities as a journalist.
It pays to see what other communities are experiencing if we can't visit them. I love "Monrovia, Indiana" because it takes its time to show us ordinary occurrences in any (small) town. The point of a documentary is to show us things that we haven't known first-hand. Wiseman's latest feature is an exemplary exercise in already vetted career of documentary filmmaking that removes any hysteria into a heart-warming and realized product that makes us relate to people instead of relate to social messages.
After Monday's sole feature on my schedule - hey, I need a break from the festival every once in a while! - I returned with a full slate of four screening on Tuesday.
As I've said before I prefer to skip the big screenings. Not only does my press badge not permit me to the high profile Centerpiece screenings, but I wish to subject my time to films that may not go on to a successful American theatrical run. I will permit time in my schedule for such a screening if it is pre-determined for the press outside of film festival patronage. I'm not snobby, but if it saves me time and money to see it, I'll take it.
That said, Tuesday started with a screening of Centerpiece selection "The Front Runner," a dramatized look at the failed 1988 presidential bid by Democratic Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. The release of this feature in the heart of awards season is not is a coincidence considering how prominent the subject matter is.
Hart was the presumed frontrunner in the year before the actual election year, but his campaign was quickly derailed amid allegations that he was cheating on his wife. "The Front Runner" was a messy film that tried to balance being a film about a political campaign and the workings of the press to publish such a scandal in a time when tabloid fare wasn't splashed on the front pages of major publications. As muddled as it was in what it wanted to try to be, I found it very strong in its messages of a politician wants to keep his private life private, and a newspaper's less-than honest reporting in order to get some gossip.
Hugh Jackman was really good as the embattled Hart who tries to set the precedent that a politician's character and family life should be protected from public scrutiny. One character in the film comments that he doesn't know how politicians compare to celebrity status, but we've learned that they are one in the same 30 years after this incident. I had a good time watching the scandal unfold and how the newspapers responded.
Next up was a documentary called "Bathtubs over Broadway" about a man obsessed with the industrial musical. For those unfamiliar, as I was, these are the elaborate song-and-dance performances put on by corporations at their sales meeting/conferences/conventions/whathaveyous. It was a very light and entertaining documentary following Steve Young as he meets some of the production's main players in a now by-gone area of luxuriation. He may be a middle-aged introvert, but to see his joy in singing catchy jingles and meeting some of his heroes was infectiously sweet.
You don't have to like musicals to like this movie. It's a tap-tapping good time about a sub-genre of music that actually played up to the social climates corporations had to deal with. A final backlot studio performance is sure to leave you smiling.
(Writer's note: A publication error on Oct. 28 has cut the second half of this post out which included reviews of the wonderful "Dogman" and below basic "This One's For the Ladies".)