Ahh, Sundance Season. Time for that quaint little film festival put on by that little man who once watched Butch riding Katharine Ross around on bicycle handlebars to tumble into town followed by people, events and opportunities nigh seen around these parts any other time of year. Back in my salad days, before Mr. Hankey had to save the South Park sewer, I remember seeing such brilliant films at Sundance Festival as Blood Simple and Sex, Lies & Videotape that helped launch the careers of the Cohen brothers and Steven Soderburgh, respectively. The festival has changed enormously, become much more commercial, yet it is still an opportunity—to see some damn good movies. Here’s a sideways snapshot preview of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival from A-Z:
is for art. Film is “art,” right? Check out this list of 50 hot “artists” who appear in this year’s Sundance films along with highlights of their careers:
Joan Allen—not really a hatchet-face; she just plays one onscreen (Pat Nixon).
Tom Arnold—Roseanne’s castoff is now is on the Worst Damn Sports Show Period.
Benjamin Bratt—agreed to do Catwoman thinking it would be a sequel to Monster’s Ball.
Beau Bridges—He’s made 100 films but his brother is the dude, dude.
Pierce Brosnan—to Hell with James Bond; I’m all about the Remington Steele.
Steve Buscemi—his role as the lipstick-wearing serial killer in Billy Madison is priceless.
Neve Campbell—still waiting for the sequel to Wild Things, Neve. Denise is down.
Chevy Chase—Three Amigos, Funny Farm, Caddyshack II … Fletch was on fire!
Joan Chen—We lesbian-scene purists prefer Wild Side with Anne Heche to Wild Things.
Kevin Costner—ma’am, I’m neither an actor nor director nor producer. I’m a postman.
Alan Cumming—hmmm, Spice World, The Flintstones, X2 and beaucoup d’art films.
Jeff Daniels—Dumb and Dumber made us forget that he ever worked with Woody Allen.
Daniel Day-Lewis—That The Last of the Mohicans hunk made my day.
Laura Dern—from David Lynch to Jurassic Park and Dr. T and the Women. Ouch.
Danny DeVito—Twins. He and der gropenfuhrer were obviously separated at birth.
Matt Dillon—I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Tex, or was it Dally? Rusty?
Robert Downey, Jr.—good research on his role in Less Than Zero, post-production.
Janeane Garofalo—the boys were cruel enough to her in Team America: World Police.
John Goodman—please, Mr. Goodman, never appear as a Blues Brother again. Please.
Macy Gray—isn’t she that crazy bitch with the whacked-out hair? Just checking.
Michael Keaton—still hasn’t quite made it back from Beetle Juice and Batman.
Jane Krakowski—similarly, Jane K. was the only Ally McBeal actress who ate daily.
Lisa Kudrow—you know, she can really act. Why did she make that trash for 10 years?
Jennifer Jason Leigh—she had me from Fast Times … until Single White Female. Yikes.
Kelly Lynch—let me see, Drugstore Cowboy or Curly Sue? Nah, it’s Charlie’s Angels.
Carrie-Anne Moss—still trapped somewhere inside the matrix doing kung fu with Keanu.
Bebe Neuwirth—I don’t care how many plays she’s done; she’s still Lilith from Cheers.
Catherine O’Hara—great as Mickey in A Mighty Wind and Cookie in Best in Show.
Bill Pullman—great chemistry between him and Ellen DeGeneres in Mr. Wrong.
David Schwimmer—you know, he can sorta act. Why did he make that trash for so long?
Kyra Sedgwick—the apex of her acting career was t-shirt toilet-scrubbing in Singles.
Elisabeth Shue—left her top poolside in Leaving Las Vegas. Nick Cage left his integrity.
Jimmy Smits—Miami Vice, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue. Now that’s a holy trinity.
Mary Steenbergen—I thought that maybe she was washed up until I saw Elf.
Marisa Tomei—when I saw In the Bedroom I thought, “That could have been me.”
Liv Tyler—it’s all been anticlimactic since she worked the strippers’ pole in Dad’s video.
Donnie Wahlberg—the Jan Brady to prosthetic-wearing, underwear-modeling bro’ Mark.
James Woods—Did you know that he was born in Vernal? Welcome home, native son.
Kevin Bacon (of course), along with his “music”-making brother.
To be fair, that’s what stars do now: They make one or two sellout films so they have the leeway to make an indie film and name their kids Apple or Phinneaus or some shit.
is for barhopping. At the end of January, rubbernecking could catch you a glimpse of a B-list celebrity (providing he/she is slumming and not attending a VIP-only party). Or, if you’re lucky you could go home with that slut Hilary who writes the dating column for Flipside in Park City.
is for Calexico. One of the many bands playing at the famous/rich-only Music Café is Tucson’s finest. My date to the Calexico/Wilco show informed me that the tall one who plays the vibes is “hot.” Also scheduled at the café are … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Dresden Dolls, Angelique Kidjo, Kings of Leon, Suzanne Vega, artists who are old (Michael McDonald and Rickie Lee Jones) and many more.
is for documentaries. The documentary competition has two divisions: American and World. American topics include death row convictions overturned by DNA, Penn Jillette backstage, Daniel Johnston (more on him later), a high school sex-ed advocate, Enron, Mardi Gras beads made in China and a Catholic clergy sex cover-up. World documentary topics include Chechnyan children, killer bears, a Rwandan massacre, a Brit going bonkers in Brooklyn and Communist Chinese revolutionary model operas.
is for Egyptian. Now that’s a theater, or is it theatre? As an aside to you Ogdenites, there will also be screenings of Sundance films at Peery’s Egyptian up North. So you will have more than Bad Brad Wheeler and the blues now that they’ve taken your nativity scene away. Several years ago I saw Care of the Spitfire Grill at Park City’s Egyptian. This was after Castle Rock had shelled out an obscene amount of money for the distribution rights. Man, that movie was a dog and I was drunk. I passed out and I was snoring loudly throughout the screening. My ex-wife woke me up and I hollered something indecent at the screen. That was when Sundance’s worm turned.
is for frontier. “Frontier” is what Sundance calls its small cachet of experimental work. The Joy of Life features the voice of beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a visual poem about San Francisco. Room is executive produced by Michael Stipe and describes a mother transcending technological and wartime media saturation. Sugar is the name of Bob Mould’s band. Just kidding, it’s actually about another woman in a Kafkaesque situation. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2_ is a postmodern way to say it belongs to the two Steves (Soderburgh and Buscemi). Tropic of Cancer is a Mexican film about begging and primitive hunting. One may also explore the virtual frontier at SOFF (Sundance Online Film Festival), www.sundance.org.
is for Glover, Crispin. What is the highlight of Crispin Glover’s career? Was it cultivating his creepiness in River’s Edge (which played at Sundance)? Was it keeping his cat in the cooler in Rubin and Ed? Is Crispin proud that he lived above Frederick’s on Hollywood Blvd. or that he played McFly or that he almost kicked Letterman in the head or that local band Boxcar Kids wrote a song about him called Hellion? Perhaps it can be found in his entry in this year’s festival, What Is It? Let’s see: graphic sexuality, a black-faced minstrel who wants to be an invertebrate, talking snails, giant seashells, a naked woman in a monkey mask. That sounds about right.
is for ho. Actually, Hustle & Flow is about a pimp, but per KRS-One, this is a pimp/ho society we live in. If you don’t believe me, simply observe the hustlin’ and flowin’ going on at some of the Park City parties. Apparently Djay, the protagonist of H&F, demonstrates that pimps can suffer through midlife crises too, which may seem Ludacris, except that particular rapper is cast in the film too. Word.
is for “independent.” INDEPENDENT is plastered on the cover (out of focus) of this year’s Sundance guide, which is a bit of a joke because nearly everyone involved has something that they want to be, or that has already been, sold. Let’s all hold hands and change it to “Differently Dependent.”
is for Daniel Johnston, a manic-depressive, middle-aged musical manchild who lives with his parents in Waller, TX. When his dad screened my phone call he revealed that Daniel had lived in Brigham City when he was just a baby, yet he still remembered it.
DJ: Hi, how are you?
SLUG: It’s exciting that you’re coming up to Park City for the festival in January.
DJ: Yeah, we’re all excited about the documentary. They’ve been working on it forever and it should be a lot of laughs.
SLUG: It seems like you’re a big fan of movies.
DJ: Oh yeah, I was watching a DVD just now and I watch all kind of movies all the time.
SLUG: Your song “King Kong” certainly is a tribute to that film.
DJ: Oh yeah, that’s one of my most-watched films. The song came from watching it a lot.
SLUG: When you were younger, didn’t you used to make Super 8 films?
DJ: Yeah, and I made some videos. I had a friend that I wanted to make films with, but she died. I had just seen the movie Ed Wood and I was so inspired to make B-movies like that, but then she died. That was a real rip-off.
SLUG: Obviously you’re a visual person with all of the art that you do.
DJ: I draw a lot. That’s where I make my spending cash. My dad buys my drawings and resells them. I can get a fair price to have money for cigarettes, soda pop and stuff.
SLUG: Where do your characters come from? Is that what’s going on in your head?
DJ: I do use some copyrighted characters such as Captain America and Casper the Friendly Ghost, even Strange Dog who looks sort of like Snoopy. But I have my own characters as well. I have had offers to do professional comic books, but I don’t know what’s with me. I get too paranoid when the offers are too real … even Stephen Spielberg made me an offer to be on his label and I said, “I don’t wanna’ be E.T.” When I think about it now, I want to kick myself in the head. I could be a millionaire.
SLUG: I heard that your [Hi, how are you?] mural in Austin [that Kurt Cobain wore on his T-shirt] was in danger of being painted over.
DJ: Yeah, it made the papers. But then they decided to keep it. And the logo of that frog is on the uniforms of the new Mexican restaurant they opened there.
SLUG: What made you decide to head down to Austin?
DJ: I was traveling with a carnival that had Austin as its last stop, so I had nowhere else to go. I sold corn dogs, but we spelled korn dogs with a “k,” so that was it.
SLUG: What’s the story of you handing out your homemade cassettes to people?
DJ: When I moved to Austin, there were all these kids around my age and they were all playing this great music. I’d received a tape duplicator for Christmas, so I made copies of tapes that I’d already made and I gave them out to everyone I met, especially pretty girls, and to musicians too. By the time I went to do my first show, people knew who I was so the place was packed. It was like the Ed Sullivan Show, in a way.
SLUG: Were you working at McDonald’s at the time?
DJ: I was. I had a janitor’s position. I had started on the grill, but I knew I had to get out and work the lobby. So I could dream all day and write songs in my head while I was cleaning the tables and emptying the garbage. All of my fellow rock and rollers could come and see me and talk about doing shows and stuff.
SLUG: In 1994 you signed with Atlantic Records and released Fun, on which you were helped by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers.
DJ: That’s right: Paul Leary at the door. I had a lot of songs written already, but because I was on medication from the psychology doctor my arms were shaking and I couldn’t really play the guitar. So I just showed him the parts and he played them. Once we got started, Paul had me make up a lot songs. So there’s a lot of goofball songs on the album.
SLUG: The film about you is called The Devil and Daniel Johnston …
DJ: Oh man, that title … when they first started making the film they told me the title would be Yip Jump Movie. About three weeks ago my brother told me the “Devil” title and I said ‘Oh, no … oh, no.” And now there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a nightmare.
SLUG: But those themes of good and evil are in your music.
DJ: I realize that, but I remember seeing The Devil and Daniel Webster. He was like a guy who was trying to do right, but the devil was like, “Here, wanna’ beer?” He’s giving a lecture to some people and he drinks a beer and he starts saying evil things.
SLUG: The Late Great Daniel Johnston tribute album makes it sound like you’ve passed away.
DJ: Isn’t that weird? I bet that half of the people who see that are going to think that I’m dead. But those artists did very well … I like the versions of “Dream Scream” and “Impossible Love. I like Sparklehorse and (former collaborator )Jad Fair, of course.
I tried to ask Daniel about the nature of his illness (manic depression, treated by lithium etc.) and his former girlfriend, Lorie, from the funeral home and whether he pushed her off of a balcony because he thought she was possessed by Satan, and if he recorded “Speeding Motorcycle” with Yo La Tengo from a mental hospital phone (No, it was from a friend’s house), but I think his mom caught wind of the content of my questions and yelled from the other room, “Dan, that’s enough. Get off of the phone!” So he did.
Daniel Johnston’s documentary premieres in Park City on Monday, January 24 at 6:15 p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema. There is also an SLC screening at the Broadway Centre Friday, January 28 at 6:45 p.m. He plays the Sundance Music Cafe on Wed. the 26th at 9:15 p.m. followed by Yo La Tango. A limited amount of tickets are available from www.sundance.org.
is for “Killer” Kane. Arthur “Killer” Kane was the bassist and leader of the New York Dolls. David Johansen referred to him as “the miracle of God’s creation,” which Kane seems to have taken literally as he became a born-again Mormon after the band bottomed out on drugs and alcohol. New York Doll, also in the American Documentary Competition, details the story of how Kane, 30 years later, buys his guitar back from a pawnshop, takes leave from his job at the Family Center Library and reunites with the Dolls.
is for losers. Let’s just all agree going in that we are losers, whether we have a screenplay to pitch, or digital dexterity, or onscreen charisma or a Swiss bank account or whatever: losers, losers, losers. To import the wisdom of Rodney King from SoCal, “Can’t we all just get along?” There, now I feel better.
is for Murderball. Only at a film festival can you see quadriplegic rugby with modified Mad-Max-style wheelchairs and a Canada vs. USA conflict. Who needs the NHL (no hockey league)? God bless Canada.
is for Nine Lives. I intentionally omitted the nine actresses in this film from the “Hot Top 50” list, but they are bringing it: Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Elpidia Carrillo, Glenn Close, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn. Plus director/screenwriter infers that these women are like cats, so I’m not the only one kicking around who’s not exactly PC.
is for “on-line.” In addition to the SOFFrontier, the Sundance Digital Center is offering daily workshops on such topics as HP/Avid, Sony, HDV, Panavision, Adobe, HD Shooting and Format, Docs and Blogs, Animation, Postproduction and how to be a chode in general.
is for panels. I wish it were still for Piper Heidsieck (former sponsor of the independent spirit awards). Oh well, less champagne for me. Topics for panel discussion include culture wars, imaginary worlds, sex, alternative distribution, machinima, poets of progress and doom and music.
is for queer. Gay, lesbian and transgender films seem to have less of a presence at this year’s festival than in years past, and I hope that this is not by design. Perhaps there is need for another alternative festival, BecauseWe’reHereDance?
is for Reefer Madness. You don’t have to be stoned to enjoy this film, but it could help. Check this out: It’s a musical starring Alan Cumming, Neve Campbell and half of Gemini’s Twin, Ana Gasteyer. You’ll laugh so hard that you’ll cough.
is for Strangers With Candy. Jerri Blank is your typical 46-year-old ex-junkie whore with strong bisexual libido until she decides to return to high school upon her release from prison. The screenplay is penned by Amy Sedaris, the Daily Show’s Stephen Colbert and director Paul Dinello, and is like an after-school special on acid. It features cameos by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, and his wife who does The Gap commercials.
is for Trolley Square. Camping out for tickets at the Trolley Square box office is the closest one can come to an opening of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or a D&D convention. Seriously, don’t be bummed out if you wait and you still can’t get tickets to the screenings you want. The good news is that another art cinema is opening where Madstone used to be, so screenings should be plentiful there and courtesy of the Salt Lake Film Society (Broadway, Tower).
is for underground. Old Sundance underground, where are you now? Perhaps it would be better to focus instead on Slamdance and Tromadance. Check out the Slamdance guide on page 12 for a list of their cool happenings. If Tromadance had their shit together at press time you would be reading about their films right here. Check out their website instead: www.tromadance.com
is for van. If you are an ingenue and some dudes invite you to get in the back of their windowless van to view some real cutting-edge cinema, don’t do it. Watch the Aussie film Wolf Creek if you want to be scared.
is for Wendy. Lars Von Trier is trying to cheer us up again. It’s not enough for him to make uplifting films like Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville in which women are sexual deviants, hanged or raped, respectively. Now with his screenplay for Dear Wendy (directed by Thomas Vinterberg), he tells the story of Dick and his love for a gun that makes us reflect upon our quirky Americana.
is for X-Dance (like the X-Games, get it?) the action sports spin off of Sundance. Like Tromadance, all screenings are FREE. Too bad the drinks at the X-Dance temporary Tiki Lounge aren’t (333 Main Street, 2nd Floor—across from the Egyptian Theater!) This year’s lineup features new works from Chris and Emmet Maloney, Teaton Gravity Research and surf-turned skate/snow company, Billabong.
is for Yo La Tengo. In addition to performing on the same night as Daniel Johnston, YLT did the music for the film Junebug; moreover, Ira and Georgia are married and even if they play a quiet show, here’s hoping for an unplugged rendition of “The Evil That Men Do.”
is for Zion. No, not this Zion … that Zion. Mark Levin’s Protocols of Zion examines the recent rise of antisemitism post 9/11, with a score by John Zorn.