DAY 1: DAVID BOWIE IS WATCHING YOU
I’m walking down Chicago Avenue and I realize I keep fiddling with this press badge around my neck, making sure it’s facing out so people who might look will know that I’m some kind of press person and that I’m going to the Chicago International Film Festival. I do this even though I’m fully aware no one looks at each other much any more, but my excitement over getting a press badge for the first time in my life, with no understanding of what it even means has taken hold. On the press badge is a photo of me, which is really my headshot for acting, which doesn’t look like me right now because I’ve been growing my hair and beard out for months for Macbeth, which starts rehearsals in February next year, so even if they did look they’d think I probably stole it off the clean-cut airbrushed guy. My recognition that wearing this badge and making sure its turned out is some kind of status play, while realizing it doesn’t really mean anything, makes me think of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho
. There is an idea of Jae Renfrow, press representing Sound on Sight, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me. Only an entity, something illusory. I am simply not there. Then I pass the Museum of Contemporary Art and realize there’s a massive image of David Bowie staring at me, with a sign that says “DAVID BOWIE IS WATCHING YOU” and I find it very comforting. I’m a big fan.
At the film festival I see the line is insanely long, but I get to skip to the front because of my fancy badge. I kind of didn’t want to use it to skip ahead of people because I’ve lost all my pretensions about having this thing and I’m feeling uncomfortable wearing this “press skin” anyway. I’m told that the first film I want to see, Words With Gods
, is sold out but they’re forming a separate queue for rush tickets. The benefit of cutting in line was that I got to find this news out sooner rather than later. I’m told that I can use my little 10 Film Pass that I just purchased to cover the rush ticket, which makes sense to me because I’ve paid for it. When it looks like I’m going to get into the film, I’m told that it’s cash only and that even though I just paid to see ten movies in advance, this can’t count as one of them because it’s a rush ticket, you understand. I’m told this as though I’m an idiot who can’t comprehend the logistics of cinema commerce. I quickly find an ATM and pay more money to see a movie. I feel obligated to do so, since it was on my Top 5 list of most anticipated films and this is the only showing. I can’t just not watch it. A commitment was made from a writer to his readers and the 40 people who liked the post on Facebook, 38 of which I’ll never know who they were because I’m not on Facebook and two of which were my wife and her sister.
Once in the cinema I realize that this trip to the ATM was more costly than the 20 bucks plus $2.95 service fee for the box to translate the 1s and 0s into a little piece of paper with Andrew Jackson on it. All rush ticket holders were being placed in the first two rows and because of the money misunderstanding the second row was filled up which meant I was sitting up front. The last time I sat this close to a movie screen it was The Sixth Sense
in my small podunk hometown in Kentucky and the screen was maybe a third as big, and I was still further away than the probably 7 I had here. Even by regular front row standards this felt just worse than normal.
This is the architecture of when business meets art, never mind comfort or experiencing the film proper, just stuff as many paying customers in as possible.
Guillermo Arriaga, the director of one of the short films and general overseer of the film, comes to the front and says a few words. He seemed warm and gentle, and said it’s time to talk about all those things they won’t let us talk about at the dinner table: sex, drugs, politics and religion. This film represents the first in hopefully a series that will cover all those topics, that are meant to spur respectful debate and hopefully understanding in a world of billions of very very different people. I want to stop him, since I’m so close sitting up front, and ask him if he would want to experience his movie this close to the screen. I feel like he’d understand. That he’s say, “No you’re right, movie theaters shouldn’t have seats this close and the only reason they do is so they can pack more people in for more money.” I want to say, “You wouldn’t view Seurat’s 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte' by sticking your nose up against the canvas.” And maybe we’d share a knowing laugh as he escorted me up to his seat in an act of kindness. But this isn’t what happened. He went on his way, and as the promo for the festival started to play I remained in my seat pressing my head as far back into the cushion as it could possibly go. As the film starts and things gets quiet I realize there’s a creaking sound coming above me. I look up and see one of the ceiling panels is broke and half missing and the sound is coming from a ventilation shaft, a metallic death rattle, that will play the whole length of the film.
For most of the movie I couldn't look directly at it. Unless the camera was still and the subject was still I watched it in my periphery or focused on the lower edges of the frame. An actor's stray finger would creep into the picture and then go away and I'd wonder if the other fingers were jealous that they didn't make it on screen or where even aware that they didn't. I felt bad for the other fingers. I also looked at my fellow movie goers in awe for their ability to watch unblinkingly and wondered if they're just used to it. Did they condition themselves by watching Transformers 4 like this? I also found I wasn’t alone; this one young lady next to me burrowed deeper and deeper into her seat trying to find the right position that would giver her maximum comfort given our situation. At one point she had found that sitting at an angle helped but it wasn’t until I shifted that she realized that her head was actually rested on my shoulder.
I sat there challenging the film to make me forget how miserable it all was, and sometimes it succeeded, and I love it for that. You can read my review of it and the next movie I talk about here at Sound on Sight.
After the movie I retreated to the lobby and started reading a book, 'Little Star' by John Adjive Lindquist who wrote 'Let the Right One In', which played at the 2008 Chicago International Film Festival in the After Dark series, a segment of the festival devoted to thrillers and horror films for the late night crowd. I happened to be waiting to see The Midnight After
which was also in the After Dark Series. Just before we were let into the theater, I read about a page in which a character was obsessing over performing David Bowie’s 'Space Oddity' for his class. Bowie strikes again.
For The Midnight After I chose a seat almost as far back as possible in an effort to decompress. The film was absurd and entertaining and I'm looking forward to watching more Fruit Chan. The strangest part, which I didn't reveal in my Sound on Sight review because I'd have to relay ALL of what you read here in order to get it, came when the characters were deciphering some Morse code from a mysterious and creepy phone call. The large text printed slowly on the screen:
"HERE I AM
SITTING IN A TIN CAN
PLANET EARTH IS BLUE"
I can't make this up. There was no chance in my stifling my guffaws at the madness of it Then a character explained to the others what the words meant and proceeded to let loose a rendition of Bowie's 'Space Oddity', a song that became the anthem of the film. Maybe I am going crazy.
After the film I went home, it was late, and thanks to the Blue Line California stop being out of commission I walked a lot. During the walk I thought about how I wanted to write about all of this. This whole experience, the David Bowie stuff, the feeling of sitting so close to the screen, and my growing discomfort with being an officially official press person and not really knowing what the hell that even means. But I remembered that in an email my very cool editor Ricky, also a Bowie fan, made a point of saying no one cares about the details of your evening. Stick to the review of the movie, which I get, it's a site(a pretty good one, but maybe I'm biased) where people go to read about movies whether it's worth waiting in a Rush Ticket Line so they can pay 10 dollars cash to sit in the front row and be devoured by a film. Not a site where you read about the human beings that review movies.
Hey, I wasn't fiddling with my press badge any more.