Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ebertfest 2011 Unmapped: A Colossal Ramble through Time and Space by a Sturdy Ohio Man Hell-bent on Ebertfest and Secret Global Domination.

Yeah... I heard a funny thing
Somebody said to me
“You know that I could be in love with almost everyone
“I think people are the greatest fun
“And I will be alone again tonight my dear.”

--“Alone Again Or” Bryan Maclean 1947-1998

Why I love My Rear View Mirror

Driving, thinking. It’s roughly 1,600 miles to Ebertfest, figuring in wrong turns and sentimental ones.

Driving, thinking, hunched half out the window, half my hair blowing in the wind, one eye fixed on the outside rear view mirror, the other on the road ahead. It’s evening, I don’t know, after seven. The New Mexico roadsides are dotted with crosses entwined with plastic flowers. There are two not far from my driveway. The roadsides are also peppered with dead dogs and cats. The only people not ashamed of these eyesores are the drunks whose minds were too foggy and hearts too full of resentment to see the fatalities they were about to create for man and beast alike. New Mexico is also crowded with tailgaters, so study that rear view mirror.

I hitchhiked across this same curve of planet when I was out of college and belly-full of a pop music touring band. By morning I’ll pass the big grain silo in Amarillo where a one-armed cowboy in a rattling old station wagon handed me my first Coors beer. It tasted like beer-flavored fresh water. I’ll glide across the pink brown and green desert plains where billboards still say eat this whole huge steak in one sitting and you don't have to pay for it. I’ll coast for miles where the Pennsylvania sculptor’s drive shaft fell apart from metal fatigue, toting two tons of marble slab, all his worldly goods and this music-laden hitchhiker. I’ll spot where, as I sat in the dry scrub dressed in shades of blue playing my blue guitar in a rose colored sunset, an artist screeched to a halt for an emergency sketch of colorful wandering youth in evening light. “You wouldn’t understand what these numbers mean,” he said, “they’re coding for what colors to use.” I wonder if that painting exists now.

I’ll be scooping up thoughts I left hanging in the air on that highway at twenty-two, thumb out, 1820 violin hanging from one side, silver-plated stolen flute from the other, guitar in hand and collapsible top hat on head. The top hat belonged to a recently deceased man who wore it to diplomatic functions as ambassador to Hong Kong in 1928. I would leave it in the back of a car on my way into Los Angeles from the Grand Canyon, somewhere around 3 a.m.

Speeding through Texas by dawn, many of those old thoughts, some fragmented, some never fully formed, will splatter into my mind like bugs on a windshield.

One of Us

Whizzing out of the New Mexico mountains toward the flatlands, I’m thinking of Roger’s review of Tom Shadyac’s latest movie, which I read just before heading out from the rented ranch.

I met Tom Shadyac awhile back. I’ve belly-laffed at his Jim Carrey films. Apparently Tom had a serious biking calamity at the perigee of his multimillion dollar yuks career.

Somewhere among the unconscious events revolving within the calamity, Tom was hit by the meatball. When he came to, bit by bit, all that material wealth seemed like just a bunch of material wealth. He had to start doing Jesus-like things – such as growing Jesus hair, as he pointed out to me from between two pretty young women when we met walking across the University of Boulder, Colorado, campus. He now also had to do meaningful, spiritual things.

...such as going to Haiti after the earthquake to see what he could do. Well, he could have helped out my pal Dr. Will Houghton, who, along with friends, was healing calamity victims for free. For nothing. Somebody bought them a round of beers. Will came back with quite a story and lots of photographs people still need to hear and see. Will wrote his experience up. We public have otherwise heard only sound bytes.

Will had been hit by the meatball years earlier – a real guy in a real situation doing real things that make real differences, not just fluttering around with pretty pictures and nervous yogurts and the wiggling connectedness of it all, or so Roger had sized up Shadyac’s movie. I believed Roger. This movie was what Shadyac had been doing rather than honoring his promise to meet Will at least by e-mail.

Just to show I’m not all whimsy:

I quit trying with Tom after a few fugging-well brilliant letters. I guess sometimes the meatball doesn’t hit them hard enough. Well, shoot. I thought he might be one of us. He might have been. Maybe I didn’t ask right.

Don’t ask me what “one of us” is. Roger Ebert is one of us too. All I know is, we’re here. I know that because I’m one of us.

One needn’t meet with calamity to get hit by the meatball, by the way. Calamity does happen, but we are hit by the meatball far more often than we meet with calamity.

As shown:

Roger was hit by the meatball during his calamity. When he finally came to, he didn’t start figuring out how to turn wiggling yogurt into a movie. You don’t have to go that far out of the way to use the meatball. You just feel a lot more like you do now than you did when you started. I think that’s how you get to be one of us.

Stop trying to think like one of me. You’ll go crazy and you’ll never get to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I myself didn’t get there until around 3 a.m. the following day. It was too early to check into the Illini Hotel and too late to find a motel. I slept in my car at the side of Route 57 in the driving rain. It was wonderful. The meatball will do that for you.

Oh. Also, you may find yourself with your own personal Secret Plan for Global Domination. In his, may Shadyac one day do better than collect more money from the What The Bleep crowd. They’re not so much one of us as a bunch of them, and they can be a gullible bunch at that.

A Blur isn’t always a Bad Thing

Sturdy Ohio men don’t bother with roadmaps. We also have faith that, unless there is a woman alongside, we will always arrive a little early. Sturdy Ohio men are unerring at directions, but I admit, arriving twelve hours early can disturb your brain’s alpha waves for the rest of the week.

So I arrived and wandered aimlessly around Champaign, stopped into a gas station on Green Street, asked where the Illinis hotel was and the girl said she didn’t know. It happened to be three blocks down the street. Still, too late. I wandered back out of town onto the highway. I headed for a rest stop but conked out on the side of the road. While the rain roared on my roof, I was rocked to sleep by speeding 18-wheelers nearly pulling my car up off its wheels every three minutes. My Alpha waves picked up this pattern. That, and wandering sleepless around the Illinis Hotel lobby until my room opened up at 3 p.m. left me with a strange effect.

Fancy Protestants, Tasty Grub

The effect is something like being drunk inside out instead of outside in, or vice versa. For example, when I met the mythically beautiful Kartina Richardson at the President’s House get-together, alpha waves that were still going “whoosh!” every three minutes prompted me to tell her she was the second most beautiful human being I had ever seen in my life. The first was a Japanese Afro-American woman I and every other man in a bar in Rialto, California, surrounded agawk one night in the spring of 1984. We couldn’t help it. Kartina’s highly gawkable too.

Calling anyone the second most anything could be a permanent error. I do not know how, or whether, I managed to get out of that one. After my bragging about having invented the ‘zine, she said two intelligible things to me the rest of the week; one was drowned out by the karaoke machine and I pretended to hear her.

(Later Kartina would save me a great deal of trouble. All I have in my notebook about Tilda Swinton’s “I Am Love” is “flowers, skin, hairs, romance, grass, bugs,” which I whispered to Omer Mozaffar during a scene. He replied “an attractive proposition, but I declined.” Kartina wrote this:

What Kartina looks like talking about it: )

(What Omer Mozaffar writes like when he’s serious: )

I remember that speeches were given at the President’s house. I remember that Olivia Collette, the third most beautiful human being I’d ever seen in my life, was shy to meet Roger, who arrived with cameras all over him like wagging puppies. I remember that I’d left my car window down and it was raining.

I remember snagging a Stella Artois beer glass. Although owning a beer glass with a logo on it is for me second in classiness only to refilling a snap-top Bud can for guests, the Stella Artois beer glass I’d snagged last year looked too lonely when I’d open the cupboard and notice it. So now we had two and a car seat that took a day or so to dry out.

How good to have Olivia and her husband Russell to hang around with for the week. Besides the fact that they dual-handedly introduced karaoke as a permanent Ebertfest institution, I don’t even have to review “Metropolis.” Olivia did it:

She’s just this moment saved me even more work. The following is what I too think of Gerardo Valero. He and wife Monica even indulged me through a little of my receding Spanish.

(Tweeted:)@Olivia_Collette I never cease to be enlightened by @gevalero's
perspective on characters:

“Metropolis” kicked off the week’s films. It seemed as though we all got into our seats and to work right away. Maybe it was those short-circuiting alpha waves. But for instance Gracie, I mean Grace Wang, and I only happened to sit together in the theater this year. I mean "only happened to." After all the fun we were last year, we barely said two words to each other now. To wit: I was aware that Gracie sat down and started writing next to someone who happened to be me. Busy watching "Metropolis" and the musicians playing that wonderful score live. Thanks to those alpha waves that seemed just right.

I was thinking of writing that I had to scratch my nuts something awful all through "Orson Wells and Me" but couldn’t because Gracie was sitting next to me then, too. That would be a fun thing to write. But it would be wrong. I didn’t have to scratch my nuts at all throughout “Orson Welles and Me.”

Anyway, she'd just flown back from her homeland China, where she'd reported on cultural and film affairs there. Here’s Gracie:

Jangled, tangled alpha waves led me to the most conversations with Michael Mirasol of Malaysia, whose jet-lag schedule had his and my jumbled minds matching. We seemed to be viewing Roger’s picks at about the same speed.

...And That Ebert Sure Knows How to Pick ‘em

“Natural Selection,” for instance. Now, you may ask, how fun is it to hang out with the people who made a humongously fun film like that? Well I’ll tell you what, Robbie Pickering knew all the lyrics to that Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre tune without looking at the karaoke screen. That’s impressive. And you know who else besides Tilda Swinton is really easy to fall in love with? That’s right, the film’s star, Rachel Harris. I’ll tell you what else: in a mud-wrestling match against Holly Hunter, I’d put my money on Rachel any day. Cash on the barrelhead. What more to say?

Unintended Belligerence

As I’ve protested before, I’m a “two-fisted heterosexual.” Even at my age I may yet have to punch people, which is why I stay friends with Manny Fernandez:

You never know but a friend with a 20-0 knockout record could come in handy. My point is, big men like us don’t cry. Oh, we might look forlorn watching a bus full of nuns drive off a steep cliff before our eyes, but that’s all.

Still, five bucks says Manny would’ve shed some tears at last year’s showing of “Departures,” the Japanese film about a young man who inadvertently winds up as assistant to a funeral director. I myself sat stoically, a dignified tear dribbling down my soldier-stiff face in the dark, trying to think of a joke. “I haven’t heard such a racket since the orphanage burned down” didn’t work too well. Roger turned his head dismissively.

Another five bucks says you'd catch Manny tearing up again at “Life Above All,” shot in a real African village with a cast of real people who really live there. Including this... this little girl...

It was in the green room at lunch, see. There I was, minding my own business, headed down the hallway for a roast beef sarnie when this little girl brushed past me with... I know it was. I’m still enough of a little kid to be able to tell when another little kid brushes past me with an “out of my way, peon,” attitude. Even though she was just a little kid, her “out of my way” was so expert that my feelings were hurt. “Snot nose,” I thought to myself.

What I wanted to say was “Don’t you telegraph ‘out of my way’ to me, you little brat, I’m important.” But I didn’t.

A couple of hours later she was onstage fidgeting and twiddling restlessly and making Pablo Villaca cry some more. I myself had sat stoically, a dignified tear dribbling down my soldier-stiff face in the dark, taking comfort that I could hear Pablo snuffling in the seat next to me as we watched. And now, he had to go onstage and interview that little girl who’d just made everybody cry in the movie. Everybody loved that little girl. I forgave her. Still. I’m important. Valuable people have told me so.

Randy Masters, perennial favorite conservative political foil on Roger’s blog, wrote this rundown. “Life, Above All” is number two: See it and cry.

Wael Khairy tells me he’ll review it, since nobody else did. It’s the least he could do for stiffing us this year, not showing up. But Egypt’s become highly absorbing.


Sorry. I had to insert this in case any of you thought that my alpha waves had settled down by now. This is how my mind was still running. One great thing about Ebertfest is that there aren’t that many alarms sounding for career opportunity hunters. Those haunted eyes. Those wanton lips, ready to part and say "so, what do you do for a living," with subliminal message that goes ("and can I get in on it?") I spied a pair in time to slip away and not reveal what I did for a living. Brrrr.

45635 and Old Lake Chompaglug

Roger did it to me again, if not to Krishna Shenoi

Krishna did not spend his childhood in Ohio, which I did. “45635,” the postal zip code for Sidney, Ohio, could have been my own home town, 44281. That was Lake Chompaglug, or “Lake Chomp” as we called it. The town the Ross Brothers chronicled through video excerpts was just like old Lake Chomp. Does every Ohio town have a shirtless bonehead who always winds up in the back of a police cruiser, or just those two?

Tears welled at the shots of Sidney on Hallowe’en, which they do not celebrate in Dubai, Krishna’s home town. I remembered in Lake Chomp where we’d trickertreat at old Aunt Minnie Mae McGlallicluddy’s. She’d come out that ramshackle screen front door ga-ga’ing and ooh-aahing at our makeshift costumes. Then she’d reward us each with a big splab of peanut butter out of a two-gallon bucket with a wooden spoon. We learned to bring plastic bags for that. Peanut butter dashed into a paper bag with that kind of force can put a hole in it and make your candy fall out.

The Ross Brothers, Turner and What’s-his-name (if you’re from small-town Ohio, always try to provoke some other small-towner), are lately editing extensive footage taken of real cowboys over the course of a year in Southeast Texas. Not “Midnight.” Not “Urban.” Real Cowboys. That’ll be something. In the meantime, if you weren’t raised in Dubai, see it:

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!


““I’ve read that when we think, only 40% of our thoughts appear in our conscious mind while everything else is below, in the subconscious spheres, but just as active. I am aware of how my films affect people but I never planned to make them that way – it must have been done by the underlying 60% of my mind. This must also be the reason why they work better for the viewership of one.”

Now that’s good thinking. It was provided to me not one hour ago by Paul Fierlinger, who with his wife and partner Sandra brought the animated feature “My Dog Tulip” to Ebertfest. It’s the animated story of British writer J. R. Ackerly’s adventures with his Alsatian Shepherd, the first dog he ever owned, acquired in middle age.

We’ve watched “My Dog Tulip” twice in my household in the few weeks since my viewing it at Ebertfest. There’s nothing controversial about dog poop unless we interject the emotional stability of those whom the subject makes nervous. My mother-in-law, who is in her eighties, loved this movie and felt a little relieved to know she isn’t the only one who’s ever had trouble housetraining her dog.

I mentioned this to Paul. He guessed that Ma must own a Prince Charles Cavalier, “notoriously difficult to housetrain.” He was exactly right, she owns a Prince Charles Cavalier. That is uncanny.

Uncannier by far is the Fierlinger’s nearly completed animated feature. It’s the story of Joshua Slocum, the first sailor to circumnavigate the world on his own, alone. The script is from Slocum’s book, largely postings to a newspaper as he sailed. Only a little of it is narrated aloud, by Paul himself. Slocum’s words are reprinted onscreen. It’s like opening a book and watching the action unfold on its own in front of you, music moving it along.

FLASH!! Mr. Fierlinger adds: "Would you mind just adding to Slocum that it is slated to be self-distributed and released on the Internet by the end of 2012, as a serialized, animated installment novel? This means that there are no producers, talent agents, marketing fellows, distributors, or approval gods involved so that there is a chance that it will make the Fierlingers some well deserved revenue for a change? Use your own words if you prefer, of course. Thanks."

(Criminee, you people, subscribe NOW. This is an animator's masterpiece.)


Good Lord, This Thing Is Getting Long, Isn't It?

Good lord, this thing is getting long, isn’t it? Those of you still with us, be grateful I haven’t endeavored to give a true and accurate rendition of all my impressions gathered at Ebertfest. I haven’t even got to the deep-dish pizza. Or the free lighter from Jon’s Pipe Shop for me wearing an Ebertfest badge. They did that last year too.

Or The Hat. The guy in “Tiny Furniture” was wearing The Hat. I will explain.

Many years ago, a bandmate found a dumb-guy hat to wear onstage. It was the kind of little brimmed hat that dumb guys thought made them look sexy. He took on the name “Verne,” which at the time was a dumb-guy name. The irony of it appealed to musicians in New York City, where the band played at places like the Bitter End and Tramp’s and even CBGBs.

I filled in for Verne for a season, and sure enough girls came after me, too. It now became The Hat. Some time later I exported The Hat to Southern California. I found one in a thrift store. It became the envy of the musicians in the band. We’d take turns wearing it. The Fabulous Rayguns didn’t last very long, but for the legacy of The Hat.

Devilishly handsome David Call played a snaky chef where Lena Dunham briefly found a tortuous job. He wore The Hat all the time, indoors too, which is what you’re supposed to do. I asked him about it. He said Lena gave it to him. That’s all he knew. I couldn’t find Lena to ask her. For all we knew, Verne left it in a thrift shop before she was born, grew up, found it and made David wear it.

Here is what I wrote in the dark about “Tiny Furniture”: “...makes me think of reports about artificial estrogen now saturating the water supply down the East Coast. It’s causing very strange creatures and strange humans alike.”

Here is what Olivia Collette, bless her soul again, thought:

Here is what the Tiny Furniture people think of themselves:

Here is a movie idea I thought up: “Evolutionary theory has finally taken over. People are genetically designed, except for the Natural Christians, who are now kept in a game preserve by the Evolution people. You can’t tell the two apart, except that the Evolution people like to hunt down Natural Christians and use them for horrible experiments or kill them in different ways for sport. As it turns out, Evolution was part of Satan’s plan after all!!! Could be funny. I dunno.”

Here is what Olivia thinks of Norman Jewison, with whom I got to sit at lunch:

Here is some more stuff I thought:

Umberto D: An old man and his dog are rendered homeless by a heartless social climbing landlady. The dog leads him on a merry chase away from suicide. The old man is younger than I am. Ulp.

Alpha Waves and World Peace

By Saturday, these dratted jangling alpha waves of mine began to settle down. I sat at a picnic table and wrote this:

Ah, the wind. It’s blowing here the way it was in Abiquiu when I left 5 days ago. It’s splashing the pages of my notebook around and I’ve just chased the lid of my coffee mug through a bicycle rack and into a doorway of the Virginia theater – which is full to capacity this morning, as it has been, day and night. They’re watching a Roger-picked documentary that follows a trail from the spare li'l apartment of an elderly li'l Swedish woman named Hilde Blank through the mails, over the years, into Kenya, then to Harvard, where her small donations helped a couple of brilliant village kids to go; from Harvard back to Kenya, where they’re trying to help kids who didn’t get a few bucks to go to school -- and are still being slashed and hacked to death by the uneducated, putatively in the name of imposing a better class of ideal people upon the planet.

Lord knows we could all use a better class of ideal people on the planet. Hilde’s Jewish parents were disposed of at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz concentration camps for that very reason. Yet despite the stirring march of chest-pounding victories against evil since those days, there seem to be even more evil people in need of disposal than ever. Our own government has its heroic hands full bombing evil people and their children to death even as I write these lines. The wind just knocked my coffee over onto my notebook.

Hilde is here today. She’ll be speaking onstage after the feature. She may make people cry and I hope she does. I’ll go back in.

I had to leave awhile. I do know how this one ends – one can stop his race on a mobius strip at any time, is the moral of the story, but that’s not why I’ve come outside. I’m tired. My head hit the pillow around 3:30 a.m. and this morning’s first program started at 9:30 – a short seminar on how to make a movie on no budget at all. Then something else, then Hilde’s story. Too much too interesting.

That Ebert must be up to something to be challenging the lot of us this way. I suspect that, like me, he has a Secret Plan for Global Domination. It must be. The most conspicuous characteristic of such people is how they emit unusual amounts of personal energy. There goes my coffee cup again. Must go in and listen to Hilde. She too must have a Secret Plan for Global Domination, what with these kids so successful thanks to a couple bucks every so often from her kitchen table in a tiny little apartment in Sweden. May the lot of us succeed.

No Rest For The Wicked

When I stumbled across Roger’s blog a couple-three years back, I too was emitting unusual personal energy. My daily work hours were 8:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.

I’d air out my mind throughout those hours by keeping an eye on it. He was reading all the postings and putting them up about hourly, in addition to his other work load, writing reviews, articles, working on a memoir and god knows what else. The time stamp of his blog postings said that Roger was at work an hour longer a day than I was. That’s some plan for Secret Global Domination.

You young punks have no idea what work is. Good lord.

Yes, good lord. Well, some of you do, I know for a fact. A word to the wise is sufficient. Now, I can brag about my good health. I outworked three of you young punks unloading 400-pound barrels of powdered copy machine ink out of a semi-trailer in the frying Arizona heat just a few years ago. I know how to write, too, but I can’t compete with a near-seventysomething who lives with a broken hip, a tracheotomy, a missing jawbone and god knows what else.

Mind you that sorry operation, which nearly killed him, didn’t leave him looking so strange. Like The Joker in one “Batman” or another, it left him with a permanent smile, a sincere-shaped one. It automatically makes you smile of itself.

I know it does that. I tried an experiment once, smiling wherever I walked. People replied with their own smiles. That’s happened to Roger. You can’t help but smile back. It’s reassuring. You just know that if this man doesn’t already like you, he’s figuring out some way to like you after all.

Maybe he isn’t, but the operation made it look like he’s that way. At least it’s reassuring to know that this Globally Dominant movie critic, who has slain many a wide-reaching ego with just a line or two, isn’t clearly and presently planning to skewer your ego too.

Owing to the insolently slow progress of my own Secret Plan for Global Domination, I can afford to skewer the odd ego now and then – even relentlessly – without fear of consequences. “Careful who I may meet on the way back down”? Fiddlesticks.

Take, for example, Greg Salvatore, @litdreamer on Twitter. He’s here too. I’ve been waving my “VIP” pass gaily in his face and monkeyshining about the free food I get. He’s a good sport. Tip: whether you’re on the top or the bottom of the banana, don’t attack people you don’t think you’d love in other circumstances.


Make no mistake, Global Domination recruits, Ebertfest isn’t for the lazy, the weak, incessant talkers or those who leave their cellphones on. I didn’t know how to shut mine off so I ran out of the theater. Ebertfest can be grueling. It can be blood, sweat and tears...

Here the live notebook account endeth, just like the unfinished narration that concludes “Satyricon.” All that remaineth are “Louder Than a Bomb” with nothing written under it, and this thought from “Life, Above all:”

“One thing clear is these people are routinely ashamed of one another. They are faithfully devoted to a vestigial religious system that says they should be poor and black and sinful, or they don’t fit into this world.

“That anything beautiful about them is a minor accident. Some strain of missionary Christianity that turned sour and withered long ago. And now they’ve got AIDS.”

Then, Sunday morning, into the car and back onto the road.

Sometime in the wee hours, somewhere in Missouri, I had a craving for waffles. They’re nothing I ever think about. Yet President Obama’s weirdly hairsprayed speech about having just now killed Osama bin Laden – the theme from “High Noon” wasn’t playing in the background – made me want to pull into an all-night waffle franchise. And so I did.

“So they just killed Obama — I mean Osama,” said one voice, sarcastically.

“Whee. Bring in the tanks and guns,” said another.

I must have stepped into the only location in the country where people weren’t cheering and dancing and hoo-rahing to beat all bands, confetti and Stuff We Can Believe In. Or maybe that was just radio static. It's been two months now and the poll numbers for President Shovel-Ready continue to drop.