Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Sex, drugs and rollicking flicks

Film festivals can be hard on the body. And, no, I’m not just talking about what it does to a person’s derrière to spend 40+ hours in the course of one week being stuffed into seats in (mainly) a stately European opera house that was not designed for 21st century American bums. I’m not even referring to what it does to one to stay up to all hours of the night, eight nights in a row, and then come back to a hotel room and do email and surf the night into the wee hours of the morning and then get up a few short hours later to arrive barely in time for the hotel breakfast and then get ready to do it all over again.

No, I’m talking about the constant, ongoing substance abuse. And I don’t mean all the cups of drip coffee and espresso drinks one uses to stay awake through some 20 programs. Or the occasional pint of Heineken (since we’re in Cork) that one forces oneself to down because you are dragged into the opera house pub against your will.

No, I am talking about serious, hardcore, frequently illegal substance abuse. You see, some of us have a problem in watching certain movies in that we are susceptible, against our will, to identify strongly with what is going on onscreen. In our blurry, bleary film-festival-attending state we forget that the movie isn’t real. And the recently completed Cork Film Festival was very hard on the systems of such people.

I repeatedly got stinko drunk in sleazy, smoke-filled boozed bars with a fictionalized Charles Bukowski in Factotum. I got tipsy at a hen party with Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. I drank wine ‘til my judgment was impaired, not only with David Wenham in Three Dollars but also with Emmanuelle Béart in Strayed. I downed brewskis and popped pills with Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, but without the benefit of June Carter to straighten me out. I can’t even remember all the abuse I committed with Brian Jones in Stoned, and like him I wasn’t sure I would live to tell about it. And I won’t even get into what I got up to with alienated multicultural youth of France in Le Clan. And, for a grand finale, I drank myself drunk to the point of spouting interesting passages of English literature at the top of my voice in a near-deserted tavern under the blistering December Australian sun with John Hurt in The Proposition. I shouldn’t be writing any of this all. I should be checking myself into Betty Ford.

And, please, do not even get me started on the sex. I simply won’t go there. Except to say that there is no weirder experience than to have festival director Mick Hannigan introduce the audience to a sweet, young Mexican actor (Anapola Mushkadiz, from Battle in Heaven) and then to see, in graphic detail, this same young woman, literally only seconds later, projected on a huge screen, ten times bigger than life, committing an act that made Monica Lewinski famous. How do you do, indeed. Oddly, however, this moment was relatively tame and tasteful, compared to the images that were conjured orally, I mean, verbally by a host of comedians telling and retelling the bluest of jokes in The Aristocrats. There were so many indecent moments in that documentary, but one that sticks with me was a version of the joke that involved a go-for-broke vaudevillian father to come up with a new meaning for the word “cockeyed.”

The Cork Film Festival gives awards to various categories of short films but to no other class of movie. That is too bad because, as suggested above, there are possibilities for statuettes in such potential categories as Best Movie Depicting an Addiction, which could be sub-divided into Fatal and Non-Fatal categories. Or how about Best Sex Scene? If I were on the jury, Battle in Heaven wouldn’t even be a contender for this last award. The runaway winner would be Strayed, with special mention for Emmanuelle Béart for service above and beyond the call of duty, with the grateful thanks of heterosexual men everywhere. This is truly an actor who gives generously. In a completely separate and unrelated category, there should be a prize for Most Romantic Movie. Once again, the obvious choice is clear and undisputable. It would be, of course, March of the Penguins. Nothing else comes close. Runner-up would probably be Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, followed by Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown. This last film may border on chickflickness because there is an extended scene that suggests that there is actually a man who would enjoy spending hours talking on the telephone with a woman. But that aside, it is nice to see a rom com where the couple develop a friendship first and it actually seems like it might be real instead of merely a necessary plot point.

As usual, it was nice to see films at the festival that had a special relationship to Cork, making the time and place feel very connected to the movie. Stephen Woolley, director of Stoned, definitely felt a connection being there and said so. One of the movies he produced that meant the most to him (and its director, Neil Jordan) was Michael Collins, about the Cork man who founded the Irish Republican Army, fought the British to a stalemate and negotiated a peace that resulted in the Irish Free State. So, it felt appropriate that the festival also screened a rare print of the 1936 film of which Michael Collins was more or less a remake, Beloved Enemy, a fictionalized Hollywood treatment of the same story. The mood of celebrating the Cork man was diluted only momentarily when Brian Aherne, as resistance leader Dennis Riordan, began waxing nostalgic with Merle Oberon about going to a farm in Galway. They had shifted Collins from Munster to Connaught! But the local audience’s rallied when street kids vandalized the back of Englishwoman Oberon’s motor car with a painted slogan. It read, “Up the Rebels!” which is a phrase heard frequently among Cork sports enthusiasts.

Let me wish everyone involved with the Cork Film Festival a hearty congratulations, not only for another great year but also for attaining the festival’s half-century mark. And, speaking of Cork and sports, I am afraid I owe a major apology to everyone. Last week, despite all my best efforts, I once again found myself writing about Roy Keane. The very next day, Keane resigned from international for soccer for good. I guess there was only so much the poor man could take. And apparently, my web site was the last straw.

-S.L., 20 October 2005

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