Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

¡Saludos de Cork!

When I hop into my car at this time every year and head south to Cork, I cannot help but daydream about what would happen if I just drove past Cork and continued south. Okay, I would wind up in the ocean. But, I mean, what if I could drive across the ocean. Why, I would wind up in France—assuming that I was bearing a bit to the east at the same time. October is a good month in Ireland for thinking about France or Spain or Italy or any other country farther south. In fairness, so far this October hasn’t been too bad. We’ve had something of an extended Indian summer, or what passes for an Indian summer in this country. But it compares quite favorably with the actual summer which, for long stretches, was no summer at all. Okay, I’ll stop. I’m starting to sound like one of those whiny Californians who move to Seattle.

If the weather is gloomy so far this week in Cork, well, that’s just classic film-viewing weather. Anyway, this year (and for at least the next two years) the pub in the Cork Opera House has been brightened with unexpected splashes of golden color from Mexico. The Cork Film Festival has a new major corporate sponsor. As I think I have mentioned before, one of the major attractions of Irish film festivals generally is their close connections with alcohol. Years ago the old Dublin Film Festival had the name Guinness attached to it. The new incarnation, the Dublin International Film Festival, has the name Jameson (as in whiskey) attached to it. For years, the Cork Film Festival had the venerable old Cork name Murphy as part of its official moniker, in tribute to the sponsorship of a major local brewery. Then Murphy was acquired by Heineken, but the name of the Dutch-based brewer never seemed to find its way into similar top-line corporate sponsorship, and for a few years the fest was officially known merely as the Cork Film Festival. It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been re-dubbed the Cork Teetotalers Film Festival. Anyway, this year, an ebullient Corkman stepped in to provide major support, in the person of one Michael Barry, managing director of Barry Fitzwilliam Maxxium, which distributes Corona Extra in Ireland. While it seems a bit strange to see a Mexican beer’s name on a film festival in native-alcohol-product-rich Ireland and while the pale Corona brew wouldn’t be my first pick of Mexican beers (I’m more of a Negra Modelo or even a Dos Equis man), it lifts the heart to see Corona’s bright golden color, laced with limes, on all the publicity materials. The corporate tagline for the festival is “Enjoy a Refreshing Slice of Cinema” and the festival poster and program look like a Mexican mural, apparently depicting a scene from Orson Welles’s A Touch of Evil, which was set on the U.S-Mexican border. (Trivial footnote: one of Welles’s most memorable film roles was Harry Lime, in The Third Man. Coincidence? I think not…) All I can say is, slainte!, ¡salud!, ¡olé!

I seem to recall vaguely that, in the past, it was traditional for the opening night film at the Cork Film Festival to be the premiere of a new Irish feature. If so, that tradition has been quietly retired. (Last year’s festival opener was the controversial Canadian mockumentary Death of a President.) Still, there were bits of Irish-ness all around this year’s auspicious first-night gala. The surnames of the directors (Ethan and Joel Coen), as well as the author of the source novel (Cormac McCarthy), suggest these Yanks likely have Irish roots. I never really thought about the ethnicity of the name Coen during most of the years I was watching the brothers’ movies, but I suppose that, in the back of my mind and in my ignorance, I just assumed they were Jewish. That was before I came to my wife’s hometown in the west of Ireland and discovered there were a fair number of Coens (without any “h”) there, and they are all Irish Catholics. Anyway, the most Irish thing about the Coen Brothers’ latest, No Country for Old Men, which premiered at Cannes and has played a only a few other film fests since, is its title. It comes from the poem “Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats who, like many Coens, hailed from the west of Ireland. But the movie, like the aforementioned A Touch of Evil, is set on the U.S.-Mexican border.

No Country for Old Men definitely merits all the critical hype it has gotten since Cannes. As filmmakers, the Coens may be quirky but they are also masterful. Over the years, I never really felt that they had equaled or excelled their amazing debut film, Blood Simple. Even their much-praised Fargo was, in my minority opinion, somewhat overrated. But their newest movie is their best. It is slated to open in the U.S. in late November and in the British Isles in January.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival will be the awarding of the festival’s lifetime achievement award to Al Gore. Okay, I made that up. As far as I know, there is no Cork film festival lifetime achievement award. And Al Gore isn’t really here. But it wouldn’t have surprised me because the man is on such a roll. As I have written before, I have been bemused by the fact that Gore seemed to have gotten stuck in a pattern of people thinking he’s won things that, technically, he hasn’t. First, there was the matter of that election in 2000. He did win the popular vote, but that counts for nothing under the U.S. Constitution as currently written. All that mattered was the electoral vote count and, in that case, the tally in the deciding state ended in a statistical tie. People might not like the way the tie was broken (by the Supreme Court), but it was all according to the Constitution. While everyone always refers to the “5-4 decision,” the court actually voted 7-2 that the recount Gore requested was unconstitutional. The 5-4 vote was to deny more time to devise a new method of recounting. There were allegations of irregularities in the voting, but no independent investigation by law enforcement or the press ever turned up anything significant. This is not to argue that the better man won. But the problem was not so much cheating or unfairness as the inability of a candidate, who was part of one of the most popular administrations of recent times, to do better than getting a tie in the Electoral College.

Then there is the Oscar. To this day, no media outlet seems able to mention Al Gore without including the “fact” that he “won” an Oscar. The Oscars in the documentary categories go to the directors. And the director of An Inconvenient Truth was Davis Guggenheim, so technically Gore wasn’t the Oscar recipient. To posit that the subject of a documentary constitutes being the author of that documentary is to argue that the film in question isn’t actually a documentary at all.

But things turned around for Gore’s legitimate trophy mantel at this year’s Emmy awards. As a founding partner of the Current TV channel, Gore legitimately and unambiguously won an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Television. And it’s been uphill from there. As you may have heard, Gore legitimately and unambiguously won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. Now I don’t have to be annoyed anymore that Gore is being attributed things he did not technically win. Rather, I am feeling a bit sorry for the people on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who shared the prize with Gore. In the news reports that I read or heard, they got only a cursory mention, if they were mentioned at all. I feel bad about this, not just out of concern for the feelings of the members of the panel, but because more attention should actually be paid to them. They do very solid and reasonable work and, ironically, many of their conclusions flatly contradict some of the wilder assertions that Gore made in “his” movie.

So what is the deal with Al Gore and all these awards and sort-of awards? After all, on the face of it, the odds of one man picking up so many prizes in so many different arenas in such a relatively brief period of time is fairly unlikely. What gives? I think the answer is fairly obvious. There are so many people who are so sorry that George W. Bush became president in 2001, and all for the lack of a relatively few votes against him, that people keep voting for Gore, years after the 2000 election has been done and dusted, to try to make up for it. Sure An Inconvenient Truth was skillfully made and even important in its message (and way better than Leonardo DiCaprio’s follow-up, The 11th Hour, which was screened here in Cork this week), but it was no way the best documentary of that year. As for Current TV, I will let its impact on my life and yours speak for itself.

Is Gore truly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize? That is a judgment above the pay grade of a humble movie blogger. But I will allow that he is certainly a better choice than some past winners, like Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho and Yasser Arafat. But he pales a bit next to others, like Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. But if he is going to keep winning things, he needs to work a bit on his acceptance technique. I winced as I watched him accept the honor with well-practiced humility and apparent surprise. I winced because I had been reading for weeks that he had been actively lobbying for the award.

For a truly great reaction, we had to turn to the Nobel Prize for Literature. If your local TV news broadcast didn’t show you British author Doris Lessing learning of her prize, go find the Reuters video on YouTube. It is priceless. The poor woman arrives home from shopping, gets ambushed by the press with the news (which she hadn’t heard) on her doorstep. Tired and cranky (she is, after all, in her late 80s), she exclaims with exasperation, “Oh Christ. I couldn’t care less.” The reporters then proceed to badger her for a quote and an impromptu BBC interview, and finally she tells them, “This has been going on for 30 years. I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.” Later, she added, sensibly, “I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise. I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.”

Now, that is how a real winner accepts an award she has long since earned. Mr. Gore, take note.

-S.L., 18 October 2007

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