Seattle Film Festival- Days 16-18: A Day in the Life

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: June 12, 2006 | Publication: KIRO News Radio | Author: Tom Tangney
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With another hectic weekend under my belt, I'm feeling pretty good right now about closing out the final seven days of the Festival in strong fashion. I saw nine more movies, attended two more SIFF forums, and recorded two great interviews (one with the filmmakers of WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?, the other with a film noir expert.)

What I thought I'd do this entry is give you a "day in the life" look at a pretty typical full-time Festival filmgoer, namely me. Here's what Saturday looked like.

Technically, my Saturday started at midnight when my daughter Kate and I decided to watch Ecuador upset Poland 2-0 in the World Cup opening round game (recorded on DVR.) It somehow seemed more than appropriate, in the midst of the Seattle INTERNATIONAL Film Festival, to enjoy the most international of sports, soccer.

That made for a really late night and morning came awfully early as I dragged my groggy self to my first Festival event of the day - the Screenwriters Salon at the Northwest Film Forum, up on Capitol Hill. This event was put on by THE FILM SCHOOL, a local screenwriting school founded and taught by such luminaries as Stewart Stern (Rebel Without A Cause) and Tom Skerrit. Over three hours, four faculty members gave mini-versions of their three-week-long classes - John Jacobsen and Warren Etheridge were especially entertaining as they walked through the keys to structuring a screenplay and creating a memorable character. Basically, an infomercial for the Film School, the panel convinced me they knew how to teach ... with a smile and a crack.

I then dashed downtown to the Pacific Place Theatre to catch the great Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's latest film THREE TIMES. Typically gorgeous and slow moving, the movie tells three love stories, set at three different times, but starring the same two leads (according to the Festival staff, Taiwan's hottest young stars, and I see no reason to doubt it.) I'm not sure how the three segments all relate necessarily, but damn are they brilliant set pieces - the first one, like a Wong Kar Wai short; the second, a luscious silent. Only the third, set in the present, seems a bit problematic. But in this case, two out of three is more than enough.

I stuck around at the Pacific Place Theatre to see the late afternoon screening of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SESAME STREET. This documentary followed three Sesame Street crews setting up shows in Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Africa. What should have been a knockout film about how this incredibly successful show translates to many diverse cultures, instead became a movie about how tough it is for the Sesame Street producers to pull together a show. Who cares about you? I ask. I want to see the frickin' shows from all around the world. This movie should have been a greatest clips show - instead we get a bunch of North American producers fretting. The clips don't show up until the last five minutes of the show - too little, too late. Me want more clippies!

As soon as SESAME STREET ended, I made a mad dash back up to Capitol Hill for the Gala Screening at the Egyptian Theatre of PERHAPS LOVE, an elaborately overwrought Chinese/HongKong musical that has more in common with Broadway than the Peking Opera. Think "Asian Moulin Rouge" - that's how eye-popping and outrageously romantic this film is, with its non-stop exuberance seemingly bouncing off the theatre walls. At times, you swear you're listening to a Chinese version of Phantom of the Opera, then Les Miz, then Chicago ... Now normally, I'm prone to like this kind of stuff but during the opening musical number which involved dozens of dancers and singers, it seemed too much too soon. I caught myself thinking: this must be what it was like for those people who didn't like MOULIN ROUGE. Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing but abrasiveness. Happily, by film's end its incessant and insistent romanticism won me over. Despite the film's early bad buzz, I ended up liking it a lot.

And speaking of bad buzz, I can't tell you how many people tried to talk me out of sticking around for the next screening at the Egyptian. But I'm glad I stuck around to see the visually arresting BEOWULF AND GRENDEL. I know why people had problems with it. First off, purists won't like it because Grendel is given a pretty elaborate back story that includes a murdered father, a freakish mother, and a witch's offspring. And there is some jarring contemporary sounding language (although some of the crude language is little more than good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon vulgarity.) And then there's the entirely made-up witch (played by prettty Sarah Polley) who's unrealistically hygenic for a 6th century Dane, what with her porcelain skin and all.

I agree with much of the above, but here's what I liked about it. It's meant to be a kind of post-9/11 Beowulf (and Grendel.) The Icelandic director made that very clear in his pre-film and post film comments. From the Egyptian stage, Stella Gunnarsson introduced the film by saying it was about somebody who thinks he's a hero by going overseas to slay a monster. If that was a bit oblique, his post-film statements were not. He explained that the Beowulf legend that has been passed down to us was a Christianized 900 A.D. version of a 400-year-old PRE-Christian legend. Christianity had turned the tale into a battle between absolute good and absolute evil. Gunnarsson maintains Christianity demonizes the Other (in this case, Grendel) and what his film attempts to do is rehabilitate the image of Grendel as something other than a monster. He then hinted at contemporary political parallels, where the powers that be (USA, UK, perhaps?) demonize what they don't understand. That may feel like a stretch but it does make B&G a somewhat more interesting film. FYI - even the film's detractors admit, the Icelandic shore and countryside where the film is shot is absolutely stunning.

Okay, by the time the lengthy Q and A with Gunnarsson gets over, it's getting late. I get home about about 12:30 am and decide to cap off my long day the way it started - by plopping myself in front of the TV to watch another World Cup game, this time England nipping Paraguay 1-0, on a brilliant Beckham shot that was "headed" into the goal by a Paraguayan. See? Bending it like Beckham - the perfect fusion of FILM and FOOTBALL.