Almost Famous

My Continuing Adventures As A San Francisco Entertainment Journalist

By Kimberlye Gold

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The 29th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival, October 5-15!!

Greetings Heraldonians and welcome to my sixth, yes, SIXTH go-round at the Mill Valley Film Festival, now 29 years old, same as yours truly, give or take a few (shut up, naysayers, I am forever young in your hearts and mine)! Once again, I got to hob nob with the masses, the stars and the up & comers, both on and behind the scenes, to see and be seen by the haves, have-nots and everyone else in between. Kudos as always to Mark Fishkin, executive director and founder of the MVFF, Zoe Elton, director of programming, Pam Hamilton of Hamilton Ink PR, Goddess of Publicity and their wonderful staff members for all your hard work. Thanks to Chris Wright for enabling me to remove my journalism hat for one night and perform my music with Kurt Huget at the Outdoor Art Club as part of the festival again. And now, without further ado, let’s go on with the showwwwwww…..

Opening Night, October 5

We were not able to attend either of the opening night films, Breaking and Entering starring Jude Law and Robin Wright-Penn, and directed by Sydney Pollack, or The Last King of Scotland, starring Forrest Whitaker and directed by Kevin Macdonald, the latter of which has Oscar buzz everywhere for Forrest Whitaker’s portrayal of dictator Idi Amin. We were, however, privy to the Opening Night Gala, held this year in the Strawberry Village Shopping Center (I’m not kidding):  a rather bizarre attempt to create some kind of red carpet affair in between the mall shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, it was not one of the better venues or parties I’ve attended over the years, although it had its moments. Volunteers greeted us with glasses of red wine as we made our way in, a nice touch. They divided the party into three rooms, a main tent with just a few tables of finger food like pizza and some roast beef, a wine and beverage table, another room with some pasta, a bar with a pleasant jazz band, and a “music room”, where re-formed Marin County favorite sons The Edge played toward the end. The acoustics in that room were loud and horrible, so it was impossible to last more than a few songs (sorry, guys!). The mood was festive, however, and Sydney Pollack, Robin Wright Penn (sans Sean), and Forrest Whitaker made an appearance. As he was making his way to leave, I attempted to get Whitaker’s attention for a quote and his publicist tried to spirit him away. Whitaker would have none of that, “No, no, it’s okay, I want to do this!” he graciously complied. “The Mill Valley Film Festival audience was so warm,” he enthused. “They made me feel so comfortable at the Q&A. These are people who really show up for the movies, it’s like at Telluride. These are film lovers, not cinefiles.”

What a mensch (Yiddish for “cool guy”), that Forrest Whitaker!

October 6 - 50 Watt Fuse, Rafael Theatre

Being a guitar player myself, as well as a long-time fan of Saturday Night Live, I was intrigued to see 50 Watt Fuse, the documentary chronicling the career and life of the pony-tailed, Cheshire cat-grinning former frontman of the SNL band, G.E. Smith. The night almost started out as a disaster, as we mistakenly showed up at 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, where G.E. Smith’s concert was to be held the next night. Ooops. Miraculously, we made it to San Rafael in time to see the first documentary short, Darryl Henriques In Show Business.  An eccentric struggling actor/stand-up comic who had started out with dudes like Dana Carvey and Jay Leno,  Henriquez has achieved just enough success in B movies and TV shows to keep him in relative obscurity, almost famous (sound familiar?). It went on way too long, not to mention a little too close to home for your golden girl. 50 Watt Fuse was a highly entertaining and informative film about the life of one of the most respected and celebrated sidemen in rock ‘n roll, having played with everyone from David Bowie and Hall & Oates to Bob Dylan, many of whom were interviewed by the producer/director/ screenwriter Taylor Barton, who happens to be G.E.’s second(?) wife (he was married briefly to Gilda Radner years ago). The film was a fine collaborative affair between subject and storyteller. A G.E. Smith-model Fender Telecaster guitar has been created in his honor.

At the Q&A after the screening with G.E. and Barton, when asked why he left SNL, G.E. quipped, “Ten long years and they fired my ass!” He claimed it was a mutual decision, raving about the show and the great guitar players he got to sit in with the band, including his favorite Jeff Beck. Proclaiming himself a “folkie”, he brought out my old buddy Simon Kirke, drummer for Bad Company, and the two traded acoustic songs on guitar, which was a charming surprise. Simon greeted me warmly after it was over with a big hug, telling me he was looking forward to playing drums for G.E.’s band the next night. Fun fact: Simon came to see ME play in New York City back in 2001, right before 9/11…

October 7 - G.E. Smith in Concert, 142 Throckmorton Theatre

After seeing 50 Watt Fuse, I was excited to see what I thought would be an electrifying night of music, with special guest stars and surprises. After a hilarious introduction by SNL alumni (and Mill Valley resident) Dana Carvey, I was certain we would not be disappointed. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Wife, Taylor Barton opened the night with a set of mediocre 60’s flavored folk, rendering her a “Not ready for prime time player.” Ah, nepotism. (Sorry, Taylor, I dug your film!)  It only got worse: there were lags between set changes and “guest stars”, mostly local hippies who play around town all the time. After a very long set by The Flying Other Brothers (who my companion David Vaughn referred to as the “Who gives a flying !@#$ Brothers”) and a short set by Dan Hicks, we had had enough by the time Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman took the stage. I’m not a Grateful Dead fan anyway, so if anything cool happened after, I missed it.  Sorry, G.E. and Simon, I still think you’re cool, but I expected a way cooler night.

 October 8 - One Winter Story, Sequoia Theatre

Speaking of nepotism, my brother Kirk Goldberg was an additional editor (he re-edited the original footage) of this next documentary so I skipped a film starring Brad Pitt (Babel) to be a good sister. Preceding One Winter Story was the short Talking To My Mom, a bittersweet ode to a lost loved one by first time filmmaker Marjorie McAfee that tracked the director’s journey to try and communicate with her dead mother after she lost her to cancer. Infusing humor with sadness as she tries various mediums and psychics, the film hit all the right notes and tugged at the heartstrings with her truth. Well done.

One Winter Story tells the tale of Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman surfer to brave the monster waves at Northern California’s legendary Mavericks in 1998. Shot in a grainy, realistic style by filmmakers Sally Lundburg and Elizabeth Pepin, Sarah’s journey of determination from poverty and tragedy to superstardom, culminating in her ultimate achievement of peace and fulfillment is a powerful and moving one. The surfing shots were, like, totally awesome, dude, but the real story is Sarah’s own colorful history. Best part of the film: my brother’s name in the opening and closing credits, where we screamed like Elvis fans and embarrassed the hell out of him.

At the Q&A, Marjorie McAfee was thrilled to be a part of the festival and shared that Talking To My Mom was her Masters thesis. Hope she got an A. Lundburg and Pepin revealed One Winter Story was a five-year labor of love.

Speaking of labor, Surfer gal Sarah was present at the after party, 9 months pregnant with her second child. Apparently, more than surf had been up since the making of this fine film. Pepin told me that Kirk “saved the filmmakers’ touche” with his fine editing job. Go, Kirkie! Lundburg shared something Sarah’s mom had told her, “Live as though you have no limitations, even though you have many”, and said that’s how she feels now. Good food for thought. Speaking of food, Mama Sarah was busy eating for two so I didn’t have the heart to corner her for a quote.

October 9 - Infamous, Sequoia Theatre

Everyone has been comparing this Truman Capote biopic to last year’s Capote, starring Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I will be no exception. Let the record show I found them to be first rate in both similar and different capacities. See them both and decide for yourselves. I had to save three seats and some man snarled at me, “Not if I can help it!” in cold blood fashion. Scary. Luckily, my party showed up and saved me. British actor Toby Jones completely inhabits the role in appearance, speech and mannerisms, and his descent from socialite hob-nobber to self-destructive recluse while writing In Cold Blood and falling in love with one of the murderers Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) is Oscar-worthy as well. Sandra Bullock delivers a surprisingly spot-on, dressed down performance as Harper Lee, certainly the best work she’s done to date. Director Douglas McGrath used a documentary, humorous style in the beginning, which was fun, along with a lovely torch song sung by Gwyneth Paltrow in a nightclub scene, her only appearance in the film. Alas, there was no Q&A after the screening.

October 10 - Catch a Fire, Rafael Theatre

The screening of the true story about Patrick Chamusso, a working class black man who unwittingly became a hero fighting against apartheid in South Africa after he and his family were unjustly targeted by the white minority in power, started very late, much to the dismay of the packed house, who started clapping and chanting, trying to get them to start the film. Much to everyone’s surprise, not only did cast members Tim Robbins, Derek Luke and Bonnie Henna, screenwriter Shawn Slovo and her sister Robin, and director Phillip Noyce arrive, they had the real Patrick Chamusso in tow for this world premiere! Very exciting!

The film was riveting in its depiction of what life was like for both the black majority of poor working class people and the white minority in power, showing how even torture and terrorism can seem to be the only means to an end and how anything can be rationalized in the name of fear. The direction, writing and cinematography all effectively meshed to serve up both a very personal and political slice of history. Everyone in the cast delivered superb, nuanced performances, particularly Tim Robbins as the terrorism investigator and Derek Luke, who portrayed Patrick Chamusso. The film proved there are rarely easy answers, there is often a gray area between right and wrong, and forgiveness is the only solution.

At the Q&A, Shawn Slovo talked about her father, one of the only white men in South Africa to champion the plight of the blacks and fight for their freedom from oppression during the early 80’s. Director Phillip Noyce said his friend gave him Shawn’s script and knew he had to make this film. “South Africa showed true conflict resolution when apartheid ended, and Patrick’s story exemplified the whole plight,” he explained. Tim Robbins was initially terrified of being an American in a foreign land. He talked about how he tried to bring some humanity to his role, which was based on two different special officers who used torture as a means of gathering information. “Many of the white settlers were Europeans who escaped persecution in their own countries,” he said. “I learned how an individual can compromise their own morality for their country. You can’t torture someone and leave with a clean soul. Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela said there would be no retribution, which was their decision when they regained power. I tried to understand and not judge.” Derek Luke and Patrick Chamusso had mutual respect for and admiration for one another. “I tried to find out who I was in South Africa,” Luke said. “I had to understand this man with such a big heart.” After being imprisoned for ten years, Chamusso has started an orphanage for the surviving children who lost their families. “It is a joyful experience after all the pain – but the pain is still there,” he said. “The process of forgiveness isn’t easy, but we must break the cycle.”

October 11 - Tim Robbins Tribute, Rafael Theatre and reception at Frantoio Ristoranate

Ben Fong-Torres and Kimberlye Gold

The emotional and moving screening of Catch A Fire was the perfect appetizer for the tribute to actor Tim Robbins, with our friend and former Rolling Stone Senior Editor/Author/Columnist Ben Fong-Torres (BFT) in the interview chair. Taking the stage to a standing ovation and dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt and blazer, the at least 6’4” Robbins had an easy, fun camaraderie with the always witty and engaging BFT, and it felt like they knew each other for years. Sports fan BFT joked “Screw the clips, let’s watch the A’s game!” “There’s this new invention called Tivo, perhaps you’ve heard of it?” Robbins quipped back.

Robbins, a veteran of 46 films, talked about growing up in Greenwich Village in the ‘60s. His dad was in the popular folk band The Highwaymen (“Michael Row The Boat Ashore”), and his whole family was involved in a theatre company. By age 12, he was already working behind the scenes and on stage, and while at UCLA, he formed the “Actor’s Gang”. He “found television” doing guest spots on shows like St. Elsewhere until his film career began.

Laughing about his initial “duds”, Robbins said, “It was a rite of passage. Do the ‘get laid’ movie.” After showing clips from 5 Corners, Bull Durham, Jacob’s Ladder and The Player, Robbins credited director Ron Shelton and Bull Durham for his breakthrough role that “changed my life professionally and personally in a profound and beautiful way.” “Ah yes. That’s where you met Kevin Costner,” BFT quipped. Robbins shared that after watching the dailies, the producers said “Susan Sarandon was too classy to be attracted to a guy like you.” He said he found soon-to-be life partner Sarandon “unpretentious and present” and when asked how they got together, he replied, “It was complicated. We were both in relationships at the time. We became friends first. It was not one of those easy, ‘on set things’. BFT said he understood and Robbins replied, “Do you, Long Fong Torres?” The audience howled. He expressed sadness over the Gulf War overshadowing the release of Jacob’s Ladder. He credited Robert Altman with making him believe in the creative process and loyalty in Hollywood. “Altman held the role for me in The Player with no financing in place at the time. It was a turning point,” Robbins said.

Kimberlye Gold handing Tim Robbins her CD

There were many other film clips shown and discussed: Bob Roberts  (his directorial debut), Short Cuts, and of course, Shawshank Redemption. “It’s a classic,” Robbins said. “Morgan Freeman is a genuine artist and a great friend”. Abouthis Oscar winning turn in Mystic River, Robbins said he loved working with Clint Eastwood. “He’s amazing,” he raved. “The whole movie was shot in one or two takes. You had to come ready to work, he demanded a pro attitude from everyone, and we never worked longer than seven hour days. He knew people raised families in Hollywood!” Robbins felt lucky to have had the experience of directing Sarandon in Dead Man Walkingand adapting the screenplay. “I’m surprised how well it did, it made $100 million! It proved audiences are desperate for movies that address faith, compassion and spirituality.”

When asked about Catch A Fire, Robbins said, “Life is an example of miracles. It asks you to take a different path.” BFT asked if Robbins has paid a price for being a socially conscious political activist, and Robbins rose to the occasion. “I was demonized on talk radio as a traitor,” Robbins said. “But when I went out on the street in NYC, I found support. The majority is FOR free speech. The right is militant at convincing the majority that it’s the minority. I’m secure in my ability to speak out.”

Robbins ended on a humble note. “I really feel fortunate to have this career and the love, talent and support of so many people.”

The reception at Frantoio has always been the highlight of the festival, and this year proved no exception. The food and wine were to die for, and we were fortunate to share a table with the ubiquitous and delightful lady of 1000 hats, KRON TV personality Jan Wahl. Even more fortunate, seated at the table next to us was Tim Robbins, Robin Wright-Penn and BFT, who graciously brought me over to Tim and introduced me as “My good friend, Kimberlye Gold, who is a writer.” Tim (he’s Tim now) slipped his arm around my waist and asked, “Who do you write for?” Oh my. I mentioned the Herald, the Pacific Sun and that I freelanced. I then made my move, telling him I loved the music choices he made in the films he directed and produced and asked if he would mind if I gave him a copy of my CD SYCAMORE STREET. He seemed interested and delighted, graciously accepting my CD, as he posed for a picture with me that BFT shot. Yes, readers, I know every year I experience a moment like this, and yes, I have already sent a follow-up e-mail. It just takes one…

October 13 - Kimberlye Gold & Kurt Huget, Outdoor Art Club

As luck would have it, I was told we would be playing music for a filmmakers’ dinner but alas, it was only for the SF Weekly party, and having written for that fine publication, you would have thought maybe ONE of them would have bought my CD, but noooooooo....!! Ah well, we still had fun, even though it was freezing, and we rocked! Chris Wright told us we had drawn the most people so far, all of whom seemed to enjoy themselves, and my cousin Roger Goldberg, who I did not even recognize, made a special guest appearance. My hopes for some filmmaker, director, actor or producer falling in love with my music and placing a song in their next film dashed again, I still sang and played my lil’ ole heart out, as did my illustrious partner, Kurt. But we didn’t even get fed! Whasssup w/ dat?

October 14 - The Doors Going On 40 with Ray Manzarek and Ben Fong-Torres, 142 Throckmorton Theatre

This event was a long, strange trip down The Door’s keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s memory lane that dulled the senses and didn’t leave room for much else. After a very strange short film that Manzarek directed in film school and some Doors clips, Marin IJ reporter Paul Libertore attempted to interview Manzarek (who would barely let him get a word in edgewise) and BFT, who has a new book out, The Doors By The Doors (Hyperion) which he wrote with Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore. BFT, by the way, was the last person to interview Jim Morrison, the angel in grace and dog in heat, before his untimely death in 1971. BFT just happened to be hanging out at a publicist friend’s house in West LA and Jim came by looking for his girlfriend, Pamela. “It was like a talk show, very impromptu,” BFT said. “We spoke for 80 minutes! It was the last interview before he moved to Paris. I ended up writing the obituary for Rolling Stone.” BFT received an e-mail in December of last year to write the book with a March deadline. “By the time I did the research and all the interviews, I had about a week to finish the book! It was like a term paper times 1000 with no No Doz!” BFT joked.

Manzarek clearly had a chip on his shoulder about a mistake Libertore had made about his age, as well as a headline titled “The Lizard King and The Sideman” for an article Libertore had written. Manzarek gave him a hard time and Libertore was visibly uncomfortable. (FYI: The “Sideman” reference was about G.E. Smith!) Manzarek believes The Doors were and remain the greatest band in existence. (Currently, Manzarek and Krieger are touring with Ian Astbury, lead singer for The Cult in a new Doors band called Riders On The Storm.) He hated the Oliver Stone biopic, calling it “a Tequilla and white powder movie.” He spoke about how he met Jim and the magic they made together from the start. “Jim was a poet,” Ray said. “His look was Marlon Brando, Native American Shaman in the hips. He was possessed by the music, it was an Indian thing.” About the writing of “Light My Fire”, Manzarek sang the keyboard lick and said Robby Krieger and he" wrote it on the beach in Venice. “It came out of 20 years of piano lessons – take LSD and open the doors of perception.” Manzarek said a lot of stuff like this. “Kids in their 20’s are still visiting Jim’s grave,” he said. “We tried to get him to quit drinking, we did an intervention. He promised to stop but never did.”

After the interview, Manzarek was joined on stage by bass player Rob Wasserman and Beat poet Michael McClure, who recited four poems by Jim Morrison over this scary, spacey ‘60s music. Devoid of some LSD to open our doors of perception, we opted to get the hell outta there and crash the Helen Mirren reception, but alas, “The Queen” had left the building…

October 15 - Closing Night Film The Astronaut Farmer, Rafael Theatre and Gala at Bay Model Visitor Center

Right at the get-go, this film was a pain-in the-!@# because we had to be searched by security guys! A volunteer announced, “This is a secure print – no cameras or cell phones will be allowed in the theatre as the movie won’t be released until next year.” What the hell was this, Watergate??

Okay, maybe I’ve become a tad too cynical, people, but this immensely popular crowd pleaser was just too “touchy-feely/dreams can come true” for moi’. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a former astronaut who quit NASA for family reasons, becomes a farmer and decides to build his own rocket ship in his backyard, which he is preparing to launch into outer space to orbit the earth by himself (yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus!). With Virginia Madsen as his supportive, long suffering wife, the film is like a “Field of Dreams/build it and it will blast off” fantasy family affair. Directors Mark & Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) want us to suspend disbelief and just have a good time believing the impossible can become reality if you work hard, never give up and put your dreams ahead of everything, but I felt this sent a negative message to children. Thornton’s character is irresponsible and reckless, becoming a national cause celebre, as well as a security risk, putting his life and the lives of his family in jeopardy, baby. I was clearly in the minority, as the packed house seemed to love every minute and gave the Polish brothers along with cast members Virginia Madsen and Max Thieriot a standing ovation at the Q&A.

The Polish Brothers claimed that their own dad’s purchase of a “Partridge Family-like bus” when they were kids led them to the rocket idea. They used their own daughters for the kids in the film, (who were both pretty amazing actresses, I must say) so they wouldn’t have to deal with other parents on the set. Apparently, Billy Bob Thornton, who they got through their publicist, was able to get actors like Bruce Willis and personalities like Jay Leno to come on board. Madsen joked she promised to go out with Bruce Willis if he did the movie, saying, “I did it for the team!” It was her first time seeing the film herself, and she found the family “so absorbing. It is just a beautiful script.” Made in only 33 days in New Mexico, I will give props to the beautiful cinematography. Mark Fishkin ended the Q&A by saying, “Thanks for teaching us how to dream!” Wait – Steven Tyler just called to say, “Dream on!” Seriously, I predict America will love this movie – it’ll be the “feel good movie of the year.”

The closing night party has been a mixed bag over the years, but this one takes the proverbial cake as the weirdest. Held for some inexplicable reason at the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito, it was like walking though a dark, watery maze with almost no food to speak of, just a few appetizers, and long, long lines at the two beverage stations. Granted, I missed several of the tribute nights this year and those parties may have been fantastic, but this was just plain bizarre. Worst of all was the fact that they sequestered the VIPs, actors, directors, etc. behind some special top area so the press and public had no access to them, which is the whole point and one of the highlights of these parties (and also so I can accost the filmmakers with my CD!). I felt sorry for the folks who paid $65 for this sad affair. They had a dance floor with some DJ spinning disco hits way across the cavernous space and of course, Jan Wahl was dancing the night away.

Luckily, Virginia Madsen made her way through the barrier to join us riff-raff and I was able to speak with the poised and gracious blond beauty. “I LOVE this festival!” Madsen raved. “It’s the perfect place to open a film. It’s been like a family reunion. It’s still about filmmaking, very non-commercial. The community support has been incredible, especially the volunteers.” 

Madsen said she was relieved her new ABC TV series Smith had just been cancelled. “They didn’t give me enough to do. They weren’t going to let me come here, so it worked out perfectly! I would love to come back.”

Zoe Elton, director of programming, experienced a couple of her biggest challenges when she was given a two minute warning to moderate the Actors Lab with Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Oh, and others when the scheduled moderator cancelled. “Thank God it went well!” she said. The other was when the digital system broke down for the screening of the documentary Milarapa. “I had to spend the next two hours having an on- stage extemporaneous conversation with the filmmaker – who is a monk!” she laughed. The British redhead’s proudest moment was exhibited on her festival laminate: a quote from fellow Brit Helen Mirren which read, “Thank you from Helen Mirren, fellow New College alumni.”

MVFF founder Mark Fishkin was thrilled festival attendance was up 10 percent over last year. “The response to all the films has been great,” he said. “Forrest Whitaker is certain to be nominated for an Academy Award for The Last King of Scotland. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel is one of the best films of the year, and Phillip Noyce’s Catch A Fire is certainly the most socially conscious film we’ve ever had. 650 people were weeping after the screening of the World film After The Wedding. I am extremely optimistic!” he said.

So once again, we came, we saw, we partook (when we could!) and did our best to give you yet another “Alice-in-Wonderland/Wizard of Oz” slice of Hollywood here in mellow Marin County. Till next year, ta ta!!

A brief addendum: I recently saw the musical Chicago starring my old pal Huey Lewis at the Orpheum Theatre. I had seen the movie, but this was my first time seeing it on stage. Huey looked great and gets credit in my book for stepping outside his rock star comfort zone to hoof it up and belt it out Broadway style, from where he has just returned. A bit laid back for the larger than life musical theatre stage, his heart of rock ‘n roll still beats better as lead singer Huey Lewis than Razzle Dazzle lawyer “Billy Flynn”, but I commend his willingness to go out on a limb and try something completely different. After the show, I went up to say hello and he said “Hi Kim!” and gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek. It was the first time EVER that he didn’t call me “D.C.” (for Daly City, where I grew up), his nickname for me since I was a teenager. Guess I’m all grown up now…###

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All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney