Mill Valley Film Festival –
(better late than never!)
& The Licks!
This ‘n that
Greetings, Heraldonians and welcome to 2005! Long time no see! Since the illustrious publisher of this little newsrag has changed to an every-other-month format, it’s been ages since I’ve been able to take you on my magical mystery tour of what’s hot in the Bay Area and beyond. So let’s get the show on the road….
27th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival – October 7-17, 2004
The last three years I have devoted my entire column to covering this auspicious event: pages and pages of my “Alice-in-Wonderland” traipsing through screenings, tributes, and my own brushes with greatness. Since space and time have grown tighter, my fourth time around this block will be a shorter, grand overview of some of the highlights. This year was a tad disjointed due to the collapse of the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley, so the MVFF was actually elsewhere around Marin, to a large degree. They also cut out much of the live music, so alas, I did not get to wear my singer/songwriter hat this year at the Outdoor Garden Club - although my name was listed on every screen throughout the festival (not only “almost famous”, but “almost performing”). As always, MVFF director/founder Mark Fishkin and director of programming Zoe Elton were on hand to graciously introduce and oversee every event I attended, always with a smile and hello for moi’. Thanks again to the reigning Goddess-of-publicists, Pam Hamilton, to the lovely Juliet Michelle Lanfried for her always accommodating hospitality at the parties, and to director of programming at the Rafael Theater, Richard Peterson. The hip and fiercely independent Bay Area filmmaker Rob Nilsson, supporting his Jordanian film Samt, was a welcome sight at each event. Rob’s a cool dude. Also at every event, two semi-obnoxious young filmmakers, Deloss Pickett and Blake Rodrigo, who strong-armed me into watching and plugging their thought-provoking documentary short 25 to Life.
Our press screening at Dolby Lab Studios in SF was the biopic of sex god, I mean, doctor, Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson (see my review at grapvineculture.com.)
Fabulous “food-for-thought” film, not-so-fabulous spread beforehand for us scribblers. The opening night screening I chose was Finding Neverland, a beautiful film about playwright J.M Barrie (Peter Pan), starring Johnny Depp. On hand for a Q&A after was director Mark Forster (Monster’s Ball) and co-star Radha Mitchell. The opening night party back at the Mill Valley Community Center, was sadly a rather dull, disappointing affair by the time we got there. They were mostly out of hot food, the wonderful Sony Holland’s set was almost over, and not a celebrity sighting was to be had.
Friday night’s screening was the sweet and romantic P.S, preceded by a Q&A with lovely star Laura Linney and director Dylan Kidd after. The luminous Ms. Linney, dressed in a black pinstripe pants suit, was class personified. She lit up the room, declaring “a dance of joy for San Francisco” ever since she shot Tales of the City here. Director Dylan Kidd credited actor/director Campbell Scott for enabling him to write and direct Kidd’s first film Roger Dodger. Since my “pal” Gabriel Byrne had a supporting role in P.S, I approached the amiable Kidd, asking for my own “Campbell Scott” moment. I gave him my CD Sycamore Street with the song I wrote for Gabriel, “Rope Of Faith”, telling him I met Gabriel in 2000. “Wow, what synchronicity, he’s in my movie, I must hear it!” the Kidd exclaimed. At the after-party at the Outdoor Garden Club in Mill Valley, I spotted Kidd clutching my CD all night (even though he had a bag on his shoulder). And as I was leaving, he summoned me over to his limo, waving the CD, and we had a lovely chat. He referred to Gabriel as “a great actor and a giant Irish mystery”, and told me he couldn’t wait to hear my CD. He even offered me a ride to SF (which I declined since I live in Sausalito). And have I ever heard anything back from him, even after following up with the film’s publicist? You be the judge…
Monday (and the subsequent nights), the Rafael Theater hosted legendary documentary director Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter), interviewed on stage by our pal and SF scribe/former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres. Mayles claimed Altamont would never have happened if drugs were legal, and was proud to have just filmed Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor and others for John Kerry’s (now sadly lost) Presidential bid. Following was a screening of his classic 1975 film Grey Gardens, about an aunt and cousin of Jackie Onassis’, who inhabited this dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons for over twenty years. But since I had just put my own mother in assisted living (after living with her in the house I grew up in, in Daly City, for over three years since my dad passed away), this nut-job mother/daughter combo reminded me of what I might have become had I stayed in that house one moment longer, so I had to get the hell outta there. But the lovely after party at Ondines in Sausalito made up for my traumatic experience.
Wednesday night, the Rafael hosted brilliant British director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies – one of my all-time favorite films), interviewed by David Thompson. Thompson, who is supposed to be an authority on all things cinematic, kept getting facts wrong and Leigh made it clear from the get-go he did not suffer fools gladly, so it was rather comical (give me the job!). Leigh is known for developing a script through improvisation in rehearsal, so it was fascinating to hear him discuss his technique, in between the lack of fact checking. This was followed by a screening of Leigh’s new film Vera Drake, a quietly shattering film about a kind, working class woman who performed abortions “to help young girls out” in 1950’s London. Already controversial, this film is a must-see and certain to be nominated for every award under the sun, including best actress for star Imelda Stanton, who was on hand for a Q&A after. Both Leigh and Stanton received a standing ovation from the shaken and moved audience. One older woman screamed, “Thank you for making this film! I would have committed suicide if it weren’t for woman like Vera!” The intense Mr. Leigh admonished the nervous audience members who laughed. Don’t mess with Mike.
People queued up to speak with Leigh, but I couldn’t get anywhere near him. Women were cutting in front of me, it was madness! I thanked the diminutive and charming Ms. Stanton for doing this film and she hugged me. At the after party at the Depot in Mill Valley, it was more of the same. I gave up and was about to leave when Mike Leigh approached ME and said, “I’ve watched you patiently attempting to speak with me all night. You can’t leave yet.” Oh my. After trying not to swoon and muttering something about how deeply I, as a woman, appreciated him making Vera Drake, he dryly commented that he was probably going to get a lot of flak for it. “!@#$ them!” I whispered in his ear, and he smiled. Those Brits get me every time. He claimed to be a music fan, so I gave him a copy of my CD and a copy of last year’s MVFF coverage. “I will cherish every word and note,” said Sir Leigh, a true gentleman, even if I haven’t heard from him either.
Thursday, the veteran and still-stunning-after-all-these-years actress Gena Rowlands was interviewed by SF Chronicle film critic Edward Guthmann. Ms. Rowlands, dazzling in red, received a standing ovation as she stepped onto the stage. This was an obvious thrill for Guthmann and the audience alike. She spoke about the years working with her late husband, actor/director John Cassavettes, claiming A Woman Under The Influence as her favorite film. Working with son Nick, who directed her in this year’s The Notebook, was different, because “John never said anything, Nick likes to talk about the characters.” She received another standing ovation after the Q&A, which was followed by a screening of her classic 1980 film Gloria.
As always, the after party at Frantoio in Mill Valley was the highlight of the festival, for both culinary and social excitement. Upon arriving, film producer Sharon Fox, a lovely and effervescent woman I’d met several times throughout the festival, ran up to me with a gift bag in her hand. I had given her a copy of Sycamore Street (she loved “Rope Of Faith”)and last year’s Herald MVFF coverage. Written on the bag was “You go, girl! Write your own story in your own words!” and in the bag was a book titled How To Write A Movie In 21 Days by Viki King. “You must write a movie about your life!” Ms. Fox burst out. “You know how to write dialogue, you’re funny, you have all the music already, and you will star in it! It will be the next My Big Fat Greek Wedding! You’ll be the next Nia Vidarlos! And we’ll get Sam Elliot, Gabriel Byrne, everyone you’ve crossed paths with to be in it. You can do it! I have total faith in you! And “Sycamore Street” will be the anthem for women of America!” I didn’t know if this woman was my guardian angel or a very attractive escapee from Bellevue, but I was rendered utterly speechless. Guess I better get to work. Can I get John Corbett to play my love interest, too?
Meanwhile, my roommate, Art Griggs, had been an extra in the “action thriller” Two Minute Warning years ago, and had brought a poster for Gena Rowlands to sign. “That was the worst movie I ever made!” Ms. Rowlands exclaimed as she graciously accommodated my swooning 6’3” roomie’s request. Later, I approached generous Gena and told her how much I loved her work as Uma Thurman’s mom in HBO’s Hysterical Blindness, confessing I had a tumultuous relationship with my own mother. Ms. R hugged me as we had our picture taken, modestly crediting the great script for her heartbreaking performance. Lady, you’re a class act!
Closing night’s screening was the live concert film Lightning In A Bottle, celebrating the 100 year history of the blues by the old guard and new kids on the block at Madison Square Garden this year. The audience was so excited they applauded wildly after every performance as if we were actually at the show! The after party (at the Marin Osher Center in San Rafael) was a mixed bag. Like last year, they ran out of food early on, and what was there wasn’t very good. But the entertainment was fun, first a group of Americana songwriters, and then an “all-star” blues band with a special guest appearance by Maria Muldar. The illustrious publisher of this little newsrag, Gene Mahoney, was my escort, and we danced up a storm. Best moment: former KTVU entertainment reporter and SF stand-up comic Mark Pitta sliding across the dance floor on his knees with a full martini in hand, attempting to cut in. He didn’t spill a drop. Impressive! (He didn’t get a dance either, but like Mick said, “You can’t always get what you want…”). Mark currently hosts the wildly successful Mark Pitta & Friends comedy night at 142 Throckmorton every Tuesday night. Old pals Dana Carvey and Robin Williams have already stopped by to try out their new schtuff and the new kids on the comedy block are getting a shot on the same stage. Also seen and heard opening the show on that same stage: yours truly! Mark heard my CD and was kind enough to ask me to play on December 14. Thanks, Mark. I’ll save the last dance for you next year.
Juliette Lewis & The Licks, November 7, Café DuNord, SF
I know, I know, before you write this one off as another “actress/actor rock star wanna be” listen up, kids: this chick IS a !@#$in’ rock star. Yeah, we know she’s a great actress. And I was skeptical as the next guy when I received her EP … Like A Bolt Of Lightning, on Fiddler Records. Especially when I saw that she collaborated with ubiquitous Svengali Linda Perry (Pink, Christina Aguilera). Man, was I surprised by the raw intensity, kick-ass production and great songwriting on this record! Songs like “Shelter Your Needs” and “20 Year Old Lover” got my blood pumping, big time, and the girl can sing. A combo of the best stuff from the ‘70s and ‘80s like the Divynyls, the B52s, Joan Jett, the Ramones, Iggy Pop -- it’s that good. The trick is it sounds totally fresh, not dated, and Lewis sells it -- hook, line and sinker.
But could she deliver live? We had to find out. We first found out our Juliette is a genuinely cool gal. I caught her before the set, hanging outside her tour bus, no make-up, looking like a teenager. I told her how much I dug her record, and she immediately offered, “Hey, come backstage after, we’ll take pictures ‘n stuff!” Unfortunately, there were two bands before hers, and she didn’t hit the stage until 10:40 pm
– on a Sunday! Ugh. The place was packed with mostly movie star gazers (probably) but what they got was a full-on, punk/pop knock down, drag out ROCK show. Lookin’ hot, dressed in skin-tight white from head to (pointy-booted) toe, Juliette tore it up with her tight-ass band, including drummer Patty Schemel from Hole (no, this wasn’t an all-girl band, the guys kicked ass, too). Julitete was in complete control from the moment she hit the first note, her timing and intonation dead on, as she sneered, snarled, shook, and sang her ass off. At one point she threw herself into the crowd, let them carry her and the place became a mosh pit! By the encore, a fierce cover of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love”, there was nary a naysayer left in the house.
After the show, we were brought upstairs by her bass player, who was furious about the review in the SF Weekly that compared Juliette unfavorably to Minnie Driver, just because they were both actresses. I swore not to do that to our girl. As soon as Juliette saw us, she threw her arms around me like I was an old friend: “Where do you want us, what should we do?” as she and the band posed for pictures. Intelligent, enthusiastic and soft-spoken, she could not have been more ingratiating and eager to talk about her new career.
I told her I was a singer/songwriter/musician, and was so impressed with her musical ability, especially the fact that she stayed in tune the whole set. “Yeah, the band always tells me that, like they’re surprised!” she joked. We discussed how hard the press and public are on actors turned singers, and she said, “I always tell them, ‘Come to live show, come to live show!’ I’m not worried about it. I love acting, but movies are so visceral. On stage, I just wanna shed, I wanna emote!” I gave her a copy of my CD and told her I want to write with her for the next record. She opened it immediately, like a kid at Christmas. How cute is that? We dig that Juliette. She’s earning it the hard way, playing small, sweaty clubs and putting out her music on a small, indie label.
Give her a shot.
This ‘n That Around Town
Before Sunset screening w/ a Q&A with star Julie Delpy at the Rafael Theater October 24: My favorite movie of the year, hands down (my review’s on grapevineculture.com) and if I was gay, Julie Delpy would be my chick. She is a vision, enchanting… Cowapunka! at Kimos, SF, November 12: Anje Vela brought us great punkabilly from the Mojo Apostles, Electric Boogie Dawgz and the Screamin’ YeeHaws to benefit the West Memphis Three… my pal Richard Lewis at Cobbs, SF, November 13: A complete whirling dervish of a show from start to finish. He sold out the whole run, due in part to a certain Dog Bites writer from the SF Weekly, and both Lewis and Ben & Tom from Cobbs treated that writer like royalty. Shout outs to all of you, and to John Mecklin, illustrious editor of that fine publication, who has excellent taste in freelancers… December 2: Lovely LA chanteuse and Sally Kellerman look-alike Sam Phillips brought her unique torch songs and fine band to a crowd of adoring fans at Great American Music Hall. Opening the show and backing up Ms. Phillips was The Section, a slammin’ LA string quartet led by my buddy and sometime musical collaborator Eric Gorfain.
See ya next time!###
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