Friday, May 13, 2011

Film Yap: Ebertfest Day One

For the next few days Austin Lugar shall be sharing his experiences at the 13 thannual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.

Day One

This is my first time at Ebertfest, an event I’ve heard about for years. Basically it’s a chance for Roger Ebert to screen some movie he adores in his hometown. All of the movies are shown in the gorgeous Virginia Theatre. The first thing I noticed was the large crowd that was circling the theatre. My friend and I arrived 75 minutes before the first film was to start, but the die-hard fans know how many hours to wait so they can get the best seats.

Seats matter a lot because this isn’t just one movie. Tonight was two films, but in the upcoming days there will be three or four. The right seat means you can see the films better and you can enjoy the panels better. Thanks to the dedication of my friend’s family, we ended up having very seats on the balcony.

The festival opened with the man himself, Roger Ebert, introducing the show. With the help of his laptop as his voice and his energetic gestures he was able to give plenty of thanks to the people involved and showed his extreme gratitude towards everyone for attending. Also he gave a thumbs up while his wife Chaz was talking, which was just too cool for me to process.


The first film was the newly restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. When I went through my silent movie phase in high school—as we all do—I saw this but didn’t fall in love with it. I responded more towards F.W. Murnau than Lang. Recently they discovered more than 20 minutes of footage of Metropolisin Argentina. It turns out that Buenos Aires is a final stop for touring movies back in the day and sometimes missing reels can mysteriously turn up there.

The film was recently released on Blu-Ray with this extra footage and that is the version we saw tonight. The extra bonus was there was a live orchestra with their unique score. It was the Alloy Orchestra, which has toured with their version of Metropolisfor all of its incarnations. They were supposed to be featured as an alternative track on the Kino Blu-Ray, but the Germans with the rights only wanted the original score, which is more traditional than what fits the film.

I’m thrilled to say I loved the film a lot more with the changes. The plot made a lot more sense with the scenes to the point where I can’t imagine watching without. (The extra scenes aren’t in pristine condition like the rest of the movie so it’s easy to tell what is new, but it’s never distracting.) As noted in the panel, the film shifts from being a breakthrough science fiction film to really more of a genre-breaking story with the new footage.

Their score plays a lot with the mechanical nature of the city and its world. Certain themes are incorporated well with the visuals and during the last hour when it becomes a crazy/amazing disaster film their score adds so much drama. The film really became scarier with the focus on the doors closing in on the hero or the rise of a Machine-Man.

The film itself is lovably insane. It’s so ambitious with it’s complex and exciting story. The special effects continue to be amazing especially when looking at the gigantic sets and then watching them become demolished.

Thankfully the score is available to purchase off of their website. Having heard both scores, it’s clear how amazing this one is and it was great to hear them live. It’s only three people putting on the entire 2.5 hour film (with no real intermission). Two of them were on the panel talking about their evolution as well as Michael Phillips and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky talking about their impressed reactions.

One of the highlights was Vishnevetsky talking about how at age 10 Metropoliswas his favorite film, but as he grew older, he stopped seeing it as the ultimate Lang film…until this cut. What I like so much about Vishnevetsky is that even though I disagree with him a lot, he knows how to articulate his observations very precisely that a lot can be learned from him. Also he is very genuine about his picks.

4.5 Yaps

Natural Selection

A short break was had after Metropolisand then it was time for Natural Selection. This just won the top prizes at this year’s South By Southwest. I knew nothing about the film going in except for the fact that he starred the hilarious Rachael Harris. Without giving too much away Harris plays a middle-aged Texas wife named Linda (Something I know nothing about) who drives to Tampa to find someone who may be her husband’s son, Raymond.

Raymond (Matt O’Leary) is a shady drug addict who is running from the law so he jumps at the chance to drive away in Linda’s car. The two of them form an odd friendship/distrust as they travel back. Writer/director Robbie Pickering avoids most of the road trip clichés and focuses on these two very developed characters. The humor is very organic, but also has a strong underlying of sadness with Linda.

Harris and O’Leary give two incredible performances that enrich every frame of the movie. They both fully comprehend their characters and won’t use their shortcomings for cheap jokes or simplistic generalizations. The result is a very charming movie that deserves to be seen when it gets a wider release.

After the screening, Pickering and Harris appeared on stage with Phillips and Matt Zoller Seitz to talk about the symbolism of the film and how much they were able to accomplish on an 18 day shoot. Harris didn’t say very much, but was charming in how grateful she was for the opportunity to have a really layered role. Pickering got the biggest laugh of the night when an audience member started off their question with “Since the script is really unusual and you probably won’t see it anywhere else--” and then Pickering interrupted with “F*** you, man.”

4 Yaps

The first night was very enjoyable with two great films. Tomorrow’s lineup includes the wonderful Italian neorealist filmUmberto D, the recently animated hit My Dog Tulipand the indy breakout sensation Tiny Furniture. Stay tuned.

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