Friday, September 10, 2010

Celluloid dreams in Telluride

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Rocky Mountain high…
  • Rocky Mountain high…
Ever wonder what you’d say to music journalist Greil Marcus if you spotted him in a bar? Or to eccentric documentarian Errol Morris if you bumped into him in the bookstore? Or to British leading man Colin Firth if he unzipped at the urinal next to yours? On second thought, don’t answer that.

These questions would be far-fetched nearly anywhere but Telluride, Colo., every Labor Day weekend when this small mountain town plays host to one of the world’s most prestigious international film festivals. This was the 37th year that directors, writers, film scholars and movie-lovers have traveled from around the globe to gather in the Rockies for four days of world premieres, archival restorations, rediscovered films, filmmaker Q&As — and, if one is lucky, the chance to chat up a big-time movie star in line for coffee.

This was my fourth Telluride Film Festival and a pretty strong one on the whole. I saw no outright stinkers, but can’t say I had the feeling of being present at the unveiling of a masterpiece, as when I attended the first screening of The Lives of Others in 2008.

Still, the TFF is typically a major launchpad for future Oscar contenders — Slumdog Millionaire premiered there two years ago — and this year will likely be no exception. In fact, Slumdog’s director, Danny “Trainspotting” Boyle was back again this year to offer the first public screenings of his latest, 127 Hours, a dramatization of a lousy few days spent by Utah hiker Aron Ralston in 2003 when his right arm became pinned against a canyon wall by a falling boulder. Boyle, a strangely cheerful man considering his usual choice of subject matter, brought with him not only the movie’s star, James Franco, but Ralston himself.

Now, even if you'd shown up to the Palm Theatre (aka the auditorium in Telluride High) with no knowledge of Ralston's tribulations, you would've had a sense for how this story was going to end, if only because the subject of the film was sitting in the audience — and was missing a hand. Still, about an hour into the film — well after the arm-pinning, but before the self-amputation — I heard some commotion right behind us and turned to see people rushing to help a woman sprawled on the floor who kept repeating, "Oh, my God!"

The woman was carried out, fortunately, before I had to ask her to hold down the wailing. I later found out she hadn't suffered a heart attack or a kidney stone, but had simply lost her shit due to the intense nature of the film. And here's the kicker: another woman had a similar freak-out during a different screening of the Boyle film.

Those incidents have given 127 Hours an instant notoriety on Indiewire and other movie-industry blogs. But, really, we're not talking about another Saw or Hostel here. Boyle's film, while unavoidably grisly in certain parts — specifically, the lower arm — is a riveting account of a man forced to confront his own mortality.

The movie effectively puts the audience inside Ralston's head by using POV shots and visualizing his thoughts and dreams as he reassesses his life and relationships with people he may never see again. The camera zooms between the claustrophobia-inducing canyon and the vastness of the surrounding landscape. But Boyle still finds the opportunity to indulge his signature touch: the lead character diving into a fetid pool of feces-filled liquid.

Ah, some things never change.

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