Friday, April 29, 2011

EbertFest 2011: Metropolis!

Great films are the heart of EbertFest. I've seen three so far, so let's discuss the first.

1. Metropolis (1927 - clip at the end)

This is my first silent film ever, at 51 years of age. Wow. What an experience. I had the unbelievable privilege of seeing the reconstructed and restored two-and-a-half-hour version. A beautiful print, and a wonderful experience.

You can find a description of the plot online that are better than my ability to describe it. Let me simplify it to this briefly:

Joh Fredersen (the mind) runs the teeming futuristic - staggeringly futuristic for 1927 - above ground Metropolis. His son Freder, beset by a vision of a beautiful woman, sets off into the Worker's City undergound to find his "brothers", the workers. The question is whether the worker drones, represented chiefly by the mechanic Grot (the hands) at the Heart Machine, will rise up under the quasi-religious figure Maria and overthrow the privileged in the Metropolis above. Make sense? Try figuring all of that out without dialogue for the most part.

Note: The fact that the movie has a plot has apparently not been apparent for many of the years since it's release. My new friend Peter, who I met at the Virginia theater in the hour before the showing, tells me that he has seen the film many times over the last 30 years in Germany - but always much shorter and chopped up versions. He frankly thought it was an expressionistic film, and was surprised Wednesday night at the full version that it did in fact have a recognizable plot. It totally changed how he looked at the film.

There are periodic cue cards and "interstitles" to guide you along with the very physically dramatic silent film acting style. Big movements. Physical risks. Arched eyebrows. And such. What I noticed most about the silent film was the silence. I could hear myself thinking throughout, without dialogue coming at me. I Tweeted that I could "hear myself imagining".

To cut to chase: the tagline at the ending of the film is this:

"The mediator between the Mind and the Hands is the Heart!"

To translate that into plot: the Mediator (Freder) between the Mind (Joh Fredersen, the leader of the Metropolis) and the Hands (Grot, the representative of the Workers) is the Heart (Freder/Maria). There, that makes sense now.

To translate it into my understanding of my first silent film:

The mediator between the silent Film on the screen and my film-going Heart was the Score by the brilliant live Alloy Orchestra.

3 guys in the pit. One guy on keyboard. Two guys on percussion. Playing and banging continuously for 2.5 hours. Wow. Brilliant. They really added to the emotional experience of the film. I would go through phases of not being aware of them being live. But, then I would see the mallets striking the metal and be thrilled again that this energetic and moving score was being played live. They set the mood. Brooding, scary, kinetic, hopeful. The brought it all home in a way that was more than just song clips juxtaposed to set a mood in a typical movie. It was a wall of sound throughout. I will hear those drums in my head for days.
 Kudos to the Alloy Orchestra - the Heart of this viewing of Metropolis!

The best part! I had a moment Thursday morning to share this experience with our host himself, Roger Ebert in a brief but meaningful chat. I told him that I enjoyed my first ever silent film. That I "could hear myself imagining". Roger wrote me two notes on his notepad during our chat. "Silent movies bring on a reverie" and "They are in the head". Yes. Absolutely. What an experience it was - both the movie and the chat with Roger. I'm having the full EbertFest experience!

And now, a clip of Metropolis!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Immersed at EbertFest 2011

I had a wonderful time last year at EbertFest 2010 and, though a long and traumatic year has passed in between, arriving this year is like stepping right back into those moments. I'm back. And, I'm taking the opportunity to immerse myself in film culture for a week at EbertFest 2011. what a week it will be!

I have 4 goals for the week:

1. Spend a moment with Roger Ebert.

It is EbertFest, after all. His week. His movie choices.

Roger Ebert has become my friend, in the last two years. I was going to say my virtual friend. My internet friend. But, Roger is very gracious at extending himself to everyone who will engage in civil dialogue with him and so I will just say "my friend". I'm just a guy, often with an opinion to share on his blog, and he has reached out and befriended me. And he's become my social media role model as I have engaged on Roger Ebert's Journal and on Twitter. He's made me feel part of the community that he's built.

I had that moment Thursday morning at the Ebert Club breakfast. Roger visited with us. Had us each introduce ourselves. And eventually patted the seat next to me for me to sit down with him. I got to say to him "I appreciate you." I got to have a brief but meaningful chat about my first experience on Wednesday night of seeing a silent film. 5 minutes, with Roger "chatting" with me on his notepad. A moment. An eternity of time.

2. Immerse myself in film.

I say "film", not movies. I see movies every week of my life. EbertFest is a chance to see quality films and to interact with their actors, directors, and critics. These are films that I would not ordinarily see in a year's time and I am better for having seen them.

I am not of the film culture, as many of the attendees here are. This is either their business or their passion. Not only the professionals in the ranks of the invited actors and directors. Not only the film company professionals and the University media folks. But the bloggers / critics who eloquently their passion for the art of film.

I'm just a guy, with a day job as a quality engineer in a factory. I watch movies. I have since I was a child who walked a long walk downtown on a weekend to watch "Jeremiah Johnson". Since my first job as a teen which was as a cinema usher who got to pause as he walked the theater and watch "A Star is Born" scene by scene many times over the course of it's run. I'm just a guy. Here to watch films.

3. Be human.

Last year I was overwhelmed and star struck at Ebertfest. Last year I met people. This year I know people, having talked with many over the course of the year online. I had a delightful conversation with my friend Omer Mozzafar - one of Roger's Far-Flung Correspondents - this morning at the Ebert Club Meet-n-Greet. Omer is the most resonable and learned voice on Twitter and the Journal. Omer's advice to me this morning - which I cherish - was that the most important thing on a venue like Twitter is to come across as human.

I want to be human at this event. Not just immersed, but engaged. Interested in the sea of my fellow film goers. I am delighted at the conversations that I am having at the Virginia Theater and the Illini Union. A discussion in line outside with Gary, who has come for all but two years of EbertFest. With Maggie, who sat down on the aisle behind me and eyed me warily to size me up for how tall I would sit in my seat! With Peter, my new German film and a Champaign townie who was also a festival regular and who shared the experience of the German silent film "Metropolis" with me. With Brett, my fellow Ebert Club'er, who shared the moment of wonder with me as the room filled up this morning with film luminaries. With my friend Ali Arikan, who hailed me in the hallway of the Union dripping wet from his morning run! And with my good friend Tom Dark, who affectionately calls me "Ran" on line and with who I had a deep conversation this morning on film and science and on how real the people on line that we spar with are.

Me, with my friends Omer and Gerardo:

4. Survive

I'm down in my back this week. In extraordinary pain, for me. It will take a good measure of will and strategy to survive the grueling week that is a film festival. I will intentionally miss 3 of the 13 films strategically, and do my absolute best to make the rest. I missed two today to lie on a heating pad with hopes of making the best of tonight's feature and then some blogging.

Here's my friend Tom Dark sharing an excercise with me at breakfast that might help. Grab your ankles and roll around in a ball like we did when we were kids. Thanks Tom! I tried it today.

I'll be back later to share my thoughts on the extraordinary films that I am seeing at the out-of-body experience that is EbertFest. Tonight, save the aisle seat for me.