Saturday, May 19, 2007

Closing this Celluloid Closet

Three weeks out, practically, and I finally sit down to pen my final post for Ebertfest 2007. Mostly that’s due to a hectic schedule both during and after this year’s events, but partly too I think it’s because I have been struggling to digest the markedly different tone of this year’s events. And maybe too because I’ve had a hard time letting go (yes, cue those damn strings; I think they just be merited).

Mostly because of Roger’s illness but also because of the program, we were all on our best behavior this year. We knew to savor what was in front of us in a way often forgotten in daily life. We surrendered wholly to La Dolce Vita, for example, an extravaganza of dissolution dripping with diamonds and despair and every other D word that both Jay Mcinerney and I once uh, deemed glamorous. I’d always been wary of its (snake)charms, but this time ogling it on the Virginia’s equally glamorous screen, I recognized the whole film for the whistling in the dark that it always was. The recognition of your youthful illusions as actual delusions, as luxuries that are not ill-afforded so much as genuinely dissociative — and about recognition tht you love them anyway, if tenderly and somewhat maternally. A tenderness that weaved its way through all our interactions this year, as we came together to make it happen in this film school/all-night gabfest/family reunion that the festival has become for so many.

Limb to limb we muscled into such films as that paean to the culture of the American South, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus , which I appreciated a great deal more on a big screen than in last year’s press screenings, and the undersung, if not underslung Freddy Mercury, the Untold Story. We laughed ourselves silly with (not at, thank ya veddy much) Ebert’s merrily, verily penned (and Russ Meyer helmed) Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. And as the for-this-day-only reunited Strawberry Alarm Clock’s chords thundered through the theater and audience members lumbered to their feet at the festival’s conclusion, I saw how we all embody the brothers and sisters outsiders who reject the closets or institutions we could cower in--whether that closet is film grammar that can stand a little top-ending; sexual or gender or religious or racial codes, or the one that the ill are expected to lock themselves in for the duration of their suffering. It’s fitting that this year’s festival is the last one that will be dubbed Overlooked. This is the year we threw that baby out along with the bathwater of arbitrary distinctions. As the man has said too many times in rap songs, “Baby, it’s all good.”

It was.

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