The festivities, in honor of John Wayne’s 100th birthday, were to feature music and food and an outdoor screening of the iconic 1969 western, which was filmed in and around Ouray County. (Ridgway was supposed to be Fort Smith, Ark., as evidenced by the Hollywood paint job still visible on the Unicas Building.)
Paramount didn’t have any trouble authorizing a free screening in the park, but the keepers of John Wayne’s legacy, the family-run licensing business, made life more or less miserable for the organizers of the event. They refused to authorize use of Wayne’s image anywhere and threatened legal action if an “unauthorized” biography of Wayne found its way into print. The money they wanted was outrageous.
Wiser heads in Newport Beach might have seen some benefit in helping the fledgling celebration. Ridgway has a natural right to its own history as a film location, and Wayne Enterprises could have reaped a lot of good will, maybe even some charitable donations to its eponymous cancer foundation, certainly a few DVDs sold.
Oh well, I guess a foundation’s gotta do what a foundation’s gotta do.
I did not attend because I never particularly liked the picture, and I’m still reeling from the marathon Telluride Film Festival. I saw 17 movies over the four days and nights of Labor Day. Some of them, like Sean Penn’s adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book, Into the Wild, and Todd Haynes’ radical Bob Dylan movie, I’m Not There, will surely find wide release. But most of the festival fare – at least the stuff I saw – will never appear at a theater near you.
That’s why Telluride’s so great, and that’s why we go (as volunteer staff) every year. Here are a few that warrant looking up on Netflix or seeking out at an art house somewhere.
Millions Like Us was a rare print from Britain, made in 1943 in the middle of World War II. It was supposed to be a propaganda film, extolling the virtues of unity and patriotism amid the raining down of Nazi bombs. And on that level it did present a brilliantly stiff upper lip. But the movie turned out to be much more than that. The very strongest, most completely-drawn characters were British women, of all classes and accents, who were working the factories in the absence of the men. They work, they dance, they fall in love with doomed RAF fliers. And you can’t help but fall in love with them.
The picture got me thinking about a comment Ken Burns had made at a staff meeting on Thursday. Burns, the documentary filmmaker behind The Civil War, Jazz and now The War (WWII), delivers an inspirational “benediction” to the staff each year. This time he reminded us of the “shared sacrifice” required to put on a festival as demanding as Telluride’s. The term came from his research for The War and refers to the shared sacrifice asked of and willingly given by Americans (and Brits and countless others) in that great global conflict.
Burns alluded to the lack of shared sacrifice being asked of us now in our “global war on terror.” In my mind, this means one of two things: either the war on terror is a genuine global crisis and we should be asked to sacrifice somehow; or the war is much less universal and threatening than the administration would have us believe, and the fearful events of 9/11 are being used again and again for mostly political purposes.
Now Iraq, rightly or wrongly, is being painted as central to the war on terror. If you have the stomach, try to see Brian De Palma’s new film Redacted, which had its North American premiere at Telluride and just won the Best Director prize at the Venice Film Festival.
It’s the graphic story of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by U.S. soldiers turned into beasts by their daily doses of heat, suspicion, pornography, alcohol, and ferocious boredom.
Two very fine festival movies dealt with the age-old problem of unintended pregnancy. One was a Hungarian near-silent from 1932 called Marie, a Hungarian Legend. Marie is a servant girl seduced and abandoned. It is a simple melodrama but not, as you might expect, a simple cautionary tale. The director, Paul Fejos, sharply condemns the class system that casts Marie out, the church that refuses her, the social dictates that force her to give up her baby. It is a relentless tragedy (except for the legend-making twist at the end) but a crystalline, black-and-white joy to watch.
Not likely we’ll see Marie anywhere else soon, since the print came from the Hungarian Film Archive. There will be a better chance to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the Romanian film that won this year’s grand prize at Cannes. It, too, was about an unwanted pregnancy, this one ending in an illegal abortion during the dehumanizing Ceausescu dictatorship.
The film’s long, unblinking takes generate nearly unbearable tension at times. But at the same time it is a study in the remarkable lengths to which friendship will go. It’ll never play in Ridgway Town Park. But it should be seen by lovers of beautifully-shot and acted, subversive, realist cinema.
I don’t want to end with grimness – there’s always plenty of that. And so, one last recommendation, the generous, disarming Five Days in June, by Michel Legrand. Legrand is the film composer (Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair and about 200 others) who was Telluride’s Saturday night tribute. Nobody (or at least almost nobody) knew that he also directed – just one film, in 1989.
It is the autobiographical story of a 15-year-old piano prodigy who wins a competition in Paris on June 6, 1944, the day the Allies land on the Normandy beaches not far from their home in Saint-Lo. He and his mother learn that the Germans have commandeered all the trains, and so they, and a mischievous, irresistible young woman (the delicious Sabine Azéma), steal three bicycles and ride the four days home.
It is a movie about music and first love, the beauty of the French countryside and the true grit of an occupied people. Maybe you can get it on Netflix. It will sweep your heart away.