Published at: Jan. 30, 2001, 3:08 a.m. CST by staff
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Damn you, Knowles. You taunted me about how impossible the pace at Sundance would be. You teased me for two weeks leading up to our departure, and I stood firm, adamant that Robie and I would be different than you were, that we would be men of steel, that nothing would slow us down.
Damn you for being right.
No matter what, I didn’t seem able to wake up on Tuesday morning. I tried. I struggled. I think I even managed to get out from under the covers and on my feet for about two minutes at one point. But it was to no avail. I had to get some sleep and recover a bit from the breakneck pace we’d been keeping. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that Robie resorted to dragging my mattress out of the hotel room into the sub-zero air outside and dousing me with cold water. Taking the hint, I hit the shower and did my best to warm up, wake up, and get ready. Within a half-hour, we were on our way up to Park City. By this point, most of the snow on the ground seemed to be melting, and the temperature was warmer than it had been at any point before in the week. I only wore a t-shirt and a Hawaiian underneath my jacket, and I was perfectly comfortable. We parked at the Yarrow and hustled over to the Eccles to see a screening of the documentary STARTUP.COM.
Artisan Entertainment is set to release this documentary at some point, and I hope they’re able to figure out how to sell it. It deserves to be seen, especially now as we stand on the brink of a major recession in this country. Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim took a chance when they chose Tom Herman and Kaleil Isaza Tuzman as the subjects of their film, and it paid off beautifully. The two longtime friends met in high school and spent much of their time trying to come up with a business idea that would make them rich. I know that I met my writing partner in high school, and the two of us have both worked our asses off over the years, our friendship and our partnership surviving extreme highs and lows. Right now, I’m one of the principal partners here at AICN working to try and turn this site that started as pure fun into something that lasts, something even better. Because of these experiences of mine, the subject matter of STARTUP.COM hit really close to home, and I found myself riveted. Not that I think personal connection will be a requirement for people to love this film; it’s as strong a documentary as I’ve seen here this week.
The film started production in May of 1999, and the filmmakers stayed with the story for so long that they actually weren’t able to complete their film transfer for the festival, meaning we saw it all on video. May of ’99 was the date that Kaleil left his job to join Tom at their proposed new Internet company, govWorks.com, a site designed to serve as a middle-man in local governmental tasks like the paying of parking tickets. Very quickly, they began to raise money from various sources, even without having a product or the team to put it together. Having gone through the venture capital process only to back off because of possible loss of control, it’s fascinating to watch that fear come true with these two guys. They raise a ton of money up front, but it comes at a terrible price. Eventually, Kaleil grows into his position as CEO of the company while Tom seems to buckle under the pressure of answering to his longtime friend and running the technical division of the firm, finally forcing Kaleil to fire him. The film is ultimately about that place where friendship and business collide. The fact that it also captures the particular ride that so many online companies went through is just a bonus. The film succeeds because of how personal the material is, and it’s important because of the world it’s set in.
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER is the exact opposite of an important film. In fact, it’s so inconsequential that it almost feels pointless to beat up on it. I’m amazed by how many people brayed their way through the press screening, and by the favorable comments I’ve heard in the days since. I’m not sure if it’s just the fact that the film was somehow mysteriously playing at Sundance that gave people permission to feel good about liking such a snide little piece of trash, but make no mistake: there’s no difference whatsoever between this film and the crappy MEATBALLS sequels and ripoffs we saw over a decade ago. David Wain and Michael Showalter, both survivors of MTV’s sketch comedy show THE STATE, are the primary creative forces behind the film, and I’ve really tried giving these guys the benefit of the doubt. I thought THE STATE was, at best, occasionally funny stuff, and I thought the best thing they ever produced was a fake travel guide called STATE BY STATE WITH THE STATE. Like many comedy groups who make the crossover to features, they’ve produced something here that’s little more than a series of sketches strung together by the thinnest of premises. This time, though, the paucity of imagination really got on my nerves. It’s the last day of camp and everyone wants to get laid. And that’s it. Because there’s no effort to invest any of the characters in the film with any sort of real or recognizable personality, everything that’s not a joke is just wasted time. We’re not supposed to feel for anyone or invest in anyone or give even the slightest damn about anything we see. That’s made abundantly clear by the way they take random right turns into absurd moments, some of which are mildly amusing on their own. But because we don’t care about even a single character we’re watching, the film becomes a waiting game. The rhythm of it is set up early on: filler, filler, filler, gag. Filler, filler, filler, gag. Even this might work if the gags were consistently funny or if they truly bent the conventions of the camp films they think they’re making fun of, but they’re not. Having a kid talk like a 40 year old psychotherapist might have been funny about 300 movies ago, before we’d seen it in other things. Having the big makeout scene of the movie take place between two guys isn’t funny in and of itself. Just doing the opposite of something isn’t good comedy writing, and everyone plays every line of the film in such a snide, arch, sarcastic tone that after a while, it becomes overwhelmingly unpleasant. For a few days, I had this pegged as the worst film of the fest. It wasn’t until the final Friday night in town that something beat it.
After the film, Robie and I drove out to Main Street, where we stashed the car and walked up to Harry O’s. Before we left Los Angeles, the Dude had sent us a letter telling us how amazing the party for SCRATCH was going to be. Both Robie and I fell head over heels for the documentary when we saw it, and that was with an unfinished sound mix. I’ve heard from a number of audience members, including some of the projectionists at Sundance, that SCRATCH was the loudest and best-sounding film that played the fest this time. I wouldn’t doubt it. The film did an amazing job placing the turntablists movement in context as a real art form, something alive and vital, and the fact that it’s still developing, still defining itself, is what makes the movie more important than Doug Pray’s last film, HYPE, which was made at the tail end of the Seattle scene. That was an epitaph; this is an announcement. As if to underline that idea, the makers of SCRATCH arranged to take over Harry O’s on Tuesday night starting around 8:30 or so. Robie and I had to wade through a wall of people without invitations outside to get to the front door, where a giant bald doorman played enforcer while a petite, hot publicist (like there’s any other kind) checked over her guest list. It was a good fifteen minutes of standing in 12-degree cold before we pushed our way in front of her. Robie gave her my name, and she found it quickly, stepping aside to let us in.
We checked our coats, then wandered further into the place. Harry O’s has two levels, the main stage area with the dance floor and the bar, and an upper level with a VIP bar and a better view of everything. To get to the upper level required a VIP pass, which was actually a tiny glowing red light bulb device. We saw several people wearing them as they made their way up and down the stairs, and Robie quickly decided that he was going to use his master cat burglary skills to obtain a few of the red lights for us. If we had been able to find the Dude in all the madness, he would have definitely hooked us up, but I’ve learned after this trip that just because someone’s got a cell phone at Sundance, it doesn’t mean they’re any easier to get hold of than someone who doesn’t. We’d been left messages to get hold of the Dude, and we’d tried. My impressions of him this past week are fleeting ones, seeing him onstage during the party or seeing him dancing with the Dudettes at the Stuff house at 5:00 in the morning. That’s fine; how could mere mortals like us expect to keep pace with the mythic figure that inspired the Coens to such comic heights? Robie worked his magic and managed to reemerge from the crowd within moments with two of the VIP passes in hand. He slung one around my neck and we headed upstairs, where we ran into Heidi, one of the producers of SCRATCH. She was kind enough to invite us to join her table, and from there we had a great vantage point for the night that unfolded. The Beat Junkies, Z-Trip, MixMaster Mike, Jurassic 5, and DJ QBert all came on and reinforced my belief that these are remarkable performers, full of an energy that is unique to this scene. It was an amazing night of music and dancing and running into old friends and new faces. I got the chance to chat with Elvis Mitchell of the NY TIMES and to pay my respects to Ken Ho from DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS. It was after 4:00 in the morning when we finally gathered our jackets and made our way back out into the frigid night air, practically running back down the hill of Main Street to the parking garage where Robie’s seemingly unstoppable car was waiting to transport us back down into the relative wilderness of Heber City so we could grab a few hours before the next day’s lineup of films. But more on that later...