It's at about this point, midway through the festival, that
one begins to regress to the level of adolescent behavior.
But first, some movies.
Yesterday I walked
out of a film that was a phone sex comedy and into a film that was, by sheer serendipity, a phone
I went to see "For A Good Time Call..." because
there was good buzz around it. First time director Jamie Travis apparently
thought doing a post-college tee-hee sex romp that insulted adult intelligence
was a good idea. After 40 interminable minutes spent confronted by what was
already apparent at about the
four-minute mark, my colleague nudged me and said, "Kill me now." So we decided
to jump auditoria and catch "Compliance," set to start 20 minutes later in the
next theatre over. An endless supply of phone sex movies!
Craig Zobel's "Compliance," based
on real incidents, centers on a fast food restaurant upended by a pervert caller
who pretends to be a cop. The authoritative voice alternately persuades and
cajoles almost everyone, starting with the manager (an excellent Ann Dowd) that
the chirpy 19-year-old ChickWich cashier (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from
a customer and must be strip-searched in the store room immediately. The film
is essentially a microcosm of a mad state a-la 1930s Germany set in contemporary
American context to make the broad point that charismatic leadership can
persuade most people to do anything to anyone just about anytime. Zobel means
to disabuse us Third Millennials from believing our own propaganda about being
New Age nice guys, and it's a dicey tightrope the film treads: under normal
circumstances it would divide reasonably sophisticated viewers over its
However, this is Sundance where the last few lonely
guardians of political taste have not been killed off, so the film positively
hit the lottery when a woman got up after "Compliance"'s first screening and
scolded, "Come on Sundance, you can do better!" That reprimand landed in all the trade papers, on
the local NPR affiliate, and in the national media, even though the protest was
far less deserved than the rebuke and walkouts two years ago following Michael
Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me," which was truly odious for no particular
reason other than slaking the perverted secret fantasy life of your average
Member of Parliament.
The "Compliance" Q&A turned out like one of those Tea
Party rallies with the rabble attacking the press, except in this case the victims
were thecast and crew who battled back pretty artfully in defense of the film.
One hapless male idiot in the audience was lucky to escape alive when he tried
to say something about the filmmakers using nudity to manipulate the audience,
but it came out that he found Dreama Walker's pert little body pretty cute
himself. Dumbo male goat alert!
Boy, said one of the women filmmakers, if you got turned on
when Becky (the ChickWich nymphet) had lost all her power and agency - and in
Sundance when someone says "lost her agency" it usually arouses panic attacks
in clients of CAA or William Morris - then
you are lower than whale dung. Or words to that effect.
At any rate, good debate is part of a healthy society, or so
I was taught, probably in error, by well meaning dinosaurs in the Pleistocene
era of my youth.
Now about the adolescent behavior part: Problem was I didn't
have a ticket for "Compliance," which had become a hot ticket after all the
political shaming landed the film on the front page. I won't bore you with why
you'd rather have been a Russian in the old Soviet days when a potato truck
pulled up than go through the ticket procurement drill at Sundance. So I
decided to sneak in using magical thinking left over from being 14. I attempted
nonchalance and tried the old flash-your-hand-stamp trick, since after five
days of Sundance my hand is now covered in more ink than a California Biker convention.
You're talking to a guy who has smuggled sausages and truffles in oil in from France right
past world-class beagles. Suffice it to say, here I got nailed by a sharp-eyed
Sundance draftee probably from a Mormon survivalist security training camp who
sighed wearily and said, "Wrong stamp" and sent me outside to the Tent (No, not
the Tent! Please, not the Tent!!).
The Tent is in the parking lot outside every venue, in this
case the Holiday Village 4 strip mall. Everywhere you look there's a vast army
of Sundance crowd control volunteers clad in orange Kenneth Cole signature
(strange they're all named Kenneth Cole-bet that took
some doing). The Kenneth Cole Warrior Bees mass in waves
who keep rolling at you like videogame Warrior Bees. Shoot a row of 10 of
them, and 20 more appear. And their job is to corral - and I mean literally
corral -the forlorn and wayward press and industry souls who want to see a
film. Meanwhile, high-roller real estate developers who paid big bucks to get the coveted Red Badge of
Sundance stroll right on by. But the cattle press are lined up nose to tail out
in the Tent, where the unlucky are dispatched forthwith to die in the snow.
At any rate, I made it back into the theatre, right past the
relentlessly cheery Warrior Bee who busted me and sent me to the Tent only 10
minutes earlier. Moo.