Harlan Jacobson's Sundance Diary, Part 2

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 sex tragedy. 

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 sado-masochistic strategy.

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 vests (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.

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