Ebertfest, day one

Yesterday was a sunny, warm, lovely day in the uber-cute and noticably litter-free area around the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. Spirits were obviously very high in the line wrapped around the block waiting for the theater to open for Roger Ebert’s first selection for the festival, the rather audacious pick Pink Floyd the Wall.

Before the movie got started, Chaz Ebert gave opening remarks and introduced friend-of-Ebertfest and Associated Press critic Christy Lemire, who in turn introduced surprise guest Governor Pat Quinn. (The locals in the audience seemed quite excited to see him, and who can blame them? He seems like an upstanding guy and it must be nice for them to have a likeable, not-creepy governor.) Gov. Quinn gave a genial, long-winded yet entertaining tribute to Roger Ebert, complete with a plaque to bestow. Ebert said his thank-yous via his computer voice (unfortunately not the one that sounds more like him, just the standard-issue). Standing ovations were performed, yours truly may have teared up a bit, and then we were ready to get started with the Pink Floyd.

I might have preferred to be under the influence of some other sort of substance, but a lack of adequate sleep and high levels of caffeine also seem to have brought about an appropriate mindset for Alan Parker and Roger Waters’s 95-minute crazefest. The scattered depiction of the life of rock star Pink—depressed, possibly going crazy, certainly letting his life deteriorate around him—drew me in easily. The story itself, while needing to be pieced together as the film plays, is basic: Pink’s father is killed in WWII, and his teachers at school are oppressive of his creativity; as an adult he gains fame but can’t make a relationship work, and turns to drugs. He hallucinates about being a fascist leader, and his fans being his followers. This is the basic ‘narrative’, and everything else is an epic music video.

I’m not an active Pink Floyd fan, but the music from this album has obviously become so well-known that my anticipation increased whenever I could sense a familiar burst coming along. The film uses those moments incredibly effectively, marrying the rise and fall of the music to the intensity of the visuals (especially in the famous sequence in which the beleaguered school children finally riot and sing out “We don’t need no education!” as they are marched down a conveyer belt to a meat grinder. Dude, awesome.). I may just need to become a Pink Floyd fan now.

However, it was the visual style more than the music that made me really get into the film. I love this kind of 70s/80s surrealist aesthetic: the colors, the angles, everything. I have a soft spot, too, for well-done intermittent animated sequences (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, for example), and Gerald Scarfe’s work here entwines so well that I can’t imagine the film without it. I’m extremely glad that my first encounter with this film came on the big screen, so that I could fully appreciate all of the detail.

Overall verdict: this is one I will want to buy if a Blu-ray version is released.

Next up was the Swedish film You, The Living. Apparently this is the first time they’d ever shown two films on opening night, and a fair number of people didn’t stay for the second one. Though the late start time of 10:00 must have been a deterent for some, I also heard a few head-shaking comments about just not being up for another movie after the experience of The Wall. I had been wanting to see You, The Living since missing it at SIFF Cinema several months ago, and happily caffeined up again to make it through. Those who left missed out on one of the best movies I have seen in a very long time. For now, I will leave it at that, but I will be writing a full post devoted to this wonderful film as soon as I get the chance. Stay tuned.

Ebertfest day one: successful.

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Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

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