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SUNDANCE 2001: DAY TWO With MORIARTY! RAW DEAL, CHAIN CAMERA, HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, DOGTOWN & Z-BOYS!!

Published at: Oct. 29, 2006, 8:29 p.m. CST

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

We were told originally to check anytime after 9:00 AM about our press passes, and Robie and I wanted to get as early a start as possible so we could fit a number of films in. So of course we didn’t wake up until after 10:30. Jeez...

The temperature in Park City dropped dramatically overnight. As we were driving back down the long hill to Heber City from the midnight screening of SUPER TROOPERS, the snow was so thick we could barely drive. It was beautiful, a sight I haven’t seen since I was young. By morning, it had stopped, but the already thick snow had been replaced with a fresh layer of powder that just barely covered a solid sheet of ice that seemed to span the whole town. Just walking from the car to the press office at the Shadow Ridge was treacherous, especially with the twisted ankle I got the night before we left. When we checked in at the press office, there was a moment of panic as we were informed that we already had too many reporters on file with credentials. This struck us as a wee bit odd since there was no one else from AICN officially here. We asked for the names, and it turned out there were people left in the system from last year somehow, including the lovely Lynn Bracken, who actually retired from spyhood. RJ, head of the press office, was called down to sort things out and we quickly found ourselves en route to the area where they snapped our photos and issued us our press passes. Victory! Just in time, too. Robie and I grabbed a quick bite and headed over to the Yarrow Hotel for a full day’s schedule of films.

There’s a public venue at the Yarrow, a massive ballroom that’s been converted, and there’s also a specific area for press screenings. Although I miss seeing the films with a regular audience, there’s something wonderful about just being able to pack them in, back to back to back, without having to run all over town and negotiate lines and snow and all the other stumbling blocks that could keep you from seeing something. We got signed in for the first film, then sat back and waited, relief washing over me. There’s nothing more terrifying than the prospect of spending a week at a film festival without a way to see films.

First up for the day was RAW DEAL: A QUESTION OF CONSENT, one of the hottest tickets of the festival. Evidently, it was the first title to sell out when tickets went on sale, and I would imagine the provocative subject matter is the reason. The filmmakers themselves, Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben, are student-aged, this being their first project. I knew that the film was about a rape case in Florida and the surrounding controversy, and the documentary was built around a videotape of the incident that was made by the frat boys accused of the rape. I’m not squeamish about much, but the idea of actually watching a rape bothered me. Still, it was one of the films I came here to see, so I steeled myself for whatever was ahead.

Even so, I found myself repulsed by what I saw, sickened by all the behavior on display. This is harrowing material, and it will disturb audiences deeply. I think that Corben undermines his own material at times in some of the common ways that young documentary filmmakers can, and it’s a shame. He manipulates the audience by showing you bits of footage out of context, suggesting one thing, then showing you another piece to suggest another. This is appropriate to an extent, since the film seems to be in part about the idea of whether or not a video record of an event can be treated as an absolute truth. Still, Corben borders on disrespect in a few places in the way he jerks the audience around, and it seems to be done mainly to keep the audience off-balance. If only he had trusted the audience more and played a little more fair, the point could have been made more clearly. He also makes the mistake of inserting himself in the story. We get to see him chasing key figures in the story, trying to get comments from them. Nothing happens in these scenes, though. A simple title card explains it all, and then we’re forced to sit through it and watch anyway. Even with these faults, though, there’s a power to the picture that is undeniable.

The basics of the story are clear enough. An exotic dancer named Lisa Gier King was hired by pledge master Anthony Marzullo to perform at the Delta Chi fraternity house on the University of Florida campus. After a long night of partying, King emerged from the house, naked from the waist down, and ran to a nearby fraternity where she asked that someone call her grandmother and the police. She said she had been raped by one of the frat brothers, and that several of the others had videotaped the entire incident. Campus authorities, working with local police, moved quickly to investigate the claims, seizing the videotapes and bringing in the frat brothers for questioning.

Then it starts to get complicated. Not only were the frat boys released without any charges being filed, but King was arrested for filing false charges against Michael Yahraus and Marzullo. The reason? Those videotapes, which the police had decided showed consensual sex. The National Organization for Women, the Florida State Attorney’s office, local radio stations, and worldwide media all quickly got involved as the incident blew up, and yet another example of the complete insanity of the American justice system unfolded, complicated by the fact that Rod Smith, the attorney general who was also running for Senate, released the tapes as public record, allowing anyone who wanted a copy to get one. All of a sudden, this vile evening of drunken drugged debauchery became a party tape, a curiosity piece that got handed around and duped over and over.

I have my opinion of what happened in Anthony Marzullo’s room that night, but it’s based on what I saw, and I’m not sure I wasn’t manipulated by Corben. To my eyes, it was rape. King was an idiot, an exotic dancer whose behavior over the course of the night placed her in harm’s way, but there was a definite turning point, and there’s no doubt that Yahraus used force on her. There’s literally hours of them struggling while Marzullo and another brother laugh in the background and say things like, "This is what it looks like when you rape a white trash crackhead bitch," or, more directly, "We’re going to jail." In the new interview footage with Marzullo, he comes across as having no remorse or feeling whatsoever for what happened to King. In his mind, she’s below him, and no matter what happened, she’s trash and her charges were an inconvenience. He’s a privileged, disgusting, smug turd, the very worst of what the Greek system turns out, and his excuses for the behavior of the genuinely scary Yahraus are feeble at best. Marzullo has a gallows sense of humor, which only complicates the statements about rape we hear him make. He may have been joking, but most of the dark sarcastic comments we hear him make have a lot of truth in them, or at least his version of the truth.

And then there’s King herself. I have a lot of trouble with my feelings about her actions leading up to the incident. No woman ever deserves to be raped. Ever. But there are behaviors that put you in the path of danger that are infuriating, because they complicate the issue so much that it gives guys like Marzullo ammunition. She was one step away from prostitution earlier in the evening, giving the frat brothers far more than just a typical exotic dancer show. I’ve been to really raunchy bachelor parties and strip clubs and seedy spots I couldn’t even describe in both New York and LA (all for research, of course), but I’ve never seen the sort of sloppy sexual contact that King initiates over and over in the early part of the evening. It doesn’t help that she’s obviously impaired beyond her ability to function by alcohol and other drugs. Worst of all, she leaves at one point, then comes back to the house, making it even harder for some people to understand that she was forced into a situation she didn’t want in the small hours of the morning. These contradictions are the heart of RAW DEAL, and it’s definitely a film that will cause heated discussions afterwards. I just wish Corben had been fully equal to the task he took on.

One of the things that drove me nuts about RAW DEAL at times was the way we kept being jerked around with the footage we were shown. It’s hard enough to cut a great documentary when you shoot the film yourself. Imagine handing out cameras to high school students, asking them to keep a video diary for a week then hand the camera off to another student, and then trying to make sense of the miles of footage you eventually end up with. That’s what Kirby Dick (SICK: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPER MASOCHIST) did with his new film CHAIN CAMERA, and the end result is a testament to how perceptive an editor Dick must be. He took this mountain of video and whittled it down to a film that is spilling over with life and heart and infectious spirit. This is the face of teen America right now, and it’s riveting.

John Marshall High School is located in Los Angeles, but as someone who’s lived in the city for a decade now, I’m painfully aware that LA is not just one city. There’s the LA I experience every day, and it rarely overlaps the one that these kids live in. For them, life is hard, and the world isn’t welcoming. What makes them all so amazing is watching just how they adapt, how they persevere, and how they refuse to let anyone turn them into statistics or footnotes. We see footage edited from 16 of the video diaries recorded over the course of the year, and we meet friends and family along the way as well. It’s impressive how no one kid takes center stage. Instead, they all leave an impression. That’s part of the brilliance of what Dick has done here. He’s given them all the cameras in a situation where they aren’t surrounded by adults or camera crews. There’s no outside influence corrupting them, and no matter how hard a documentary crew tries, they’re always going to corrupt a situation to some degree. Here at last, we’re watching these kids at their most unguarded, their most real.

Rosemary, the Asian girl whose one real ambition is to become a stripper as soon as she turns 18. Tim, the amateur wrestler who is desperate for his first girlfriend. Cinammon, a lesbian who is unafraid to be with her girlfriend in public. Winfred, whose horrifically off-key rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly" manages to be both funny and touching because of his sincerity. Stephanie and her father with his mantra of "What a fokking beetch." Amy the drum major and her boyfriend with their cute case of puppy love trying to have a conversation about masturbation. Victor and his music. Ethan’s particular view of the world with his newly-repaired eyes and his almost pathological shyness. Fernando’s filthy sex talk with his friends. Jesse’s confrontational philosophy. Shannon and her flying fists. Manuel’s broken heart. Mena, Leo, Lisa, Alvin, and Silva. These kids are each memorable, and this is an amazing vehicle to give them a voice that they might otherwise never have. This is a crowd-pleaser, a big fat chunk of entertainment that should delight Cinemax subscribers when it premieres as part of their REEL LIFE series later this year.

After two solid documentaries in a row, I was in the mood for something different, something less grounded in reality. Looking at the program notes for HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, it seemed like some sort of wacky drag musical, a campfest like ROCKY HORROR. Seemed like it could be diverting enough.

I wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t ready. HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH may well be the most important debut feature we’ll see here at the festival, or in any theater this year. It’s a major announcement by John Cameron Mitchell, a true triple threat as a writer/director/star. The music and lyrics by Stephen Trask are magnificent, like the best early David Bowie/Velvet Underground album never recorded. The film has a look and feel that manages to incorporate decay and sleaze, ultimately creating something really beautiful. The use of animated segements by Emily Hubley (daughter of famed animators John and Faith Hubley) is striking, and it makes me wonder how this thing could have existed onstage as a musical? People keep telling me that it was minimalist, with slides and an essentially bare stage. I can’t imagine it. This is a film that is alive with technique. Mitchell seems to have an effortless visual style, strong and specific, and he manages to transport us to a world entirely of his creation.

It may run just under 90 minutes, but HEDWIG is an epic journey for its lead character, who starts life as Hansel, born in East Berlin. His mother was abandoned, and raises Hansel herself in a miniscule apartment, forcing him to retreat into his imagination as he plays in the oven, his one salvation the sound of American Armed Forces Radio. This is where he falls in love with rock’n’roll, where he starts to hear Iggy Pop and David Bowie and Lou Reed. When the colored girls sing "Do do do do do," Hansel’s sure it’s him they’re singing to. Hansel’s life really doesn’t start until he meets Sgt. Luther Robinson, an American GI who thinks Hansel’s a girl at first, but who ultimately doesn’t care what he is. They begin seeing each other, finally deciding to marry so that Hansel can leave and head for America with Luther. For that to happen, though, Hansel will have to pass a physical examination and be proven a woman. His mother finds a doctor to do the operation, and it gets botched horribly, leaving the newly rechristened Hedwig with one dimpled inch of flesh between his legs, somewhere between man and woman. It’s enough to get him to America, though, where Luther eventually abandons him.

More than anything else, HEDWIG is a film about survival, about putting on a face and transforming yourself no matter what happens to you, and it’s transcendent. Hedwig meets young Tommy (Michael Pitt, who looks like a younger, dewier Leo Di Caprio), and the two of them feed off each other. To Tommy, Hedwig is the symbol of a world outside his experience, a world he wants a piece of. To Hedwig, Tommy is a creative partner and a lover who he can shape in any way he chooses. They write a ton of songs together, and Hedwig gives Tommy a new name, Tommy Gnosis, creating an identity for him that’s as iconic as the one he created for himself. When their eventual split comes, it almost destroys Hedwig. That’s actually the way we first meet him, post break-up, bitter as he watches Tommy Gnosis rise to superstardom using the songs they wrote together. Hedwig and his new band The Angry Inch shadow Tommy’s tour, appearing in Bilgewater’s restaurants in every town that Tommy’s tour stops in, Hedwig telling his story each night to the shocked diners. The story unfolds for us in two narratives running side by side, and the music isn’t there to stop the show... the music is the show. The ultimate transformation of Hedwig’s life isn’t from male to female. It’s from powerless child to powerful artist, from someone without a voice to someone whose voice can’t be denied. The music is still running through my head now, days later, and I’ll buy the soundtrack the moment it’s available. I hope to see this one again before it’s released so I can further clarify my thoughts on it. Right now, though, I can tell you this... it’s one of the titles you have to pay attention to as the year unfolds. It’s a can’t miss in the truest sense of the word, a revelation.

Stacy Peralta. Jay Adams. Tony Alva. Bob Biniak. Shogo Kubo. Paul Constantineau. Jim Muir. Peggy Oki. Nathan Pratt. Wentzle Ruml. Alan Sarlo. These names mean anything to you? If not, you probably sat out the skateboard mania of the ‘70s, and you’re probably going to think that there’s no reason for you to see the remarkable documentary DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS when it hits theaters later this year. You’d be wrong, though. Just like with the wonderful SCRATCH, also playing Park City this week, DOGTOWN is a celebration of a time and a place where a group of outsized personalities and talents all collided to create something bigger than any of them. They became legends, gods, and all they had to work with was their drive to do something no one ever had. Those names are the names of the original members of the Zephyr Skateboard Team, the guys who created the aesthetic that we think of now as skate culture. Before them, it was a fad like the hula hoop or the yo-yo. It was on its way out, fading in popularity. These tough kids from a tough Venice neighborhood took their love of surfing and moved it to the land, though, pushing themselves to transform the cement hell of Los Angeles into something more, something they could use. When a vicious draught hit LA in the mid-‘70s, pools all over the southland dried up, and those empty concrete and fiberglass holes became something else, a place where these kids could fly.

This film is, simply put, a pleasure to watch. There’s a beauty to the footage that director Stacy Peralta has gathered, a poetry to the way he’s cut his film. He traces how Venice went from a dream of a planned Eurocentric community of artists to the beach-side shithole it is now, and we understand how these kids needed to find some identity, something that defined them. They found it in hanging around the Jeff Ho & Zephyr Productions Surf Shop, a renegade business venture located right in the heart of Dogtown. These kids were all bursting with raw talent, but it was putting them all together that caused both their competitive spirit and their sense of community to flourish. Each of them eventually went their own way, some of them making mad money like Tony Alva or Peralta, some of them ending up in more tragic environs like Jay Adams. For one glorious moment, though, they were the very best there was, and this movie captures that. Sean Penn contributes the narration, much of which is pulled from the writings of Craig Stecyk, who helped define the Dogtown movement with his writing for SKATEBOARDER magazine in the mid ‘70s. It’s great stuff, just like the movie, and you owe it to yourself to seek this one out.

After a day of movies like that, the temptation was just to head back to the hotel, write a little, and collapse. But that’s not Sundance, is it? No, Sundance seems to be about pushing yourself far past the point of logical behavior, about partying to the small hours of the morning, and about figuring out where the scene is each night. We had been invited to a party for SUPER TROOPERS being thrown by STUFF magazine, so we headed north on Deer Valley Road, made the turn on Queen Ester Drive, talked our way through the gates of Deer Crest Estates, then took the road all the way up the mountain to the Synergy Spa House, a crazy party spot that was packed full to overflowing. We met a hell of a lot of good people at the party, and I particularly enjoyed my talk with Donnie Darko himself, Jake Gyllenhaal. I owe Jake an apology. In my zeal to make sure I mentioned all the cast members of DONNIE DARKO, I somehow neglected to mention his work, which is what the entire film hinges on. He’s the best thing about the movie, and I guarantee we’ll see a lot more of this guy in the years to come. His father’s an accomplished filmmaker (A DANGEROUS WOMAN), his sister Maggie is a damn good actress in her own right (and a hottie, to boot), and he’s got his head on as straight as could possibly be. He manages to bring both humor and incredible sadness to his role as Donnie, and no matter if you think the film ultimately works or not, you have to respect the delicate tightrope act that Gyllenhaal pulls off. I spent some time getting to know the guys from Broken Lizard, as well, and was delighted that they’re as cool in person as they are in SUPER TROOPERS. I saw random celebrities like Patrick Swayze and Stephen Baldwin and RuPaul (who stomped Robie’s foot) all go by. Hell, I even ran into my next-door neighbor Sean from LA. Crazy party. Crazy good time. Eventually it moved from the Synergy Spas back down the mountain to the STUFF house, where I ran into Jeff "The Dude" Dowd and his fabulous flock of Dudettes. We didn’t roll out of there until almost six in the morning. I’m not quite sure why we kept having to pull over so Robie could stumble off through the snow and make odd heaving sounds, but when we got back to the hotel, he passed out quickly. No rest for the wicked, though. Day Three was plenty busy in its own right. More on that later...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 23, 2001, 2:52 p.m. CST

    Hello, the soundtrack has been out for years!

    by CubHugNYC

    Having known the filmmaker and having had the pleasure of seeing him perform "Hedwig" in person, it does not surprise me at all that this show has transformed sucessfully to the stage, what surprises me is the amount of people outside of New York City who have never even heard of him or the show. This musical rocks! Forget "Rent" or any of the newer "rock musicals" . pick up the soundtrack and prepare to be blown away!

  • Jan. 23, 2001, 3:06 p.m. CST

    raw deal

    by NiceBri

    This is why I cherish AICN - the staff makes it easy for me to figure out what I need to see in the world of film. I will be buying this one if a DVD becomes available. The issue of video being used to determine truth is fascinating. Mori's gut reaction may be what the filmmaker intended - frustration and turmoil. I like to be made to squirm in my seat, unless it's watching Courtney Love "act" in "Man On The Moon." Lord, that was like the Ludovico technique. Shucks, I was going to use some ellipses, but someone has used them all up. Knowles?

  • Jan. 23, 2001, 3:20 p.m. CST

    Sounds Like A Bumper Crop This Year

    by mrbeaks

    Great reviews! All of these films sound well worth seeing (and I'm feeling like a real idiot having turned down numerous invites to see HEDWIG on stage, though twice that was with Ally Sheedy, who was famously unstable in the title role. The soundtrack, however, does rock, especially the title song, which is worthy of Bowie in his prime.) As happy as I am that you're having a high ol' time up there in Park City, Moriarty, I doubly envious that it's not me. One of these days.....

  • Jan. 23, 2001, 4:10 p.m. CST

    You'll love JAYNE COUNTY's Book

    by vernoy

    "Man Enough To Be A Woman(1995)deatails Wayne's transformation to Jayne, Wayne as part of the Warhol crowd influencing the look and songs of a young David Bowie who mainstreams County's underground style,becomes a stadium filling success while then now Jayne County plays smaller venues.the book,published by Serpent's Tail is available via Amazon.com.Hedwig ain't all; that original,now is it(You'll see Jayne performing live on the silver screen in "Born To Lose-the last Rock & Roll Movie"dealing with johnny thunders & the NY Dolls,out in April(by the way,Wayne County was signed to Bowie's management company,MainMan along with Lou reed and Iggy Pop before MainMan dropped Wayne and Bowie suddenly hardly knows who county is!www.jaynecounty.com

  • Jan. 23, 2001, 4:42 p.m. CST

    Stuff

    by Dwellah812

    Please tell me you guys mingled with some hotties from the magazine and then frolicked in the snow.

  • Jan. 23, 2001, 5:40 p.m. CST

    Moriarty, you answered you own question regarding Hedwig...

    by Lance Rock

    You questioned in your review, "it makes me wonder how this thing could have existed onstage as a musical?" Then, down a couple of paragraphs, you say that "the music IS the show." There you have it. It was performed onstage (brilliantly, I might add) basically as a monologue with his backing band. It rocked as a stage show, as it combined the drama of his backstory with a live rock concert. Do yourself a favor and buy the soundtrack, which is essentially a studio album. It is simply the best rock musical in years.

  • Jan. 24, 2001, midnight CST

    Four Other Films At Sundance You Need To Know About.

    by Buzz Maverik

    I couldn't make it to Le Festival this year because I didn't want to. Now, as many of you know, I make my living as a remote viewer for The Central Intelligence Agency. (Yer saying, "Buzz works for the C.I.A.?" I'm saying,"We're all adults here, there's no need to spell.") So I decided to use government time to travel to Redford, UT in my mind. I happened on two film makers who each had two films entered. First, Stuart X. Kensington with JAYNE MANSFIELD LOST HER HEAD. This is a Tarantinoesque story, set in the early 1960s, about four convicts (Michael Clark Duncan, Danny Trejo, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Balthazar Getty as "Punk") who get religion in the same prison prayer meeting. They meet up again after they're paroled because Chappy, their prison chaplain (William H. Macy) has huge gambling debts and will be killed by the mob. The four cons decide to steal a solid gold bust of Jayne Mansfield from Anton Le Vey, high priest of the Church of Satan. During the screening, everyone watching the film came down with diarreah. Kensington attributed this to a curse Le Vey put on the film. "You'd think a guy who worships Satan would have a better sense of humor," Kensington told Bob Weinstein. Kensington's other film, THREE KATES, starred Kate Hudson, Kate Winslett and Kate Capshaw as USO dancers in Africa in WWII. Tired of Jerry Kalona (David Schwimmer) grabbing their asses, they strike out across the desert. Eric Stoltz plays a soldier, gone AWOL because Patton (Campbell Scott) slapped him. He teams up with the girls to help them find a treasure and escape from Rommel (a surprisingly effective Dolph Lundgren). The other new filmmaker was Cassandra McGurk, a shoe-in for the Golden Bob Award with HOUSE OF BLIGHT, which features Ellen Burnstyn as the lactose intolerant matriarch of a dysfunctional family. McGurk's other film was a chick flick called THREE ON A TISSUE, in which Fairuza Balk, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Lara Croft play three women crying over the same man (Jack Black). I was going to watch some more films but I detected my asshole boss trying to probe my mind and had to send him a migraine.

  • Jan. 24, 2001, 12:18 p.m. CST

    "Whether you like it or not....HEDWIG!"

    by Parlo

    I am so thrilled to hear this transferred well. Of course the reviewer obviously hadn't seen the play so.... I'm a little suprised frankly to hear the plot detailed this way though. I met John Cameron Mitchell at a signing for the soundtrack (The actual show I saw twice and I couldn't imagine it as a film -it worked so well as a stage production) He claimed then (this was two years ago) that the film would not be an adaptation of the stage play but more like a continuation or exploration of Hedwig the character. So it seems he changed his mind and went for a closer adaptation. CAN'T WAIT TO SEE IT!