Sundance 2012- Day Five
As my time at Sundance 2012 limped across the finish line, I felt an all-too-predictable mixture of both sadness and relief. Part of me, of course, wants to live inside this insane bubble forever, rushing from venue to venue, buzzing hot on pure adrenaline. But I mostly realize that what makes something like Sundance so special is the very fact that it’s ephemeral. I mean, you wouldn’t want to have Christmas all the time either, right? Sundance is a rallying point, and it needs a fixed position on the calendar to retain its power. It’s the film nerd Coachella, or Burning Man. Except at the end instead of watching a reunited My Bloody Valentine or setting fire to a giant wicker pagan, you give Parker Posey a lifetime achievement award.
It’s always difficult to see everything you want at Sundance; showtimes overlap, theaters are too far apart, lines are long, tickets sell out. And when you’re working (in addition to blogging), the logistical impossibility of ticking off every line-item on your list quickly becomes apparent. Films I would’ve liked to have seen but didn’t include The Raid, This Must be the Place, John Dies at the End, Tim & Eric’s Billion-Dollar Movie, The Queen of Versailles, The Comedy, Sleepwalk With Me, The Imposter, Searching for Sugar Man, Excision, Detropia, Wrong, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. I did, however, catch up with a few final things, and here they are…
The New Frontier is Sundance’s annual roundup of non-narrative video art, including installations, games, and interactive multi-media experiences. Located in previous years on the bottom floor of the Main St. mall underneath the Thomas Kinkade gallery and a Mrs. Fields’ cookies, the New Frontier was this year relocated to the The Yard, a reconverted hardware store near the Eccles Theater. The New Frontier has always been one of my favorite parts of the festival, but I this year felt a little lackluster, I’m sorry to report. The new location has sapped much of the programs guerilla gallery appeal, and, if the afternoon I went there was any indication, much of its foot traffic as well. There were two great installations, however: The Cloud of Unknowing, from video artist Ho Tzu Nyen, and Evolution (Megaplex), from Marco Brambilla.
Projected at the end of a dark hallway littered with inviting, oversized beanbag chairs, Unknowing is an intense, impressionistic collage of sound and images specifically calculated to give viewers the creeps: a ghostly sumo wrestler, flames, heavy metal drumming, a dank basement, hundreds of dim lightbulbs, etc. Shot in hi-def slow motion so slow it almost seems to be going backwards, the film is equal parts Eraserhead and Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3, only less accessible.
The real winner of the day, however, was Evolution. Using looped video clips from hundreds of different Hollywood blockbusters, the New York-based Brambilla has created an enormous, animated scrolling mural. In 3-D. It’s sort of hard to explain. Imagine Hieronymus Bosch crossed with punk collagist Winston Smith, repurposing GIFs of iconic movie moments from everything from Ben-Hur to Jurassic Park to create an immersive, densely-layered dreamscape full of cinematic peril. Complete with bombastic accompaniment from Wagner, Evolution (Megaplex) is a full-on orgy of the senses, guaranteed to delight film fanatics.
An extremely personal exploration of her own complicated family dynamics, Gypsy Davy is director Rachel Leah Jones’ attempt to understand her father, famed flamenco guitarist David Serva. A white boy from Alabama, Serva (née Jones) fell in love with the sound of flamenco in the bohemian cafés of 1960s New York, soon moving to Andalusia and going completely, and permanently, native. Along his way, Serva left a lengthy trail of ex-wives and neglected children. He also, for what it’s worth, inspired the Counting Crows song “Mr. Jones.” Very sad, to be sure. The film, however, is… meh. I never feel good dismissing something so lovingly crafted, personal, and small, but Davy just didn’t connect with me, mostly for superficial reasons. The story of Jones’ family is actually told quite effectively, but the production values were low, and overall I just didn’t spark to the material. Once again, it’s a real dick to move to criticize someone’s actual life experience as being clichéd and derivative, but Davy mostly just reminded me of The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, another (much better) bastard-guitar-player-and-his-sad-daughter documentary I saw at Sundance back when I back in high school. It was sort of an underwhelming note to end the festival on, but there you go.