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Thursday, May 03, 2007

MYTHS OF SUNDANCE #4

MYTH #4: SUNDANCE IS PREDICTABLE AND THE JURY FOLLOWS LAST YEARS TREND

And just when it seemed Sundance had turned the corner and begun embracing radical new ideas from the New Queer Cinema movement, another even less politically progressive statement emerged -- Quentin Tarantino, RESERVOIR DOGS and the pulp fiction aesthetic.

Quentin Tarantino is a brilliantly geeky throwback to a bygone era of violently gratuitous film and literature for which his masterful breakout film PULP FICTION is named. First and foremost, like his predecessors in pulp or detective fiction of the serie noire and weird menace schools, Tarantino is an inspired writer with defiant flair and tongue firmly in cheek.

Tarantino was born of an entirely new generation of VHS film enthusiasts who never went to film school (in fact, he never graduated from high school) and after simply and obsessively working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California. Tarantino and his friend Roger Avery (co-writer of PULP FICTION) watched, wrote and dreamed of making their own films. The video rental geeks fashioned their own graduate program in film by watching movies day-in and day-out. While Sundance was founded by a generation of film enthusiasts who were starved by the lack of access to film viewing (other than in revival cinema houses) the VHS generation grew up with the TV and VCR as their babysitters.

With Tarantino, violent films should be violent for violence sake. He never had time for the pretense of art house films. In fact, at a screening of RESERVOIR DOGS in Park City, when asked about the offensive nature of violence in his films, as if to spit in their face, Tarantino answered, he was offended by the pretentious beauty of Merchant and Ivory films. Afterall, despite the wealth of plenty, titles the video stores were primarily stocked with action and adventure, horror, kung-fu, and b-movies of the sensationalist vein. For Tarantion and Avery there were no classics of early cinema other than shoot-em ups, blood-and-horror, super-natural fight films, high-impact FX, and action and adventure and these movies shaped their world view.

In many ways, if Sundance embodied the indie spirit, it did so by bashing and breaking down paradigms. The b-side mentality that populated the most conservative state of Utah in January was always ready to confront, accuse, and shock you out of what you came to expect from Sundance itself. Tarantino brought back to Sundance the indie spirit embodied in Roger Corman from the early 1960s -- a visceral shock of the weird, sensational and objectly violent. Tarantino's aspirations for film were school-boyish, as he once told Allison Anders on a date he wanted to write a book about how to go to film festivals to get laid.

If you came to Sundance expecting crunchy granola films it gave you New Queer Cinema instead. If you came expecting Native American films it gave you the geeky LA white boy spouting the "n-word" in his scripts without any remorse or regret. If you expected the films to be safe uplifting toiling in the soil stories from the heartland it gave you POISON or sex, lies, and videotape instead.

For better or worse, American Indie film consists of rule breakers, outlaws, misfits and non-conformists to the movie industry standard. The twist Tarantino brought was of careless irony, his films were parodies of themselves and yet very much nothing more serious than the films they parodied.

In the year Tarantino brought RESERVOIR DOGS to Sundance, Alison Anders screened GAS, FOOD AND LODGING and Alexander Rockwell's IN THE SOUP also contended but Rockwell's SOUP about a down and out indie filmmaker played by Steve Buscemi unexpectedly took the top prize. Their films could not have been more different from each other in scope, if they'd met and planned them in advance.

In street cred terms, as an emerging filmmakers festival Sundance always had to deliver something each year that defied the logic of a trend. The festival was in a continual process of trying to reinvent itself and was able to do so because between the period of the mid to late 80s to the earl 90s the number of indie filmmakers sending their films to Sundance for consideration dramatically increased from a few hundred to thousands.

If anything is predictable about Sundance is the defiant spirit of the filmmakers who are outsiders to an insiders industry and want to make a statement.

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