And I finally got downtown to pick up my press credentials and slipped into one of the remaining pre-festival screenings. As a wise man once said, "I shoulda ate the eclair." I saw about 75 minutes of Amos Poe's three-hour Empire II, ostensibly an homage to Andy Warhol's (in)famous Empire, an eight-hour epic consisting almost entirely of a series of reel-long takes of the Empire State Building at night. I saw a 45-minute sequence from the Warhol many years ago at MoMA and much to my surprise enjoyed it thoroughly. almost a parody of the idea of early cinema, the fascination with the mere fact of movement which, obviously, Warhol's film lacks. Intentionally or not, it is a wonderful riposte to all those fathers and mothers who grabbed a home movie camera, pointed it at the kids and said, "Don't stand there! It's a movie camera -- move!"
Unfortunately, what Poe has devised -- at least in the film's first third -- is a variation on what somebody would do with their very first video camera. Empire II is an encyclopedic collection of visual tics based on the possibilities of zoom, rack focus, color filters, light flashes and pointless camera hysterical movement, all of them on display in a seeming tribute to the New York cityscape. Within that first 75 minutes there are some moments of startling, transcendant beauty, particularly when Poe is using water and ghostly black-and-white printing (or filters?) with the result that city dissolves into a series of ghostly liquid hallucinations. And I never get tired of seeing my hometown on film. But between the infuriatingly fragmented soundtrack (can't we hear a song all the way through just once, especially when it's Patti Smith?) and the repetitive shapelessness of Empire II, there was just no way I could stick it out. I won't say that I hope the rest of the festival will be better -- there are some pretty significant pleasures to be had in the films I've reviewed already -- but I sure hope it won't get worse.
In the meantime, speaking of film festivals, the competition list has been posted for this year's Cannes festival and it suggests that this already rich film year is about to get even better. Among the filmmakers with new films opening at Cannes are the Dardenne brothers, Wim Wenders, Clint Eastwood, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Atom Egoyan, Arnaud Desplechin, Philippe Garrel, Pablo Trapero and Lucretia Martel. (I'm rather less thrilled by the prospect of a new Spielberg Indiana Jones epic and a four-hour double-feature biopic about Che Guevara by Steven Soderbergh, whose charms have been, until now, lost on me, not to mention another Woody Allen.) In "Un Certain Regard" this year's slate includes new films by Raymond Depardon, Abel Ferrara and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Could be a very good festival on the beach this May. I'm sure my friend and fellow Ira voter Michael Giltz is packing already. (Check out his blog to see if he's ready to go yet.)