The Garden State Film Festival (from a guy who really, really likes movies)
I really, really like movies. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen most of them.
And I think very, very deeply about them. For example, consider the Indiana Jones trilogy. (Yes, it’s still a trilogy.) I used to be a Raiders, Crusade, Temple guy, but, as I got on in years, I became a staunch Raiders, Temple, Crusade guy – because, awesome as Crusade is, you have to admit that it’s essentially a spiffed-up rehash of Raiders. Also, in my opinion, the key to fully appreciating the series is recognizing that, technically, Indiana Jones rarely achieves anything of consequence when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of the narrative arc in all three films. In almost every scenario, the villains bring about their own destruction. (This even holds true for Crystal Skull.) Indy, with the exception of some relatively crucial scenes in Temple, typically plays the part of an annoying-yet-righteous gnat, or fly on the wall, accomplishing little more than witnessing history, and never ending up with much to show for it. (Except for “illumination”, of course.) Think about it.
Anyway, my wife really, really likes some movies. She’ll watch Gone With The Wind or Shining Through or either Kill Bill whenever they’re on. But if something like Akira Kurosawa’s High And Low (way more intense than The Seven Samurai) or The Exorcist 3 (sorely underrated) or Jesus’ Son (watched it for the first time last week) or any Terrence Malick movie (they’re all sacred) is on at midnight on Sundance or IFC, I’m on my own. When I got her go see Oliver Stone’s W. at the local multiplex, she bailed halfway through and took a nap in the car.
And documentaries? Which are so crucial to my being? Because that’s what I do for a living? Well, I’m lucky if I get her to watch my stuff.
So, it was with great trepidation that I invited her to come with me to the 8th Annual Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park. I’d done the Black Maria and New Jersey film fests up north many times, but, for some reason, had never made it down the shore for this very, very special one.
First of all, for those who’ve never been, Asbury Park is a historic urban seaside community that’s been coming back to life for some time now, and the eccentric vintage-ness of the stretch of boardwalk which the festival branches out from is nothing if not cinematic. For those living under rocks, it’s also famous for being the seat of Bruce Springsteen’s soul.
All under the watchful gaze of Tillie - as he slowly peels off the side of the Wonder Bar.
Legend has it that the Garden State Film Festival was “born in 2002 after a chance encounter in a Sea Girt, NJ grocery store by 25 year film industry veteran Diane Raver and the well known Hollywood actor Robert Pastorelli” – the sagely Eldin from Murphy Brown, and, like myself, a New Brunswick native. The idea was to celebrate the independent film genre and “provide novice and aspiring filmmakers, actors, and others interested in a career in the film business, the opportunity to meet and network with industry professionals”.
We checked in at the Paramount Theater, grabbed some oversized baked goods, and claimed our seats. The first feature we took in was a doc called Shooting Beauty. Heavy stuff. A series of unflinching profiles of people living with extreme disabilities, Shooting Beauty chronicles one woman’s mission to enable them to express themselves through photography, resulting in an experimental exhibit of their work that proves to be both haunting and provocative – even fun.
Next up - Waiting for Budd, a compact documentation of a fateful staging of On The Waterfront - written by the Budd (Schulberg) of the title - on the same Hoboken waterfront where the classic film was shot. (“I coulda been a contender!”) Like the postal service, the actors prevail through all manner of precipitation and end up being rewarded for their devotion to the project with a benevolent God-like visitation by Schulberg himself, shortly before his death in 2009. A great little story that has the added charm of being true.
And there were so many more to choose from: the underbellicious Motel Americana: Vol. 2 (I will definitely seek out Vol 1.), the witty op-ed-like doc No Pity, which cleverly condemns the “pity-based tactics” of disability charities, and The Killing of Mary Surratt, which serves up a hefty dollop of cosmic ambiguity in the recounting of the trial and execution of innkeeper Mary Surratt, who was rightfully or wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time-fully accused of taking part in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. According to President Andrew Johnson, she “kept the nest where the egg was hatched”. Absolutely mandatory viewing for Civil War completists.
While we waited for the next round in the lobby, I painstakingly explained how Michael Mann’s Heat is our generation’s Godfather 1 and 2. (If you disagree, I highly recommend watching it three more times - and reading the British Film Institute’s book about the film. Also, Kurosawa’s Stray Dog should be fully absorbed before your third and final screening of Heat. After reading the BFI book, that is. For reasons that will become apparent.)
The next movie was about to begin. I was waving a giant Rice Krispies treat around, still carrying on, wistfully reflecting on how I learned how to curse from the potty-mouthed Marines of James Cameron’s Aliens.
Oops. We’re late! Pigeon: Impossible is starting without us!
We rushed back in, using a Blackberry as a flashlight. No coming attractions. So, when you’re late, you’re really late.
But we made it just in time for this short, animated rollercoaster ride. Secret agents! Nuclear weapons! Evil pigeon! Pixar! Call this Lucas Martell guy!
The first movie I ever saw in a movie theater was Return of the Jedi. I was about five, so, of course, it blew my mind. Irrevocably.
The second movie I ever saw in a theater was Gremlins. I was about six, and I spent the latter half of the movie hiding behind a partition in the back.
And the third movie I ever saw in a theater was Goonies. I was about seven, and I promptly employed Spielberg and Columbus’ adventure yarn as a template for actualizing a fulfilling life. Only I never found a viable treasure map. But, as you can see, I was going to the movies at a rate of one per year. So that was pretty good.
However, now I’m able to attend events like the Garden State Film Festival and gorge on scores of the freshest films on tap over the course of one lost weekend. When your head is as full of movies as mine is, a festival like this is a goldmine.
Oh, and Scorsese’s Casino is way more biblical than Goodfellas.
Think about it.