By Mark A. Altman | September 9, 2001

The other surprise was “Metropolis” (****), which the fest’s guest director, Salman Rushdie called “a brilliant piece of science fiction.” Rushdie called for a fatwa against today’s vacuous, overblown sci-fi films and heralded Fritz Lang’s genre classic by commenting that the best “sci-fi isn’t about the past or the future. It’s about the present.” He astonished the crowd by relating an anecdote in which festival booster Pierre Rissient told him that Lang absolutely hated the movie. “He was wrong,” Rushdie stated categorically to the crowd’s rapturous applause proceeding to dismiss the Giorgio Moroder re-score of the mid-80’s for this silent classic as “pure trash.” The restoration by the George Eastman House was astonishing and the Alloy Orchestra supplied a magnificent score (Rushdie also mysteriously championed the Satyajit Ray adventure farce, “The Golden Fortress” (***), which strangely and almost comically shares the plot of this year’s CGI-laden, not to mention leaden, “The Mummy Returns.” He also boosted Jean-Luc “Alphaville” (that’s Godard, not Picard, you idiot) and “Solaris,” Andrei Tarkovsky’s cerebral sci-fi masterpiece.)
Also well-received during the four day festival were “To End All Wars” (***), the true story that “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” told better, albeit with more poetic license. Despite this fact, soph director David Cunningham does yeoman’s work, even if it can’t come close to the marvel of David Lean’s far more expensive and expansive yarn. “Lantana” (***), a new “La Ronde”-like film from Australian director Ray Lawrence is gripping and smart, if slightly routine and pedantic at times. The clever heist picture, “9 Queens” (***), was an welcome surprise as well which fest director Bill Pence described as “David Mamet meets The Sting.” He was right. Slight, but entertaining.
Other films that met with rapturous appreciation from Telluride audiences that I didn’t see, but wished I had, were “No Man’s Land,” a black comedy set in Bosnia which UA releases later this year thankfully, “Lovely & Amazing,” the new film from “Walking and Talking”‘s Nicole Holofcener, “Late Marriage” from Israeli writer/director Dover Kosashvili, “The Fast Runner” with a slow running time, and the German documentary “Dear, Fidel” about Marita Lorenz’s affair with Castro…and the CIA.
Less entertaining was “The Ultimate DVD Show” (**) seminar from journalist Peter Cowie. When he started explaining what a dual layer disc was, I knew I was in trouble. All I could think of was, “I missed ‘Amelie’ for this.” The highlight of the presentation was when he did a comparison of DVD, Laserdisc (rest in peace), VHS and 35mm film, but unfortunately used “The Seventh Seal” to make his point. A ridiculous choice given that black and white films don’t look nearly as bad on laser and VHS as color movies (which bleed worse than Lucy getting suckled by Count Dracula) and that the later versions of this film were given beautiful digital restorations by Criterion which make the artifact-free comparison with 35mm completely unfair (Even Criterion’s prez Peter Becker commented “The best way to see a film is still to see celluloid projected.”) The panel was a good idea, woefully executed, although Cowie deserves kudos for being well prepared if a bit rambling. Far more delightful was Leonard Maltin’s panel on “The Forgotten Walt Disney” (****). Like previous year’s presentations on “From the Vaults of Walt Disney” and “3-D Films,” Maltin was thoroughly engaging and screened some truly wonderful gems from the Disney archives. Now, at long last, I know who killed C**k Robin…
Also at Telluride were the annual tributes which this year included French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, Indian actor Om Puri and British rabble-rouser Ken Russell. The tributes at the fest have become slightly mundane and certainly didn’t match the excitement of previous years where the festival tracked down noir cinematographer John Alton and paid tribute to composer Elmer Bernstein, among others. Russell at least continued to be a wily provocateur and gave an animated introduction to his sacrilegious classic, “The Devils” (***), in which the festival unearthed a rare Technicolor print from the Warner Brothers vaults. To everyone’s surprise, the sparkling print included most of the material that Russell was later forced to discard, including a nun masturbating with a crucifix and copious amounts of female nudity (or “too much pubic hair,” as Russell noted in his introduction of the film). Russell received a hearty ovation, and later, the most walkouts since “Bad Lieutenant” unspooled nearly ten years earlier. Maybe, if we’re lucky, next year they’ll finally pay tribute to a screenwriter for a change. At the rate we’re going, it’s probably more likely going to be a gaffer.
Another honoree that left many perplexed was the film festivals tribute to HBO. That’s an anacronym for HOME Box Office. Is it really that bad a year for film that a prestigious Film Festival has to turn to television for its honorees? Well, yes actually. And given what HBO brought to the party it’s not hard to see why Telluride honored the channel with a Silver Medallion as such offerings as the forthcoming “Band of Brothers” Episode Two” (****) and “Shot in the Heart” unspooled, or rather screened, in theaters and past classics such as “Conspiracy” (***1/2), 61*(***). “Sex in the City” and “The Sopranos” aired on televisions across Telluride.
With a gorgeous new theater, the Galaxy, an eclectic array of films and several fascinating discussions, Telluride struck gold again which already leaves me eagerly anticipating next year’s installment. But don’t tell anyone, the lines are still too damn long.
MARK A. ALTMAN is a writer/producer in Hollywood whose films include Free Enterprise, the award winning romantic comedy starring William Shatner and the forthcoming “The House of the Dead,” not based on the book by Dostoyevsky.
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