Friday, September 04, 2015

Portland Film Fest - Day 2 (part 1)

The alarm goes off and I have to get ready for my first class of the fest which is on suspense and thrillers. It’s being held at the Equipment Rental house where most of my classes were last year, so I know right where it is. I’m running a little late so I decide to take the street car, since it has a stop a block from the hotel and a stop *right in front of* the Equipment Rental place. Except I can’t figure out how the ticket machine works. Figured it out a year ago, but have forgotten since. When I do figure it out (the machines have one set of buttons for everything *except* number of tickets... that’s a button much lower on the machine in a place where you aren’t looking) the street car comes and the machine hasn’t spit out my ticket. It’s a race against time! The street car doors open... the ticket starts printing... the street car doors close... the ticket finished printing... the street car zooms away. Crap.

Next street car: 15 minutes.

Okay, it would take me about 20 minutes to walk there. Wait? Or walk?

Well, I’ve had one cup of coffee, so I go to the Starbucks a block away and buy an iced coffee that I can sip in the class and get back in time to catch the street car... and now I am hoping the street car takes less that 15 minutes to get there because the class starts in 15 minutes. But at least I’ll be caffeinated, right? I come up with a clever line about keeping the class in suspense... when my phone rings. “Hey, your first class is in 10 minutes.” I tell them I’m on my way... and get there at about 4 minutes “early”.

The problem is, I know where I’m going so I don’t have to be early to find the place. Mistake.

But the class goes reasonably well (I’m never a good judge of these things). Now I go back to the hotel, dump my class stuff, grabs some of that snack food stuff, and head to the movies. I would have liked to have time for lunch or dinner or even dunch or linner first, but that’s not going to happen. This is Wendy Froud who did puppet design, creation and operation on THE DARK CRYSTAL along with a screening of that film... and there will be a line stretched around the cinema. I need to be in that line!


Josh (Mr. Portland Film Fest) obviously has a thing for the Henson fantasy films because last year he showed LABYRINTH and this year he has THE DARK CRYSTAL. When these films came out, I was already and adult so my memories of them are that they don’t quite work as stories even though the puppet work was amazing as was the production value and cinematography. And that was true for LABYRINTH when I saw it again last year. Harry Connolly posted a message somewhere (twitter or FB or maybe his blog) that the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs were some his favorites as a kid and one of the reasons he became a fantasy writer... but many don’t hold up very well as an adult. I have also found this to be true, but I wonder if that’s because I’ve been more discriminating (there’s a word) as a reader as an adult or whether I’ve just lost some of that childhood imagination and awe?

But the movie had amazing puppet work, and one of the great things about the Henson team was that they were always trying to do things with puppets that were “impossible”. Like Kermit *riding a bicycle* in THE MUPPET MOVIE. No CGI, that was some form of puppet riding a bicycle! Probably a marionette (if you know, please *don’t* tell me, I just want to believe it’s magic). And DARK CRYSTAL is filled with puppets doing things that puppets can not do. Sure, sometimes it’s people in costumes, but others times we have overhead shots of characters moving... and that’s not possible. Well, unless they ca,me up with some super imaginative way to make that happen. And that’s what’s amazing about this film now: no CGI, but many shots where you have no idea how they did that.

Afterwards Wendy Froud did a Q&A with Josh, and there were *very rare* behind the scenes photos of her and Frank Oz and the team operating Yoda. She had great stories of working on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and LABYRINTH and DARK CRYSTAL. It was great to hear her stories, and both her husband (who did costume design on the film) and son Toby (who played Toby in LABYRINTH) were in the audience. Very cool. Yes, there was a picture of Frank Oz with his hand up Yoda’s butt (which LucasFilms probably would rather no one ever saw).

I also saw THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE, which is so far my favorite film of the festival... but I’m zonked so I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Now I have to get some sleep so that I can wake up and teach a class...

- Bill

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