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David Poland

By David Poland

Sipping Champaign

It was a long trip to Champaign-Urbana from Los Angeles today. But it was too long a trip for Roger Ebert to make, laid up in his hospital room, still pressuring his doctors to give him a greenlight to bring his broken hip to his hometown for even a few hours at his namesake film festival.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Ebertfest and while last year felt a bit like a tribute to Roger himself – many of his closest filmmaker friends brought films and his own screenplay effort, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, was shown – this year feels more like the festival Roger and his top sidekick, Nate Kohn, have programmed for years… films that have very mixed reputations, but play at their best with the warm embrace of Roger to offer this audience the reasons why they should love the films as well.
Roger’s wife, Chaz, will serve as lead host, as she did last year with Roger in attendance. Her opening remarks at today’s pre-show cocktail were very emotional and sweet and expressed what many of us in town for yet another year felt. Roger’s physical absence, combined with the permanent loss of “co-conspirator” Dusty Cohl, just feels odd and, as Chaz said, melancholic.
This is not the first Ebertfest at which I have seen every film programmed. And it’s an odd coincidence that I just sat down for a “Lunch” with Tarsem Singh, that one of my favorite “Lunches” of last year was with Ang Lee, who is going to be here with Hulk, and that another was with John Turturro for Romance & Cigarettes.
But coming to Ebertfest long ago stopped being about business for me. It’s a trip to Southern Illinois to have an annual reunion with a part of my family. I’ve never been particularly close with Roger & Chaz… though they have been very generous to me over many years now. I was closer with Dusty… and am thrilled to have a chance to spend some time with his wife, the amazing Joan. But I have not had a lot of mentors in my life’s work. Both men have been, when they knew it and when they didn’t, filling that slot in various ways. And there are others… friends from here who I see every year… friends that I have traveled with on The Floating Film Festival… friends from the journalistic and industry trenches.
You can be a fan or not a fan of Roger Ebert. But you can’t deny, when you are here – even when he is absent physically – his passion and commitment to film. In many ways, his absence, which we all hope will be brief, feels like a call for all of us who might push forward to find ways to bring similar passion to our circles of the world to do so.
To do any less would just be unrogerlike.

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7 Responses to “Sipping Champaign”

  1. Cadavra says:

    Nice piece. Not that anyone else here would care, but Roger was the one who first introduced me to David several years ago, though I suspect Dave has forgiven him by now. 😉

  2. Hopscotch says:

    I respect and baffled by Ebert’s love of “Romance and Cigarettes”. I couldn’t get into it, and I’m pretty open to strange movies, but I couldn’t handle it. Anyone else seen it?

  3. Cadavra says:

    Yeah, it was a vanity production to be sure, but overall it worked for me, and it was nice to see Winslet letting down her hair (literally and figuratively). My biggest complaint is that the actors lip-synched to the original recordings, creating de facto duets, rather than singing alone to instrumental tracks. A big distraction. (Plus I woulda liked to have seen more of Elaine Stritch, but I understand she was a last-minute addition and was only available for the one day.)

  4. Monco says:

    Nice piece Dave. I always enjoy your writing about Roger.

  5. I’m with Hopscotch on this, although I did like Winslet. Romance & Cigarettes just felt like it was directed really poorly. It didn’t really have an idea of where it was going, it just meandered about from scene to scene (none of which seemed to have any rhythm to them).It was just very bizarre for seemingly no real reason.

  6. RudyV says:

    Great to see Tarsem getting another shot–his commentary track on THE CELL, where he frequently feels the need to apologize for what’s on the screen, is priceless. He got screwed over by the studio bigtime, and his revelation that they expected to see J-Lo in every scene is hysterical.

  7. EDouglas says:

    Not sure if you saw Werner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World” at Toronto or if anyone’s mentioned it but he dedicated the movie to Roger… I wonder if he realizes that Roger is alive and (relatively) well.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

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My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon