Ribbons of Film, Rivers of Wine

Our fair hamlet Sonoma, whose nightlife in my experience often pairs well with Sleepytime Tea, was transformed into a bustling micropolis fueled by booze and cinema spilled by the 11th Sonoma Valley Film Festival last week. The fest’s arrival instantly tripled the downtown population, and the Plaza’s boutiques overran with festival staffers, filmmakers, patrons, the audience and finally, the press.

This last lot includes your intrepid reporter and my esteemed entourage of accredited members of the media. But, hey, whose checking credentials? Well, everyone. It’s rather like the fabled locker room neurosis where everyone is trying not to look at anyone else – but does. And if your badge has flipped over on its string, a comely festival staffer will turn it back around for you and maybe even straighten your necktie.

This is what I remember of the festival: A great raptor descended from the azure skies and absconded with our collective sobriety clutched in its gnarled talons. And something about a movie.
The attendance broke records, film producers broke promises and a woman broke the heel from her Manolo Blahniks, which a young man affixed to his head like a unicorn and danced, silhouetted against a tableau vivant of pyrotechnic prowess. That was Thursday night at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, which graciously hosted the annual gala event and poured their wines. One of my crew had understandably conflated the winery’s namesake with hot tubs and assumed they were serving bubbly. They weren’t. But they were serving a fine sangiovese and I attempted to drink their entire stock.

When going full bore, the film festival is that cliché used when discussing the ‘60s, Woodstock and frequently Burning Man – if you can remember it, you weren’t there. I don’t think this is entirely true; however, there is a contingent that I overheard averring, “If you saw any films, you weren’t there.” Again, not entirely true – no liver could possibly withstand such ambition.

Typically, film festivals are sanctuaries for culture vultures like myself. Whereas many of the happenings that occur in the film world are no-fly-zones, in the festival context we’re invited to schmooze with the filmmakers, get chatty with publicists and, of course, tell the tale. But I’m also a bit of an odd duck in that I’m a writer whose career is predicated on both bylines as well as getting my name “above the line,” to invoke producer’s parlance. (If you read between the lines, however, you will see I’m just waiting to sign on the dotted line, Oh Great and Powerful Lucifer, before my deadline.)

For me the difference between author and auteur is “the ascot” as a staffer at another year’s fest wittily put it. It’s a classic play. Peter Bogdanovich comes to mind as a forerunner – he penned film criticism before crossing over into directing on Roger Corman’s dime and later creating his classic “Last Picture Show.” (Perhaps using Bogdanovich as a career model is foolhardy: Recently, I was trying to get him to comment on the DVD release of Orson Welles’ bizarro documentary “F for Fake” and called Innovative, his agency. The kid who answered the phone had no idea who Bogdanovich was).

I’ll part with this: “I may not here omit those two main plagues, and common dotages of human kind, wine and women, which have infatuated and besotted myriads of people. They go commonly together,” wrote Robert Burton in his 17th century tome “The “Anatomy of Melancholy.” If you substitute the “women” maligned in Burton’s line with “film,” you will understand last week. And why we can’t wait for next April.

The Name/Fame Game

What\'s in a name?Neither a celebrity nor a baby, Daedalus Howell nonetheless chats up Neil Street of the Celebrity Baby Names Blog about names, fame and newborns.


Screening Room of the Damned

X,YThe studio had sunk what amounted to the Christmas bonus of its below-the-line staff into the picture – a picture that consisted only of found-footage of a slaughterhouse cut with a Suicide Girl twisting the knobs of an Etch-A-Sketch with her toes. This played against a soundtrack comprised of a wheezy human beat box interpolated by breakdowns of roiling bong water. Continue reading “Screening Room of the Damned”

What Dreams May Come

Perchance to dream?Lennon’s ode to being unconscious, “I’m Only Sleeping,” is my present anthem. “Please don’t wake me, no don’t shake me, leave me where I am – I’m only sleeping.” Words to live by. The B-side on this pajama playlist is the follow-up ode to shut-eye, “I’m So Tired.” I suppose being a Beatle tuckered him out. Even though I rate a notch below Kafka’s “Metamorphoses” on the entomological scale, I too am perpetually dozy. Continue reading “What Dreams May Come”

Joe Mantegna Says It’s So

Joe says its so.
Joe says it's so.

A critically-lauded and much beloved veteran of stage and screen, the devilishly dapper Joe Mantegna has worked with such luminaries as David Mamet, Woody Alley and Francis Ford Coppola. His film Elvis and Anadelle plays the 11th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Festival this April.

DH: Last issue, I interviewed Olivia Newton-John and while I was doing my research I learned that you were in – then out – of “Xanadu.”

JM: That was my very first job in Hollywood.

DH: That’s crazy, man.

JM: Yeah, I was like “Guy Number Five.” I had three lines, but like you say, I got cut out of the movie.

DH: In the end, I think the karmic balance has worked in your favor because now, it seems, you’re in everything.

JM: Things work out how they work out.

DH: If someone were to get a tattoo of your Internet Movie Database listing on their body they would run out of skin.

JM: Well, I’m not the youngest guy in the neighborhood either.  I’ve been at it a while.

DH: I suspected and then finally confirmed that you’re the voice of Fat Tony in “The Simpsons.”

JM: That’s my longest running role. I’ve been doing that for 17 years now.

DH: Speaking of voice work, you’ve also done books-on-tape as well.

JM: I’ve done a few of those.

DH: Sounds like the diagnoses of a workaholic.

JM: I’ve always thought of acting as a blue-collar job. My father worked 50 weeks out of the year, why shouldn’t an actor? If you’re given the opportunity and as long as there’s things you like to do. There are always periods of inactivity. It makes up for the times when you’re an actor struggling and you wish you had a job.

DH: This is the time to come to wine country – perfect timing too, you’re film Elvis and Annadelle is playing the Sonoma Valley Film Festival.

JM: I’m hoping to make it up there.

DH: Now, you’ve got about half a dozen films in the can or currently in production at present, which is a staggering amount of work. You’ve played all kinds of roles, but there are certain types that seem to gravitate toward you – tough guys, various shades of Mafioso, then on the other side of spectrum you’ve done a lot of romantic leads where everyone in the world falls in love with you.

JM: I’ve always thought of myself as a character actor. I’ve come from the theater and that’s kind of what I always did. I’ve done a variety of different things, even musical comedy at the beginning of my career. There was never any intent on my part to steer things one way or the other. I’ve always believed you play the cards you’re dealt. My career has taken directions and turns based on different things. David Mamet took me in one direction and Woody Allen kind of took me in another direction. It’s hard to say, but I can tell you there wasn’t a lot of forethought or intention involved…I’ve been lucky that way. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of things and I enjoy doing them.

DH: But if you weren’t acting what would you be doing?

JM: My other job, before things started to go well for me, was as a photographer. I did headshots. A good friend of mine was a very successful photographer so he taught me all the basics so I could take a pretty good head shot. I knew I would make a really bad waiter, so photography was it. I did pretty well.

DH: And 15 years later you’re in The Godfather III. That was fast.

JM: Well, it was like a 15-year overnight success, though. I had kind of been banging around. What did it for me was performing in Glengary Glen Ross on Broadway. That was the catalyst. I was basically a nobody, but the show won a Pulitzer Prize, I won a Tony Award and it became one of those monumental career things that sends you into the stratosphere. Not only did the show do as well as it did, I was also able to do the show on Broadway for a year – so everybody in the business saw it, which really helped.

DH: Sort of like auditioning in abstentia.

JM: I couldn’t have written a better scenario for myself. When I finished with the play there was a lot of opportunity out there. What happened is that I ended up working with Woody Allen once, then I worked with Woody Allen twice. I worked with Barry Levinson once, then I’d  end up working with him again.

DH: What about Coppola, you think that will happen again?

JM: Well, I hope, but he’s getting into his own kind of things, which is great.  Even if Coppola were bad, he’s still better than most guys. I think he’s just great. I love him to death. Besides the Godfather III, I did a thing he produced called Wait Until Spring, Bandini, which is a John Fante book they made into a movie. Francis is always going to go his own way. I attended a retrospective of the Godfather movies last year and I saw him then. I’m just so fortunate to have worked with him.

DH: Any role you haven’t played that you want to?

JM: To tell you the truth, I’m not one of those actors that has a wish list. Part of the excitement of being in this business is not knowing when I may get that phone call that sends me on a whole new adventure. I didn’t know I was going to play Dean Martin, but I did and I loved it. Same thing with everything I’ve done. I know some guys will work at developing stuff for themselves or aspire to play some great Shakespearean role, but I’ve been very lucky to get things that have interested me and worked out well.

DH: And you haven’t calcified into a single persona. Yet, you have stature and are certainly a movie star with a capital “M,” but you’re not a caricature of a role you once played.

JM: I try not to. I’ll mix it up and I don’t care what venue it is or what level it is. I’ve been number one on the call sheet, number 10 on the call sheet and number 100 on the call sheet. It just depends on if there’s a project that I’m interested in and I’m free. Part of it is that I’ve never had a publicist – not that I don’t believe in publicity – it’s just that I’m not a big fan of having somebody out there trying to guide or conduct my life or career. My feeling is that things are going to occur as they’re supposed to. When I’m doing a project it creates its own kind of thing anyway. Every studio or network has its own publicity department – they generate enough that I don’t have to go looking for it. I think it helps you fly under the radar a little bit – people leave you alone at least in terms of the press.

DH:  Funny about that… [laughs]