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.