There are two ways to say this:
(1) I have seen movie stars. I have seen directors in bowler hats with white feathers, been seduced by a beautiful woman in a dyed white fur coat, sneaked into places I shouldn’t be disguised as a television cameraman, watched big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton descend a hundred-foot wave after chasing it, towed by a Jet Ski, sat not fifteen feet away from Robert Redford while he made a public joke at the expense of a hack writer, shook hands with bit-part actor Chuck Plentywounds (thinking he was Sherman Alexie) and enjoyed this exchange at a Blender magazine party:
Woman in White Fur: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Writing things down. What are you doing?”
Woman in White Fur: “I’m drinking! Let’s dance, wallflower!”
(2) I have seen Mormons in hipster gear trying to stargaze outside Zoom Restaurant. I have smelled stinky butts on Park City public transportation. I have been nearly trampled outside a high-school auditorium by an unruly mass of bodies and cameras trying desperately to get footage of an obscure entourage-member whose name they do not know. (They shout to the publicist: “Who’s that we just got?”) I have seen advertisements for Pimp Juice and ample evidence of the negative effects of intoxication on human decision-making. People have approached me on the street, saying, “I loved you in Seabiscuit.” This was not a compliment.
Overheard on the Park City Transit HQ / Main Street Loop: “Do you want to go to the high school or the library?”
The ordinary has absorbed the extraordinary, and the effect is disconcerting. No one knows their place, where they stand in relation to other people. There is no television box to look into, no soft lighting and makeup to ascribe beauty to the elect, no helpful voice-over to explain the significance of what is happening. Some people are excessively polite, in case they are in the presence of someone important, and some people are excessively rude in order to demonstrate their own importance. Snowboarders are not allowed to board the festival buses.
Smog has descended upon northern Utah, a meteorological phenomenon known as an “inversion.” This is the thirteenth day of the inversion. The fog hovers low and traps car exhaust and smokestack plumage and the air becomes less safe to breathe each day. Recess has been canceled in Salt Lake City elementary schools. Little flashing “Condition Red” graphics pop up regularly on local television, which is confusing for someone from out of town, because I keep thinking this has something to do with terrorist threats instead of a pollution index.
The hotel manager: “Those people from Hollywood brought their damn smog with them. They better take it back when they leave.”
Interstate 80, the route from Salt Lake City to Park City, inclines steeply into the Wasatch Range, which is covered in white snowdrift and jagged brown rock, and ten miles west of the city the road emerges from the fog. The sky becomes very bright, a vast cloudless stretch of intense, luminous blue. A candy-apple red hot air balloon ascends from a ski resort. The air is thin and cold. Blood vessels burst in my eye, making me appear badly hungover all day.
In Park City all the fog is indoors, cigarette-derived. Tonight is National Lampoon night at the Blender party at O’Harry’s on Main Street, hosted by Nelly. Dancers hold blue light sticks in their hands, and from the smoke-obscured ground level, they appear as faint neon fireflies, tethered to nothing. I meet a man who sells foreign rights to obscure American documentaries. He is dressed in all black, with a black beard and near black eyes that don’t quite match the pallor of his skin. “You heard of I Don’t Know Jack?” he says. I say no. He says it’s a documentary about Jack Nance, star of the David Lynch film Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. He looks like someone from a David Lynch film himself, just slightly out of place, and he did mysteriously appear from the mist. He hands me a DVD screener of the movie, which he says will self-destruct (or at least become unplayable) in forty-eight hours. “New technology,” he says. “Cutting edge stuff.”
I try to use the bathroom. Three women in black T-shirts and panties stand in front of the entrance. I am accosted by two faintly Greek-looking bodyguards with biceps as big as my thighs. “You can’t go in there,” the smaller one says, looking down at me. “Okay,” I say. “Get out of here,” he says. “Yes,” I say, and I do.
So little of what I have seen today has much to do with actual films. I have looked everywhere for the passion, the independent spirit that I have read about in movie magazines and heard about in DVD commentaries. Tonight was the festival premiere, a surfing documentary about big-wave riders directed by Stacy Peralta called Riding Giants. I sat next to a woman from Santa Fe who owns a one-screen theater in the Colorado wilderness. “I don’t usually like surfing movies,” she said. Then a twenty-foot swell from Waimea Bay filled the screen. As the wave curled over and began to collapse upon itself, a tiny speck of a man on a surfboard emerged from the tunnel. A thousand watchers applauded, and not just polite clapping, but thunderous, high-school-auditorium-shaking applause. Wonder. The big-wave riders, the ones from the film, sat two rows behind me. They felt the wonder, too; rather than applauding, they sat reverently, taking deep breaths. On-screen the waves grew larger and larger, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, one hundred feet, and surfers triumphed and wiped out and got married and had babies and created new ways to ride waves and lived and died. “Wow,” said the woman from Santa Fe, the one who didn’t like surf movies, and it was not a pedantic wow; it was a wow of profundity, an expression of wonder at the power of moving images, the way that the pictures transcended all words.