There’s no getting into The Clearing, the Redford film, unless you went online and bought tickets on January 6, the day they went on sale, and made your purchase in maybe the first two hours before it sold out. I arrived at the high-school auditorium (everyone here insists upon calling it The Eccles, as if by using the name of the patron who probably paid for the place, somehow the films that screen inside, and the audience watching those films, might become more sophisticated, more urbane) an hour and twenty-five minutes before the start of the movie, and because I have the Event Press pass—which is one step below the General Press pass, which is not as good as the Express Press pass, which is in turn trumped by the Working Press pass, which pales in comparison to the esteemed and highly sought-after Sponsor Pass; in other words, I am allowed to get into movies for free, but only after nearly every other person in Park City, Utah, has decided not to attend the screening I have chosen—I have to get into the Wait List line and wait twenty-five minutes for the opportunity to take a pink Wait List pre-ticket number, and after taking a brief accounting of the other Wait Listers, I have projected my number at 119. This means that after all the paying customers, all the sponsors, all the General Press and Express Press and Working Press and The Clearing entourage members have taken their seats inside The Eccles, seats will be sold (or, in my case, and in the case of those with pale blue Sundance Volunteer badges, comped) in groups of five, beginning with pink Wait List number 1. And still I am fortunate, because only two more people, high-school girls from near Pittsburgh, are allowed into the indoor Wait List queue, and no more. All future Wait Listers must wait outside, in the cold, without pink numbers.
We indoor Wait Listers have been deposited in a long, drab cinder-block hallway without windows, lined up in two single-file rows against opposite walls like schoolchildren at a tornado drill. Those near the front have been sitting for a long time. Men and women sit quietly, reading books, eating granola bars, staring at fixed points on the ceiling or the floor. I hear no complaining about the waiting; everyone here expected to wait. What is making us (me, too; I stand in solidarity with my pink-number people) angry is the overzealous drill-sergeant Sundance volunteer who, clearly relishing his newfound authority, paces the rear end of the hall, reminding us at regular intervals that we probably won’t get into The Eccles, that this, after all, is the Redford movie, and that we should have arrived two hours early like the folks at the front of the Wait List line. He wears a headset with an attached microphone near his mouth, and he seems to communicate with whomever is on the other end of the signal chain for the benefit of those of us in the queue who can hear how important he is:
Drill-Sergeant Volunteer [on mic]: “What you think, we get maybe thirty-five, forty inside?”
Drill-Sergeant Volunteer [on mic]: “Yep, these people gonna be waiting a long time for nuttin.”
Drill-Sergeant Volunteer [on mic]: “Ha-hah! I know! I tried to tell ’em!”
Eleventh-Grade Girl from Pittsburgh: “I’d like to punch that guy in the head.”
The other volunteers are not like this.
It becomes apparent that I am not getting into The Clearing, so I sign up for the Black Box screening, press only. It is called the Black Box because the films are shown in a large high-school lecture-room shaped like a box, with all the walls painted black. Our movie is November, a fractured-memory narrative (I think; I’m confused about exactly what happens in the film, which seems to be part of the point) starring Courtney Cox as a fragile neurotic photographer whose live-in boyfriend (and lots of other people, depending upon which story thread is meant to have happened and which is meant to take place in the main character’s mind) is killed in a convenience-store robbery. The film is reminiscent (and at some points derivative) of David Lynch films such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but the narrative is more tightly controlled, the characters more tethered to the world we know, the plot more plausibly constructed in the mind of the viewer, and none of this works to the film’s advantage, because the power of the Lynch films is in the juxtaposition of incongruous images—in Mulholland Drive, for example. the accident, the dwarf in a wheelchair, the TV-cop-show detectives, the Nancy Drew interlude where Betty and Rita discover the corpse, American Bandstand, Chris Cooper, the blue box, the blue key, those freaky laughing old people, and waitress Diane Selwyn seemingly swirling at the center of it all—and in the end, although the Lynch images don’t constitute a rational whole, they do collectively form a chilling pile-on, a car crash in the mind of the viewer, with a significance rooted in the strange, tangled strands of connectedness, the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota all wound up in the brain, useful for nothing but damned interesting to look at. November, while stretching for this kind of brain-squeeze, left me with no lingering image but a wide-angle shot of a convenience store and a trickle of blood appearing upon the face of a light bulb.
Two bus rides and a Chinese restaurant interlude with a trio of Slamdance Film Festival directors later, I stood in line for another Blender party at O’Harry’s on Main Street, this one sponsored by the incredibly powerful Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, and therefore a very difficult event to get into. This is where I’m supposed to talk about how exciting it is to rub elbows with Hollywood people and dance while Macy Gray’s band does the best George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic impression I’ve ever seen and wax poetic about the sensuality of music and bodies and glow-in-the-dark liquor passed around the dance floor in test tubes and the vibrant embodied hope of a hundred nameless young actors milling about, pressing flesh, smiling until their cheeks hurt, bragging, flirting, becoming intoxicated, etc. But what was really fascinating about the party was the melancholy and sadness that permeated the room. Those who made it inside—the starstruck masses, at least those who hadn’t earlier bought a sixty-dollar ticket, were turned away at the door by bouncers—were further segregated by badge color and wristband color (and these on a different hierarchical scheme than the Sundance credentials—two wristbands, red and black, to get inside, unless you wore a badge, which got you past the lines and earned you access to every floor of O’Harry’s, unless your badge, like mine, was red, in which case you not only were confined to the main floor, like the red-and-black wristband scrubs, but you also had to pay $6.50 for a drink, unless you also wore a yellow wristband, in which case all was forgiven and those Chernobyl-looking test tubes would be handed to you by pretty young women dressed in black who carried them on trays that might have originally been designed to hold tiny plastic communion-grape-juice cups at small Protestant churches) and the practical effect of all this is that a small group of people had the second floor, with its bench-and-chair amenities, to themselves, and the vast majority of partygoers were relegated to the first-floor, which had maybe one place to sit for every twenty people in attendance; and so that aforementioned poetic press of dancing bodies was actually quite hot and uncomfortable, and people were jammed together so tightly that any travel from Point A to Point B required the physical pushing aside of other bodies, sometimes accompanied by apology, sometimes accompanied by mild aggression, and in at least one case accompanied by the groping of personal regions of my lower body. Tomorrow, I have decided, I will not go to parties, I will not interview filmmakers for newspapers, I will not try to get into premieres. Tomorrow I will only watch movies.