Savannah Film Fest 2008: Day One

  Well, our little festival got off with a fuckin’ bang, that’s for
sure. Tonight’s film was (as I’ve mentioned way too many times in way
too many places) The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s (Pi, Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain) newest opus. Review of that is below, so if you want to skip the pre-game, feel free to scroll on down.

As I arrived at the Trustee’s Theater I was greeted by a two massive lines and a blocked off area for pre-screening schmoozing and boozing. I greeted a few friends in the line and dove into the glad-handing colosseum. I talked to a few professors and friends, and even bumped into my high school history teacher, but it was mostly olders Savannahnian pass-holders getting loosened up before the show. The doors opened and we crammed in, me running for the first row as usual. Fortunately, the Trustee’s has a great first row and it’s view isn’t impeded by the prescenium, so it’s always my choice set of seats.

As I found my seat and saved a few more, my girlfriend called me from outside to say that Malcolm McDowell was floating around. He entered a few minutes later through a side door. The lights lowered and Danny Filson (a great and gracious Festival organizer) did his usual introduction, with much excitement. Danny gets better at opening these screenings every year, and his enthusiasm shown through tonight.

Our illustrious college President and Co-Founder, Paula Wallace (the other Paula, along with Mrs. Dean, who co-owns Savannah), came out and gave a breif but commendatory introduction of Mr. Peter Bart, editor for Variety. It was followd by a montage of films that Mr. Bart oversaw while working at different studios, as well as snippets from his television show (Sunday Morning Shootout). Mr. Bart emerged, received his Lifetime Acheivement Award, and gave a great speech that was very supportive and encouraging for the fest. He spoke of becoming the President of Lorimar Pictures and coming to Savannah many years to inspect a picture that was filming. Turns out he wasn’t welcome because his brother owned the paper mill that was (and continues to) stink up Savannah. After his breif but gracious speech, he left the stage and it was time for tonight’s feature…


The Wrestler (2008)

  The Wrestler continues Darren’s trend of leaping in quality with each film. This one combines the rough energy of Pi, with the brutal realism of Requiem, and the character-based beauty of The Fountain.

As I said to anyone who asked tonight, “It’s Rocky for fuck-ups.”

More specifically, it’s Rocky Balboa for fuck-ups. Like that film, The Wrestler follows a former brawler (Mickey Rourke) who, if he isn’t already washed up, is about as close as you can get. Coasting on the meager scraps of his former reputation, he continues to pro-wrestle on the minor circuit, to crowds of a couple dozen. He’s still good enough to work a crowd, but he’s growing older and his ticker’s time is running out. His one joy in life, besides loosely choreographed man-dance, is a stripper named Pam (Marisa Tomei). Their relationship is the typical over-eager-lap-dance-patron–who-thinks-the-stripper-likes-him meets the stripper-who-kinda-likes-the-customer-but-doesn’t-want-to-encourage-him-too-much. Over time they grow closer and the client/friend line begins to blur. There is also the case of the estranged daughter.

The film has a wonderfully concise beginning as the credits roll over photos and article cut-outs of the “The Rams” fame and glory days. We swiftly cut to 20 years later and we see how far the Ram has fallen, and the film wastes no time. This is another lean entry from Aronofsky, clocking in at 105 minutes (or 109, not sure what cut this was).

The Wrestler deals with the kind of character that I’ve only seen The Sopranos deal with truly effectively before, the inexorable fuck-up. Most stories that deal with sports, be they about addicts or wash ups or has beens,  focus on the tough path to the turn-around. Darren isn’t interested in sugar-coated bullshit though. This director is one who explores man’s need to accept his own nature, and nature itself. He also seems to welcome the fact that his characters sometimes are ones that simply aren’t going to change. Rare success stories aside, most addicts will only end up disappointing, most wash-ups aren’t going to reclaim glory, and no one is going to conquer death. Aronofsky is interested in characters who can find grace in acceptance, as he poetically examined in The Fountain, and re-explores here.

The more I look back and digest though, the more I think Darren found more success here. As sublimely beautiful as The Fountain is, a lot of its power lies in its visual poetics. While the character work in The Fountain is superb, The Wrestler finds a more human subject, one easier to relate to.  The Fountain’s subject; death, is a more abstract fear, and while we all try to conquer it, no one living really knows what that failure is like. We all face the fear of a life without success, and it is a fear based in cold pragmatic observation; most don’t make it big. With Aronofsky’s new film, we watch this character as he struggles to move on from his glory days and accept reality, to accept the rest of his life. We watch as life sends him a great big message that it’s time to move on from ‘The Ram” and reconcile with his daughter,  embrace his chance at love, and maybe work some more hours behind the Deli counter. Problem is, some people just aren’t going to move on. There is a certain sad grace though, in someone accepting their nature. Some people are just fuck-ups, and this is the story of one of them.

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