By Paul O’Rourke
Ed. note: Telluride Magazine contributor Paul O’Rourke covered the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day Weekend. This is the second of three installments in which he discusses the films presented.
I have several theories about where the title Armageddon Time came from; it doesn’t, in the long or short run, matter, only that it suggested something fairly ominous may be in the offing. James Gray’s wonderful film has been called semi-autobiographical and it’s been labeled a “coming of age” movie about Paul (Banks Repata), a young, precocious, defiantly independent, often obnoxious and felonious (on one occasion anyway) kid who grows up in the early 1980s in New York (I suppose that’s what’s ominous), and who, we must assume, the director once resembled.
After seeing his film, I asked the director, “were you as much of a shithead as Paul was in the movie?” Gray smiled (he’d probably been asked the question before) and returned, “I was worse. And, by the way, the dumpling scene really happened.” To understand this is enough reason to see this great film. But there are a few more good excuses to see Armageddon Time.
Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong (perhaps best known for his role in the HBO series, Succession) are superb as Paul’s parents; and though they love him, the two are quite incapable of corralling or completely understanding their son. Anthony Hopkins (who never disappoints) is Paul’s Jewish immigrant grandfather, who is, perhaps, the one person in his world Paul respects and who provides him with the moral compass he wants but can’t seem to follow. Paul, you see, wants more than anything to be an artist. And while we never see this come fully to fruition, the final scene gives us a small glimmer of hope that his dream—and the grandfatherly advice—just may take hold someday. If James Gray’s success, intellect, and personality are any measure, we can be assured they did.
I’m reluctant to admit it, but I enjoy a good cry over a good movie; the tear factor plays a part in how I assess the merits of any film, I suppose. Living, directed by Oliver Hermanus and starring the great Bill Nighy, got me; it got me good.
Mr. Williams (Nighy) is a middle-aged government bureaucrat, a competent one by the looks of it, and he is a bit lonely. His family and his co-workers respect him but never attempt to penetrate his slightly steely exterior with anything approaching friendship, let alone affection. When Mr. Williams learns he has six months to live, he has a sort of stoic epiphany, if such a thing were possible: he’s not lived, really. And, of course, he sets out to do so, with hardly what you could call success, at least at first.
This wonderful adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, Ikiru, finds its spirit, its essence, in Mr. Williams’ final quest for life’s meaning, his search for happiness and fulfillment. That we can experience his final wish coming true, a kind of “build it and they will come” ah-ha moment gives Living that very special and impactful sensation that only great cinema can provide.
Perspective and orientation are key to music as well as film appreciation. I went into Todd Field’s Tár (Field’s first film in sixteen years) with the understanding that the movie was semi-biographical, that there is (or was) a real Lydia Tár. After seeing Cate Blanchett (who received her well-deserved tribute on Saturday evening at the Palm) as Lydia, I was amazed with what Blanchett had to put into and endure with the character, only to learn that Lydia Tár, in the film, was a fictional composite of some of the world’s great female conductors. The question then becomes: Who is Lydia Tár?
Beyond the fact Tár is the well-respected, strong-willed (if not domineering) conductor of a major symphony orchestra and a classical music scholar, she is the father in a family of three, and she is obsessed with sound. Cate as Lydia understands sound; she is fascinated by the most intricate of notes and she is completely committed to the making of beautiful, emotionally uplifting, majestic, and life-altering sound. Sound was Lydia’s passion. Music gave Lydia a career, a handsome income, a well-deserved reputation, admiration, and adulation, and, as we learn, it was her ultimate undoing. As someone once said, “when you get to the top of the mountain, the only way from there is down.”
Tár is Lydia’s story, of course; it’s a very, very good movie. But it’s really Cate Blanchett’s story to tell. That she became all that Lydia was—and there were many sides to Lydia—and that there may be no other actor of her time that could have been as good a Lydia as Cate was leads to my prediction that this Academy Award-winning Actress will walk off with another Oscar next year. Thank you for Lydia, Cate; thank you for Tár.
TFF Trivia: the Luddy Lump
If you happened by the Sheridan Chop House this past weekend and were puzzled by what appeared to be the disfigured head of Daffy Duck—with a lump on its head and piano keys for teeth—and “LUDDY LUMP” etched on the sidewalk, and don’t know the story, here goes.
Back in the earlier years of the TFF, colorful banners flew over the festival’s several venues, replicas of artful festival program covers. Well, during one year—I’m not certain which one—one of those flags was lifted up and out of its mooring near the opera house and came to earth nearby. Only before it hit ground, it hit the top of TFF’s Director, Tom Luddy. Knocked him out cold. Fortunately, Tom recovered, and actually found some humor in his injury and the story behind it. From that day forward and as an enduring TFF tradition, each year someone associated with the festival surreptitiously (in the dark of night we have to imagine) renders a “Luddy Lump” drawing on the sidewalk, near to the spot where Luddy received his lump. And now you know the story.