True/False 2015, Day 4: More false than true.
On the last day of the festival, my wife would sleep in and see just one film, while I saw a total of three. So I wound up seeing nine films over the weekend, which is pretty hard to do unless you live downtown and have absolutely no other obligations for the three or four days.
First up, in the morning, was The Visit, which stood out from most films because it was a completely fabricated scenario, yet it contained honest and very real commentary and interviews with actual experts, including scientists, politicians, theologians, and ethicists. Its subject was the hypothetical reaction of the people of the Earth to a visit from beings of another planet. No such being ever made an appearance in the film, and even though a selected human took a stroll around the inside of the visiting spacecraft, we saw very little of it, as well. Most of the Earthling’s experience was a series of illusions offered to make him feel at home.What the invisible alien saw was immediate restriction by the humans, who created a perimeter around their spacecraft to keep the curious, the scared, and the advantage-seekers away. The alien heard the experts explain what humans have done to less civilized or privileged people they have encountered in the past, and that we would very likely be afraid that the same fate awaited us by these visitors and their species. The alien heard stories of disease carried from one place to another by humans, and saw the human ambassador enter their craft wearing full haz-mat gear, for their protection as well as ours. Eventually the aliens left our planet without answering any of our questions about them. The reason for their hasty departure was offered by the film as a mystery, but I couldn’t help thinking that if I were visiting this planet and experienced what the subjects of this film did, I would want to get the hell away from here as fast as possible. This place is just too volatile for a peaceful coexistence.
The afternoon took us back to Cornell Hall for Heaven Knows What, a fictional story based on the real life of one of its actors, the main character Harley. She is homeless in New York City, addicted to heroine, and tormented by her boyfriend. After a suicide attempt at his encouraging, Harley spends time in a rehab facility in which she is tormented even more. She returns to the streets, and to a lifestyle that includes theft from convenience stores and from her drug supplier. The film was a voyeuristic look into the everyday lives of young people struggling to survive by the only means they know. It bent the rules of film storytelling by using as actors people who have lived the tale. In one sequence, Harley wakes up on a bus looking for her boyfriend and travel-mate, Ilya, and no one seems to know who she is talking about–including the bus driver who we had just seen stop the bus to let him off. Had she been hallucinating? At the end of the film, Harley sits down to a table where a group of people she knows from the streets is talking. She had left on the bus to escape one of them–the dealer she had stolen from days earlier–and he carries on as though it never happened. He probably didn’t even remember.
In the evening I returned alone, this time to Columbia’s Blue Note, for the film Best of Enemies. This one replayed the debates between William F. Buckley, Jr., and Gore Vidal during the 1968 U.S. presidential election party conventions. The outspoken right-wing Buckley and the prodding liberal Vidal were paired together by the struggling ABC network to help their news ratings. Things were so bad at ABC that the roof literally caved in on them–of their makeshift studio on the site of the Republican convention. The post-convention debates did earn ABC viewers, but the film presented the debates as ignoring the convention happenings altogether and being nothing more than brutal verbal attacks of one speaker by the other. Vidal at one point baited Buckley into an angry and obscene retort that he regretted until his final days. The debates resembled today’s clashes of explosive, opposing personalities on television, and began the era of news as entertainment–perhaps the greatest of all blurring of the true and the false.