Stuck In Between Two Cultures

16 09 2005

Without Either Dictionary

I spent an interesting evening last night at the motion picture Academy, where they were running a Preferred Director’s Cut of the 1975 Michalangelo Antonioni film THE PASSENGER, which has been restored by Sony Classics for a relase in October. The evening was hosted by USC’s own Marhsa Kinder, and featured a panel discussion of sorts with Antonioni (who, because of stroke ten or so years ago, could not talk), his wife and the movie’s star, Jack Nicholson.

And that, my friends, is where the “fun” happened.

As anyone who has talked with Marsha can testify, she is one of the brightest, more comprehensive and holistic thinkers around. If I leave a conversation with her understanding 25% of what she’s said, I consider myself elevated. She’s also turned me on to an absolutely incredible Spanish film, TRAIN OF SHADOWS, a rumination on what is real in film and how editing can manipulate that sense.

Jack Nicholson, on the other hand, comes from a different land, a world in which you feel your responses to things so you can perform them. If you talk about them later (and I get the feeling that he’s really good at that — as good as Marsha is about discussions about the intellectual impact of films), you do so over a scotch or something more illegal.

The two approaches were bound to conflict and they did with results both horrifying and humorous. By the end, the audience wasn’t sure whether to laugh, boo, or cry.

The evening started off well enough with Marsha’s speech about Antonioni and his career. It then followed with a thunderous standing ovation as the panelists came out and the crowd showed Antonioni their appreciation for his films and his presence at the Academy. Marsha then asked Antonioni’s wife a few questions which were answered with feeling and brio.

Then Marsha asked Nicholson a question. He answered with an entertaining but completely rambling (I want some of whatever he’s smoking) set of memories of his fun times with the director. Marsha looked petrified at points, unsure whether to stop this stream of consciousness. It was horrific on one hand (it certainly could have used some control) but the audience was laughing.

Eventually he asked whether he was going on too long and Antonioni and his wife basically told him “Yeah, shut the fuck up already.”

Then Marsh did the unthinkable. She asked him another question “Why has this film not been widely shown in the previous 30 years?” (that’s not an exact quote, but you get the idea). I suspect that she knew something about Nicholson’s participation in holding back release and he seemed to acknowledge as much as he haltingly started to answer the question.

And then he decided “Hell with this” and proceeded to rambling again, this time with a tone which seemed to condemn the question and questioner. It was embarrassing and the audience was less entertained than before.

Eventually, after trying to cut off the questioning several times, Marsha finally announced that we had to start the movie and the audience applauded — as much to show their relief that the torture was over, as well as to reiterate their admiration for the director.

It was an interesting evening, made all the more bizarre by the fact that President Bush’s speech from the Gulf War, uh — Disaster, Zone.

I was everywhere without a dictionary last night.

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