by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum
In a ritual that’s as hallowed a part of the Sundance Film Festival as 8:30 a.m. treks up the sunny slope of Main Street or the sight of Christina Ricci valiantly waiting on velvet-rope party lines, the showbiz media chew over the Sundance Purity Question – i.e., When a festival is this connected to Hollywood, can the movies it showcases really be called independent? To those of us who think that the synergistic tango of Hollywood and independent cinema is one of the American popular-culture triumphs of the last decade, the best answer may simply be to say that movies, with rare exceptions, have never been independent – of commerce, of stars, of the system that nurtures their creation. The economics of filmmaking all but dictate dependence in one form or another.
The real question is what one does with it. These thoughts, and other far less responsible ones, were spawned by the most exciting film I saw at Sundance this year. It’s called ”The Kid Stays in the Picture” and it’s a brash and mesmerizing documentary about the rise and fall of Robert Evans, the former geek-grinned matinee idol who in the late ’60s became head of production at Paramount Pictures, helping to bring to the screen some of the greatest movies ever made (”The Godfather,” ”Chinatown”) and, in the process, doing more than anyone else in a leisure suit to usher in the New Hollywood. The entire film consists of this coiffed post-hippie last tycoon, who speaks in the sputtery cadences of a manic jewelry salesman, reading excerpts from his autobiography, his memories of art wars, babes, and cocaine refracted through a barrage of clips and photographs that becomes a kaleidoscopic scrapbook of pure, decadent glitz. ”The Kid Stays in the Picture” is a candy store for film buffs – it’s like the E! version of ”Citizen Kane.” Steeped in the grandeur of Evans’ ego, it reveals that the key word in the New Hollywood was always Hollywood.
Speaking of which, have the creators of ”Chuck & Buck” gone mainstream? Not exactly, but with ”The Good Girl,” starring Jennifer Aniston as a down-home pixie stuck in a failing marriage and an even more miserable job at a hilariously downscale shopping mart, director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White have crafted a comedy of winning delicacy and heart. It’s a smooth move for them and for Aniston. Film festivals can always use a good love-it-or-hate-it conversation piece. This year it was ”Gerry,” Gus Van Sant’s beautiful, snail-paced, monosyllabic art stunt about two guys (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) who get lost in the California desert. It’s Andy Warhol meets Ansel Adams meets ”Blair Witch” meets Beckett, and though the film flirts with testing your patience on purpose, those who give it a chance may get hooked – especially by the haunting finale.