The EbertFest screenings consist of an introduction before, and a Q&A after the movies. The Q&A’s are usually the filmmaker and a moderator who asks questions and then takes questions from the audience. Welcoming us to every screening is Roger’s wife, Chaz, a bundle of energy determined to pump up the crowd and offer up interesting stories about the films being shown. So far, the highlight of Chaz’s introductions has been her Oprah imitation, which you can see streaming over at EbertFest’s website.
On Thursday, Chaz let the dogs out with two features starring man’s best friend. The first was Umberto D, Vittorio De Sica’s 1952 neorealist masterpiece about an old man and his dog. De Sica shows the human decency of the downtrodden as they make their way through their existences in Italy. Umberto D is about to be evicted by his landlady for unpaid rent. His only friends are the pregnant maid who cleans his landlady’s house and his dog, Flike. Flike is played by several completely different looking dogs, and is designed for the maximum “awww” factor.
Umberto D extracts water from your tear ducts by using devastating scenes like Umberto D’s inability to beg for money or his numerous attempts to get rid of Flike. It builds to a powerful climax involving Umberto, Flike and an oncoming train. Whether Umberto and Flike go the way of Anna Karenina is for you to discover. Our Far Flung Correspondent post-film Q&A spent some time discussing what scenes choked them up and sent them running for the Kleenex.
The second dog feature was an adaptation of the novel My Dog Tulip. An animated feature hand drawn by its director and narrated by Christopher Plummer, Tulip is a must-see for dog lovers. It unflinchingly and lovingly details the 16 year relationship between the narrator (J.R. Ackerly, the author of the book) and his dog, a high strung Alsatian named Tulip. Tulip was rescued from a mean owner, and has behavioral problems that make Marley and Me look like Romper Room. Aided by the late Lynn Redgrave as his sister and Isabella Rossellini as some kind of dog whisperer vet, Plummer and the film discuss every aspect of Tulip’s plumbing, digestive and reproductive system. In other words, cartoon piss and dog shit fly everywhere, and there are scenes of doggy style that one audience member suggested should be in a porno. Director and animator Paul Fierlinger pointed out in the Q&A with his wife, Sondra and moderator Matt Zoller Seitz, “dogs are all about eating, dumping and humping.”
Fierlinger’s Q&A was outrageous, featuring tales of drowned puppies, dogs who won’t bark and friends letting friends eat their own dogs. It left the audience speechless. He also caused a spirited debate during the Umberto D Q&A over whether the film was set in pre- or post-war Italy. The audience was on Fierlinger’s pre-war side, while no one came to Ebert Presents At the Movies co-host Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's post-war side until Far Flung Correspondent Ali Arikan provided numerous items to support it.
I skipped Tiny Furniture on Thursday, but I did attend a karaoke session at Bentley’s with the Far Flung Correspondents and several other guests. Highlights included Rachael Harris’ cover of Salt N’ Pepa’s What A Man, Chaz Ebert getting her SuperFreak on, and director Robbie Pickering channeling Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre (which explains my comment from yesterday). Matt Seitz, Pickering and I sang Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer. Paul and Art can sleep at night.
Speaking of sleeping at night: Last night I did not. It’s 8:52 AM and I’m delusional from sleep deprivation. Still, I’m off to see today’s features. I’ll find some way to slip out and re-register into my hotel between features 2 and 3 at the Fest.
Later today: Incriminating Pictures, Revisiting Ohio and Meeting Mr. Ebert.