TIFF ‘11 blog post - The dark of the moon

A hovering orbital platform.

I commented earlier on how much more in-person social this TIFF has been than the ones that preceded it. This is true in every aspect except one, and that aspect is me.

At ActionFest I hit on a new technique to both quickly create blog content and keep up on my own personal journal. It’s called copy and paste. I draft festival entries in my journal now, and export them wholesale to the blog – cutting out the naughty bits, of course. The style becomes a strange hybrid mix of internal and external monologue, and the cuts can be bloody, but on the whole I’m happy with the choice. (It’s a hell of a time saver, at least, for someone neurotic enough to not feel he’s completely experienced a festival unless he’s written about it from both the private and public perspective.)

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We aren’t coming this way again: Where The Streets Have No Name

HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that both times the 360 Tour has come through Toronto, Extreme Steve has called me up day-of and offered me a free ticket.

(Well, we all know the answer to that. It’s possible because Steve is, as ever, possibly the most generous human alive.)

Getting to do this show once was monumental; for doing it a second time, I have no words (besides a suggestion that “720” branded t-shirts should really be available to audience members who have seen both loops of the tour). Bono’s craggy, end-of-tour voice. “Hold Me / Thrill Me” in the Tron suit. A remix of “I’ll Go Crazy” that would’ve torn the roof off the Dome, if the roof had been closed. A 720 inventory, and all lights green.

#TIFF10, Day Eleven: Ab Aeterno

The stars above Atacama.

Between Nostalgia for the Light and Cave of Forgotten Dreams we might currently have the ability, in film, to peer into the depths of existence itself. Where Cave introduces the vertigo of time across the long breadth of human civilization and pre-civilization, Nostalgia goes off into the cosmic unknown, and obliterates the notion of “the present” under the cool starshine of the untold reaches of the a universe’s notion of time. It is a languid film, too soporific for the last Saturday of the Toronto International Film Festival, but a worthy companion piece to the earlier, more whimsical Cave nevertheless.

"All of the universe happened in the past," one scientist admonishes us early in the film, even if it is only microseconds ago. Our entire perception is based only on signals and data from behind us in the time stream; "the present" is an idea in our heads, zero-sum game we are playing with the universal cups and balls. "That’s the trap," this man says about our idea of the present.

Early in Nostalgia for the Light, in accelerated photography, we watch the entire night’s sky unfold above the Atacama Desert in Chile. At one point, the heavens seem to flip over on their backs, which must be an optical illusion, but unsettlingly underscores the vastness of our unknowns. In the same desert, women search for the skeletal remains of husbands and brothers who were “disappeared” under Pinochet’s regime. One elderly couple, never speaking, stares into the camera as the director tells us that they gave up their own children to Pinochet to save the life of their granddaughter, who is now an astronomer. Her parents’ bodies were never found, but she has two children. An archaeologist reminds us that at least some of the calcium in their bones - and in ours - was formed immediately after the Big Bang. Here are the bones of the universe, a map of time so vast it makes the 30,000 years in the Chauvet Cave seem like a trip to the corner store. And the map is in us.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: my guard and companion and earner of the coos of women for the past ten days.

As I went into the last/second-last night, one word: Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaashinggggggggggg. I am into the end-of-fest haze/blues / pre-birthday melancholy/ general odd Saturday night “I have a bad feeling” bad feeling.  Two more films last night, four more today; 40 down, 4 to go. I am into the pure process of it now; there is very little space left for singling out moments or even contemplating films as individual entities. They are all part of the stream now, the grand subspace stream of audio/visual nirvana. I took a one-hour layover at home, to throw open the curtains, open some windows, let some air in, and rally for the last charge.

It takes a bit of getting used to, the final Midnight Madness not being the last film. By rights, Julia’s Eyes should have been my last regular movie, and it would have been a fine one; there are plot contrivances galore - this is a “wait here while I go and check out the basement” movie, through and through - but jesus, that director can move. For my money, Guillermo Del Toro has found a more promising talent in Guillem Morales than he did in Bayona; I would certainly argue that Julia’s Eyes is a better-directed film than The Orphanage (no slouch itself). Any silliness in the storytelling is compensated for nicely by the sheer imagination of the visual design; shots are constructed for extraordinary dramatic impact and whole sequences are delightfully conceived and executed.

An early scene finds Julia wandering unnoticed into the middle of a circle of blind women who are in the change room at the community center and spilling expositional secrets. It’s a hokey setup, but it is nicely paid out as the chorus of women seems to become voices for Julia’s questions and then become menacing, and eventually fruitful, allies. Later in the film - spoilers! - Julia becomes temporarily blind, and throughout this extended portion of the movie, we never see another character’s face, just shoulders and backs. This is a surprisingly unsettling camera concept, and if the whole film is based on a kind of un-PC “seeing person’s nightmare of the life of the blind,” then at least it is effectively told, with a disproportionate quantity of care given to pushing the audience into analogous perceptual loss as we follow Julia on her journey. Julia’s Eyes boils cinema down to its most hauntedly visual, and derives a scary ride.

The dawn of time: Midnight Madness closes for 2010.

Enter the light

A crack pipe for a candle. Still from Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void.

Last year’s TIFF literally changed my life. Since earlier this year, when people ask me “why did you quit your job?”, the real answer is that during one week of TIFF ‘09, some things happened that forced my eyes open on what had gone out of my life; and then a month later, I went somewhere which confirmed my suspicions.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say “I saw the light.” I was already living a fairly grey, dismal existence, drifting further and further from where/who I wanted to be. I was already having a pretty amazing TIFF ‘09, new worlds open and good times had. And then on a day when sex and death were particularly raw wounds at that particular moment, I saw a film called Enter the Void, about which I’ve written plenty. It’s not necessarily the best movie ever made, though I’d argue it’s somewhere in the top fifty; but such considerations aside, let us say that on a personal level, sex and death and existence collided onscreen in a fusillade of candy-coloured light, in a big wide movie theatre with a big wide screen - and right then and there, all the chords of my mortal life played in unison.

This was not the way things had been, up till that moment. That was September 15, 2009, which was nearly a year ago, but feels like ages more.

So what then? I’d known for a long time that things were not well. Some quality of authenticity was lacking. I knew changes were needed, and I even knew what they were. But something woke up in me that day - an engagement, a connection to the tangible, a little lightsabre of the soul. Enter the Light.

Enter the Void - finger puppet edition.

A couple of days later, I got an email at 8:00 in the morning. It’s Steve - he’s got an extra ticket for U2’s 360 tour, that night. I’d mostly grown out of U2 years ago, didn’t think much of the new album, but free’s free. And again leaving aside all other considerations of time and place - I’d call that a hell of a show, by any man’s yardstick - let it be said that what followed for me at the SkyDome that night was a night-long existential orgasm, and that from my fresh-formed vantage point I was essentially watching Enter the Void: The Stage Show. For what seemed like an infinite moment that night - time and self stretching in all directions around me - I lived in the light. I remember running - yes, running - across town to get from the Dome to the Ryerson to see Symbol after the show was over, and I do recall that every single molecule of me had no mass. I was a beam. I flew.

U2 360 9-17-09.

So now then. The fall continues. The weather gets colder. A month later, I was in Germany. I spent a couple of weeks in Berlin with the woman I love and two good friends. I ate pretzels and drank thick beer; lunch was apfel cake. Nights were spent plunged into thirty dozen artthings and wild jaunts. This happened. On the day after Hallowe’en I was alone, on a train from Germany to Switzerland. I was listening to No Line on the Horizon - good concerts have that way of revealing the music to you - “Magnificent,” I believe - and I pulled out the Black Diary and wrote five or six points by which I will, I believe, live the rest of my life. I wrote a book of law - or better yet, made myself a map. I’ve added to and modified it since. But the work was done. The pipe was in the ground. The light was everywhere.


Out of the darkness, into the light. On the train from Berlin to Schaffhausen.

In Switzerland I stood on the banks of the Rhine and watched the river flow away to Rotterdam, my next stop - and understood, with soul-calming certainty, that the river goes there, and so do I. After Rotterdam I was back in Berlin, and spent the last day there all alone. Girlfriend was in Toronto, and Daniel and Brenda in Venice. I walked from one side of Berlin to the other on a dappled, breezy November day. The city was painted in colour and vision. When my plane left the next day, it flew back over the same track I’d walked, and the city gleamed with golden light. Pathways across the earth, and back home.

Bono in the TRON suit.

About a year ago, then, I got my life damn good and changed. It’s too much to ask that every year, every TIFF, every big grand thing like this, be like that. But boy, I’m sure grateful one of them happened, and that it happened to me.