One does not usually associate the University of Colorado’s Conference on World Affairs (CWA) with fisticuffs. The CWA is an annual gathering of really smart folks who talk about art, media, science, diplomacy, technology, environment, spirituality, politics, business, medicine, human rights, and pretty much everything else. They also talk about film. The usual attendees are far too urbane and sophisticated to participate in vulgar tongue lashing and ugly threats of violence.
But that’s exactly what happened in the spring of 2002 as the cottonwood trees were beginning to tease out their first buds and Roger Ebert was lording over the annual cinematic gabfest presented in association with the CWA known as Cinema Interruptus. Interruptus was conceived way back in 1975 by Roger Ebert himself along with Howard Higman who founded the CWA in 1948.
Here’s the Interruptus game: On Monday a film is shown from start to finish uninterrupted. On Tuesday, Ebert, after a short introduction of the film and the rules of Interruptus, starts the film. From that moment anyone in the audience can scream, STOP! Ebert stops the film and that audience member can talk about anything they want. Ensuing discussion is moderated by Ebert, and he decides when the film resumes. The process continues daily through Friday.
Interruptus is mixed bag. There are insightful moments that astound, instances of serendipitous illumination, and pervasive incoherent babblings by mouthy dilettantes who spend the rest of the year annoying people in local bars. Still, it is more fun than any film geek can likely imagine.
Now, what film was it that incited this sundry group of cinephiles and otherwise sedate citizens to such passionate argument and near hostility? That would be David Lynch’s California dream nightmare Mulholland Drive.
To call Lynch polarizing would be the ultimate understatement. But I made my peace with him long ago. Actually, I didn’t need to make peace with him, because I have been a Lynch fan from the start (which for me was seeing Eraserhead on a worn-out video tape in a smoke-filled apartment in Austin, Texas circa 1988).
Lynch is all about the nightmare. He’s not even being slightly cryptic about it, either. Just look at the opening of Mulholland Drive. The film begins with a number of couples in beige, mauve, and maroon ‘50s era garb swing dancing in front of swing dancing silhouettes with a purple background. As the swing music becomes distorted there are fuzzy images of Betty (Naomi Watts) over the swing dancers. The whole thing slowly dissolves into a tight shot of a maroon sheet with regular heavy breathing seeming to emanate from underneath. Two minutes and twenty-six seconds in and Lynch gives us a brief glimpse of a sleeper. It’s simple, clean, and fairly bullet proof: Mulholland Drive is a dream/nightmare from start to finish.
However, by the time the man behind Winkie’s makes his unforgettable appearance, most viewers have forgotten all about the maroon sheet covering the sleeping mouth breather.
Does this make Lynch and his dreamscape films less relevant? I can imagine a Film Studies sophomore clutching their dog-eared film theory textbook and ranting about how we shouldn’t care about films about dreams. I would disagree. We all dream. We all have nightmares. Lynch seems to want to know how they work, where they come from. He also likes to tweak the fallacy known as the American Dream in the process.
Back to 2002 and I’m sitting in Macky Auditorium in the shadow of Boulder’s famous flat irons watching a heated debate between a scruffy kid in dirty jeans and a middle aged dude with yellowed eyes go sour. They are arguing over whether Betty is a real character or an alter ego from Rita’s (Laura Harring) dream. They both seem surprisingly committed to their argument. Just before they head outside to injure one another, Ebert calms things down and resumes the film. Too bad, I would have enjoyed seeing them duke it out even though they were both wrong.
Ebert opted out of Interruptus permanently last year due to health issues. Hosting duties have been taken over by Seattle based film critic and editor of rogerebert.com Jim Emerson. He hosted the event last year and in 2007 and 2008 while Ebert was out and co-hosted with Ebert in 2009 and 2010. The film this year is the spy caper Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan based on a the novel by John le Carré and directed by Tomas Alfredson.
The Sixty-fourth Annual Conference on World Affairs will be held April 9-13, 2012 at the University of Colorado in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. All panels and performances are free and open to the public. You can find more information at www.colorado.edu/cwa. Spring is lovely in Boulder.
The NWFF’s Required Viewing program is offering What is This Thing Called Lynch?, a six week decent into the sordid mind of David Lunch. The two hour classes, meeting at 6:30pm, started last Monday, March 19, and run through April 23, but a source from the NWFF staff assures me you can still sign up if you don’t mind missing the first class. I say go for it, but remember that violence is never the answer.