It’s freaking sinking. The whole place. Not a neighborhood or a section—the entire thing is slowly easing its way into the sea. Despite the imminent demise of the Venetian landscape, I had no problem covering the prestigious 63rd Venice Film Festival. To paraphrase George Costanza’s boss, Mr. Kruger, I wasn’t too worried about it.
Each day I had to take a water taxi from my hotel to the festival venues. And, unlike our beloved #173 bus on the South Side, the water taxi was always on time. The main building—or Sala Grande—was flanked by hundreds of golden winged lions and a massive red carpet for the stars. A thick wall held the droves of fans at bay.
Allen Coulter’s Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Bob Hoskins, was first on my list. Immediately before the start of the film, the stars of Hollywoodland entered to an obligatory ovation from the Venetian audience. In the movie, Affleck plays 1950s TV Superman George Reeves, who tragically and somewhat mysteriously committed suicide in 1959. The film explores the alternate theories surrounding the circumstances of his death. Brody, Lane, and Hoskins, as always, were excellent. While the film tends to drag in places, it succeeds in its portrayal of Reeves, and that is due in large part to the acting of Affleck. The role gave him something to work with in the way Larry Gigli did not. At the conclusion of the festival he received the Coppa Volpi, the award for best male actor.
Mentally drained from Hollywoodland, I stood on the dock waiting for the late-night water taxi. Another boat docked behind my aquatic transport, and four people emerged from the cabin, two young children and then a short man with poor posture and glasses. It was Spike Lee. Lee was no doubt in Venice to promote his 255-minute epic on Hurricane Katrina, When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts. Lee, unsurprisingly, went on to win the Horizons Documentary Prize. In the face of fame, I resisted any paparazzo inclination to whip out my camera. I also avoided channeling Christopher Walken by saying something tactless like, “Hey Spike! I got a Jungle Fever and the only prescription is Mo’ Better Blues,” or, “You did the right thing!” Well, you get the idea. Silent is how I remained during my initial brush with stardom.
Next on my agenda was Daratt (Dry Season), directed by Chad native Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. The film depicted a nation ravaged by a long and bloody civil war. Atim, the protagonist, must kill the man who murdered his father. His apprehension grows once he meets the broken and pious peasant his father’s murderer has become. Daratt uses a simple narrative to explore the consequences of war and the moral ambiguities that result from it.
In July, the Italian national soccer team won the World Cup. For that, I applaud them. As you might expect, the people of Italy saw this victory as reason to celebrate. And can you blame them? But some celebrate differently from others; in the theater, a fellow to my right saw this victory as an opportunity to wear the jersey of one of his favorite players. However, the gentleman to my left decided, in recognition of his nation’s glorious achievement, that Italy’s victory marked a good time to take his last shower of the new millennium. Despite his pungent body odor, I powered through. The fact that I enjoyed Daratt as much as I did while engulfed in stench is a testament to the film’s powerful message.
While returning from the film, I crossed paths briefly with writer/director Cameron Crowe. Before I had a chance to acknowledge him he was gone—aboard a private water taxi off into the sunset alongside one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. To put it bluntly, she was a 12 on the University of Chicago scale. As I boarded my own water taxi, with a few days left at the festival, I finally understood what Cameron Crowe has always known: It is better to be almost famous than nothing at all.
Part 2 of Oliver’s account will be published in the October 3 issue.