Fear & Loathing At TIFF 2013, Part 2: In The End, Every Festival Is The Same
We haven't even reached the U.S. Canadian border and the trip has already turned into a Kafkaesque nightmare turned FX series.
I desperately need a drink. My hands are trembling at the wheel and my foot has this strange twitch thing going on. I'm involuntarily pumping the gas pedal, driving erratically, driving like a drunk under a heavy bender. But I'm sober and I'm sure I'd drive a hell of a lot better if only I could get my lips wrapped around my magical flask.
But the Canadian border control officers are assholes. I've already had my car ransacked on my way to Fantasia the previous month and was almost taken into custody and on charges of smuggling illegal pornography into the country.
The pornography was a binder full of soft-core erotic pinup illustrations that I had drawn and planned on gifting to the hospitality team at the festival.
There was a watercolor painting of a topless woman wrestling with a lion that the border control claimed was an image depicting bestiality.
So I was a good boy this time around. I have my lap top, my camera, some shirts, some underwear, and nothing else. I didn't even risk packing any Advil, toothpaste, or shaving cream.
But my father brought his gun and he may have just killed a man with it.
The drive had been going fine for the first six hours. Strange but fine. We were actually talking like two normal human beings, which for my father and I was the strange part.
We were somewhere in upstate New York, somewhere around the Catskills maybe. It had gotten pretty dark out and the road was mostly open with hardly any traffic around us.
Some guy in a Mustang came up behind us and he had his high beams on. Since it's a law of nature that every guy who owns a Mustang or Pick Up truck is an asshole, he was driving aggressively, riding our asses.
His high beams were blinding and completely unnecessary. I changed lanes to let him pass but he changed over with me.
I couldn't get him off my tail so I pulled over to the side.
He stopped ahead of us, waiting for us to pass him again as if it were a dare. He blinked his high beams on and off as a taunt.
I figured he was either some drunken backwoods asshole or a jerk off 16 year old rich kid trying to play some silly game of chicken.
I kept my station wagon in park for nearly a full ten minutes. But that Mustang also continued to sit ahead of us. .
Was Rutger Hauer's character from The Hitchhiker driving this thing? And where the hell did all of the traffic go?
My father and I were losing patience so I decided to floor it in a futile attempt to gun it past the guy.
But it wasn't realistic to expect a 1995 Buick Century to outrun a 2008 Mustang.
The instant my steel yacht on wheels passed the Ford, the crazy man driving it flicked his high beams back on and went straight into pursuit.
The fucker kept revving the engine, pushing the front of his car up within a few feet from my rear bumper, threatening to run us off the road.
This wasn't a joke anymore. This asshole was threatening our lives with very real and immediate danger.
My father yelled at me to let go of the gas and cut the wheel.
So I did.
The Mustang swung around to the passenger side of my car.
My father yelled at me to floor it again.
So I did.
My father yelled at me to make a zig zag to keep the shit head from being able to fall behind us again.
So I did.
My father yelled at me to roll the electric windows down.
So I did.
And then my father pulled out a Smith and Wesson model 29 .44 magnum revolver. This gun is huge. It's Dirty Harry's gun, it's Robert Ginty from The Exterminator's gun, it's Travis Bickle's gun. It's what they use to kill elephants in Africa for Christ's sake.
My father took aim through the open window and fired at the Mustang.
My father unloaded three rounds, the massive explosions tearing through my right eardrum deafening me on one side completely.
The mustang swerved off the road behind us disappearing into the dark.
We didn't stop.
Maybe the driver died, maybe he didn't. We weren't going to pull over again to find out.
And now I know that my dad is carrying a gun to the border, a gun that was only fired a few hours ago, my entire car now reeking of cordite.
Neither of us has spoken a word since which partially due to the fog bank we later hit as we made our way up the mountains. It was pure white out conditions, the cloudy mist so thick that we couldn't see more than five feet ahead of us in any direction. We could only tell that we were traveling on a steep incline by the sense of inertia with the road lines as our only guide to determine the curves of the highway.
We couldn't pull over to the shoulder as there was no telling if there was even any shoulder to pull over onto. Had I moved a few more feet to either side and we could have been heading straight off of a cliff for all we knew.
So we plugged forward, our emergency flashers on, praying to the god we don't even believe in that we didn't get nailed from behind, that our Mustang madman wasn't still out there looking for us.
It was foreboding. I couldn't help but wonder if we had crossed over into some other dimension or possibly hell itself.
I was half expecting to come across some giant spider monster like in The Mist. Part of me even worried that there would never be an end to it.
But there was, and now here we are, only 2 miles away from the border.
I pulled the car over to the side for a moment to confront my father on what had just happened.
I take a deep breath, slowly inhaling, and counting 3 Mississippi before exhaling, a trick I've been taught by another fucked up film kid who suffers from constant panic attacks.
I try to collect myself so I can handle this like the sensible and rational adult that I am.
Sensibly and rationally, I turn my father and say, "What the fuck you god damn fucking asshole? Are you out of your fucking mind? You unbelievable shit!"
His response is that I rake the sand of my cunt. He pulls a flask out from his pocket and hands it me.
I unscrew the top notch and down half the contents. The harsh bourbon lights a fire in my chest. It tastes like gasoline, it tastes like gut rot, it tastes like a hangover.
So I continue, "And you're a cheap bastard to boot. What's in this, Old Crow? You couldn't even have sprung for Bean? How are we going to cross the border now? If they decide to search my car, we're fucked."
Unphased, my dad only says, "We'll be fine. You just play it cool, take another nip will ya?"
He hands me the flask again and I do what I'm told.
My father fishes his hand back into his pocket and pulls out a pair of wire rim reading glasses. He puts them on his face and reaches over to the back seat to grab a leather satchel that he brought along. He retrieves a thick paperback novel, some generic John Gresham supermarket trash.
I can only shake my head at the stupidity of this and ask, "What are you, Clark Kent? We're going to clear border patrol because you're wearing glasses and reading a fucking book?"
He answers, "You better get your shit together, Greg, because the gun is the least of our concerns. I've got a brick of prime California kush in my luggage. And I'll tell what really looks suspicious, a big fucking station wagon pulled over two miles away from the border at 2am. Now chew a piece of gum, smoke a cigarette, and we'll be ice from here on out."
And that's what I do. But first I pull a Fantasia T-shirt over my button up and rummage through the back of my car and find some Independent Filmmaker and Fangoria magazines that I toss around on the floor. I do what little I can to make it obvious that this is the car of a geeky film kid who's innocently on his way to the big film festival.
Five minutes later, we're at the border and another 5 minutes after that, we're in Canada.
Dad was right; we went through without a single hitch. We just smuggled a ton of a weed, a huge fucking gun, and who knows what else into Canada.
We find a funky little motel called The Palm Tree to shack up for the night. I was immediately attracted to it from the highway by the giant kitschy neon sign and accompanying fake palm trees. I had wanted to stop and stay there on my last trip to Montreal.
I finish off the rest of my dad's flask before I pass out. We'll finish our drive to Toronto tomorrow.
CHAPTER 5: I BET YOU THINK THIS BLOG IS ABOUT YOU
It's opening night at the Toronto International Film Festival and the entire city is under siege by celebrities, players, media types, and the usual assortment of star fuckers. It took me most of the afternoon to make my way through the crowds and pick up my press badge from the TIFF Lightbell office and I'm learning very quickly that my internet blogger status won't be getting me very far here.
This is the big leagues and I was just spoiled at Fantasia.
I'm wondering if my level of credentials will get me into much of anything out here. I'm assuming my only viable options here are to attend the mass press junkets where lines of bloggers ask boring celebrities boring questions for boring answers. And I could attend the overbooked early morning press screenings but who the hell I am kidding, I'm going to be hung over to watch movies at 8 a.m.
Which is all fine as I have no desire to watch and review films anymore. Does the internet really need another fucking critic? Every one is a social commentator now; everyone thinks their opinion matters, that they're somehow special and unique. Sure, I'll review one or two films so I can keep getting my press badges and free hotel. But all of these films, I'll be able to torrent them soon enough.
I'm here trying to sell my book, trying to sell any number of film ideas, trying to keep my name relevant in this big fucked scene.
But, the truth of it is that these festivals always end up being the same for me. Well, that is if you overlook the fact that I'm a shit magnet who's always finding himself in all manner of trouble.
Beyond the vaginas to other dimensions, IDF espionage, Japanese ghosts, and serial killers, it's only my film career that's completely imaginary. These festivals hardly ever offer any palatable opportunity for me, or anyone else in a similar standing for that matter.
I always end up at similar looking bars with the same people from the same scenes, hopelessly networking and socializing with solely self serving intentions.
And that's where I am right now.
While all of the major players are out at the big premiere of Jim Jarmusch's new vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive, I'm getting plastered at the Drake Sky Yard, a rooftop patio bar located at the uber hip Drake Hotel in downtown Toronto. Everything about this place is ultra cool and I find it kind of intimidating.
Everything is just perfectly cool, the artwork is cool, the food is cool, the drinks are cool, the bar layout is cool.
I don't belong here.
And I'm talking to the same festival programmers, bottom tier directors, fledgling DPs, and fellow film critics that I always find myself talking to at these events. They share their stories from Venice and talk about their excitement for Austin, the increasing expenses of going to Seoul, and the rising influence of Germany. This seems to be all that these people do, fly from one festival to the next, mostly on their own dollar, hoping for some type of chance of getting into the big leagues. What that chance specifically is and how it'll get them ahead eludes us all. We don't even know what the big break is that we're all dreaming of.
It's a goddamn rat race.
The only major difference in this instance is that I'm surrounded by nearly every fellow writer at my website. Oddly enough, I don't know many of them, and they don't know me. They all know my name though. I'm the crazy guy at Twitch. I'm novel curiosity for some, an awesome rebel to others, and an embarrassing annoyance to most.
My editor suggested that I try to keep my identity concealed if possible. Most people think I'm just a pen name for someone else. Even at Twitch, few other writers believe that I'm a living breathing person. And my editor thinks it'd be best if we keep it that way for a while. He tells me that a sense of mystery will keep the articles intriguing, that people are having fun speculating and playing detective on who's actually responsible for this shit. Why ruin that?
But I know the truth, they're ashamed of me. I'm the black sheep geek show act. I'm the guy biting off live chicken heads and spitting them back out at the audience while shitting into my hand and tossing it at the ringleader and the other circus performers who are actually working on a wage rather than being the alcoholic who's being paid in booze. I'm the mutant child chained away in the basement playing with decapitated Barbie dolls and masturbating to the underwear section of Sears catalogues.
So fuck it, I've gone back to my other alter ego, the one and only Uzi Silverstein. I lie and tell a few aspiring screenwriters that I'm interesting in optioning their new scripts.
I tell a fellow critic and fledgling producer that I just bought the rights to Stephen King's newest book.
And then I spot one of my many adversaries in this film scene, Matthew Neumann. It sounds like a made up name because it is a made up name. I've heard that his first name was originally Mordechai but he later changed it in his teens after a rough bout in middle school.
Normally in these social situations, Neumann treats me like everyone else treats me, like that mutant child in the basement. I'm usually the one to approach him with an open hand and a friendly hello only to have him roll his eyes and walk away. Or even worse, there have been times when I've been in conversations with filmmakers only to have this nut sack walk over and explain to them that I'm just a wacky bottom feeder who they're better off ignoring.
And now for the first time in all of the ten years that I've known the prick, he's approaching me. He's walking over to me with a big shit-eating grin.
"Oh, hey Greg! Look at you! You're finally making your way out of Philadelphia? And you're not interning here? Wow. Looks like someone's moving up in the film world? "
His friendliness is patronizing. I can see him holding back his laughter with every word. His fat fucking head bobs up and down like a hood ornament with every infliction of tone in his voice. He looks like a villain from a Hanna Barbara cartoon. And he is definitely fucking with me.
It takes five seconds later for me to figure out why when he introduces his girlfriend. It's Emmy, also referred to once as "M."
I met Emmy at the Philadelphia film festival last year. I took a liking to her, although that's probably an understatement. I fell head over heels for her although I'm not sure that's the right phrase either. Obviously, I don't wear heels.
I don't know if I can say that things went bad, she simply disappeared. Maybe she finally caught on that I was nuts. Then again, she's trying to work within the Philly film community and I'm the guy who's made a public habit of pissing on it. She probably had to distance herself from me to keep her job and move forward.
But she never said as much, she just stopped answering my calls. We had a good last date and I never heard a word from her again. I seem to have that effect on a lot of women. My second fiancé left Christmas morning one year and I simply never saw her again.
Emmy doesn't say hello. She tugs at Neuman's arm to suggest that they walk away. She might be lame enough to date an asshole like this, but she's not dumb enough to not understand what he's doing right now.
This is petty and low. This is high school behavior. This is why I want to knock his teeth down his fucking throat.
Emmy is still just as radiant as ever. She's dressed elegantly and beautifully and I immediately miss her lips on mine.
But what hurts the most is that she's wearing the necklace I gave her on our last date, a handmade sterling silver Mexican day of the dead necklace with elaborate strands of little skulls that drape down past her neckline into her prominent cleavage. It's a beautiful piece of jewelry, a macabre work of art really. It meant a lot to me. I bought it years ago through my Cash for Gold shop with the hope that I'd meet a woman worthy enough to wear it one day. I thought Emmy was that woman and the night I gave it to her was the last night I saw her. And now here she is, still wearing it.
My only comfort is that Emmy might be an 8 in Philadelphia, but she's a 5 in Toronto.
She can barely meet my eyes when she does finally say hi. She's just as uncomfortable as I am with this, with Neumann using her as a prop to humiliate me.
Neumann looks past me when he talks to me. I'm beneath him, literally and figuratively. I always have been.
"You'll have to excuse us, Greg. I have to go talk to Lucky McGee before his screening. I think I'm going to try and buy Cheerleaders Must Die tonight."
And with that, Neumann and Emmy walk off into the crowd of well-dressed pretty star fuckers.
And I go back to doing what I always do at film festivals, drinking while complaining about the general status of my life/film career with all of the other disgruntled bottom feeders while we all pretend that we don't care that we've never made it and never will.
I spend the next hour or two aimlessly wandering around the super hip patio bar, but mostly, I'm just gawking at all of the beautiful Canadian women. Really, it's staggering; it's intimidating, and a bit frustrating. It's unfair how attractive this country's women are. I've traveled the world, lived in Japan, L.A., Austin, New York and I have never seen anything like this. Both Toronto and Montreal, all of the women are just perfect looking. The way they wear their makeup, the way they dress, the way they smell, and the way they talk. I have to set realistic goals for myself. I know I'm not going to land any big deals out here, I'm probably not going home with any screenplays sold or landing any major job contacts, but I can go home having heard a woman tell she's cumming in French.
There are people from all over the world hanging around, but you can still tell who's a local. Mostly since Canadian women don't treat their bodies like coloring books. It's jarring to see so many attractive women whose skin doesn't look like the tagged up side of a city bus. As much as I like reading comic books, I've never had much of any desire to have sex with one.
And then I spot yet another colleague from home, the city of brotherly mother fucking love.
It's Danny, a fellow cynic and drunk. The last time I saw him back at Sundance, we stole a handle of whiskey and a snow mobile.
He's sitting at a table with David, artistic director of another big Canadian film festival. David looks he should be a lead singer for a Dutch death metal band, either that or a vender of horror film merch at conventions, the super intense guy with a table selling weirdo VHS shot soft-core slasher bootlegs dubbed on DVD.
David is a hugely influential and popular man within the film scene. He's also one of the most genuine, friendliest, most empathetic people in the community. He's a breath of fresh air amongst this crowd. He's simply a nice, good dude. There are no airs about him, any patronizing sycophancy, or snide arrogance, just passion.
David is an admirer of Danny; we all were at one point. But I can tell already that Danny is well past three sheets to the wind. He's the plastic bag in American Beauty, he's a wreck.
But David is there with him and he doesn't getting embarrassed. He doesn't care about the scene and how he's perceived. So he laughs with Danny, never at Danny.
Danny waves me over to sit with them.
"Well, Greg, you know our betting pool is still going here. Can you just hurry up already? I really need the hundred bucks. Hell, if this turns out like Sundance, maybe I can win my bet tonight and actually pay for my own drinks this time."
David shakes my hand. "Good to see ya, man. The art you gave me looks great on my walls. Thanks again."
"Glad you like it."
David follows up, "What's this betting pool Danny's talking about?"
I answer him, "Well, I'm glad you're not in on it then. Danny thinks I've got a death wish and that I'm going to get myself killed sometime over the next year or two. He and a bunch of other programmers and critics have been taking bets on whether I'm going to have a complete psychotic meltdown and how I'll end up offing myself, intentionally or not."
With the genuine sincerity that he's know for, David says, "That's not really funny at all."
I shrug my shoulders, "Yeah, but what is anymore?"
A waitress comes over to take our order. David announces that the next round is on him.
Danny has a full drink in front of him but downs it in a single gulp before telling the waitress that he'll have another one.
I have to ask, "Having the usual Johnny Walker, Danny? I think I might join you on that."
Danny makes a raspberry sound before saying, "Around all of these assholes? I need something with more kick. It's a Long Island Iced Tea kind of night for me."
I'm glad that someone else is going to compete with me for being the biggest embarrassment of the party.
Danny continues, "If you need any material to write about, you just tell me. You want to know how and why Jerry got fired from Magnolia, you just ask."
David, ever the voice of reason, tries to laugh it off and assures Danny that's not going to be necessary.
Danny proposes, "Do you want me to punch the waitress? I will."
David tries to steer the conversation away from this dangerous game of dare. We both know these aren't idle threats. Danny's unpredictable, even more so than I.
And that's when I notice Danny's date next to him. I've never seen her before. She looks foreign; I'm guessing Czech, maybe Yugoslavian. She's pretty in a sickly, eastern European super model kind of way. I bet her diet mostly consists of brown rice, coffee, cigarettes, and percosets. She's dyed her hair jet black and is wearing more eye liner than Robert Smith. I can see the faint remains of scarring from self-cutting on her arms and I'm pretty sure her face carries a permanent expression of indifferent boredom.
Danny might be a mess, but he has no shortage of wacky, significantly younger groupies who follow him around, although I'm partly concerned that she's going to slit her wrists here at the bar.
I ask, "Who's your friend here, Danny?"
He tells me her name but it's nine syllables long and nothing but vowels pronounced with strange tongue rolls. There's no way I'm going to get it right or remember it after tonight, so I don't bother asking him to repeat it.
She's totally disengaged from the party. But then again, she's fitting in with just about everyone else at the bar being that she's spending all of her time playing on her smart phone, busily texting away to strangers elsewhere.
Out of nowhere, she looks up and with a heavy accent and not looking at anyone in particular, she says, "I'm really high right now. I just got a hit from the best joint I've ever smoked in my life back at the bathroom. I'm trying to score more right now. I got the number of the guy who's dealing it. It's really awesome stuff. Does anyone want to go in with me? He's going to be here in a minute or two."
David looks tempted and there's some hesitation with his decline. Probably because I'm at the table and he's scared that I'll write about it.
The waitress comes back with our round and Danny again downs yet another Long Island Iced Tea before ordering a refill.
I hadn't noticed that more and more people have been sitting down at our table, all of them trying to talk to David, all of them vying for his attention. Most of them look young. Most of them have that self-important indie filmmaker look. Most of them are trying to schmooze David. Some of them are already pulling out their screeners and handing them to him.
I was hoping to catch up with David some more, mostly because I don't have anyone else to talk to. But I know my time with him is officially over for the rest of the night.
Danny's starting to go cross-eyed. He's done for the night. He'll probably pass out in the hotel lobby while his lady friend gets high and fingers herself while watching videos of Chinese women stomping kittens with their high heels on her cell phone back in the hotel room.
Danny's date turns to me, her pupils dilated, staring at the sky. She asks, "Do you smoke?"
"Want to split a quarter with me?"
"How much is he selling for?"
"I don't know. He's not going to tell me in his texts. You can ask in person, I think that's him right there."
I turn around. I see my dad approaching the table.
He sits down. His eyes tell me to keep my fucking mouth shut, that we don't know each other.
He's wearing a torn up denim jacket that has his old biker colors on that back.
I have no idea what's going on, but I don't think my father came here to bond with me anymore.
TO BE CONTINUED ...