Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Twilight Premiere

Two days after Twilight premiered in LA (and the night before it was released in theaters), the Austin Film Society hosted a special Austin Premiere at the IMAX theater complete with Q & A afterwards with the director, Catherine Hardwicke, followed by the Twilight After Party at the D Berman Art Gallery. I attended this special engagement just a few weeks ago but the story actually starts over a year ago.

October 2007. Rand buys me the three Stephanie Meyer's young adult vampire novels (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse) that he's heard such good buzz about. I read them all that weekend, thoroughly enjoying their angst-romance-focused plot and reveling in the inherently sexy nature of vampires while barely speaking to, let alone feeding, my family.

December 2007. I purchase the trio for my sister's birthday suspecting she will be equally enthused. She is. (After all, she did, --at least in my limited sphere of existence-- coin the term Angst Romance. We both agree that the quintessential modern Angst Romance is Mal & Inarra in Joss Whedon's Firefly [who, coincidentally, also created Buffy, speaking of vampires]. Still, Bella and Edward are right up there, or nearly.) This turns out to be such an excellent choice that she will later purchase them all for our mother.

July 2008. Someone in my book club is considering choosing Twilight for next month's book and is looking for feedback. (She has some alternate very BookClub [a la Kite Runner, Eat Pray Love] book as a more typical choice.) I'm the only person there who's read the books let alone heard of them so it falls to me to explain a little. I start off by saying I enjoyed them, that they are good and fun. But I try to be clear that they are fluff, perfect for end-of-summer light reading. [This is the point in the story where you start to suspect that this might not be your average straight-forward plot but it's still just a vague feeling. Nothing has quite happened yet to confirm this. Bits of dialog seem to have a dual meaning. You wait, unsure.]

is, to me, a guilty pleasure, which I know sounds like a back-handed compliment but hey, it still says 'pleasure' so clearly there's some enjoyment going on. And guilt is something that I'm good at-- I've been steeped in it since birth, practically, (which is not inherently bad as I see it, by the way.) so that's to be expected. But let's face facts: two of the last three books our group read were Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas-- Slavery and the Holocaust; not what I would call light fare. So reading a teen vampire romance novel seemed potentially juvenile to me. And the cardinal rule about guilty pleasures of any kind is you tend to keep them private. Until, that is, you find out that someone else has the same guilty pleasure. (Then, of course, you can confide all your embarrassingly obsessive thoughts to one another.) So, I don't want to rave about the Twilight books before knowing how the group will respond to them. I attempt to play it cool and we put it to a vote. Twilight wins out but not by much. Whew.

August 2008. Our book club has maybe 40 people on our yahoo group but a big chunk of those are primarily lurkers who never actually attend our monthly get-togethers. When it's your month to host, you pick the book as well as serve the meal at your home. In an average month there are usually about 8 of us. Occasionally, one of the selections will resonate with almost everyone and we'll have 20 women together, ready to tell how much they love or hate the book. Twilight is unexpectedly one of these. In fact, in the first week after announcing the pick, I hear from a number of gals, including more than one that wants to borrow the sequel. (And they are delighted to hear the final book, Breaking Dawn, has just been released.) Another call is from a sophisticated Mom who is essentially confiding in me that it's her guilty pleasure. [hold your breath now...this is the part where you discover the good guy is really the bad guy and your whole world is turned upside down.]

You see I, too, am somewhat of a book snob (My favorites include Clavell's Shogun, Austen, Tolkien, Asimov, George R. R. Martin) so I totally get her I-can't-believe-I-like-this-teenage-romance-vampire-novel-as-much-as-I-do feeling. (Although, given that I'm part of the Cult of Buffy and have been a vampire junkie since high school when I started reading Stephen King and Anne Rice , I have absolutely no problem with the vampire aspect. It's the Teen Romance moniker that gets me.) But as to the rest, it's sort of like being a cheese connoisseur and then discovering one day that you love individually-wrapped american cheese slices more than anything and you are horrified at yourself. But you can't help it. And when you are truly honest with yourself, lying in your bed in the dead of night thinking of Edward eating american cheese...oh wait..what was I talking about?

Our Twilight discussion ends up being very lively-- mostly because everyone loves it and is clearly surprised by this fact. (Obviously, few of them have ever read Vampire novels before.) But we do have a few people who just don't get into it and one new gal who is vehemently against it. She keeps going on about Edward's controlling relationship with Bella, and the inherent violence in a relationship where the man is struggling not to kill his girlfriend. (Clearly, she has never read a vampire novel either.) Seriously, though, it makes me wonder if she has a personal connection with a controlling or abusive relationship given her extreme reaction. But maybe not, as it would appear if you search on line you can find many folks ranting in addition to raving about Meyer's books. Oh please....[insert serious eye rolling here] it's just a fantasy, people. If you don't like fantasies, my advice is not to read books about vampires. Clearly, we need to set some Vampire Literature ground rules in the future.

November 2008. I receive one of my regular Austin Film Society member emails about upcoming events. Unexpectedly, it includes details about the Austin premiere of Twilight which I immediately register for and then proceed to forward to our book club mailing list as well as to my sister with an "if only you lived here" preface. She replies with, "Remind me again why don't I live in Austin?" and I begin to make arrangements with a friend to attend. Two days later I receive this email from my sister: "Is it too late to buy tickets?" I'm totally psyched! Meanwhile, not only is she flying in from D.C. to join us, but the friend I'm going with has a friend in Kansas who is going to drive down to make it a foursome. We may not be the Rob Pattinson-screaming, hysterical teen fans but I'm starting to suspect we, too, may have some obsessive tendencies.

Less than 2 weeks later, my sister arrives for the big event. To kick off her visit, after picking her up from the airport, Rand and I take her to a late night showing of a Swedish vampire movie entitled Let the Right One In at the Alamo Drafthouse. Think art house picture meets Nosferatu. It was awesome. And once again the Alamo succeeds in living up to it's Coolest Movie Theater Ever reputation. Thank you, yet again, Tim and Karrie League.

The Big Night is finally here and my sister and I have decided to dress up. Our motto has always been "it's better to be overdressed than underdressed" and once again we succeed. We listen to our self-made Twilight-inspired mixed cd on the drive, enjoying the enticing sounds of Muse, Linkin Park, The Cure, Depeche Mode. We have paid extra for VIP tickets which not only allow entrance to the After Party but also get us reserved seating for the film so we're annoyed when we still have to wait in the long line out in the cold to be let in 10 or so at a time to check in at the so-called Will Call Window. Besides the obvious it's-not-a-window aspect, the fact that everyone attending is waiting in the same line to check in at the same place to all get our tickets clearly calls into question the use of the term Will Call. I manage to refrain from making a scene although I do grumble loudly every time someone that appears to be more important than me is let in past security. (I am somewhat mollified once we get through the glass doors to see that the Entry Elite appear to be friends of Ain't It Cool News' Harry Knowles as I spot his large frame and ginger cloud of hair among a group off to the side. Not that I'm still not miffed.

I should really be a friend of Harry's. I mean, come on. Back in my UT days, when I could spend every third afternoon at the Lincoln Theater, he and I used to go to the movies together regularly. We both liked to get there early and we always sat up near the front-- rows 4, 5, 6ish. Oftentimes it would just be the two of us in the darkened theater. Okay, we weren't actually sitting together. But the rest is true. I swear. When I tell this story, Rand thinks I'm, well, not lying exactly, but remembering the past in a more cinematic way, as it were. But it's the truth! I can't prove it and since Harry wasn't his infamous AICN self back then, it's not like when you spot a famous person at a restaurant and recognize them. I didn't know who he was but I always felt an affinity for this guy, this kindred spirit who might be so much like me, someone who loves movies so much they seem a part of me. It wasn't until years and years later-- maybe ten-- that my subconscious put two and two together and came up with four. Hyperbole aside, I honestly believe it was Harry back then. And if it wasn't, Harry, please don't tell me.

On the walk from the parking garage to the Bub Bullock Museum/IMAX, we meet a reporter for the Austin American Statesman who's here to do a story on the film premiere. I'm not sure if it's our over-dressedness or our tendency to be fun (translation: loud & boisterous in public) but she asks if we're headed to the premiere and then interviews us about thoughts on the book and anticipation of the film. She chats with us for quite a while so I'm privately convinced we'll be the lead story in the paper over the weekend. (Still waiting...)

Despite the long, very un-VIP line-waiting, we end up with good seats in the Reserved section, sitting 2 rows behind Catherine Hardwicke herself. As the lights dim my sister and I brace for what can never live up to our expectations. The film starts off well with a look and feel that makes us both relax imperceptibly, still bracing for the worst. Meanwhile, our counterparts begin the first of many contented laughs as each anticipated plot point occurs. (My sister and I whisperedly (hurriedly + whisper) agree that we'll have the CHR (Completely Honest Review) once we are back home just the two of us. [Yes, the protagonist-turned-antagonist appears to be getting more antagonistic by the minute...and he might even have a twin brother.] As the credits roll, the theater as a whole cheers, but unlike the usual mass exodus that I try to ignore as I watch through to the final-film-company-logo-closing-shot, most people simply shift and start talking, obviously waiting for the Q & A with Hardwicke to follow.

As the lights come up, a man with longish brown hair, goatee, and glasses comes out with a microphone. Looks like our Q & A moderator is here. I'm embarrassed to say that I do not recognize him until he introduces himself. (Of course, I am in a giant, dimly lit IMAX theater and about 25 rows up from where he's standing so it's probably just the distance. Really.) It's Richard Linklater. From Austin. Director of Slacker, Dazed & Confused, A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset. And, oh-by-the-way, Artistic Director of the Austin Film Society. It turns out Catherine Hardwicke's film start was as a production designer and she worked on several of Linklater's films. I'm in cinephilic heaven! (Catherine who?) Linklater does a good job of moderating and Hardwicke is quite a character in her responses, including a couple of good barbs at Linklater for never getting back to her when she was looking for advice about directing. There are a few good technical questions regarding film technique, editing, and shooting locations. (The studio wouldn't let them film in Forks, WA where the story takes place because it was cheaper to film in Oregon. Same reason there aren't a lot of films being made in Texas right now, or so says Catherine.) And then there's the usual gushing teen comments and questions: "Twilight is awesome! Does Rob have a girlfriend?" that make my sister and I roll our eyes in unison.

The After Party is filled with people eating hors d'oeuvres, drinking wine, and ignoring the paintings on the walls. I enjoy looking at the canvases as we circulate, chat, and try to look like we know what we're doing. Only one painting really stands out to me. It's a triptych of sorts and I have this thing about triptychs. We actually spy more intriguing multimedia sculpture in the off-limits back room. A photographer roams around but doesn't take our picture. Later, I realize our animated foursome conversation has morphed into the Jen & Sister Show, and as the designated event coordinator as well as chauffeur, I decide it's time to inquire about our ultimate departure. This is a tricky maneuver, however, if you don't want to give the impression that you want to leave, that is, unless your guests do. You see, we're still waiting for the VIPs to arrive. We're not even really sure if they're going to arrive. But my sister and I could easily kill another hour or more gabbing. So, my goal is to offer an exit strategy that allows for the option of an immediate departure without implying that that is my preference. I use my subtle powers of persuasion and we...depart.

Naturally, as we near the door, Catherine Hardwicke arrives. If this were a screenplay, this would be a major plot turning point. Something funny and unexpected would happen to delay our departure which might, but more likely, might not involve actually talking to Hardwicke. Maybe one of us trips. That would be me, I'm sure. But, alas, this is not a screenplay.

So, we still leave. I'm mostly okay with this. The thing is [and this is where you realize that there's no turning back for the would-be villian in this film.] if this were Peter Jackson, I would stay at the gallery til they kicked me out, hoping he would arrive so I could ask him a million questions. And I might very well follow him to his hotel in an effort to see if he brought the incomparable Richard Taylor, of Weta Workshop, with him. But this isn't Peter Jackson and it's not The Lord of the Rings. (Alas, nary a bigature in sight.) I love the book Twilight. And I think Hardwicke did an adequate job of making the film. But the book itself isn't a complicated story nor is it delving into deep philosophical topics which make me feel compelled to just talk and talk. My most interesting discussion points tend towards the critical so better to just smile and go. And say to ourselves, "We were at the After Party with the director" glossing over, in future retellings, that we shared the same air for barely 30 seconds.

We bail and try to go to Chez Zee for dessert. Dammit, it's Thursday night and they close by 10pm or something ridiculous and now we're too close to home for everyone to want to head back downtime for a more happenin' (read: Open!) dessert spot. So, we wrap our evening with a moderately bland "That was fun!" consensus as we drop off the gals at my friend's house. Then my sister and I proceed to go home and critique the film without self-censoring.

It was better than we expected but has far to go. The swooping camera moves were overdone. Some of the secondary casting was iffy. (Rosalie was supposed to be gorgeous, not just pissed off. Maybe it's just her fake blond hair as her photos in imdb are much better.) And what was up with the white powder makeup on all the Cullens? Fa-ake. (Huge exception: Alice was perfect.) Couldn't they have made the 5 minute Mtv-videoesque baseball game scene half the length and made time for more of the character moments between Bella and Edward? (The blood-typing scene, for instance.) And the screenplay...given that the book was mostly about two people falling in love, couldn't they have worked in more of that progression? My sister and I both agree we could have written a better screenplay. (I know, I know. I sound like Lady Catherine De Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice when she speaks of playing the piano, "If I had ever learnt I should have been a great proficient.")

And then we start talking about writing our own screenplay. This is one of those things that feels like we've talked about before but I'm not actually sure we've ever discussed. I've imagined doing one together for some time. I have, however, been telling her for years now, that if she and her family ever move to Austin, we're totally participating in one of Alamo's Filmmaking Frenzy competitions. She's the only other person I know that seems as obsessed with all aspects of film-making as I am. The only person, I think, that really gets it. I can't explain it. If you get it, you got it; if not, then the more I try to explain it, the wackier I sound. I'd prefer to maintain my usual level 5 wackiness, thank you.

So, did I enjoy Twilight? Emphatically, yes. Is it a great movie? No. But it continues my love affair with all things Vampiric and it makes for yet another little adventure-of-my-lifetime. And most importantly, it furthers my love of film-making and possibly in such a personal way as to motivate me to do something myself in my most beloved of genres. [Hopefully, as the credits roll, you are thinking that although this was not the movie you thought it was going to be, it was still interesting. On the other hand, maybe you just hate it.]

My only complaint regarding our near-perfect vampire weekend? We had to miss the Vampire Prom (courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse.) There's always next year, Sis...

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