Up All Night

Thirty movies. Nine days. A cultural odyssey.

April Fool's Day
A few days ago an editor at this paper asked if I wanted to review some movies from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. "How many?" I asked. "All of them," he said. (There are about 60 features in the fest.) I said, "I'll do 30, but I'll need $10,000 and not more than $9,000 less." Done!

My deadline is in eight days. According to my son's biology text, whole worlds have been created in less time. I plan to turn this thing in before rosy-fingered dawn unveils itself on Thursday.

Understand that not so many years ago I filled my days with hot dog-eating contests and powered my nights with the sort of stimulant cocktails favored by maverick truckers. Certainly I'm older now, but I can still throw back the Dew (diet) and burn the midnight lamp. (I've found the 11:30 lamp to be nice as well.)

Ward Rubrecht

I figure that 30 movies will take about 60 hours to watch. I'll allot myself 30 hours for researching, writing, and revising the agreed-upon 3,000 words. That's 1.6 minutes per word, which probably sounds Herculean to you, but I'm a professional, one who can sometimes come up with entire phrases—"hot dog-eating contest" for instance, or "throw back the Dew"—in, like, 40 or 50 seconds.

Having done these calculations, I now realize that my hourly wage for this assignment will not greatly exceed that which I received in the 1980s as a packing and transport consultant—or "bag boy"—at the Highland Park Lunds. But that's okay because I loved that job and I just know already that I'm going to love this one, too.

Generally what I'll do here is write in the morning about the previous day's work. Except when I write at night about the current day's work. I know I'll write some reviews that will ultimately be deleted from the final draft, so at the end it might look as if I haven't, in fact, seen 30 movies, even though I have. I mean I will have seen 30 movies, 'cause so far I haven't seen any of them. I hope this doesn't become terribly confusing.

So far I've made it through one movie. I'm already behind, but Tuesday is when I plan to shift into high gear—like fourth. I suppose I could watch the films in an order conducive to constructing artful transitions such as, "Turning to another Scandinavian film about human interaction..." but that's not my way. I'm just popping 'em in at random.

I started with Norwegian director Jens Lien's The Bothersome Man, which had me waterlogged with optimism about my forthcoming immersion in contemporary global and independent filmic art, an optimism that endured for at least several hours. Trond Fausa Aurvåg plays Andreas, an accountant-esque accountant whom mysterious authorities have relocated from points unknown to a stylish city, oddly devoid of children, where he's been equipped with an upper-crusty life. "The majority of people are happy, and we're proud of that," a townsperson tells Andreas, and indeed most are pleasant, superficial, and emotionless even amidst errant bursts of extreme violence. How should I put it? An excellent movie for life during wartime hovered over by both Kafka the comic fabulist and Kafka the prescient realist.

That brings me up to evening. My wife and I arrange a babysitter to have a proper date. She suggests a movie.

I'm a family man and people expect things of me. My son, for instance, expects me to drive him to school, despite the fact that MTC comes within blocks of the school and doesn't even charge kids under six.

I've only watched seven movies. To stay on track I'll need to start watching eight per day. I can do this. The average American, says Nielsen, watches four hours and 35 minutes of TV per day. But I have been judged above average by as many as three English teachers and no fewer than one sexual partner.

Yesterday's movies were devoid of breeze, froth, or whimsy, so I'll have to work doubly hard to make cute little jokes in the following paragraphs. Lamre Olabisi's August the First was filmed in suburban New Jersey, mostly around the swimming pool of the director's childhood home. The drama, set during a college graduation pool party for sweet and confused Tunde (Ian Alsup), proceeds clumsily to the climax—in which, yes, two fully clothed players fall into the deep end.

Naoko Ogigami's Seagull Diner is a sentimental, sporadically charming seriocomedy in which quirky, blandly philosophical characters do a lot of cooking and eating in Helsinki. The movie's tagline seems to be "Mmm." Sentimental, blandly philosophical food movies are made to be sleeper hits, and Seagull has reportedly slept its way into many Japanese hearts. Don't go on an empty stomach, folks will tell you, which seems half-right.

To break the monotony, I set up camp in a coffee shop with my laptop and Ana Kokkinos's The Book of Revelation, an exploration of sexual violence with the genders jumbled (the victim is a man, while the perps are three women with masked faces and Playboy bodies). That worked fine until the film got ostensibly if not technically pornographic, and I worried about being mistaken for a pervert. I mean exposed as a pervert.

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