Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Tribeca Film Festival 4/29 - Dennis Hopper Makes Surprise Appearance at Premiere of Restored Night Tide

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival 4/29 - Dennis Hopper Makes Surprise Appearance at Premiere of Restored Night Tide

by Tony Dayoub

Day 1 - 1:17 pm - I arrived into LaGuardia half an hour late, picked up my bags at baggage claim, where a locust-like group of hustlers start trying to convince me why I should skip the taxi line and pay more to share their cab with another passenger. SCAMMERS!!! Welcome to New York... I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!!!

1:24 pm - My much cooler cab driver, Fariq, drove me into the city through scenic Spanish Harlem. I'm staying in the Upper East side, at lovely Amy Coward's apartment (thank you so much), with a nice view of Roosevelt Island. I order a Ham sandwich from Hot and Crusty (1201 Second Ave, 212-753-2614), which is delivered to my door (did I tell you how much I miss this place?), and off to work it is.

3:46 pm - Right about the time I finished sending a lot of you readers my promotional email, I realized I hadn't showered, and I was going to have to take the 4 train down to Tribeca to catch the first film, Curtis Harrington's restored Night Tide (1961), which starts at 5pm. Did I tell you how much I hate New York?

4:33 pm -Made it to the platform, just as the train arrived, so I hop in. I have a few minutes to relax and get my bearings, except... I'm on the wrong train, the W headed towards Whitehall.

4:56 pm - Jumped off at Canal St. and walked through Chinatown for 45 minutes (now I know what my wife must have felt like the first time she was in Little Havana) trying to find the small screening room at Pace University.

5:41 pm - Boy, am I late. Luckily, I only missed the short film preceding the feature (or unluckily, some would say, as this was Harrington's little seen early experimental film, Picnic). But what a wonderful surprise. Last minute arrangements were made to have a Q&A with Night Tide's lead actor, Dennis Hopper. 72 years old, and the man still emanates cool as he assuredly strolls down to the podium to speak.

Night Tide is about a young sailor (Hopper) on liberty in Venice Beach, California. He meets a young lady named Mora who works as an amusement park "mermaid," sitting in a tank that appears to be full of water, wearing a fish tail. But with two former boyfriends now dead, she may actually be a mythological siren, luring men to their demise with her beauty and feminine wiles. The surreal film is interesting in its collision of the film noir genre with a touch of the horror genre. Hopper's performance appears improvised, and demonstrates some of the ability to carry a movie that allowed him to go on to a legendary career. The Academy-restored print was bright and clean, and apparently had just been brought over from the lab.

As if the movie wasn't odd enough, someone had accidentally transposed the second and third reels, leading to some unintended surreal, and humorous, moments.

Some interesting points Hopper spoke of:

  • This was Harrington's first feature film, and it was a non-union film, preventing it from being shown in theaters for close to 3 years.
  • Hopper had been released from his contract with Warner Bros. where he had already been in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, and Gunfight at the OK Corral.
  • This was Dennis Hopper's first lead role.
  • Hopper was and is a strong supporter of nascent filmmakers, having supported not only Harrington, but notable underground filmmakers Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger.
  • Luana Anders, who costars, was later cast by Hopper as Peter Fonda's girlfriend in his own directorial debut, Easy Rider. She also wrote some things for Francis Coppola and appeared in his first studio film, The Rain People.
  • Among Hopper's performing influences were Marlon Brando and James Dean, but this performance was influenced greatly by Montgomery Clift's acting.

7:36 pm - Stopped by Nobu Tribeca (105 Hudson St, 212-219-0500) where I ate some of the best and freshest sushi I had in a long time (Atlanta being quite a ways inland, it is not really known for its fresh fish). I highly recommend the Tiraditos, delicate thinly-sliced whitefish with a pinhead-size drop of spicy red chile sauce and cilantro leaves. There is also the Yellowtail sashimi with a slice of jalapeƱo on top. If raw food is not your thing, try the miso-glazed black cod, or the beef tenderloin in teriyaki sauce, which was prepared perfectly at the medium temperature I asked for, and served with a variety of mushrooms on the side. The service was excellent too, as I was in a hurry to catch my next film, and made it out in less than an hour.

9:00 pm - Four short films, directed by Isabella Rossellini for the Sundance Channel, showing the mating habits of insects, are shown before the feature, Toby Dammit. The films, called Green Porno, were meant to be shown on cell phones, but I can't see how they'll be tossed away like that. They are educational, strange, and some of the funniest viral video out there. All 8 videos will be available at and on all Helio mobile devices on May 5th.

Toby Dammit is a short film that was originally part of a troika of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations released as Spirits of the Dead. This one, based on Poe's Never Bet the Devil Your Head, was directed by Federico Fellini, and stars Terence Stamp. It was just restored by the film's original cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno in conjunction with the Cineteca Nazionale de Italia for the Ornella Muti Network. Ornella Muti is an Italian actress best known stateside for playing Princess Aura in Flash Gordon (1980). But she is also one of the leading contributors to film restoration in Italy. What we saw last night was essentially a sneak preview, as Toby Dammit is actually the opening film of the 2008 Taormina Film Fest in Sicily.

The film was Rotunno's first with Fellini, but he went on to become the cinematographer on all of his subsequent films. It's easy to see why, with the restoration finished. The film's color and contrast is brilliant, and well-defined. This is one of my favorite movies, and I owned the original DVD by Image, which was atrocious, just because I liked it so much. When Janus Films (the people behind the Criterion Collection) released a much improved version, I quickly ran out to purchase it. But it looks like I may have to do it one more time (no plans for a DVD yet) because this restoration borders on the revelatory. And what a movie to choose to restore.

Terence Stamp, a powerful British actor in the 1960's (now know primarily for his campy General Zod in Superman and Superman II), plays an alcoholic actor on a downward spiral. He keeps encountering the devil as he declines further and further, personified as a strange white-haired little girl bouncing a ball. The movie captures an uncomfortable feeling of suspension in time that I've never seen done to such great effect as I have here. If you have the opportunity, seek this one out once it becomes available, or just rent the current version on Netflix.

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