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SFIFF - The most interesting man...

By 4:18 PM ,

Tonight I went to see "Pierre Rissient, Man of Cinema" by Todd McCarthy, my eighth film in the past week.

It's the second week of the SF Int'l Film Festival. With so many films on my calendar, I inevitably confuse or mistake showtimes, usually shortchanging myself on time, and I make a mess of my days every year in April. Tonight was no different. I mistook the start time to be one hour later than it was and I had to make a mad dash across the bridge to the Pacific Film Archive during rush hour. Stupid.

Anyway, I found parking in front and slipped in just in time as they were announcing the film and the lights were going down. I almost tripped over an old man in crutches, while trying to find a seat in the dark.

It was mostly a patchwork of talking heads, hodge podge lighting and sound levels. I get it, you're getting off-the-cuff footage, so naturally, the presentation is going to look ad hoc. Plus, many of whom were interviewed were filmmakers and fimmakers in general are not pretty or interesting to look at, *cough* Tarantino, Herzog. This was not the best film I've seen this year, but it was certainly the most interesting subject. The film's subject, Pierre Rissient, a French publicist, is a living legend; he single-handedly became the arbiter of taste at Cannes and for the past 40+ years ascended to and remained the godfather of modern cinema. I was introduced to him for the first time tonight.

People claim he remembers every single frame from any film he's seen in the last 60 years. His instinct is sharp, his opinion is unwavering, and his taste is uncompromising. Many might disagree, but many more revere what he has to say about a piece of film. What's most impressive about him is that he sees things on celluloid that most will not catch, whether it's a slip, a nuance or a talent and he's unrelenting in his passion for polishing that diamond in the rough.

Many of his friends and colleagues cannot understand, define or even come close to articulating what he does exactly, much less how he does it. This instantly drew me in to his story. I identify with that undefined existence in myself. We're kindred spirits and I wished that someday I could meet him.

Well, tonight was my lucky night. He was there. In fact, when the house lights came on, they introduced him and imagine my surprise when Pierre Rissient came down the aisle on crutches. He was the old man I dodged on my way in.
sorry, my phone was my fill-in camera for the night...
This documentary was made in 2007, so he's a few years older but none the slower in his wit and knowledge. But what made me stay behind to meet him, was the fact that he mentioned in the film how some of the best works by an auteur is often his lesser known works, and listed Altman's Brewster McCloud and The Long Goodbye as examples. He said that Brewster was the most imaginative of his films and Goodbye was very faithful to Chandler and that Gould's casting was spot on. Say no more. I got weak in the knees and was smitten.

He's famous for his own quote, "It's not enough to like a movie, you have to like it for the right reasons." Well said.

Now I'm not going to put the trailer for BM here, because quite simply, it's god awfully horrible. The trailer, not the movie. If any trailer can cock-block an audience to a flick, it's that trailer for Brewster McCloud. Don't you dare google it. And we all know I've been obsessing about Philip Marlowe all spring, so check it out here.

Anyway, here's how my conversation went between Pierre and myself:
"Monsieur Rissient, thank you for your work."
and then I quickly ran out of things to say, so I asked for his autograph, in spite of myself. This is something that I hardly ever do, because I loathe the practice in principal. But I had no film to pitch, no story to sell (yet), so I handed him my program and a red sharpie.
"I'm glad you mentioned The Long Goodbye, because it's my favorite Altman film, thank you."
"Oh, mine also." and he politely signed my program.
There was only one other person besides me to meet him on stage. The theater, in fact, was only a third full for this screening and everybody was trickling out after the Q&A. This was the leanest attendance I've seen in the past 10 days. I can't believe it, here's the cinematic godfather in Berkeley and that's all the love he gets? San Francisco, have you no respect? This man has carte blanche at Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Hollywood. He has a direct line into Goddard, Rossellini, Renoir, Polanski, Coppola, Scorsese, Pollack, Redford and John Ford!

Pierre took Fritz Lang to see Deep Throat in the theater, Pierre dreamed up the now famous "Cannes Jury Prize" the year Reservoir Dogs was in competition. It didn't exist prior to that year, but he thought the film needed to win a special award, so he made one up. Pierre also thinks Hitchcock is overrated (I quite agree). How fabulous is he and all he was getting was my festival catalog pushed under his nose. I'm disappointed for him.

Well, if I were reminded of anything tonight, it is to spend your life doing what you love and to be brutally honest about what excites you. Do not lower your standards. If you do so, your genuine passion will persevere and you will do that thing you love very well...even if nobody can figure out what it is that you're doing...

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