A Break from the Valley's Madness

Christina the lawyer had a great idea. It would turn an uneventful trip to the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado into a small adventure.

Instead of flying directly to Telluride, we would go to Durango, rent a car and enjoy a scenic drive.

The drive took more than three hours up and down narrow, curved mountain roads without benefit of guardrails.

I learned beyond doubt that a Chevrolet Corsica is simply incapable of attaining a speed of more than forty miles per hour uphill.

"I thought you enjoyed driving?" Christina the lawyer said at one point while I was negotiating a hairpin turn.

I looked over. She was reading the latest issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin. Then I did a very smart thing: I kept quiet.

This was the sixteenth annual Telluride Film Festival, and 25 film events as well as five lectures, including Simon Callow's tribute to Lord Laurence Olivier, were on the schedule.

One of the features, "A Tribute to Bad Guys" didn't come off because of a misunderstanding about air travel. The honorees were Lawrence Tierney, famous to movie buffs as Dillinger, and Lee Van Cleef, who chased Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti Westerns and was one of the hired guns who tried to get Gary Cooper in High Noon. Van Cleef insisted on being provided first-class air transportation. The festival organizers attempted to explain that the small plane that flies to the Telluride airport only carries a dozen passengers.

Van Cleef would not be mollified. He didn't come, but there was a free showing of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on a huge screen set up in the town park.

Tierney, now 73, who has a great sense of humor, did show up. Clips from his films were shown and his insights were charming. But the whole thing would have come off much better if Van Cleef had been there to serve as a counterpoint.

The surprise hit for me was The Big Bang, a documentary by Jim Toback. It's described as a takeoff on My Dinner With Andre. The Louis Malle film of 1981 starred Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn sitting at a dinner table and engaging in elevated, often boring conversation.

The Big Bang is down-to-earth, funny and shocking. Included in the cast are Elaine Kaufman, the famous restaurant owner; Jose Torres, former boxing champion; and Darryl Dawkins, the basketball player who suddenly shocks viewers by telling about the day his wife committed suicide.

But the star is Tony Sirica, described as a Brooklyn gangster. He is a look-alike for Tony Curtis and has better screen presence.

"Would you ever kill a man?" he is asked.
"No," Sirica says, but the answer is far from convincing.

On the final morning we saw Black Rain. It's a Japanese entry declared winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Director Shohei Imamura, wearing a crew-necked sweater, sat patiently in the lobby waiting for the capacity crowd to enter. The film was shown in the large, low-slung hall next to the Telluride High School. The lines formed early for the 9 a.m. start. By the time the performance began, the place was packed.

Imamura has a Western style of directing much like that of Akira Kurosawa. Great musical accompaniment, tight editing and fast pacing never allow this film to drag.

Before the movie started, several excerpts from Imamura's previous films were shown. Then the lights came up and Imamura stood at the microphone.

He explained that the Black Rain of the title referred to the substance that fell from the sky on the survivors the day the atom bomb hit Hiroshima.

Imamura deliberately made this new film in black and white. It was, he said, an artistic decision necessary to his story, which traces the life of a small family for the five years it takes them all to die from the effects of radiation.

The film is well over two hours long but time is removed as a factor because you are so transfixed by events on the screen.

It leaves you with unforgettable scenes: the eerie flash of light without sound when the bomb explodes at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945; the dazed attempts to escape the city by disoriented survivors who sensed a catastrophic new weapon had been unleashed; the slow death of the victims and their eventually being turned into outcasts by those who had escaped the blast.

For the rest of their lives the victims could not hold down full-time jobs because they got tired or sick too easily. Many women were unable to marry because they could not bear children. And for years--like what happened to the survivors of Agent Orange--politicians refused to offer them medical or financial assistance.

One of the great pieces of reporting during this century was John Hersey's "Hiroshima," an account of the bombing that appeared in the New Yorker magazine. Years later, Hersey went back to trace the survivors he had written about after the bomb drop.

One anecdote is memorable because it recounts one of the television industry's most insensitive moments.

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Protestant minister, came to the United States to raise funds for Hiroshima victims in 1955.

He appeared on the popular Ralph Edwards show called This Is Your Life. "And where are you from?" the ebullient Edwards asked.

"Hiroshima," Tanimoto answered.
"And where were you on that morning?" But Tanimoto wasn't given a chance to answer. Loud sounds of a clock ticking came from the background and, suddenly, a mushroom cloud filled the screen with a picture of the bomb blast itself.

Moments later, Edwards introduced Reverend Tanimoto to Captain Robert Lewis, copilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb. Tanimoto's eyes stared in horror. Captain Lewis recounted his memory of the flight as Tanimoto sat watching.

Finally, the announcer asked: "Did you write something in your log at that time?" Captain Lewis explained: "I wrote down the words,`My God, what have we done?'

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Tom Fitzpatrick