Life is full of mysteries, and one of them surely must be how, for no apparent reason, the universe periodically arranges itself in patterns. This process - seemingly random incidents finding their own strange order - materialized at the Lake Placid Film Forum last week. It was geared to a certain P-word: "Parker."
The most obvious such alignment came with two selections. Nosey Parker, by Vermonter John O'Brien, refers to a generic busybody rather than a particular person. Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, about 20th-century scribe Doro-thy Parker, was part of a tribute to director Alan Rudolph.
Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, who had the title role in his 1994 film, was a forum guest. So was her costar Campbell Scott. He plays humorist Robert Benchley, Parker's soul mate in an unconsummated love affair. She is actually sleeping with a character portrayed by Matthew Broderick, real-life husband of Sarah Jessica Parker.
After a Saturday-night screening of Rudolph's latest movie, The Secret Lives of Dentists, organizers honored his extensive body of work with an inscribed silver platter. Scott, the lead in that film, inspected the trophy. "Oh, it says Alan Parker," he joked, referring to the director of Evita.
Sunday on the Rocks, about female roommates confessing their romantic misadventures, figured in the forum's mystical scheme of things. In the first scene, one character justifies drinking Scotch at 9:30 in the morning by citing the romantic decadence of alcohol-prone wordsmiths F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker.
This indie was followed by audience questions for director Joe Morton and two cast members, including Cady Huffman. She made a splash on Broadway two years ago in The Producers, along with the aforementioned husband of Sarah Jessica.
Although amusing, all these Parker-isms were merely a cosmic subtext to a festival with some serious themes, such as the dumbing-down of mainstream Amer-ican films.
At a discussion titled "The Great Script Debate," actor-screenwriter Buck Henry told a story that typifies Holly-wood's approach to challenging subject matter and unhappy endings. "When we presented the first draft of To Die For to top studio executives, they said moviegoers wouldn't sit through having a narrator from the other side of the grave," he recalled. "I wanted to say, 'Have you told this to Billy Wilder?'"
In Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, the protagonist (William Holden) is heard in voice-over despite the fact that he has already drowned. Henry never did invoke that 1950 classic. In order to retain its big-budget financing, the To Die For script was duly changed.
Finances are always elusive for John O'Brien, whose comedies reflect his own rural lifestyle. When he arrived in Lake Placid on Friday afternoon, someone told him about another panel that had taken place that morning: "The Silence of the Lambs: Whatever Happened to Free Speech?" "I should have been there," suggested the Tunbridge filmmaker and sheep farmer.
He was among more than a dozen people from the Green Mountain State who trekked to the Adirondacks for the four-day event: Vermont Public Television interview-show host Fran Stoddard; former publisher of the now-defunct Vanguard Press Nat Winthrop; Savoy Theater owners Rick Winston and Andrea Serota; Burlington College film instructor Barry Snyder and five of his students; U-32 High School film-appreciation teacher Steve Barrows; Montpelier engineer Eve Mendelsohn; Dick Jenney and Judy Harden of Calais; directors Jay Craven and Bess O'Brien of Peacham.
"The Silence of the Lambs" session examined how the country's current conservative political climate may inhibit creativity. Russell Banks, whose The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction were adapted for the big screen, condemned attacks on artists who spoke out against the preemptive war on Iraq. Clearly, this is a guy in danger of being branded with the L-word: "liberal."
Author Frank McCourt - his Angela's Ashes was turned into a film - talked about ways the Catholic Church squelched freedom of expression in his native Ireland. "Up to age 15, I never saw a female nipple," he noted. "And that brings me to John Ashcroft..."
The puritanical U.S. Attorney General infamously ordered drapes to hide a single naked breast on the aluminum Spirit of Justice statue during photo ops with the press at his Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Asked what "dream projects" the panelists would propose if they were no longer threatened by censorship or money problems, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull writer Paul Schrader offered the most subversive answer: "There's my pro-drug film."
In these times, however, he'll probably have to just say no.