Thursday, April 27, 2006

An Honest President: Notes From the Opening Gala

"I'll be honest," said B. Joseph White, president of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tonight at the opening reception hosted at his home. "The word that came to my mind when I first came here 15 months ago from Ann Arbor was 'cultural backwater.'" He went on, of course, to explain how he quickly disabused himself of that notion, but what's most noteworthy was his level of candor (very prevalent here) — and his brevity. The sun shone brightly out there on the expanse of his patio, but it was still nippy. So opening remarks were succinct, pleasantly so.

Dusty and Joan Cohl were introduced by Roger as the festival's co-conspirators in charge, he intoned mysteriously, "of making sure..." Hmmm.

Chaz, Roger's estimable wife and special advisor to the festival, said, "I love this because of all of you, and because you make my husband so happy."

It was a nice group — women flaunting enormously ornate hats that could have appeared in My Fair Lady, the film we were about to see (Dusty should have taken notes); a tiny white dog prancing about with a jaunty orange bandana; everyone smiling with those big eyes of sky. A byproduct of all that unadulterated horizon, I wonder? For even we musty-dusty filmmakers and writers looked unjaundiced in that early evening light.

Phil Morrison, director of Junebug, credited Ebert's PBS program with introducing him to the very existence of art films. "I watched from my town in North Carolina and asked my mom to take me to see one," he said. His mom obliged, which is why he also has Ebert to thank for his first exposure to female nudity: The movie was Louis Malle's Atlantic City.

And it turns out Malkovich, to whom Ebert paid the slightly ambiguous compliment of being "born to play Ripley," and Ripley's Game producer Russell Smith are Illinois boys as well. "We used to hitchhike to Champaign in college in our platform shoes," Malkovich explained, poker-faced. "We didn't get picked up too often."


Blogger chutry said...

Found your comments about Ebertfest via the cinetrix and found myself feeling nostalgic. I attended a couple of Ebertfest events when I lived in Champaign a few years ago and always enjoyed them. Looking forward to your comments about the festival.

My real, non-Blogger blog:

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