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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   Woodstock Film Festival 2003
Friday, September 19 2003
What remained of Hurricane Isabel wandered through the Catskills early this morning, drenching the area with rain for an hour or so. Then the skies cleared, but strong winds persisted. I was extending the Stick Trail this afternoon and for once I wasn't bitten by a single mosquito - winds had grounded all their flights.

This evening I met Gretchen at the Landau Grill in Woodstock for something that turned into dinner. She was sitting out in the patio area and the gusts of lingering Isabel winds kept picking up menus and casting them asunder. Before I'd arrived, Gretchen had been hassled about possibly being underage and could the waiter please see her ID. "Do you not see these crowsfeet?" Gretchen had demanded. We both ordered pesto and portobello mushroom sandwiches and they were delicious.
The main reason we were in Woodstock was to attend the viewing of a series of short films that were being shown as part of the fourth annual Woodstock Film Festival. Our friend Mary Purdy had acted in one of the shorts, and she and Scott, the film's director, had come up from the City and met us outside the place where it would be shown, in a weird little makeshift theatre adjacent to the graveyard off Rock City Road (across from the Colony Café).
Gretchen and I don't usually expect much from short films, but all of these were well worth watching. The series was called "Identity" - which in this case meant "gay" - although the issue of gayness was cloaked or incidental in a couple of them. The one Mary acted in was called The Delicious and concerned a guy (played by Scott the director) with a weird fetishistic hangup that compelled him to dress up in an ugly red women's pantsuit and stand in front of a mirror making weird noises and gesticulations.
One of the films, Mercury in Retrograde, starred the bull dyke comedienne Lea DeLaria, who once signed a copy of her book for Gretchen and then-girlfriend Barbara with "Let's have an orgy!"
All of the films seemed to be well-produced, though many of them had poor sound quality. I was wondering if good sound was the one thing that can't be achieved by films made on a budget, but then Mary suggested perhaps the problem was the makeshift theatre's sound system and not the movies themselves.
We all went across the street to the Colony Café to hear a performance by the jazz singer Lillias White (who, contrary to labeling, is anything but lily-white). I have great difficulty enjoying this genre of music, but I did my best to have an open mind and appreciate it for what it was. I particularly dislike jazz piano, or at least the sort of jazz piano played by Lillias's pianist. It was too wooden and percussive for me, reminding me of all the would-be jazz talents who used to play the piano in the Harkness lounge back when I was a student at Oberlin. The only music that annoys me more this much is reggæ. But Lillias herself had an undeniably amazing voice and delightfully sexy charisma. Still, try though I did to see the beauty in this music, the feeling inside me was one of simple impatience. I wanted to be back on the Stick Trail, extending it towards the Canary Hill Falls. I don't know what it would take to make me enjoy this sort of music. I suspect it would have to be powerful mind-altering drugs. (I couldn't understand Radiohead's Kid A until I ate Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms.)
Scott and Mary had been invited to attend a special party tonight for people directly involved in the Woodstock Film Festival, and Scott was sure he could sneak in Gretchen and me. If asked, I was to say that I was Scott's producer and Gretchen was to say she was something else - a boom operator, a dolly grip, or whatever.
The party was at the S Club near the intersection of 375 and 212 on the edge of the Woodstock golf course. As the party was beginning, we witnessed a surprising among of manpower being expended to ensure that partiers parked in an organized fashion and crossed 212 without being run over.
As we were loading up our plates at the free buffet, I asked Mary if she thought the Woodstock Film Festival made any money or if it just paid for lavish parties like this one. "That's a good question," she replied.
Those in our group, which now also included Dominic, the actor/director of the short Going Down, all sat together at a table for awhile mostly discussing the logistical and financial details behind the short movies we'd watched earlier. I was amazed to learn how expensive even the shortest shorts had been. Dominic's movie was only four or five minutes long and had involved only two actors (one of whom was Dominic himself), yet it has cost him $10,000 in credit card debt to produce. 500 of those dollars had gone to bribing the superintendant of a New York City office building so the movie's one scene could be filmed in his elevator. This got me to thinking: how can full feature-length movies ever be produced? Are they the modern-day equivalent to Egyptian pyramids? Is single-timeline reality really that expensive of a thing to simulate and put in a can?
Somewhere in the midst of the logistical discussion, someone came up and said that a celebrity had been spotted at the party. I forget who they said had been seen, perhaps Lili Tayor or Olympia Dukakis. It didn't matter, everybody there wanted to bask in the light of someone else's fame, so they all got up and went off to investigate. This left me alone at the table for a time. Not that I don't want to meet famous people, but I don't really know what famous movie stars look like and, more importantly, I don't want to be seen trying to sidle up to them. The very idea is repulsive to me.
It's understandable that these people would be this way. In the world of moviemaking, the biggest currency is who you know and what they think of you. More troubling was evidence of backstabbing cattiness between two of the short films' directors. While Gretchen and I were alone with one of the directors, he asked us what we "really thought" about the film directed by the other. He then volunteered that he hadn't liked it: it had been too short and he hadn't understood it.
A little later came news that a genuine celebrity had been spotted and his identity confirmed. Liev Schreiber (the first name rhymes with "Kiev") had been seen out in front. He was supposedly wearing a baseball cap and (as celebrities are always described when seen in person) "just a regular guy." I suppose this was the reason that our contingent eventually relocated outdoors. There he was, Liev Schreiber. I'd seen A Walk on the Moon, but with his hair concealed beneath his hat, he didn't really look familiar to me.
After awhile we forgot about the presence of celebrity and Gretchen and Scott the director got into a heated argument about Madonna. Gretchen hates Madonna because she's a weak talent with a brand even bigger than Starbucks. Conversely, Scott loves Madonna. He likes to dance to her music and he even enjoyed her performance in Evita. Scott had a point - why not just enjoy Madonna for what she is? Gretchen's reaction was visceral and irrational.
As I was coming back from the bar with a beer for me and a soda for Gretchen, I realized she wasn't with her people. I asked Mary where she'd gone and she pointed over to Liev's table. "Gretchen saw someone from the Wire." Sure enough, Gretchen was talking to the guy who'd played Nick Sobotka in the recently-ended second season. So I joined them without even looking at the Nick Sobotka (holy shit! - that's Nick Sobotka!) and Gretchen pointed him out, saying, "Do you see who this is?" "Oh wow!" I said, "You were in the Wire, right?"
It turned out that this actor's name was Pablo and he was Liev Schreiber's half brother. He was a perfectly nice guy, if rather intoxicated. We talked for awhile about the Wire, with us asking if he has a big role in the next season. The way the last one had ended gave the impression that the world hadn't seen the last of Nick Sobotka. His Dad was dead, his dopey cousin was facing life in prison, and he himself was in the witness protection program for fear of a ruthless international crime syndicate. But according to Pablo, there is no future for Nick Sobotka. He goes out into the world and is never heard from again. Despite our impression that he had played one of the most important characters in the show, he claimed he'd been treated pretty much like dirt. He hadn't caught even a whiff of the praise that, according to Gretchen, the director had lavished upon him to such media outlooks as Salon (unfortunately, Gretchen wasn't remembering that particular article very well - the praise she'd remembered as being for Pablo had actually been for Chris Bauer, the guy who plays his uncle. For us, it didn't matter. We'd thought Pablo had done a stunning job playing Nick Sobotka and we were having difficulty distinguishing between the character he'd played in the Wire and the person he was here at a party in Woodstock.
When Pablo stood up it was like the uncoiling of a great giant. He seemed to be about seven feet tall. After awhile we were joined first by Mary Purdy and then by Pablo's female friend. Gretchen had a fantasy of Mary and Pablo hooking up, but this didn't appear to have much grounding in reality.
After awhile Liev joined our circle and Gretchen and he started discussing natural food stores in and around Kingston. Gretchen is a big booster of the place in the dreary plaza with the Marshalls out on 9W near the Home Depot. She is always sure to mention that they make the "best tempeh reubens in the area." Hearing the word "tempeh," Liev recoiled in horror. Growing up on the ashram, tempeh had been the most revolting food commonly eaten. Its granularity disgusts him because of its resemblance to little hunks of white phlegm.
This got us to talking about food aversions and then, somehow, plant taxonomy. Liev showed an unexpected interest in my knowledge of what plants belong to what families. Chief among those mentioned were the families Umbelliferæ (carrots, fennel, celery), Cruciferæ (mustards and cabbages), and Solanaceæ (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, and nightshades). We also briefly talked about athletes foot and how impossible it is to cure completely.

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