Later this year — starting, perhaps, with the release of “First Man,” Damien Chazelle’s epic biographical drama about Neil Armstrong and the space program — America will commence what promises to be a momentous and meditative celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. What will be celebrated, of course, isn’t just the immensity of the achievement. It will be the spirit that the moon landing still symbolizes: the idea that human beings — and, yes, Americans — could once imagine doing almost anything, and then just go out and do it. That we could realize the impossible dream.
Simplistic or not, that’s the way we now think of the America of 50 years ago, as a society of majestic striving. But it’s not as though that spirit has disappeared. You could argue that it’s still all around us, entangled in murkier forces — the we-can-do-anything dream buried under the rancor of our current divisiveness.
If you want to catch an awe-inspiring glimpse of what that spirit still looks like, not as late-’60s lunar-walk nostalgia but in a contemporary form that’s as pure and heady as a hit of oxygen, look no further than “The Dawn Wall.” It’s a riveting and spectacular documentary about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, the two American rock climbers who accomplished the most extraordinary feat of free climbing in history. In January 2015, over the course of 19 days, they scaled the legendary Dawn Wall section of El Capitan, the ominously vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park — a famously forbidding 3,000-foot granite monolith of minimal juts and crags, the kind of surface it would be hard to imagine anyone wriggling to the top of who wasn’t Spider-Man.
“The Dawn Wall” immerses us in every dimension of their achievement: the athleticism, the drop-dead audacity, the complex human drama. But the first thing to say about the movie, and what makes it a must-see experience, is that for the entire climb we’re right there, on the surface of the rock, along with Caldwell and Jorgeson. The film’s co-directors, Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer, are climbers themselves who have helmed a number of entries in the “Reel Rock” film series, and working with a team of cinematographers led by Kyle Berkompas, they stationed bodies and cameras up on the Dawn Wall, dangling from lines tethered to the top, so that Caldwell and Jorgeson’s vertiginous, bewildering, up-in-the-air journey becomes ours.
The camera places us inches from their lime-braised and often bloodied fingers, as they grasp for the tiniest of razor-sharp ridges (which slice layers of skin off their fingertips), hoisting themselves up what is basically a polished sheet of rock. We’re there when they fall, plunging straight down before they’re caught and held by safety lines — a ritual that gave someone like me, who isn’t even comfortable looking out of tall buildings, a heart-in-the-throat moment each time, since all I could think was, “Okay, I get it, the safety line is hammered into a wedge. But what if it gets loose?”
The movie sketches in the sources of his climbing zeal, but Tommy Caldwell remains one of those inexplicable originals. “The Dawn Wall,” in capturing the insanity of fervor that drove him to undertake the ultimate feat of climbing, is a high-strung daredevil movie that has a chance to speak to audiences the way that “Man on Wire” did back in 2008. It’s that cannily crafted and spirited and compelling.
It’s a buddy movie, of sorts, with Kevin Jorgeson signing on to become Tommy’s partner late in the game, and Kevin fighting demons of his own (though maybe less personal ones). The climb is divided into 32 “pitches,” or sections, and the most absurdly challenging of them all is a horizontal stretch of rock that barely has ridges a fingertip can grab. Kevin tries it, again and again, dozens of times, and keeps falling in the middle. He can’t seem to nail it. That pitch becomes his fight with the forces, and with himself.
LOS ANGELES: The 17th annual Tribeca Film Festival will celebrate the anniversaries of “Schindler’s List” and “Scarface” with retrospective screenings as well as Tribeca Talks discussions featuring big names from the movies.
The screening of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” honoring the title’s 25th anniversary, will include a conversation with stars Liam Neeson, Sir Ben Kingsley, Embeth Davidtz, and more. Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” meanwhile, will be celebrating its 35th anniversary at the festival with a screening and a discussion with De Palma and leads Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Also lined up for a retrospective event is “In the Soup,” the 25-year-old indie directed by Alexandre Rockwell and starring Steve Buscemi. Tribeca will present the world premiere of the 4K restoration of the indie drama, followed by a panel with Rockwell, Buscemi, and co-stars Sam Rockwell and Jennifer Beals.
In addition, Tribeca has also announced the lineup of filmmakers, entertainers, artists, and icons set to participate in Tribeca Talks: Directors Series, Tribeca Talks: Storytellers, and Tribeca Talks: The Journey, among other programs.
The Tribeca Talks: Directors Series will include “The Descendants” director-writer Alexander Payne; “Tully” writer, director, and producer Jason Reitman; and “Something’s Gotta Give” director and writer Nancy Meyers. The event will also include the New York premiere of “Tully.”
Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee, John Legend, Jamie Foxx, and more will participate in the Tribeca Talks: Storytellers program, while Tribeca Talks: The Journey will focus on Sarah Jessica Parker’s career across multiple platforms including film, Broadway, television, literature, and fashion.
LOS ANGELES: “Hamilton” and “Rotterdam,” both took home the 2017 production award during the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s 49th annual ceremony Monday night at A Noise Within Theatre.
The productions at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre and the Skylight Theatre, respectively, topped the stage shows recognized in 18 categories including lead performance, ensemble performance and direction. Wenzel Jones hosted the ceremony, which honored both touring and local productions and previously announced special award winners, including the Los Angeles … Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, which won the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater, and Steven Leigh Morris, who won the Gordon Davidson Award for distinguished contribution to the Los Angeles theatrical community. (RTRS)
By Owen Gleiberman