As some of you who have followed my work over the years may have noticed, not only am I not at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, but this is the first time I haven't been at the Toronto International Film Festival in many years. And hence, it is the first time I've spent September 11 in my home base of Brooklyn, New York since well before September 11, 2001.
It's odd. To be perfectly blunt, I would have been happy to spend September 11 of every year until the day I died in Toronto, for reasons that are both complicated and, I will insist, not unpatriotic. I'm not in Toronto now because the trip there just wouldn't have made sense in my current situation—just got back from another trip, too much work at home, and so on—and that's the way it goes. But Toronto has a special place in my heart, or perhaps to be less soppy I should say my consciousness, on account of having been there on September 11, 2001, and for many days after that.
I had seen some pretty fantastic films prior to that day. Claire Denis' cataclysmic mini-apocalypse Trouble Every Day, Eric Rohmer's stately, quirky, acute The Lady and the Duke, and Catherine Breillat's searing Fat Girl particularly stand out in my mind. As does Kiroshi Kurosawa's Pulse, which ended (almost) with the image of an unmanned plane flying head-on into a building. I remember after Fat Girl a bunch of us walking out, utterly shaken, trying to work it out by saying, "Boy, that ending was a little arbitrary, wasn't it?"
September 9 was Premiere's party at the popular Italian restaurant Prego. The party had begun as a subdued cocktail hour in an isolated upper room of the place, but my colleagues Jim Meigs and Kathy Heintzelman had help build it up to THE party at the fest. Now Jim was gone; Michael Solomon had taken his slot as editor-in-chief, and I don't think he'll mind me saying that now he was reaping the benefit of the work that had been done before his tenure. David Lynch showed up with his two Mullholland Drive stars, Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring. "Thanks for the four-star review, Glenn!" Lynch shouted at me as he took a bite from a slice of Prego's Sicilian pie. "Hey, great pizza!" I actually had the stones to ask Harring about her turn in Lambada:The Forbidden Dance. "That was actually the film that began my love affair with the dance," she said with all sincerity. Even I don't believe how I worked the room that night. I chatted up Harring, then Jennifer Love Hewitt (in town to shoot The Penguin with Jackie Chan), then starlet Zoe Saldana (who had just wrapped Crossroads with Britney Spears); then I met a beauteous young columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, one Leah McClaren, who I introduced to Mr. Richard Harris, who was seated on a couch, drawing from a seemingly bottomless glass of red wine, next to none other than Ms. Sissy Spacek. By this time I had sweated right through my shirt. (My boss Mr. Solomon was duly impressed; he later marveled to a colleague, "Glenn really has remarkable confidence with women.") I told Mr. Harris that I had encountered Jimmy Webb, of all people, at the food court of LaGuardia Airport before setting out to Toronto. He said: "Jimmy Webb!!! Hahahahahahah!!!"
It was so great. As was the evening of September 10th, when I had a dinner with Lady and the Duke star Lucy Russell, who had been in Christopher Nolan's Following and who, goddammit, should be a major film actress today. Sweet, smart, great company, and the star of what I still consider a great film.
I swear to you, then, that on the early morning of September 11, as I flossed my teeth in the well-appointed bathroom of my room at the Toronto Park Hyatt, I actually was telling myself how blessed and happy I was. I was seeing great films, meeting great people; my new boss was getting into the swing of things; it looked to be a beautiful day; God was in his heaven, and so on.
It got better. The 8:30 a.m. screening was of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, a complex and ultimately buoyant film. I don't think many will argue when I say that everybody coming out of that press screening had a spring in his or her step.
My cheeriness hit a glitch when I came out of the screening and saw my friend Maggie Murphy, then of Entertainment Weekly, pretty much sobbing into her cell phone. I swear—again!—to you, my first thought was, "Oh, my. Did an uncle of hers die or something?" I approached her to ask what was wrong and if there was anything I could do. "They bombed the World Trade Center," she said.
I grabbed her and we ran downstairs our of the Manulife Center. There was an HMV, or somesuchthing, across Bloor Street, that had lots of TV monitors throughout the store. We rushed in. "Do you have cable?" I shouted at one of the clerks—all the monitors had music videos running on them. "No, we don't," the clerk sputtered. "Do you know why I'm asking?" I shouted. "Yes, I do," he said.
We ran back to the Park Hyatt, gathered back in my colleague Kathy's room and watched the television. Pretty much silent, except for an odd "Oh my God." Soon I went upto my room and began frantically calling friends—my Close Personal Friend Ron Goldberg was living on Pearl Street at the time so I was particularly (as Pete Puma would say) worrrrried about him—and getting a busy signal every time out, even when I called relatives in Jersey. You know what worked? Freaking AOL worked. Once I got reassurance via that conduit that most of my nearest and dearest were okay, I slithered from my room.
My then-boss Michael Solomon was a real champ throughout. He left it open for everyone at Premiere who was there: Do what you have to do. If you want to go home now and you can, do it. If you want to hang out in Toronto on Premiere's dime, do it, no strings attached, even though the Festival was now suspended. He picked up a very expensive, very somber dinner for the staffers who hadn't yet rented cars and hightailed it out of there that night. I figured I'd stay. I was unattached at the time, except to my cat; and my live-in landlord and his wife were looking after him at the time and they reported that, aside from having been a little freaked by the noise, he was fine. Might as well stick around and do my job, as much as I could, if and when they started up the fest again.
Next afternoon festival head Piers Handling announced, respectfully, that the festival would in fact go on. I thought it was, finally, the right decision; by the same token, if I ever see the guy who stood up and started clapping as the announcement was fed through video monitors at the Hyatt, I will break his neck. There had already been some "chickens come home to roost" commentary on Canadian TV; but the Torontonians I met on the streets, in the bars, wherever, were uniformly generous and kind. The aforementioned Leah McClaren treated me to a lavish dinner at Toronto's best seafood restaurant, and we talked the night away. The bar at the Park Hyatt was a scene out of a post-modern Casablanca—a motley crew of internationals waiting to get out, and making the most of it while they couldn't. Particularly conspicuous was the all-star cast of Fred Schepsi's Last Orders. I was talking to a fellow U.S. citizen at the bar when Ray Winstone, recognizing our Yank accents, came up to us, draped his arms over both our shoulders, and said, "We're with you, mates!"
Then there was Winstone's costar David Hemmings, a far cry from his sleek Blow-Up days indeed, at the bar doing magic tricks, of all things, an articulating his at the time tonic, hilariously belligerent political philosophy: "I say bomb 'em all...starting with Northern Ireland!" And he'd laugh this obscenly boisterous laugh as he tucked in to another round.
I told him how much I loved Profondo Rosso, and he was delighted: "Dario Argento? The maestro? Nobody ever brings him up..." Now I'd always been a fan, but God, I did fall in love with him on those nights. God rest his soul.
And then there was the quiet, brilliant, terribly sympathetique Claire Denis, with whom I and another film writer spent many hours, hanging in the back room of the Hyatt's bar, watching CNN on the crappy rear-projection TV. Her film was called Trouble Every Day; that had been a Zappa/Mothers song about Watts; but she had her favorite band, the unearthly Tindersticks, come up with a very differently-toned but equally insinuating song of the same name for her film. And we crawled into our cups together and ruminated that now, yes, there would be trouble every day.
By the 16th or so I was able to get on a train from Toronto to New York; Richard and Mary Corliss were on it, and I nodded to them, but mostly I just wanted to smoke and bury myself in the volume of Kingsley Amis' letters that I had bought at Indigo. And when I got home I saw the smoke rising, and smelt the smell, as I got out of Penn Station; and I got home and comforted my pacing cat; and went to my local and found that one of my fellow regulars was only alive because he had been late to work, and that all of his colleagues were dead, and that he had been drunk ever since; and more. I think very often about all the people I mentioned above, and I've always been grateful to them for their fellowship and comfort, and that's, sort of I guess, the reason I'm missing Toronto right now.
And, needless to say, I no longer consider the finale of Fat Girl to be arbitrary.