A Chance Meeting With Antonio Banderas, 25 Years After The First One

January 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

Early January brings one of my favorite film events of the year: the Foreign Directors’ Symposium at the American Cinematheque, where the Golden Globes nominees talk, often illuminatingly, about their films and those of their fellow directors. Before the panel, there’s a reception where I like to to catch up with friends and meet a director or two. (Or, as last year, to complain about subtitles https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/kore-edas-shoplifters-what-was-lost-in-translation/ )

At this year’s reception I was waiting for a friend to arrive when Antonio Banderas sat down across from me with his lunch. This was a surprise not only because I had expected only Pedro Almodóvar to show up, but because it was our second encounter. The first was at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where “Desperado” launched him and Salma Hayek into international stardom.

Film festivals are a blur of screenings, meetings, press conferences, lunches, dinners and very little sleep, and none more than Cannes. Compounded by jet lag and sleep deprivation, the days and nights soon merge into one giant day and night, with predictable results. One minute you’re watching a movie; the next you’re standing on the beach with a glass of rosé in your hand, having already forgotten the walk from the Palais. And it’s only 11:30am. After lunch, two more screenings, cocktails, a premiere and dinner, things get really trippy.

Though I’ve forgotten most of the movies I watched and the people I met that year at Cannes, I remember the “Desperado” party vividly. It was a seated dinner near the Palais, and my table included the director Robert Rodriguez and his wife and Salma Hayek. After dinner everyone mingled, and that’s when I found myself standing next to Antonio Banderas. I knew him from the five Almodóvar films he’d made at that point, and was about to introduce myself when I noticed Melanie Griffith giving me an icy stare from across the room. From some Spaniards at the Festival I’d heard they were newly together, so I hesitated, unwilling to risk her ire. Then the speeches began, and the moment was lost.

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression, but here we were at close range again, a quarter century later. Though I never would have approached Antonio, I decided it was time to speak up. “I met you 25 years ago at a party in Cannes,” I said. He lit up. “Oh no, did I say something bad?” “No, of course not!” I said in horror, unable to imagine him saying anything untoward, and told him how I had almost introduced myself at the “Desperado” party. Instantly we were chatting like old friends: about how quickly time had passed; “Pain and Glory”; his fateful heart attack two years ago; his having just seen Salma; his new theater, Teatro Soho, in his hometown, Málaga; and his new Spanish language production of “A Chorus Line,” bound for New York this spring. While we were talking, he got word on his phone that he had won that National Film Critics Circle Award. “Is that good?” he asked me. “It’s great; now you’re going to win everything, I said enthusiastically.

I was wrong about the Golden Globes, as it turns out, but the Globes are an unreliable predictor of the award for which he was later nominated, the Best Actor Oscar. It’s a prize Antonio richly deserves to win: his performance in “Pain and Glory” is peerless, both a career triumph and a sign of great work to come. Some of that work will be on the stage, where he was discovered by Almodóvar at the age of 21. “Leaving the theater for movies was like leaving a beautiful woman,” he charmingly told me, adding that his favorite American acting experience was on Broadway in “Nine”. Now, with his Teatro Soho and his arts school, Teatro Jóvenes Artistas Antonio Banderas, the stage is again his home. So is Spain, but the world is his oyster.

A Good Weekend for Movies: “Star Trek” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor”

May 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

One of the certainties of documentaries is that I never feel like watching them when I’m in the heat of making them. Regardless of how things are going with my own projects, it’s safe to say the last thing I want after a long day in the editing room is to sit down with someone else’s documentary (though features and TV are generally OK).

Now that I’ve finished “Under the Hollywood Sign,” however, I’m avidly lapping up documentaries as well as features. In the past four days, I’ve seen two documentaries in theatrical release: “Every Little Step,” and “Valentino: The Last Emperor.” The former is moving in exactly the same way “A Chorus Line” was when I first saw it on Broadway. The latter, while it doesn’t quite live up to its fabulous trailer, is a fascinating portrait not only of Valentino and his partner in business and life, Giancarlo Giametti, but the dying needle trades of haute couture. “Apres moi, le deluge,” Valentino says, and anyone watching his seamstresses as they stitch yards of tiny pleats from gossamer silk (and somehow managing to add to them such details as ribbons and sequins) would have to agree. Clothes aren’t going to be made this way in the future, for anyone.  And all of us–including the vast majority who will never wear couture–will be poorer for the loss of artistry.

As for features, “Star Trek” bowled me over and I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised. Although so far removed from Trekkie concerns that I don’t recall watching an entire episode of the television series, I can hardly remember a time when “Star Trek” wasn’t playing in the background, like Greek mythology for the space age.

The new “Star Trek” is at once an homage to the television show and a welcome departure from it. While the Enterprise looks reassuringly familiar, the actors playing Kirk and Spock (Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) surpass their elders’ performances, brilliantly reinventing their characters when they could have settled for imitation. The effect is rather like seeing in 3-D for the first time after a lifetime of reading comic books. And the nonstop action is thrilling rather than gratuituously violent.

In an era of generally dismal movies and pointless remakes, it’s wonderful to see a worthwhile film of any kind, but “Star Trek” goes far beyond worthwhile. J.J. Abrams could have easily failed in his attempt to revitalize the franchise; instead, he has succeeded so well that his previous work, including “Lost” looks wan and wooden by comparison.

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