“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: ‘There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.'”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 4
It was hard not to think of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby as we made our way in the shuttle up the winding dirt road to a party thrown for patrons and VIPS – their reward for their generous donations and coverage was hob-nobbing with the various celebrities who were in Telluride to promote their films. The shuttle picked people up down on Main Street, in front of the Sheridan hotel, all of them crammed in tightly, cell phones at the ready so as to avoid conversation. But if conversation did start it was usually the same kind of thing: How long is the ride? Is this where the brunch was last year? Is George Clooney going to be there?
The shuttle stopped at the top of a mountain that itself wasn’t even the highest mountain but still boasted the kind of view you only have if you’re if you’re a winner in life. You’ve at last won the game, either by getting something coming to you, or you worked hard for it and this is what you have to show the world that you’ve won the damned game.
We wandered down the dusty road where there were white tents with round tables underneath them. The staff busily prepared the all local and organic menu, the mimosas, the coffee, and of course, the one thing you simply can’t do without in Telluride: water. There were a few names there already and we were began rubber-necking. Ken Burns, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Alexander Payne were the early birds, each of them talking to anyone who happened to approach.
We filled up our plates with their local, organic brunch which included fruit salad, corn cakes, chicken and pork sausages, eggs however you like them, french bread with peach and raspberry jam and all manner of muffins, croissants and scones. Hollywood people don’t exactly chow down, which always makes these things kind of strange: the only people who eat are the people who really shouldn’t be there in the first place.
The sun dipped in and out of the sometimes scattered, sometimes dense cloud cover. There wasn’t a place you could stand that didn’t shimmer with natural beauty. This was a place for winners. Once George Clooney showed up, the faces all turned in his direction. Journalists migrated near, shaking his hand, asking him questions. Clooney didn’t get but five feet from the last step into the brunch area before being swarmed. He never really moved beyond that one spot because it wasn’t going to be his job to walk and mingle. He only had to stand there and let others come to him.
It’s one thing to know George Clooney the movie star, as we all do, his charm almost always his leading characteristic. It’s a whole other thing to stand a few feet away from him and actually feel his force field. Any cynicism or desire to be above it all evaporates. One hates to be a fan or a lesser monkey gazing lovingly at the beautiful monkey but there is a reason Clooney is where he is. And that reason can be felt – it is made of solids.
I snapped a few photos of Clooney anyway, even though in my sad little imaginary world I was pretending not to care that it was indeed a star of this magnitude standing so close. What does it matter what I think. What does it matter what anyone thinks. This is how it all goes down. Clooney, though, despite his own palpable force field, was amiable and giving of his time and self — golden-skinned, with even features and a mouth that makes you want to disappear into his pretty monkey orbit — he worked the grounds, Gatsby-esque but approachable. The journalists who spoke with him couldn’t stop smiling. Am I overstating this? Probably. But only a little.
You never want to stand around too long at these things. By the time the crew finds time to relax, sit back and have a bite it’s usually time to leave. Clooney was still there. Tilda Swinton, who arrived late but flitted about, was still there. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was still there. Glenn Close with Rodrigo Garcia was still there. But one can’t really fill the time much beyond taking a few pictures and talking to a few people. We decided to hot foot it out there and try to make the press briefing at the Sheridan.
On the way down Jeff Wells was looking thoughtfully out the window. The hum of the bus, the murmur of its passengers, took the place of conversation. But finally Jeff turned to me and said, “you know, people like to say that everyone has it basically good in life but it really isn’t true. Life is for the privileged. Only a few get to enjoy the spoils.”
His head was turned and he was looking at a small herd of horses whose manes shimmered in the light — so much light. I wondered if Jeff Wells counted himself among them, if he felt, riding on this shuttle up the hill and to that place, whether he was there because he deserved to be there or whether he felt himself still on the outside looking in. It wasn’t a question I could answer then and maybe not ever.
That afternoon I saw Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. I was still wearing the dress I’d wore at the picnic when I’d stood behind George Clooney in a futile attempt to pretend like I didn’t care that I was sharing space with a movie star. But this time it was as it should be: I was in the audience and he was on stage doing a q&a. My face hurt from the crying but I was so appreciative to Payne and Clooney for making this film that it was a pleasure to once again be a fan, and to not have to pretend like we were on equal ground, even if we were standing on adjacent turf for a little while one hot afternoon in Telluride.
That night we all crammed into the Galaxy to watch Albert Nobbs. The festival was in full swing — the trick was now in watching movies and writing about them, not in day-dreaming about life lived among those beautiful winners, and that house on the mountain, and all of the ways it made us think about who we were and what we were doing there. Colorado is where we are. It starts and ends there.