The idea to drive into Albuquerque and make the nearly six hour drive to Telluride turned out to be a good one by my travel mate, Jeff Wells of Hollywood-Elsewhere.com. At first it seemed like the way to go was to wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am it and fly in just for the film fest. But to know a place, to fall in love with a place, it is sometimes necessary, advisable even, to take a different route than everyone else might take. The work is the work, but the place is the place. And when it comes to Telluride, Colorado, and all of the magnificent landscape that surrounds it, a broader view is the way to go. I will admit fully, though, that as a “Telluride virgin” perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll take that chance.
New Mexico was covered with a swatch of moisture-soaked clouds threatening to rain and every now and then letting some raindrops go – in bursts sometimes. Every once in a while there’d be an ominous flash of lightning splitting the flat horizon line, darkening as we headed toward Durango. We would make it to our hotel by 11pm, a full hour earlier than expected, careful to avoid the many cop cars which were pulling people over right and left, looking an awful lot like immigrant purging but one brings one’s liberal agenda with them everywhere.
A lack of familiar chain restaurants was a welcome relief after the many you see up I-5 in California. In New Mexico there was Lottaburger but mostly independent Mexican food places; you know the locals aren’t going to go for Del Taco. By the time you hit Colorado the scenery and demographics change. Mountain air, nicer cars, high end restaurants and overpriced gas stations dot highway 551. We took the occasion to have a stiff drink down on the main drag in Durango where the only bars in town are found. One was a noisy meat market for locals and the other was a sparsely populated bar with waitresses who didn’t look old enough to drink there and a table full of old timers meeting for their weekly poker game. Every once in a while, here in Colorado, you see a real cowboy. Some of these guys, with their scraggly beards and loose Wranglers maybe were cowboys once but the boots got too uncomfortable. Or maybe it was my imagination. Our fresh faced waitress reminded me of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “Where you all from?” Her smile was hesitant. We didn’t look local, probably. “I was thinking of getting back into acting,” she told Jeff Wells after our first vodka drink. “I wish I was going to the film festival this year. But I’m going to blues festival they have up there in a little while.”
One thing you never really get sick of here is how nice everyone is. Even when it isn’t about their profiting from the hoards who flood the area this time of year, they look you in the eye and they say hello for no reason at all. Is it a Colorado thing? A Durango thing? A Telluride thing? I don’t know.
The vodka worked its evil on me by morning and I had a piercing headache, half from the altitude; you aren’t supposed to drink any alcohol at all but are advised to stick to water, lots and lots of water. We packed up and hit the road, ready to finally start working after our a day’s vacation. One our way up the winding highway we stopped at a natural foods store – a clean, well lit oasis with a rosy-faced owner. We had some coffee, hooked up to their wi-fi, bought some lavender body oil and left. But we remembered Mancos and would have stayed there if we’d known the area better.
It wasn’t long before reaching Telluride. You drive up a hill and then down into a valley. Rain drops dotted our windshield which then gave way to that kind of high glorious sunlight you only get at high altitudes. Already the film festival had overrun the town. We picked up our badges from the press office and made our way to our lodging. One of Jeff Wells’ good friends, a producer, offered us a place to stay for free in his spacious home. The thing about it is that it’s a home and that makes it intimate in ways you probably never forget.
After getting situated in the various rooms where we’d be bunking, we wandered back into town to buy some coffee. A tall, leggy blonde walked by us with a husband who was so good looking he was either a model or an actor. One look at her face and it was obvious it was Elizabeth Berkeley of Showgirls fame. Somehow she knew Jeff and gave him a big friendly hug. They chatted for over five minutes while I meticulously ground the coffee beans, trying to listen but trying not to listen. Jeff said she was in town for Ralph Lauren’s son’s wedding nearby. Why they picked this of all weekends to have a star-studded wedding is a mystery. I carefully noted Berkeley’s market haul: a whole bag full of frozen vegetables.
Johnny Depp is here, someone says. We bumped into a producer of the Social Network, “fun year” he said. What are the TBAS? That’s what everyone wants to know. What movies will come here and surprise everyone? Would there be another Slumdog Millionaire? Another Up in the Air? We found an outside bar and once again took out our computers and started wi-fing it, which means Twitter, Facebook and various other ways to absorb yet more news and information. Publicists were hanging around – Marlow Stern of Newsweek and the Daily Beast sat with us for some fries coated with paprika and salt. We caught up on movies – what did he think of the Ides of March? All the while, the rays of the sun persisted, with the late afternoon bringing a magic hour that makes you want to do nothing more than wander around with your camera taking pictures of the light and how it plays with the color of the place.
As the sun finally made its melodramatic exit, an outdoor screening of Michael Clayton was gathering attendees. Blankets, lounge chairs and a few people were staking their claim. This is the George Clooney festival with tributes and a screening of The Descendents. Naturally an outdoor screening of Michael Clayton, which stars both Tilda Swinton (here for We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Clooney.
[Note: George Clooney, Pierre Étaix and Tilda Swinton will also receive Telluride’s Silver Medallion Award, given to recognize an artist’s significant contribution to the world of cinema.]
That night, we were invited (Jeff Wells was invited, he dragged me along as he’s done very kindly for the whole trip to Telluride) to a birthday dinner for the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Roger Durling at a restaurant called 221. One of his birthday presents, given to him by the irresistibly charming Madelyn Hammond, Pete Hammond’s wife, was a box of probing questions. We each took turns asking and answering questions. When asked what book he wished he’d written, Kris Tapley said the Bible. Stories, laughter, wine — no doubt we were the table everyone else was complaining about.
After dinner we said our goodbyes and walked by the outdoor screening. Michael Clayton was finishing. There was George Clooney’s face in that great moment in the film where he’s in a taxi — his fate undetermined. Clooney is the man of the hour here, though we were given a warning earlier by the festival’s publicity that no photographs were to be taken of Clooney at the tribute or at any of his official appearances here. That email was later followed up by an explanation that it was the festival’s decision, not Clooney’s, and that he remained a “man of the people.” It didn’t really matter, I didn’t think, whether we took photos of him or not. The whole point is to celebrate his work and to publicize his two upcoming films — does the world need any more photos of Clooney? I don’t think so.
(George Clooney at Telluride Patron’s Brunch, Friday, Sept 2)
Still, we could take pictures of him if we saw him on the fly. And in Telluride you never know who you’re going to see. As we made our way back to our lodging, we were captivated by a tall, thin woman in a red coat. A photographer was taking her picture in the black of night, and when she turned we saw it was Tilda Swinton. I positioned myself and tried to take her picture, but like most ghostly apparitions she turned too quickly and all I got was a beautiful, intoxicating blur.
The next morning the festival would begin.