Welcome to the Machine

Sean Penn and John Krakauer - Into the Wild (2007) (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Director Sean Penn and author John Krakauer
9/18 LA Premiere of Into the Wild (2007)
(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Last night at the Los Angeles premiere of Sean Penn’s new film Into the Wild, I had a small glimpse behind the curtain of the movie marketing machine for the first time. What did I see? Another curtain actually. This was all part of the show. It was a show within the show in fact and all part of the process of putting a movie over to us, the audience. On one hand, it’s pretty far removed from what plays on the screen (the only part that really matters…right?), but at the same time it’s integral to it. It’s not enough just to get a movie made, people have to go see it and you can’t just tell them to go see it, you have to make them want to see it. How do you do that? Well, if there was an easy answer to that question, every movie would be a huge hit. It’s clear however that one time honored piece of the puzzle is the premiere complete with celebrity arrivals and after-party. That’s what last night was all about.

I don’t mean to sound cynical or above it all because I’m just as star struck as anyone, but I wonder what it’s like for people who do this for a living. The journalists I mean. Do they become jaded to it after a while or do they get sucked into it and start believing it’s more important than it really is? And what is Vince Vaughn thinking as he stands there chatting up probable strangers? Is this what he signed on for when he decided to become an actor? Maybe he’s thinking exactly what I’d be thinking: “Sweet, I’m surrounded by hotties, there’s a whole table full of salmon and chicken and whatnot over there, people keep taking my wine glasses as soon as I polish them off and…oh hey, there’s Eddie Vedder, what’s up Ed?…woah is that Eva Marie Saint? Goddamn, being famous is awesome…oh look, chocolate covered strawberries…”

I expect that the hype for a smaller, more personal movie like Into the Wild is much more restrained than for one of your summer blockbusters. One of the nice surprises though was that even through all the hubbub, the movie still speaks for itself and it stands out. Mr. Penn said a few words before the movie and it was pretty clear he was proud of what he’d made and passionate about it. Here’s Mr. Bigshot celebrity standing in front of a room full of people, some are his peers, some are important journalist types and some are just dopes like me, and he seems kind of humble about this thing he’d created and wanted to share with people. Of course he’s an actor so maybe it was all for show (and it’s also true that, no matter what, he gets to go home to Buttercup from The Princess Bride every night), but I choose to believe it was genuine. Am I a sucker? Maybe. Probably.

Another refreshing thing to see is that behind all this glamour are hundreds of mostly regular people who are just doing their jobs. True, their jobs happen to be movies, but it was great to see that some of them actually love what they do and that they’re just as excited about movies as the rest of us.

What about the movie? Oh yeah. The movie. Into the Wild tells the true story of Christopher McCandless who, upon graduation from Emory University in 1990, donated all his money to Oxfam and set about hitch hiking to Alaska to live alone in wilderness. Part idealist, part adventurer, part screwball, McCandless makes for an interesting story and the movie is definitely worth checking out. I’ll hopefully have a review up by Friday when it opens in limited release.

Thanks to Sasha Stone of Awards Daily (OscarWatch) for allowing me the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for one night.





3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Machine

  1. Sounds great, hope you had fun. I’ve been grumpy about alot of Penn’s work lately, but I thought his last film behind the camera, THE PLEDGE, was very under acknowledged, and features a Nicholson performance that stands toe to toe with his work in the 1970s. It also had shrewd, memorable, effective bits with Benicio Del Toro and Mickey Rourke. That ending was a hearbreaker too, and is authentically “ironic”, which seems to be just another word for a Twilight Zone, Shyamalan wannabe these days.

    So, in other words, I’m looking forward to INTO THE WILD.

  2. I would have to (somewhat cynically, possibly unfairly) assume that for every person truly excited about films and what not out there in the Hollywood machine, there’s another just waiting to nail the next up-and-coming actress/actor and make their first million. But you know, if you spend too much time worrying about the latter, you’ll miss the joys of seeing the former make movies.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it sounds like you saw a little of both last night and that’s not really a bad thing as long as you had a good time (sounds like you did). Depending on the movie and the money behind it, I imagine the ratio of honest mope making movies to slime probably changes but ultimately I imagine that even on a Michael Bay movie there are at least a few people honestly enjoying making movies, not just slinging shit.

    And christ, Eva Marie Saint? Hello. That’s not a bad night.

  3. I’m at a loss as to how people are going to react to Into the Wild. The main character can be a difficult one to like at times. If there’s a flaw in the filmmaking, it’s an occasional lack of subtlety…a pet peeve of mine but it’s forgiveable here.

    As for movie people, I can only really speak of the tiny handful that I came into contact with.

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