The Hamptons International Film Festival, now in its twentieth year, has become a destination festival in the long red carpet season that begins with Toronto in September and meanders towards the Oscars in February. The five-day festival boasts Honorary Chair Alec Baldwin doing extended one-on-ones at East Hampton's Guild Hall (this year he sat down with Richard Gere) and stepping from party to party as the festival's celebrity mayor. (He refused a cigar proffered by "The Daily's" Bill McCuddy because, the "30 Rock" star said, the new Mrs. Baldwin doesn't approve.) Over the years, the festival has had its share of local celebrities — TV anchor Rosanna Scotto and King of all Media Howard Stern can be seen in the audience — and an outpouring of bold-faced names like Meryl Streep, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sienna Miller and future stars like Alicia Vikander.
For all the bumping into familiar faces at local watering holes — I met "The Girl" star Toby Jones at the Hunting Lodge on Friday night and compared notes over a nightcap -- the festival has emerged in recent years as an essential stop on the Awards Season trail, in some ways eclipsing the prestigious yet elitist New York Film Festival running simultaneously and now celebrating its fiftieth. This is where I saw "The King's Speech" two years ago, and contenders "Silver Linings Playbook," "Argo," "Smashed," "Rust and Bone," "The Sessions" and "Amour" are all screening this Columbus Day weekend. For me, what sets the festival apart is its intimacy, its eagerness to please, the increasing quality of the films and the talent that accompanies them, and the undeniable fact that the Hamptons are a beautiful place to be in October once those awful summer people have left.
"The Girl" has its world premiere:
Last night, in my capacity as a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and — full disclosure — a member of the festival's advisory board, I hosted the post-screening Q&A for the world premiere of "The Girl." The British film about the relationship between director Alfred Hitchcock and actress Tippi Hedren is part of the festival's inaugural Focus on UK Films event co-hosted by actress, producer and environmentalist Trudie Styler and director Michael Apted. Along with the film's stars — Toby Jones and Sienna Miller — Styler was in the audience at the UA Theater with partner Sting (at one point sharing a seat with him), as well as fashionistas Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.
The movie, from HBO films and set to air on October 20th, is a fascinating exploration of the traumatic collaboration between Hitchcock (Jones) and Hedren (Miller) during the making of his classic works, "The Birds" and "Marnie." Hedren was a single mother (Melanie Griffiths is her daughter) and model that got her big acting break when cast as the protagonist — and victim — in Hitchcock's follow-up to "Psycho." Hedren stepped into the icy blond role most recently vacated by Janet Leigh.
The drama, directed by Julian Jerrold, falls into the sub-genre of cameo, or small-scaled, biography like "The Queen" or "The Iron Lady." Like Toby Jones' other recent film, "Berberian Sound Studio," a cult favorite at Toronto, "The Girl" is also a movie about moviemaking; it climaxes with the shooting of the scene of birds attacking Hedren on the set as Hitchcock watches impassively (and sadistically) from his director's chair.
The movie works on many levels: as a beauty and the beast tale of sexual obsession as the obese and balding Hitchcock becomes increasingly abusive when the gorgeous Hedren spurns his unwanted advances; as a case study of sexual harassment in the workplace; and as a peek behind the scenes at a tortured (and torturing) auteur at work on two of his greatest movies, which will likely be familiar to most audiences drawn to this movie.
After the screening, I invited Jones and new mother Miller (in a creamy, long evening sheath that would have looked great on Hedren, too) down to a little patch of linoleum at the front of the sold-out theater to discuss the film. Jones revealed that he spent four hours getting prosthetic make-up on his face and neck in order to be transformed into the jowly, pouty-lipped director who made an appearance, however brief, in over thirty of his films, including "The Birds." Jones, who is himself almost birdlike in person, also wore a fat suit for the film.
The British actor, who voiced Dobby in the "Harry Potter" movies and recently played a dwarf in "Snow White and the Huntsman," told the audience that he found a way into the character through the famous director's voice, which was comparatively soothing in contrast to the devils that drove his art and personal relationships. Jones is first out of the gate playing this role, as Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays the title character in "Hitchcock," which will be released on November 23rd. That rival film is set during the making of "Psycho" in 1959, with Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife and collaborator, Alma. This is the second time Jones has played dueling historical figures in feature films. In 2006, Philip Seymour Hoffman won the best actor Oscar in 2006 for his competing portrayal of the title character in "Capote," while Jones played the writer Truman Capote opposite Daniel Craig in "Infamous."
What happened to Brendan Fraser?
Following our Q&A at the UA Theater, Miller, Jones, Sting, Styler and 1 cleared out to make way for a screening of Terry ("Hotel Rwanda") George's Irish gangster comedy "Whole Lotta Sole" starring Brendan Fraser. The "Mummy" matinee idol stepped onto the red carpet with a cane and a night watchman's cap before the movie, but when the time came for the Q&A following the film, the director and star were MIA. After a majority of the audience exited, George and Fraser were rounded up from a nearby East Hampton speakeasy. Fraser, known for his charm and glib banter, was largely monosyllabic and hostile when he took his place at the front of the theater with a slurring George. When an audience member asked Fraser why he was using a cane, the actor, clearly in pain, grumbled that he had had lumbar surgery and invited the questioner to "tweet this." Apparently, the movie was entertaining; the live performance less so.
Alan Cumming muses on Lords and Ladies
Sitting in the sunny patio of the Maidstone Hotel, a relaxed Alan Cumming, at the festival to promote "Any Day Now," in which he plays a part-time drag performing fighting for gay rights in LA in the 1970's, chatted amiably while lobbing away bees. The Scottish-born actor, who is married to Grant Shaffer, discussed receiving an O.B.E. (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2009. Typically, recipients are referred to as "Sir" and their wives are given the prefix "Lady." When asked what the official title would now be for his male spouse, he said that custom had not caught up to modern mores, but he was not going to call Mr. Shaffer "Lady," but he had yet to come up with an alternative. Later, during a formal conversation in Sag Harbor, "The Good Wife" star wore a gag T-shirt made by a prankster friend for the occasion emblazoned with 'Hamptons International Adult Film Festival.'
Meryl Streep quips about Tommy Lee Jones
At a star-studded seated dinner at East Hamptons hotspot Nick & Toni's honoring Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth ("The English Patient"), guest Meryl Streep, noting Roth's discomfort at being the center of attention, commented to the guest of honor: "you're more grumpy than Tommy Lee Jones.' Those in attendance, which also included Alan Cumming, Nathan Lane, Mike Nichols, and Blythe Danner, burst out laughing.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more dispatches from the Hamptons International Film Festival in "Adams on Reel Women."