Piers Marchant: Sundance 2019: Day 1January 25, 2019
Number of Films: 2
Best Movie of the Day: Memory
The Inventor: Alex Gibney’s film spends a good deal of time focusing on the deep blue eyes of Elizabeth Holmes, the former wunderkind young CEO of Theranos, a company that promised to revolutionize the blood testing industry with ultra high-tech, inexpensive personal tests. As Gibney’s camera reveals, as wide and deep as her eyes appear to be, they are often bloodshot, perhaps the only sign that things aren’t quite as clear as she’s insisting. In interview after interview, with Fortune, Forbes, The New Yorker, and numerous industry conferences, she pledges absolute faith in the company and her vision. So compelling was her persuasiveness, she attracted a bevy of A-list investors, who gave her more than $800 million to help her realize the incredible technology she promised. Through it all, her eyes, striking, piercing, almost never blink. Of course, as it’s been well documented now, Holmes and her CEO we’re committing dangerous fraud of the highest order, fudging results, lying to investors and the public — including, horrifyingly enough, Walgreens, which actually opened mini Theranos stations in some of their stores — and generally fooling everyone from journalists, to regulators, to hapless employees, and actual clients, that somehow the company was steady on its mission. Gibney’s film more or less regurgitates the facts as they’re known, but packages them with many of Holmes’ compelling interviews and public appearances to give the viewer a sense of just how she was able to pull it off. As with all of her high-ranking political contacts and investors, you don’t realize the true insanity behind those eyes until it’s too late.
Memory: As a young, innocent lad of 13, I got to see Alien with a friend and his father, and the experience forever seared itself into my consciousness: It struck me incredibly deeply, in a way I could never have explained or understood at the time, like a song whose chorus feels as if pulled from that past and future simultaneously. Alexandre O. Phillipe, who specializes in docs focused on specific films and scenes (78/52, which explored in great detail Hitchcock’s infamous shower sequence from Psycho), turns his curious gaze on Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror/sci-fi masterpiece, and specifically the wandering muse of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Cutting through the layers on a film as deceptively dense as Alien requires approaching it from multiple angles at once, and Phillipe dutifully interviews original crew members, actors (though notably not Sigourney Weaver), film professors, podcasters, and the widows of O’Bannon and visionary artist H.R. Giger, whose nightmarish imagery suffuses the entire production. What he eventually gets at has something to do with the way in which the film dips heavily into mythos, Greek, Egyptian, and otherwise, along with folk tales, Francis Bacon, Lovecraft, old EC comics, and previous science fiction films from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Where we end up, of course, is hardly definitive, but does at least suggest the many stratums and complexities of a film that has only become more iconic over the years.
Tomorrow: The first full day of the festival promises to be an interesting one: Early on, I plan on hitting Lucía Garibaldi’s The Sharks; then Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s mafia saga Birds of Passage; move on to Late Night, a comedy written by Mindy Kaling and staring Emma Thompson; and close out the evening at a midnight screening of Lee Cronin’s disturbing sounding The Hole in the Ground.
Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings.