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Matt Dillon Gets Conched in Donostia

Here on the next to the next-to-last day of the festival, American actor Matt Dillon, is to be awarded a lifetime career CONCHA award (at the relatively tender age of 42) -- in this writer's opinion a very good choice. The other performer award this week went to Swede Max Von Sydow, so Matt can be said to be stepping in the best of company, and no questions about that. Over the years I have watched Dillon's career develop from early "young punk" roles in films like "Rumble Fish" (Coppola,1983) and "The Flamingo Kid" (Garry Marshal, 1984) to his mature bearded rendition of the American writer-maudit Charles Bukowski last year, in "Factotum" by Norwegian director Bent Hamer, which firmly established him in my mind as one of the foremost actors going in the current stock of middle generation American movie stars -- although to call Dillon a "movie star" is to play a bit with the generally accepted meaning of that fickle-fingered term.

This I say because Dillon has the looks and Aura of a "star", but the savvy and talent to play off of his real acting ability (far deeper than certified Stars with a capital 'S' such as Cruise, Pitt, or even Redford in his younger days) and -- moreover -- the courage to accept roles which may not necessarily endear him to the bobby-soxer fan-club crowd (-- alright, that's an obsolete word, "bobby-soxer" -- but what else do you call brainless young chicks who drool over the equally brainless Matinee idols of today?), or even supporting roles like the tyrannical, simple-minded Wop husband of Nicole Kidman in Gus van Sant's 1995 masterpiece "To Die For", where his character is terminated -- wiped out of the script, before the flick is half over -- or the unbelievably racist traffic cop in "Crash" which Dillon makes painfully, even comically, believable. Dillon was nominated for a supporting Oscar this year for his work in "Crash", but inexplicably lost out to a totally nothing George Clooney in "Syriana". Well, Gorgeous George is a SUPER-duper-star, as well as a high roller generally in Hollywood politics, whereas Matt Dillon is just one helluva good actor who cares more about his job than his image -- and, anyway, who ever said that the Oscars have much if anything to do with quality or talent? An hour from now Mr. Matt Dillon will meet the Donostia press, just across the hall from this press computer enclave in the bowels of the Kursaal "Cube", and we'll be there to see what this cat has to say about his career and the business he's in. Don't go way --stay tuned.

Trivia bit: Dillon was partnered in "Flamingo Kid" by Hector Elizondo, who is, to my knowledge, the one and only actor of Basque extraction in Hollywood -- a very good actor at that.

PS: At the press conference: In a packed house conference hall Matt really came across solid and sincere -- no funny business or cutesy sucking up to the media and printed press corps -- straightforward, full answers to all questions without getting into lectures, no false humility or self-serving bullshit of any kind. Not exactly the awesome dignity of a Max von Sydow, but a sense of a down-to-earth guy who knows where he's been, knows exactly where he is now, has a pretty good idea of where he's going, and is not to be fucked with. The kind of guy you could have a drink with and talk about just about anything under the sun -- not just about him. Right off the bat, one of the first things he said was, yes, he felt very honored to be getting a "life achievement award" at an important festival such as this, and yes he felt he was in very good company considering the great and near-great actors who have been awarded here before -- but "I think it's maybe a little too early --like I'm still too young to be getting a "lifetime" award -- I'm just in the middle of my career. If I came back here forty years from now, looking back, that might be more like it." This delivered as a plain statement of fact, not as a Gee-whiz, who me? -- type of phoney disclaimer. "Of course, he added, I have been in the business quite a while, more than twenty years -- and I have been in a lot of films."(he was already acting at the age of eighteen, is now 42, and has already been in some forty feature films).

There were many questions about specific roles in specific films, especially the recent Bukowski biopic, "Factotum" in which he is essentially a borderline alcoholic bum with talent and a severe case of writing obsession -- this and the Oscar nominated racist cop in "Crash". When somebody pointed out that the Mickey Rourke role in "Barfly" (Barbet Schroeder, 1987) is also based on the Bukowski character, Dillon said, "Yes, but we didn't have that one in mind at all when we were making Factotum. I saw "Barfly" back when it came out and thought Mickey was, y'know -- great in it, but it's a totally different view of Bukowski than our film, and it didn't influence me in any way".

As for the kinds of roles he prefers to do, he said he leans toward characters who are not perfect, who, even if they are strong and get the good-looking gal, always have an Achilles heel. In other words he prefers "character leads" as he called them, to "romantic leading man" roles. Asked what kinds of roles he wants to do next he said, "It's not always what you want to do or what you would like to do -- it's more what suits you, and what you can or can't do" -- in other words, you have to recognize your strengths and be aware of your limitations. This, explains to me something I haven't really given much thought to before -- why Matt Dillon is always good and always convincing no matter what he's in -- because the role is always right for him, and his range is broad enough so that he can do lots of different things without getting into a type cast rut. I kind of think of him, subliminally, as a latter day Robert Ryan, and would love to see him do an update of Sam Fuller 's "House of Bamboo" or playing Reno Smith in "Bad Day at Black Rock", but let's face it, this is very idle speculation.

The thing about Matt is that he has a chiselled face which speaks volumes combined with a kind of mysterious depth that can't be put into words. Even at the long press conference table facing the press corps all alone except for an interpreter off to the side, with a captive audience eating up his every word, I had this strange feeling that this was not Dillon's scene -- all this talk, talk, talk -- not that he wasn't more than adequately articulate --particularly in describing his feelings about the Guggenheim Museum over in Bilbao. Almost as if Bukowski was speaking through him. He made the very interesting point that one of the reasons the Guggenheim belongs to the people -- is a piece of popular art -- is that it has been placed in a basically industrial, faceless city like Bilbao -- not where you would expect such a fantastic piece of architecture like this to be found -- like, Madrid, Barcelona or Paris. He called the Guggenheim "magical" and his description of it was itself rather magical -- poetic -- beautiful -- and yet I couldn't help feeling he would rather be doing something else instead of gabbing on cue in response to all these oh-so meaningful questions -- like maybe shooting some pool at the corner poolroom, or duking it out with some wise-ass out in the alley -- before, or not before the cameras.

Here is my reaction to Matt Dillon's "Factotum" when I came cross it completely by accident at the Hamburg Film Festival just exactly one year ago. And I quote myself which is sometimes a weird thing to do: Oddly enough, "Factotum" was basically overlooked while "Crash" which was actually made somewhat earlier, is the one that came in for Oscar consideration. In my opinion, he should have gotten an Oscar-and-a-half for both films together.

A pointed question fired at Dillon was that, since he really got his big start with Francis. F. Coppola in the brace of teenage hoodlum films "Rumble Fish" and "The Outsiders", both made in 1983, how is it that he has not worked in a Coppola film since then? To this the actor replied that it just worked out that way. He considers Coppola to have been his early mentor and is still a good friend of the director who is a generation older. "The thing about being an actor is that you never really know what you're going to be doing next, and that's part of what I like about it. There is, in fact, a chance I may be working with Francis again in the near future, but nothing I would want to talk about yet." Matt has also directed a film and thinks he might do another one eventually, but personally, I wouldn't want to see him stray too far from his true calling. Matt Dillon is an actor who is right now at the peak of his career, and who can be counted on to deliver the goods every ti me, because he doesn't bullshit on screen or off screen. I think he unconsciously applies the famous James Cagney one line summary of what screen acting is all about: "Look the other guy in the face --and tell the truth!" It certainly will be interesting to see what Matt Dillon is doing thirty or forty years hence -- maybe getting ready to pick up his second Lifetime Concha around the year 2036.

Tonight's gala in which Matt will be handed his Donostian Seashell on the Kursaal stage will be followed by the Spanish premiere of the new Danish film from Lars von Trier "Direktøren for det hele" ("The Boss of it All"), which is said to be less Dogmatic and more comical than the stuff with which, like Lamont Cranston, he has attempted to cloud men's minds up till now. The fact that the film has, ho-ho-ho -- boisterous Icelandic director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson (that's Fridrik Thor Fridrikssn to you) in the cast, is already a sign that maybe Lars is lightening up a bit and taking himself a tad less seriously as he enters his second half-century. Although Copenhagen is not that far from Donostia by plane or train, the slightly insane-Dane will not be here to intro his film in person not only because of an incurable case of fear-of-flying, but also because of a somewhat more generalized fear of anything on wheels capable of crashing -- i.e., full blown vehicular paranoia! When necessary he beams in his greetings by satellite television hook-up or just plain mental telepathy. While, of course, adhering to rigid Dogma principles...

Alex, winding down in Donostia
Saturday and THE END coming up.

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