The inherent structure of Cape Cod allows for many misinterpretations but the most structurally specific revolves around a sense of geography. Provincetown, as a destination, rests at the tip of Massauchussetts…a perception of Land’s End, if you will, marked by the precipitous beacon of a white lighthouse.
Unbeknownst to many, the Pilgrims first landed here before settling on Plymouth further down the way. The natural harbor brings through a sense of calm but also a brisk breakwater which holds away storms steaming just 125 miles off shore on the Grand Banks. One cannot help think of “The Perfect Storm”.
It only seems fitting that a film festival rests within its quaint streets offering a glimpse of life both lithe but also socially conscious.
Reached briskly from the gateway of Boston, Provincetown is a swift 2-hour high speed ferry ride via Bay Street Cruises from the World Trade Center wharf in the infamous harbor where tea once sprung in majesty. Nearby Logan International Airport is right across the water, reach with utter ease by MTBA, the city’s intrinsic and easy-to-use train system. Dependent whether coming from the West Coast or closer, an overnight stay in the Boston area might be deemed necessary simply because of schedule.
Arriving in Provincetown, the planks of the wharf reveal the lobster boat swinging in the crux of early morning fog. The pinnacle of Pilgrim Monument rises above the town as Commercial Street rises from end to end consumating the heart of the tourist trade.
A short 10 minute walk affords the stay of the jewel of the island: the Crowne Pointe Inn. Its bungalows gently lifted with the aroma of flowers and gentle sloping fences give it the perception of a high-end bed and breakfast with all the amenities. The included breakfast, prepared by a master chef highlighting culinary delights from eggs benedict to quiche along with the essence of freshly squeezed orange juice, provides a remarkable beginning to the day.
The Provincetown International Film Festival is in a persistent growth balanced with its different textures of films inevitably creating structure of its status. The films themselves are mired between an aspect of overarching stylistic representation and a plethora of existential journeys.
“Hipsters” is a Russian film taking on the representation of the 50s idea of “cool” in the 1960s perception of Communism. With some exceptionally shot musical sequences that rival some Western European productions with distinctly more flair, the movie also works on the level of contrasting sociological differences. The characters in the film long for the texture of America in terms of its rebelliousness only to realize at the end of the film that the times had past them by and America has moved onto another trend. This along with an ending musical sequence that mixes both aspects of “Grease” with the anthem angles of U2 showing 50s youth and today’s youth on the streets of urban Russia show distinctly how life has changed there.
“Hideaway“, in many ways similar to the film “Swimming Pool” ( made a couple years ago), uses a tragedy as a resetting mechanism for a character to retrace her identity. Unlike that earlier film, this French outing focuses on a former drug addict’s hope for the brother of her dead lover only to be confused by his actions. The aspect of her pregnancy is the only aspect of her love that she can still feel. The resolution feels metaphorical beyond a doubt but nonetheless the narratives wilts in comparison.
“Tanner Hall” reflects more with the search for identity than any specific plot contrivance. The story, set at an all-girls college, revolves within the idea that in every situation, there is a need for escape. The lead actress, Rooney Mara, who is every bit as quiet in real life, speaks with her eyes and movements which makes the progress of the story much more primal. Certain character structures surrounding her though are wasted, especially those involving Amy Sedaris and Chris Kattan, who though comical don’t necessary play through in tonal tandem with the rest of the cast.
“All About Evil” swings the complete other way with its gore instilled movie homages revolving around the psychologically disturbed granddaughter of a movie house owner who seeks to make her own works of horror. While the offbeat structure and characters (especially in the form of two sadistic twins in bobby sox) provide some camp laughs, the tonal structure is at times un-wielding despite an understanding of macabre by the director, who also moonlights as drag queen celeb Peaches. Natasha Lyonne, who here reteams with her “But I’m A Cheerleader” co-star Mink Stole, gets the viciousness focused full throttle but her lavish intensity at times overwhelms the idea unraveling its momentum.
“Wasteland“, the sole documentary viewed, premiered to intensive raves at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals earlier in the year. Using recycling and the persistence of third world poverty as a vehicle for social change, filmmaker Lucy Walker and artist Vik Muniz create a reflective study of human behavior set in the garbage dumps of Rio. The idea of creating visual art as a medium from life, transposing it into a photo then using the same workers to reconstruct the image using recyclables from the same landfill is both cyclical and affecting, especially when the film captures how it changes the subjects’ way of thinking.
“Every Day”, much more a character study, stars Liev Shreiber and Helen Hunt as a couple trying to find sanity in their daily lives between a dying alcoholic father, a overly steadfast son, an unbridled affair and fears of getting old. While the story leans towards the melodramatic, it is the focus of the two stars and their slightly bent (and on-purpose) miscommunication, that rightly relates their overarching shortcomings. Supporting turns by Brian Dennehy as the father and the always sensuous Carla Gugino as Liev’s sexual laision lost in her reverie solidify this small independent’s possibility.
The vision of honorees swells through the town like an uninterrupted wave of praise. The exceptional aspect of Provincetown is that people can walk down the street undeterred even as a celebrity. John Waters, who is a member of the festival board and summers in the area, can be seen riding up and down the streets on his bike.
This year, the honorees included director Kevin Smith (who brought his producing effort “Bear Nation” to town) as well as Oscar winning actress Tilda Swinton (with her new film “I Am Love”) allowing them to assimilate directly into the calmness of the town’s setting.
At a filmmaker brunch at the scenic Land’s End Inn with a vista over the harbor, Smith related that the town reminded him of the first place he wrote a screenplay but harked back that the entire business has changed since then. Interacting with indie filmmakers is a joy for him but, with the saturation of product now, the idea is much more complex. The key is enthusiasm.
While films abound within the streets of Provincetown, its bright corridors also hold distinctions of food and drink for respite.
Mews, on the far east end of Commercial Street, envisions itself as a vodka destination and revolves in the textures of its martinis.
The intonation of The Butterfinger, mixing Van Gogh Chocolate Vodka with Frangelico, creates a perfect soothing ideal as the boats sway on the water outside the frosty windows. The “Cape Blush” Zinfandel from Truro Vineyards, near where “Storm” author Sebastian Junger lives, provided less intention withering instead of inspiring.
The appetizers provided a structure of balance entering into the main course. The crabmeat filled avocado, available only in season, provided a paradox of sensation from the sweet taste of its pinnacle while the creamy influx of the sizable salad wedge soaked in blue cheese and bacon waxed heavenly.
The main entree of lobster risotto, provided with large claws of local crustacean meat mixed with scallions, wild mushrooms and truffle oils, simply purged the soul while the after-dinner devilish “Cookies & Cream” concoction, balanced with the heightened espresso, steadied the senses.
The Bistro Grille, located within the Crowne Pointe Inn, offers another permutation of the dining experience with similar flair.
Similar within the sweetness of the Butterfinger at Mews, the Jade Martini mixes Midori, Malibu and pineapple juice with a smooth feeling that carries over the gentle fog encircling the town.
The starter consortium failed to waste any time with a tuna tartare cylinder, topped in caviar, that both lightened and assaulted the taste buds at the same time while the clam chowder, a stalwart of the area from its plentiful bounty offshore, did not disappoint in its creamy countenance.
The main dish again highlighted the delicacy of the area in the form of a butter-poached lobster which, again with its meat encrusted wondrousness, simply melted in the mouth, this time surrounded by an array of vegetables from carrots to peas soaked to the bone, not to mention the visceral and downright seductive Red Velvet Cake enjoyed afterwards that, were it not for the side of au gratin potatoes during dinner, would surely have caused ensued food rapture.
While these two establishments represent the height of dining for either meeting, romantic or other escapades in the small town, the cross-section of local food elements both in Provincetown and late night in Boston show the personality that encompasses the area.
Whether watching the game or surfing the net, George’s Pizza on Commercial, can do both especially when its oven baked sausage and spaghetti gets the heart pumping while P-Town Lucky Dogs, created by a transplanted Californian from Brentwood, understands the cruciality incumbent in the freshness of ingredients whether it be bacon, chili or cheese.
Down the street, the Old Colony Tap is essential for the comings and goings of all points draft while the personification of Pabst and the dark cringing of crackling night pontificates the locals with an immense sense of humor especially when a party just off a harbor cruise makes their way in.
In counter-structuring presence, the round structure in Boston especially if one has to stay the night revolves around which section of the city retains your business. In the necessity of the Boston Commons area, any section of the park can create an adventure in its own.
Staying at the Boston Park Plaza off the city’s Chinatown but also straddling its Theatre District, the selections are eclectic but ultimately satisfying. The Tam, located next to the W, functions as a friendly bar, undoubtedly Bostonian in its identity with the $3 Amber Bock specials to prove it and a warm intense vibe.
Barely four blocks away, Asian Garden, in the heart of Chinatown, relishes with the hotness of the food even as the hour passes ten. The lobster dumplings, reveling in a chili sauce makes way for a scallop soup mired in hot and sour spices that fills with gusto. The main course of orange chicken stuns in its sheer volume and taste that makes one glad.
If late night continues the run, Boston Kitchen Pizza, only blocks away as well, offers that thin cheesy heaven that can only be made in certain corridors of the East Coast, assaulting its consumer with thoughts of college nights past.
Returning to the tip of Cape Cod, adventure outings allow for a balance of land and sea, optimizing the preferential pull of the region.
Art’s Dune Tours is a functional anomaly in many ways within the artisan personality of Provincetown. The presence of large sand dunes ranging for miles with lone shacks still maintained atop their pinnacles might seem like a progression out of a movie. In all perceptions, this is true.
As pointed out by the knowledgeable owner Rob, Hollywood lore has retained its own small part of history within this area. Tennessee Williams wrote a discernible chunk of “A Street Car Named Desire” atop a dune shack. When Marlon Brando made the trek here to meet the playwright in advance of the production of said movie, it is said the actor had to traverse the dunes, not unlike a quest of his own. In parallel to that, only a few yards away around another bend are the dunes Steve McQueen traversed in the original “Thomas Crown Affair” in the infamous chase sequence. Art’s is the only company allowed to tour the land which makes their business specifically unique across the board and a must-see for any visitor to the area.
For the seafaring, Cee-Jay Fishing, departing from MacMillan Wharf, offers a taste of the local fishing without overwhelming the visitor. The great possibility is that the fish run far and about around the harbor. A full school of stripers hit multi-hooked jigs barely 200 yards from the dock. With all bait and reels provided within the excursion price which is more than reasonable, a 3-hour cruise with the inevitability of sunshine always makes for an efferverscent morning.
Provincetown offers a getaway that many attest as peaceful. With a town both “user friendly” and walkable, the key is attained with wonderful democracy. In tandem, with the advent of the Provincetown International Film Festival, the inventive and locally specific programming both engages the viewer and brings them into the mindset of the city. With summer locals such as John Waters championing the possibilities of the arts here, a local community centered on the ideal of a creatively bred township and food with a taste of the sublime, Provincetown knows itself through and through with a sense of pride.