Bill Irwin is a man who, as they say, wears many hats. But Irwin also spends a lot of time figuring out creative ways to knock them off.
On the more serious side, Irwin played a heavy role in "Eight Men Out," then went on to co-star on the New York stage with Robin Williams, Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham in "Waiting for Godot."But he is fast gaining renown for his revue "Largely/New York (The Further Adventures of a Postmodern Hoofer)," which was an Off-Broadway hit and is now selling out in Seattle.
Monday night, however, Irwin belongs to the United States Film Festival, where he'll address the audience directly as he performs several pieces from "Largely/New York" in Park City's Egyptian Theater at 8 p.m. He also programmed the Charlie Chaplin films being shown in the festival to celebrate the centennial of Chaplin's birth.
Clearly Irwin is not one to sit around waiting for his agent to call.
The press kit for "Eight Men Out" describes him as a "mime/vaudevillian/performance art-ist/-actor." That's quite a mouthful, but Irwin himself is more subdued.
"On my insurance forms and passport it says `actor/writer,' but I think of myself simply as an actor," Irwin said during a telephone conversation from Seattle.
"I'm an actor who likes to dance and do very physical kinds of theater. Sometimes I walk in to talk to directors and casting people and they've seen me on stage and say, `We know you're a really fine dancer, but can you talk?' "
Irwin can talk, but mime is a natural extension of his love for physical comedy. He seemed to come by it naturally during childhood, and by the seventh grade he knew acting was what he wanted to do.
Though he fancies himself a vaudevillian of sorts, Irwin doesn't care for the recently coined phrase "new vaudevillian." Actually, part of his early training actually came from performing as a circus clown.
"Studying as an actor first gave me a feeling for the instincts and outlooks that you need, and then I was sort of stifled with realistic theater. So I became very interested in clowning and the American and European traditions of baggy-pants comedy. A lot of the work I do is built on that base."
Because of that experience rooted in early comedy traditions, festival programmer Tony Safford asked Irwin to program the Chaplin section for the United States Film Festival. Irwin chose six early shorts, being shown in pairs - "Behind the Screen" and "The Pawnshop"; "The Rink" and "Sunnyside"; and "One A.M." and "A Day's Pleasure" - and one feature, one of Chaplin's last, the sound film "Limelight," which includes the only screen pairing of Chaplin and his chief rival from the silent days, Buster Keaton.
"I had great fun programming Chaplin. The shorts are so much fun - I was like a kid in a candy store watching all of them again. Some of these shorts are not his greatest, but I was looking for films that show the various things he did so you can make a comparison. And some, like `A Day's Pleasure,' are rarely seen today."
Irwin admits "Limelight" is an odd choice, causing the program to jump from 1919 with the shorts to 1952 with that feature. But it was the Keaton connection that prompted it. "I wanted to show a real span of Chaplin's career, and it may be an oddball choice to have made - it's really not a very good movie until the end with Keaton. But in that scene on stage, Chaplin and Keaton together, his (Chaplin's) heritage sort of lights up and shines and it becomes a really interesting movie for a few minutes."
- TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Heading my nobody's-seen-it-yet-but-it-sure-looks-intriguing list is "Zadar! Cow From Hell," the out-of-competition comedy starring the zany comics of Duck's Breath Mystery Theater, often described as "America's answer to Monty Python." I'll be there.
Other out-of-competition films worth taking in are the Charlie Chaplin shorts "The Rink" and "Sunnyside," and "One A.M." and "A Day's Pleasure"; John Cassavetes' "Too Late Blues," "A Woman Under the Influence" and "Love Streams"; and three Latin films, "Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon Fancier," "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" and "Miracle in Rome."
In competition: The documentaries "Lodz Ghetto," a powerful, personal chronicle of the Polish ghetto where 250,000 Jews were relegated during World War II, and then literally worked and starved to death by the Nazis; "Let's Get Lost," the tragic story of jazz musician Chet Baker, a heroin addict; "La Ofrenda," about Hispanic death rituals; "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" a strong examination of the equity of the legal system; "John Huston," about the late, great filmmaker; and "Funny," with ordinary people and celebrities telling their favorite jokes. And the dramatic film "Of Men and Angels," about an Irish-American writer in San Francisco who can give freely to everyone he comes in contact with, except those he loves.
The United States Film Festival is presented by the Sundance Institute, in cooperation with Utah Film Development. Festival officials suggest you phone ahead to see that seats are still available for the movies you want to see and to reserve tickets. The festival information line is 322-1700.
Here's the schedule for the next couple of days:
Egyptian: "Lodz Ghetto," 10 a.m.; "John Huston," 1 p.m.; "Of Men and Angels," 4 p.m.; "Zadar! Cow From Hell," 7 p.m.; "Let's Get Lost," 10 p.m.
Holiday I: "The Rink" and "Sunnyside," 10:30 a.m.; "One A.M." and "A Day's Pleasure," 1:30 p.m.; "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" 4:30 p.m.; "La Ofrenda," 7:30 p.m.; "Coming Out" and "Coverup," 10:30 p.m.
Holiday II: "Too Late Blues," 10:15 a.m.; "A Happy Sunday," 1:15 p.m.; "A Woman Under the Influence," 4:15 p.m.; "Gingerale Afternoon," 7:15 p.m.; "The Tempest," 10:15 p.m.
Holiday III: "Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon Fancier," 10 a.m.; "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," 1 p.m.; "Miracle in Rome," 4 p.m.; "Trust Me," 7 p.m.; "Love Streams," 10 p.m.
Prospector: "Minnie and Moskowitz," 10 a.m.; Seminar: "Lawyers and the Independent Filmmaker," 1 p.m.; "Powwow Highway," 4 p.m.; "The Laserman," 7 p.m.; "Funny," 10 p.m.
"Some Girls," 7 p.m.
Egyptian: "Of Men and Angels," 10 a.m.; "Cheap Shots," 1 p.m.; "Prisoners of Inertia," 4 p.m.; "Heathers," 7 p.m.; "Lobster Man From Mars," 10 p.m.
Holiday I: "Crime in the Streets," 10:30 a.m.; "Isadora Duncan," 1:30 p.m.; "Lightning Over Braddock," 4:30 p.m.; "Coming Out" and "Coverup," 7:30 p.m.; "Morgan's Cake," 10:30 p.m.
Holiday II: "Limelight," 10:15 a.m.; "The Big Dis," 1:15 p.m.; "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," 4:15 p.m.; "For All Mankind," 7:15 p.m.; "Mikey and Nicky," 10:15 p.m.
Holiday III: "I'm the One You're Looking For," 10 a.m.; "John Huston," 1 p.m.; "Lodz Ghetto," 4 p.m.; "Let's Get Lost," 7 p.m.; "Some Girls," 10 p.m.
Prospector: "Discovery Program," 10 a.m.; Seminar: "Foreign Sales and Financing," 1 p.m.; "Comic Book Confidential," 4 p.m.; "sex, lies and videotape," 7 p.m.; "Clownhouse," 10 p.m.
Sundance: "Trust Me," 7 p.m.