BUT WHERE WAS MEG RYAN?

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Every place needs a film festival.

Cannes has one. Toronto. Deauville. Mr. Redford, as is only proper for a man of his eminence, has his own out in Sundance, Utah. Venice, I believe, has a film festival. That may be where Thomas Mann got the idea for "Death in Venice." Any day now Father Aristide will announce one for Port-au-Prince.

We even have one in East Hampton. And whatever else you think about film festivals, they're good for the local merchants.

This year's annual (this is only the second year but that qualifies it, I guess, for "annual") Hampton Film Festival started on a Wednesday night amid enormous excitement. Plus cocktails with Nick and Toni (Toni being the daughter of the late Steve Ross, who helped get the festival underway). There was so much going on I avoided the first night's carouse lest I became overstimulated. You know how it is in the Hamptons.

On Thursday there was a little rain in the morning. I went up to Dreesen's market to buy papers and smell the fresh doughnuts. Meg Ryan didn't seem to be there as yet. Nor S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall. Or Scorsese or Mario Puzo or Betty Bacall. Or even Mischa Auer.

What sort of film festival was this? At Cannes you get topless starlets. But I will admit, at Cannes you don't have Dreesen's doughnuts. And they are worth the price of admission. So I hung about for a time reading the paper and looking for Julia Roberts and inhaling. Rudy the owner was there and Jerry the butcher and also the fire department chaplain who is a priest but also helps out behind the deli counter when they are busy.

Mike Ovitz didn't come by.

The post office was open now so I went over there and bought a book of first-class stamps. No one in line resembled Robert Mitchum. Or even "Cuddles" Sakall. But a redheaded woman with great freckles was getting out of a car outside. Could she be Meg Ryan?

Where was Tom Cruise? Or Tom Hanks? Or Tom Selleck? Or Tom Hulse? Or Tom Mix? Driving back to the house I passed a gent on a bike wearing a beret. Decidedly Hollywood! A director, perhaps? The wraith of John Ford? On the links of the Maidstone Club four Protestants were playing golf.

And I am thinking, we don't expect Garbo. But give us someone! Give us Jacques Tati. Or Patsy Kelly. Or Maria Ouspenskaya. I would settle for Nina Foch!

So I spent the afternoon hitting the typewriter and then went back into the village to ogle movie stars (while pretending I was going into the File Box just to buy typewriter ribbons). They had my ribbon but no movie stars rushed up to greet me. Nor even strolled by, cutting me dead. Wouldn't it be great to be cut dead by Clint Eastwood?

Back on Main Street toward sundown (the Blue Parrot would be serving cocktails and I hate to miss that) I encountered a queue of maybe 80 people waiting for the evening's movies and, marching back and forth past them, some union men on picket duty. The theater where they hold the film festival was allegedly planning at some future date to bring in non-union projectionists so they were picketing.

I leave it to the AFL-CIO to defend the morality of that, picketing a festival because of something that might occur in the building in the future. In the meanwhile, a TV crew was shooting tape. Channel 27, our local TV, I assume. "Entertainment Tonight" not having yet appeared.

And what were they shooting (besides the pickets)? Kim Basinger? De Mille? Laura Dern? D.W. Griffith? Not a bit of it! But a young woman in a black evening dress to the ankle and four-inch heels. This is East Hampton where even the rich dress like haul seiners (or the Ralph Lauren catalog) and here is this one in an evening dress at 6 p.m. and they are taking pictures of her for television.

I nipped swiftly across Main Street to the Parrot to get my nerves under control. "Meg Ryan been in yet?" I inquired, being casual. Roland the manager said he hadn't seen her but the hour was young.

At the bar everyone was ordering margaritas (two out of three with salt) and talking on their cellular phones and wearing black. Black is apparently the hue of choice these days for movie people and I assume what you must wear if you want to go to work for that nice Mr. Geffen and his friends Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Katzenberg. Lee, the owner of the Blue Parrot, was en route back from Kauai and calling us from various airports and talking to Roland the manager and getting a report on the day's receipts. Then Tony Bullock, the town supervisor, which is sort of like our mayor, came in. We all like Tony and most of us think he will be a senator some day if not president.

Well, maybe the Republicans don't.

I had another Pacifico beer and pondered this question of why movie people wear black. Is it in tribute to the L.A. Raiders? Or a tactic against the Crips and Bloods? And why do they go for salt on the margaritas? Jimmy Buffet has a place at Sag Harbor so maybe that's it. On Friday they showed more movies at the festival and there were maybe a dozen pickets now but everyone was still pretty laid back and not frenzied, "like the summer people."

On Saturday I couldn't get to the festival because there were too many football games on. Sunday was gray but very still so I took the canoe out on Accabonac Harbor and observed cormorants. Late in the afternoon it started to rain but people, and pickets, were still lining up outside the theater, both groups very jolly. Robert Benton was honored and Bob Balaban won for best picture. I had a couple of Pacificos on the strength of that, toasting both Bobs, and went home. In the end, I didn't see any movie stars. At Frank Duffy's place, The Grill, they said business was up 10% over last year because of the festival and that Tatum O'Neal had been in. But I didn't see her. Or anyone else recognizable. Maybe that's the problem. Movie stars used to look like movie stars.

Today they look sort of like...us.

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