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Vanity Fair's Lavish Launch of Tribeca

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Vanity Fair marked the start of the 11th Tribeca Film Festival (April 19th to 29th) over cocktails on the portico of the State Supreme Courthouse. VF has perfected the party as art form. The grand stairs of the Centre Street courthouse were sewn with a bobbing field of tiny blue and white lights. At the entrance you're equipped with a flute of champagne that never runs dry. Hors d'oeuvres by master chef Thomas Keller were so exquisite you couldn't identify them. And it was wall-to-wall bold face names from the worlds of entertainment, government, fashion, finance -- and just bold-facedness. By special arrangement, VF honcho Graydon Carter even provided a heavenly balmy evening.

At first blush, a hallmark of this year's annual shindig was the invasion of a new race of women: amazonian, mostly blonde, towering several heads above everyone else. The men for their part seem to have shrunk, or maybe just expanded frontward. Michael Douglas was on hand, vulpine, in fighting trim, lookin' healthy. I chatted with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who's been involved with the Tribeca fest since its inception and lauded its revitalizing effect on once-devastated downtown New York.

Graydon Carter held court at the far end near the bar and, I think, recognized me. Warm hug from the always-genial Michael Barker, co-chief of Sony Picture Classics, who rhapsodized about his latest acquisition, the new Michael Haneke film Amour. How much poorer Americans would be without Barker to bring us such masterpieces as Haneke's The White Ribbon. Nearby Katie Couric rocked her smile and one of those backless jobs that makes you wonder what's worn underneath. Fran Leibowitz looked enigmatic in a man's suit. No one consulted their Android.

I overheard a dude lavishly praising Linda Wells for her recent stint on CBS Sunday Morning. "It was about the 10th anniversary of Botox," she said in answer to my question. She "works in magazines," Wells also told me (rather modestly put, I thought, after Googling her).

This business about the anniversary of Botox got me thinking about the priorities of our culture. I mean, escalating violence in Syria; U.S. troops posing with body parts of Afghan bombers - and we're marking the anniversary of Botox? I was also reminded of disturbing fest film Sexy Baby about American women's obsession with beauty. Never mind Occupy Wall Street -- in certain circles the top priority is labioplasties.

I spotted Martin Amis standing alone with his trademarked expression of... existential angst? Maybe he was worrying about violence in Syria and Afghan body parts. I refrained from approaching him, wanting no reprise of our encounter at the East Hampton Library benefit. Salmon Rushdie also repped the scribbling contingent, looking a bit dated out. Maybe he needed one of the blonde amazons.

As a former dancer, I couldn't help noticing the choreography of the party. There are the fixed points and the movers. The movers are a needy bunch, or just antsy like guests at a bar mitzvah. Those who stay put are either too important to seek out others (who will come to them), misanthropic, or wasted. One fixed point turned out to be the delightful Charles Matthau (yes, son of), who may have been just shy. His new film Freaky Deaky is based on the novel by Elmore Leonard and due to play the fest this Sunday. Though it's an adaptation of a mainstream author, Matthau sees it as "a true indie film." Another fixed pointer, I'm sad to say, pulled an act of stunning incivility. It messes up my head when folks with impeccable left wing creds aren't nicer, especially as Republicans can actually be charming.

Perhaps the party's extra festive vibe was fed by big expectations for this year's fest. The early press screenings I attended offered two topflight films: the Israeli Yossi by Eytan Fox; and Your Sister's Sister from Sundance alum Lynn Shelton (more about these gems later). The fest is smaller now, which is to the good. It's more selective, while still offering a smorgasbord of global cinema, homegrown indies, and documentaries. No one is saying, as in the past, that Tribeca lacks an identity. Jump in and sample what's on tap. You will at least hit something interesting. After perusing lists by industry insiders of fave films, I was struck that there was hardly any overlap!