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Author slams fest but stops by to promote book

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PARK CITY — For a guy who used to make his living ripping films apart, Kevin Murphy sure does seem to enjoy them. "I'm really not as mean as I've been made out to be," Murphy said with a chuckle. "And I really do love movies — at least most of them. Well, maybe some of them."

Along with pals Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson and Trace Beaulieu, Murphy was one of the evil geniuses behind the long-running cable-TV series "Mystery Science Theater 3000." As the voice of robot wisenheimer Tom Servo, Murphy and friends picked apart such atrocities as "Manos: The Hands of Fate" and most of Joe Don Baker's cinematic output.

When that cult-adored series ended, the Minnesota resident spent more than two years researching and writing his first book, "A Year at the Movies: One Man's Filmgoing Odyssey." Over the course of 52 weeks, he saw more movies than even the most determined moviegoer.

"It sounds like a lot more fun than it actually was," Murphy said. "Unfortunately, after you see so much dreck, you start to resent filmmakers and the studios for robbing you of so much of your life."

"A Year at the Movies" includes a chapter that is critical of the Sundance Film Festival. Subtitled "How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Film Festival," it chronicles Murphy's misadventures at the 2001 event and includes "a few tips for surviving the world's most pretentious film festival." He also observes that the smartest move for festival attendees may be to "avoid any human contact whatsoever."

Murphy has braced himself for criticism, just in case anyone suggests he's a hypocrite for returning to Park City this year to promote his book. He says he also wanted to catch a few movies at the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival, as well as the even smaller Sundance offshoot, No Dance. "These mini-festivals are what Sundance used to be — what it can never be again, unfortunately. There's too much promotion, star-spotting and marketing going on for that to ever happen."

The 2001 festival did not mark Murphy's first visit to the Beehive State, by the way. He graduated from the University of Utah. (In the "late '70s," he cryptically disclosed.) Asked about his academic career there, he said with a sigh, "I skied a lot."

MORE SUNDANCE NITPICKS AND PANS: While Murphy had some complaints about Sundance, there was a lot of praise from others about this year's event . . . and not just about its movie selections.

Receiving rave reviews was the change in location for the festival headquarters. For the past few years, Sundance HQ has been in the Silver Lake Hotel next to the Park City Mountain Ski Resort, and finding a place to park within a mile or so was a challenge.

This year, the headquarters shifted over to the Park City Marriott, where there was plenty of off-street parking nearby, as well as several nearby lots reserved for park-and-ride patrons. The only parking challenge was being able to find your car afterward. Most of the lots look the same, and the maze of surrounding streets was a bit confusing.

One thing that did receive mixed grades was the festival's new style and size for its badges and passes. In previous years, these passes were made of hard plastic, roughly the size of a credit card. This year, the passes were printed onto slick paper stock roughly the size of a very large postcard.

"It looks like you've got a license plate hanging around your neck," snorted a female moviegoer when she saw one for the first time.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com