The Wee Hours: Sex and Death at Alice Tully Hall

New York Film Festival's dire lineup makes doom and gloom fun.

rgb weehours peterarkle The Wee Hours: Sex and Death at Alice Tully Hall

Ms. Mulligan, Ms. Williams, Ms. Dunst.

“Wow, this is it, this view, New York City!” Michael Fassbender said after opening the door to the roof of the Standard, where the glass buildings lining the West Side bound forth from the meatpacking district toward midtown.

It was Friday night, and The Observer had just watched the New York Film Festival’s screening of Shame, a sexually violent fantasia in which Mr. Fassbender beds scores of random women in every dirty corner of Manhattan—including a few times against the floor-to-ceiling windows in the rooms of the hotel we were standing atop.

What better venue for the after party?

“This hotel …” the actor said. “I was staying in the rooms, once, and was told, ‘Beware! People can see inside.’”

Mr. Fassbender lit a cigarette and sat down at the table next to three of his oldest friends—buddies from his youth in County Kerry, Ireland. He had insisted on a roundtable conversation.

“How much of the sex was real?” we asked.

Here’s some context: Shame’s tamer scenes, which conceal nothing from the camera, find Mr. Fassbender engaging in sex under the Williamsburg Bridge, sex with prostitutes, sex with random men in a cavernous clubs, and of course sex in rooms at the Standard, for the entertainment of pedestrians on Little West 12th. (Don’t worry—things get wild toward the end.)

“Um, next question,” Mr. Fassbender said. “Now you gotta ask my mates one!”

“What was it like watching your buddy have more sex than you can ever imagine?” we asked.

“Unfortunately I haven’t yet seen his crown jewels!” one of them said. “I haven’t seen the film.”

“It’s really something,” The Observer responded.

“What is?” Mr. Fassbender asked, taking a last drag. “My crown jewels?”

“Well, I meant the film is really something,” we stuttered. “But, yeah, I have seen them now, I guess.”

“But I haven’t seen yours!” he shot back.

Mr. Fassbender downed his martini—his character, Brandon, was fond of the same cocktail, we remembered—and revealed that he hadn’t been with these guys, his closest friends, since 2001.

“We needed a significant break after we had a go at it,” said one of the friends.

Then they all started chiming in.

“We can only see each other every 10 years.

“I just got over it.”

“The shaking just stopped.”

“But we did a road trip together!” Mr. Fassbender interrupted. “And we were gonna call Marco’s ass up in Italy. Why didn’t we do that?”

“Because we were constantly drunk and we had the memory of a fucking goldfish!”

“Ah, that’s right.”

Steve McQueen, the film’s director, chose the Boom Boom Room for the film’s centerpiece scene, in which Carey Mulligan, playing Mr. Fassbender’s chanteuse little sister, sings “New York, New York” as the camera refuses to waver from her mascara-heavy eyelids.

“A lot of New Yorkers live in the sky, work in the sky, spend their time in the sky,” Mr. McQueen had noted during the postscreening Q&A. And when we spoke with him at the Boom Boom Room, it was up against the glass, with the docks and piers dangling out below us.

“This is the first time I’ve been back since we shot here …” he said. His eyes wandered downward. “The view, the expanse of water!”

After another drink next to a table where Olivia Wilde sat with Zoe Kazan, it was time to go. The cast cleared out too: this was just a small respite from the go-go of anyone involved in the New York Film Festival, where the fall’s slew of Oscar-bait pictures make their first impressions on filmgoers.

Two days later, another bash was underway at the Hudson Hotel in honor of Michelle Williams, who plays the blonde bombshell of the title in My Week With Marilyn.

“Does she pull off Marilyn Monroe?” Harvey Weinstein was asked. He was standing next to an enormous tin water pitcher that decorated the hotel terrace. “Well, see the film, then let me know. Me? Oh, I think she definitely pulls it off.”

Ms. Williams was herself at the party, but at Alice Tully Hall later that night she was Ms. Monroe—My Week With Marilyn is, after all, a film with actors playing actors. As we sat down for the screening, buzzed on a Negroni impetuously purchased from a Lincoln Center lobby cocktail cart, Ms. Williams-as-Marilyn began dancing on the screen-within-a-screen, as Kenneth Branagh’s Laurence Olivier sat in his own theater puffing on cigarette after cigarette. If only!

And all of this after our festival began with the earth caroming into a much larger planet in a deafening bonanza of fire—twice, actually—in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, which premiered last Monday. It’s a glorious dismantling of terrestrial cores and emotional cores, an expansive vision set to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

And it wasn’t even the only end of the world going on. Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day On Earth, which also premiered at the festival, ends as you’d expect, and takes place on the Lower East Side. Oddly, on our way to My Week With Marilyn, we witnessed a plane etching the words “LAST CHANCE” across the sky.

Yet, despite Melancholia’s global destruction, the cast managed to make it to the Stone Rose Lounge for the after-party. (Mr. Von Trier, who infamously referred to himself as a Nazi when the film opened in Cannes, didn’t make the trip—then again, he’s never been to the United States.)

“I would definitely be with my family for sure,” Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Kirsten Dunst’s doltish (and doomed!) new husband, said to The Observer of his doomsday plans. “Where else would you want to be?”

“I don’t know, man” Ms. Dunst said to us. “I’d hopefully be with my family. It would be nice to be in the forest somewhere, chilling out. It’s such an awful thing to think about. What would you do?”

We told her we’d probably try to have a last night of fun.

First though, there were trays of truffle grilled cheese bites to eat, and DeLeon Tequila apple cocktails to down. The end would have to wait a little longer.

nfreeman@observer.com