As if by magic or cosmic intuition, yesterday’s suggestion that Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute ceremonies could use a little less discipline and perhaps unfold less smoothly and uniformly came true hours later during last night’s James Cameron tribute at the Arlington theatre. And everyone played their parts beautifully.

Except for the show starting almost 35 minutes late (i.e., around 8:35 pm), almost nothing happened as planned. Cameron began delivering his acceptance speech at the get-go as host Leonard Maltin stood on the opposite side of the stage, delivering one of the most elegant and controlled “what the fuck is going on?” emcee performances I’ve ever seen. (Somebody had mistakenly told Cameron to offer his profound thanks at the get-go.)

After four or five minutes Maltin called out to Cameron, “Sorry, but you’re stepping on my act! I’m supposed to be asking questions!” (Or words to that effect.)

The film clips (Aliens, The Terminator, T2, Titanic) were shown somewhat out of sequence, and again — it was like jazz. The feeling in the room was giddy, liberating. Half of the red punch had splashed out of the bowl and splattered on the floor, and the feet of Maltin and Cameron and some of the senior staff were damp with it. It wasn’t quite on the level of the Marx Bros. A Night at the Opera, but it was sneaking up on that. Sometimes life is not a West Point reville formation.

And then Cameron’s q & a with Maltin had to be interrupted to allow Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to present Cameron’s Modern Master award hastily, before the Santa Barbara airport closed. Silhouetted figures scampered out from backstage to confer with Maltin while the clips were playing. If I had a special mike I would have probably heard festival p.r. chief Carol Marshall say, “Pssst! Leonard! Governor Schwarzenegger has to leave now…cut short your discussion of Sigourney Weaver‘s riveting performance as Ripley or whatever…I know we didn’t plan it this way…of course!…but he has to deliver his speech now!”).

Perhaps I’m slightly exaggerating the feeling of disorder, but it was certainly noticable and amusing — a feeling of “this isn’t in the script.”

We all think we need order and prudence in our lives, but what we really need is an occasional shot of uncertainty or even chaos to clean the blood out. Nights like last night make existence on this planet seem like the ribald and foolish farce it actually is deep down. They force everyone to think quickly on their feet, and transform fleeting anxiety into humor and sparkle and goobah-goobah-goobah. Please, give us more tribute sessions like this!

I was sent to the wrong after-party (i.e., a second-tier gathering on the Santa Barbara pier) but I eventually figured things out and made my way over to the correct one. I had a great chat with Cameron (which included a somewhat clumsily-spoken woman coming up to him and blurting out a complaint about Avatar) but I can’t share until later.

I have to drive a friend down to Point Dume and then turn around and be back by 10 or 10:15 am in order to get to the Directors panel at the Lobero theatre, which starts at 11 am. It’s now 7:03 am.