Editorials

SEPTEMBER EDITORIAL 2001

By • Sep 15th, 2001 •

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FIR‘s heartfelt condolences to all involved (except the perpetrators) in the terrorist attack in Manhattan and Washington DC. My son, who is a grip in the film industry, hopped on his bike and went downtown when the call was made for volunteers, and he said he was most affected by the extraordinary silence at the scene of the crime. It was late afternoon of the first day. There turned out to be not a lot he could do, being rerouted over and over by well intentioned police. But the sight of nothing where those two buildings had stood all his life profoundly impressed him with the impermanence of things.

Uptown, where I sat marooned, aimlessly perusing manuscripts, the wind blew South, and no dust reached 83rd Street on the West Side. No indication of the chaos down town except, when I went for a walk, the looks on the faces of everyone I passed or spoke to in stores. They all seemed to be almost guilty for being in good health and going about life semi-normally.

James Lorinz and Barbara Sicuranza in The Sweet Life (shot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan).

Who would have ever thought that De Laurentiis’ crappy King Kong remake would end up being a melancholy time capsule?!

The female lead of my latest feature lives just blocks from the World Trade Plaza, and it took a week to find out of she and her husband were okay, which they were. Phone traffic was so great that connections were hard to come by.

This was my first feature film in over a decade – The Sweet Life – produced by me and directed by my writing partner, Rocco Simonelli. A romantic comedy, it’s both funny and bleak, with a wonderful cast featuring James Lorinz, Barbara Sicuranza, Robert Mobley and Joan Jett. Five weeks of shooting took place in and around NYC, and are being followed by several months of editing on Final Cut Pro. And so there was a partial FIR blackout for a few weeks there in August, but I’ve endeavored to keep the reviews coming via stalwarts Victoria Alexander and Glenn Andreiev, myself when humanly possible, etc.

We shot on digital video, and I’ve been watching every DVD shot this way, and listening to every commentary track of productions shot for under a million either on film or digital video. I’ve got a list of those that seem most helpful, and it doesn’t depend on the quality of the film, really. More on the ability of the director to relate enlightening details.

Ten of my Top Indie commentary tracks:

The Brothers McMullen (didn’t warm up to the film; loved the insights)
Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, stealing the third act. Inspirational.)
Combat Shock (No budgeter, with Buddy G and Horst Butgereist, fortified with booze in Berlin, on the commentary track)
Night of the Living Dead
Martin
The Blair Witch Project

Document of the Dead (One of mine but, immodestly, I think it’s useful)
Clerks
Chasing Amy
Cry Uncle


I look forward to adding mine and Roc’s commentary to the Sweet Life DVD. The nature of filmmaking is changing so rapidly, with its swing toward the digital, and digital’s attendant confusions, that there is much to say both laudatory and cautionary, and the pitfalls will be spelled out on commentary tracks more thoroughly than in articles or in classrooms.

Radley Metzger visits the location, here standing with director Rocco Simonelli.

What did we find? Savings on lab costs, naturally. More speed in the filming process (no changing of reels, black bags, etc, since each DVCAM PAL cassette was three hours long). Lighting time remained the same, as it is undetermined whether we’ll be doing a 35mm blowup or staying in the digital domain. (On that, next summer will tell, if a thousand or more digital projections theaters really sprout up around the US. Under such circumstances, there would be no need for a blowup, possibly ever again, for independent filmmakers.) Certainly less budgetary consideration for reshoots, since we saw what we got on the set, which you don’t actually with film even with a video-tap. And the cost cutting in post is astronomical, but it’s also in progress so I can’t be more specific about it at this time.

For further info on the mutating industry, check out Glenn Andreiev’s piece elsewhere in the articles section.

James Lorinz and Nicole Potter, both Street Trash alumni.

Columnist/reviewer Victoria Alexander flew in from Vegas to do a cameo in the film, as she had in Street Trash back in the 80s. She fascinated everyone on the set. Some were excited by her presence. Others were afraid of her. Check her pic on the staff page and imagine what the Sweet Life crew witnessed as she stalked into FUBAR off 1st Avenue where we were shooting that morning, in her tight blue oriental dress. Victoria is indeed a commanding presence.

It was also great fun to be reunited with James Lorinz and Nicole Potter, two other Street Trash alumni. This was primarily Rocco’s script, Rocco’s film, and Rocco’s life. So I took my pleasures where I could. I’ll keep you updated on its progress, but don’t expect to see it until at least next Summer (unless you want in on a private test screening, in which case drop me a line).

On The Sweet Life location - director Rocco Simonelli with rocker Joan Jett.

Many things happened while I was inundated with Sweet Life. Film historian and preservationist David Shepard alerts us that a new company took over the rights to the Chaplin film library and are re-releasing the titles on video and DVD next year without any of the extra scenes Fox and Image Entertainment inadvertently unearthed several years ago when they made the first deal with the Chaplin estate. Using the original fine grain negatives, they discovered additional footage which Chaplin had trimmed after test screenings. On laserdisc these precious scenes were included in the bodies of the movies, but by the time the films made their way to DVD, the scenes had been excised and included as Xtra material to be accessed separately from the film. Now these remarkable finds will be withdrawn from release completely for the duration of the new owners’ contract. Good or bad? Well, don’t sell your laserdiscs, or DVDs. That scene in Limelight where Calvero reaches into an armless man’s pocket to borrow money is like walking into celluloid heaven. It’s in the script, which circulated quietly for decades, but no one suspected it would ever come to light. Now it’s retreating back into the darkness…

I am highly recommending a film that I know isn’t for every taste. The National Board of Review Screening group was polarized on it, which wasn’t at all surprising. Our Lady of the Assassins is a bleak picaresque of life as hell, shot in Medellin, Colombia, where life apparently is as close to hell is occurs on this planet at present. There is a wonderful non-actor presence in Anderson Ballesteros, one of the two young men used in the film, playing Alexis, a casually gay, casually murderous, amoral adolescent, and director Barbet Schroeder dropped in after the screening to talk with us, charming even those who were angry at the film, and told us the fate of the two young non-actors, but made us promise it was off the books, so you can give me a ring after you see it and I’ll tell you what I remember, but I won’t be printing it.

The film is as important as it is good, because it was the first feature shot in High Definition digital video, and looks so good blown up to 35mm that frankly it spells the end of film in the very near future. I mentioned that to Schroeder, and although he used it for very specific technical reasons – enhanced depth of field, etc. – he readily agreed with me. Outside of a few artifacting pans, the difference from film was practically unnoticeable.

So long, 35…

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