By Alejandro Adams "If we do not reunite Sykes and Thornton, which shows that people do side together, that they do stick with each other...then perhaps we have destroyed everything we have been talking about in this picture." -- Producer Phil Feldman in a letter to Sam Peckinpah regarding the the final scene of THE WILD BUNCH *
It's not every day that a notorious bruiser of a director gets along with his producer. But it's equally rare that a producer respects a filmmaker and his vision to the degree illustrated by the note above--Feldman had even protested Peckinpah excising some of the film's more violent bits. Directors are usually the ones who get so far up the ass of their own work they can't see clearly. In a somewhat alarming inversion, Feldman was a producer exhibiting more concern for the integrity of the film than for the paying audience. **
I've started with an anecdote about a producer not only because this quasi-promotional outing is brought to you by Ted Hope's kind invitation but also because filmmaking is about relationships, sometimes just one relationship, and it can feel like the scene that reunites Sykes and Thornton. Or not.
My new film AMITY, which screens as part of Cinema by the Bay on Saturday, contains a 26-minute scene. I think the San Francisco Film Society programmers deserve a special round of applause for overlooking that obstinate quirk. The scene takes place in the back of a limousine at night, which only makes it worse. I don't know how my producer feels about the scene, whether she's egging me on or rolling her eyes. We don't talk much. We're divorcing, slowly, just passing the three-year mark. We're in the middle of a custody battle that looks like the climactic shootout of THE WILD BUNCH but in much slower motion. Three years, gattling guns still tearing through flesh. I could make it sound less dramatic, but sprinkling potpourri on a pile of dogshit can only do so much.
My producer and I made some good films together. I think AMITY is one of them. The problem for me, and the main reason it took me three years to finish the film, is that its themes rub up against reality too much. I'm frightened by the thought that AMITY could be my future. Maybe the film is a prophecy. But then it's normal to be scared of your own film. Every time you create something, you risk creating a monster. If you can't stand the heat, etc, etc.
Incidentally, I can't stand the heat.
I owe apologies to those who gave themselves to this project three years ago. I didn't know my life was about to derail. People in my projects don't just show up and say some lines I wrote. They use their real names and real history and fabricate only enough to conform to the story I'm trying to tell. Greg and Michael, who play Greg and Michael in the film, are just Greg and Michael. Greg tells some colorful stories about Bangkok, Michael tells us he was a therapist in the Army. So far it's a documentary. I don't want to go on giving away details--I'm just trying to illustrate that the commitment I ask for is not superficial. You will sacrifice yourself if you make a film with me. That part I'm not sorry about. I'm just sorry all that commitment sat on a shelf for three years.
Integrally related to the breakup of my marriage is the loss of a distribution deal for my first three films. I don't want to be too confessional here--let's just say I lost everything in one go. If you want more detail, buy me a drink sometime. You'll find out why I have abandoned everything and everyone that qualifies as "the independent film scene" from Brooklyn to San Francisco.
I will say in passing, though, that my distributor regularly disparaged Ted Hope because Hope's definition of "independent film" never seemed to include zero-budget films. But here he is offering me space to go on about my zero-budget film. And I'm giving him a firm handshake.
The publicists at the festival cringed when I confessed that there's no Facebook page or trailer for my film. I'm not trying to be an asshole. I appreciate these opportunities. I hope everyone who reads this buys a ticket to see my film. My previous three films sold out multiple screenings in 500-seat venues. AMITY is screening in a venue with 150 seats and I'm told the advance sales are "light."
I went into the premiere of my first film with critical head of steam behind it. That head of steam only increased on my second film. When my third film was ready to screen I didn't have any of the vitality that had fueled the success of the others. It screened once. No, twice. It's not as if those critics or festivals disappeared. I disappeared. There were screener requests and screening invitations but I was too much of a zombie to answer a simple email. I don't know if I owe anyone an apology for that--I only hurt myself.
At the peak of my success I had...a few glowing pullquotes. Man, this makes me tired.
I have led people to believe that AMITY has some kinship with Cassavetes's HUSBANDS. Maybe it does. But there is some hokey self-psychologizing in the dialogue that is intended to neuter its commentary about "men today"--they don't understand themselves any better when talking about "phallic symbols." It's just embarrassing.
I don't care about men today. My film is about men, now and forever. Its scrutiny is unyielding which led the SFFS programmers to pronounce on it mercilessly in the festival guide blurb. Maybe everybody in my films is a piece of shit and maybe I'm a piece of shit too.
I got some things from my father. You have to get them from somewhere.
AMITY is about the way a man stands holding a pool cue, the way he talks through a big bite of hamburger, the way he admires old American cars, the way he is aggressively lonely, the way he internalizes agony until it becomes something else. It's about a man who's willing to be there for another man no one wants to be there for. Like RIO BRAVO. Why does Chance stick around and help Dude when Dude clearly has no self-respect and has dishonored the badge? Maybe friendship isn't the point--just integrity, just character. Fuck doing something because it's noble, do something because it's right. They say RIO BRAVO is a response to the politics of HIGH NOON. I'm not an academic or a critic or a politician. I'm just a man. I'd like to be the kind of man Hawks threw into the town of Rio Bravo when Dude needed someone. Anyone. AMITY is about that kind of anyone. There is an enormous closeup of his profile and contrary to the logic of the profile shot, he is accessible, he is giving. It's a horrible shot, defying good taste, uncomfortable to the viewer, bad cinema. I am very attached to this shot.
It amuses me that some filmmakers still think they're being transgressive when they put a bunch of sex and violence on screen. When I was in fourth grade I drew a picture of a hand giving the finger to some kid sitting next to me. I got it out of my system early I guess. What's really transgressive in a film these days is forgiveness. Redemption stories are common--that's not what I mean. I mean forgiveness in the face of non-redemptive behavior.
Satyajit Ray made films that move me. He might be the only one. It's foolhardy and even dangerous to try to make films that move people. Especially if you're shooting standard-def 4:3 video. You really must be out of your mind.
Regarding IM LAUF DER ZEIT Wim Wenders said he was interested in examining why straight men sometimes choose each other's company rather than that of women. My film is about two men who do not seem to get along but who choose to be together anyway--and incorporating a few women complicates their tenative bond, to put it mildly.
Marriages may end, friendships may end, but maybe something happens between two people one night and it doesn't have a label and it scratches an itch you didn't know you had.
And that's how I would describe my film.
BIO: Alejandro Adams wrote and directed the zero-budget features AROUND THE BAY, CANARY and BABNIK which are collecting the most exquisite dust. He has been called the "first meaningful filmmaker to make himself known through Twitter"*** but he no longer has a Twitter account so there you go. Alejandro has two children with beautiful blue eyes and longs for seventeen more with beautiful brown eyes.
* "Peckinpah: The Western Films -- A Reconsideration," by Paul Seydor
** It's a long, complicated story with an unfortunate outcome. Sykes and Thornton didn't, as it were, stick together in real life.
*** Interview with Vadim Rizov
Ted's note: I am not sure who Alejandro's distributor was but s/he clearly was comfortably talking knowingly about something they knew little about (aka me!). My commitment to indie, as demonstrated by my actions, encompasses no-budget, micro, and beyond. The actions of a distributor dropping an artist's films demonstrate something else altogether...
CHECK OUT ALL OF The San Francisco Film Society's program: "Cinema By The Bay". I hope to see you there.