When you do whatever it is that I do people like to give you stuff and sometimes the stuff people give you is their latest piece of work and this can lead to all sorts of problems.
Once an acquaintance gave me his new film to watch – a film that he’d written, directed, shot and starred in. It was absolutely, embarrassingly awful. I lied and told him it was “not bad.” When he sent me his second film I lied again and told him that I had so many reels and screeners to watch that I wouldn’t have time to watch his movie. He was righteously pissed off and concluded that I’d gone all Hollywood and had no time for the little people any more. Was this better than him knowing the truth that I thought his work sucked and I didn’t want to waste another 90 minutes of my life on him or his dreadfully feeble, self congratulatory film-making attempts?
On Friday I shot an Alka Seltzer spot and we hired a guy called Gilbert to be in the commercial. It was only the second time we’d worked together so you can imagine my horror when, at the end of the shoot, Gilbert approached me with a DVD entitled Frank & Cindy and said: “I’d like you to have this. It’s a documentary about my Mom and Dad. He’s a drunk and she’s a…” (can’t remember what he said about her now, probably because I’d already started tuning it out.)
Cut to Sunday morning and I’m transferring .omf files into my pro tools so I can work on my own movie. It’s tedious and dull work and involves watching many green lines inching slowly across the screen as various files go from A to B. As I was so completely, utterly bored I decided to pop in Gilbert’s movie thinking, “Another piece of crap I feel obligated to watch.”
(If you’re thinking “curmudgeon!” right now, that’s OK.)
But Gilbert’s ‘piece-of-crap’ was mezmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Within five minutes the file transferring had taken second place to watching Gilbert’s movie. The story is in many ways heartbreaking and may be summarzied as: Hollywood blonde marries loser musician who descends into alcholism while she struggles to pay the bills, keep herself on the straight and narrow, and keep custody of her son. But what emerges is that Gilbert seems to love his crazy, charismatic parents with a fierceness and compassion that I can’t easily describe, accepting their many failings, and has the confidence to simply ask them to discuss with him episodes in their lives which are so painful that nearly any other family on the planet would do anything to change the subject.
It’s really quite an extraordinary piece of work. Thank-you Gilbert for the gift of your DVD and I’m more than glad I took the time to spend 73 minutes out of my life to watch the film you’d made of your life.
You can read more about Gilbert and his Mom & Dad at www.bionicfilms.com and I understand Frank & Cindy will be featured on This American Life on NPR quite soon.