Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gianni Di Gregorio's fab follow-up to his Mid -August Lunch --THE SALT OF LIFE -- and a short Q&A with the filmmaker/star

Fans of that foreign-language sleeper hit from two years ago, Mid August Lunch (my earlier review is here) will rejoice in discovering that they are about to get a second helping of Gianni Di Gregorio, the fellow (shown below) who wrote, directed and starred in that film. His new film -- titled Gianni e le donne in Italian (Gianni and the women), a smarter and to-the-point moniker than the more generic-sounding THE SALT OF LIFE -- is even better than his earlier venture, which was so light and innocuous that it seemed it might float away even as you were watching. A lot of background stuff took place during "lunch" -- giving us a look at how Italy works and/or doesn't -- but the ladies who lunched in the foreground took precedence over all.

The Salt of Life initially looks like a movie in which its protagonists -- Gianni (played by Gianni) and his lawyer/friend Alfonso (played by Alfonso Santagata) -- are putting one over on women in general and Italian women in particular. Nope. When looked at from a feminist perspective (and I think this is exactly what Di Gregorio is doing, whether he's aware of it or not. Maybe this ability simply comes as second nature to the man), the women we see are more than able to take very good care of themselves. (Well, they must, given the state of mature, if that's the right word, Italian manhood.)

The filmmaker revels and delights in the lives led by other people, even if he would have us believe Gianni to be fairly clueless in figuring out those lives. Di Gregorio has laid out his film quite cleverly so that, again and again, we assume -- only to have our assumptions (often the same as Gianni's, with whom we are identifying) knocked out from under us.

The arc of the movie involves -- in fact, they well could have titled it thus -- Getting Gianni Laid, though this proves not as easy as you might think. To this end, we're introduced to woman after woman (in one case, a set of identical twins, above). But our hero, ever too much the gentleman to take undue advantage, is usually taken advantage of himself. But sweetly.

Gianni's mom is back this time, along with some other ladies who lunch, and it is good to see her and them. We're privy to a younger generation, too, as we meet Gianni's daughter and her boyfriend (below, left) -- who is not nearly as dumb as you might initially imagine.The juxtaposing of the generations is handled with the same smart charm that the filmmaker seems to apply to everything he encounters.

At one point is declared this gem: "The old times are gone. We need to change." How Italian -- this takes us at least as far back as The Leopard (movie or book) -- but necessity and accomplishment are not quite the same thing.

The movie finally seems even more universal than Mid-August Lunch -- it's a sweet duet about male fantasy and aging -- and when Here Comes Your Man hits the soundtrack at the finale, you'll probably be sporting a mile-wide grin.

From Zeitgeist Films, The Salt of Life (90 minutes) opens in New York City this Friday, March 2 -- at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center. Next Friday, March 9, it will open in the Los Angeles area at various Laemmle theaters. Click here to see all the upcoming playdates nationwide (there are a lot of these, and your city is probably among them).


When The Salt of Life made its U.S. premier during last year's FSLC Open Roads festival of new Italian films, TrustMovies had the chance to speak briefly with the filmmaker and star of the movie. When I first saw Mid August Lunch and realized that the same man wrote both the bleak, dark Gormorrah and this little butterfly of a movie, I was astounded. So my first question to Gianni De Gregorio (below) had to do with this.

So you co-wrote Gomorrah and then Mid-August Lunch and now its follow-up. Whew! That's like Antonio Albanese playing in Days & Clouds and then Whatsoeverly. (Gianni shakes his head, yes, but doesn't comment.)  All right:  back to The Salt of Life: I liked your new film even more than your earlier one. It seemed more universal in how it "sticks it" to the male ego. 

(Gianni laughs.) Thank you...

But sweetly. You seem to be a very sweet man.

It comes to me very naturally -- this sort of compassion for others. It very hard for me to see the ugly side of people.

But how did you come to write Gomorrah?  That is one of the ugliest movies I have ever seen!

Remember: Gomorrah I wrote together with five other screenwriters. I never would have been able to write it all, or direct a film like that, for it shows such a dark side of life. When I direct a film, this side of me -- the sweet, accomodating side -- comes out.  But I really do have to say that I do like a very socially oriented type of film, a film that is politically engaged.

Well, your films -- both Mid-August Lunch and Salt of Life -- are politically engaged!  

Ah -- thank you!

In small ways, maybe, like in Mid August Lunch, we see how Gianni has to accomodate the managing agent of the building, even if this is a little sleazy. And in Salt of Life, the way you and your lawyer friend try to put one over on the women, the way you show us all this is political -- even feminist -- in its way.

(He laughs.) I really wanted to do a feminist film because I think that Italian men are changing, too; they are much less macho than they were in the past.  Unlike the film Gomorrah, I have to say when I am doing a comedy, which I am much more inclined toward, I will write and do something political without fully realizing it. But on the other hand, when we were doing Gomorrah, I would time and again come up with a funny line, and everyone would start laughing, then they would write it down for the script and suddenly they'd say, "No, no -- we can't use that."  It's my natural inclination toward the comic, and it is also a defense mechanism against suffering.

Right. And this is probably a very good defense mechanism.  Did you see Il Divo, and what did you think of it?

I think it is a great analysis of Italian power and how mysteriously it operates. The film really conveys a very clear idea of the mystery of Italy. Terrible crimes have happened, yet nothing has ever been explained. I think Il Divo capture this perfectly.

Yes, it shows us this, while still leaving the mystery intact.  So what's next for you?

The fact of the international success of my first film, and now that my second has been sold here in the US and other countries, this also fills me with a huge sense of responsibility. So I must think very carefully what my next film will be.  I don't know whether to continue with this character or not.  I am asking your advice. What do you think?

(Hmmmm.  This is unusual...) Well, OK:  I think you don't want to go the way, for instance, of Roberto Benigni -- who became perhaps too much Robert Benigni. But I think that you, as a performer and writer/director, are not as intrusive a personality as Benigni, so perhaps you can stick with this character.  If you continue as you've done so far -- because The Salt of Life is a big expansion of Mid August Lunch --  if you keep expanding in this way, you could go on forever.  But don't just give us the same thing.

I appreciate what you say, because I really do listen to what people have to say. It is only after you make something that you begin to know what you have done.

I think artists often don't know -- at least fully -- what they've done. So much of one's work is instinctual, isn't it?


(We get the high sign that our time is up.) Whoops -- that's it, I guess. But whatever you decide to do next, just give us some more films!

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SNOWTOWN: Justin Kurzel's and Shaun Grant's real-life horror from & in Australia

The tag line "based on real events" has seldom accompanied so dark and grizzly a story as that of the Snowtown murders, a series of killings also known as the bodies-in-barrels murders (for the manner in which some of the victims' remains were encased) said to be among if not the worst in Australia's serial-killing history. Now, two fledglings to full-length filmmaking -- director Justin Kurzel (below) and writer Shaun Grant -- have tackled this true-crime story and come up with a truly devastating, difficult-to-sit-through, too-good-not-to movie now titled, yes, THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS. (The original title Snowtown, would not have the effect on American audiences that it immediately had on those in Australia, who were familiar with the now infamous place).

The film premiered at last year's Cannes Festival, picking up the FIRPRESCI Prize's Special Mention, and then opened wide, immediately afterward, on its home continent, before playing the Toronto International Film Festival. It has now opened commercially or at festivals in ten different countries, prior to landing in New York City for its U.S. theatrical debut. The movie is compelling almost from its first frame and very soon after it becomes increasingly harrowing and disturbing in ways that I don't think either mainstream or art audiences will be used to. Kurzel and Grant have arranged their tale to look and sound quite off-the-cuff, drawing us in obliquely. We know from the get-go that some bad things are happening. But just why and how and by whom is not completely apparent.

This works exceedingly well because it helps us understand why the single mother (very well played by Louise Harris, above, center), raising her boys and discovering some pedophilia going on, would bond with a new man who seems like he will be a strong, positive presence in their lives. If only.

The new man in her life and theirs is given a crack performance by newcomer Daniel Henshall, above, who manages to capture the outwardly positive, smiling presence that covers a dreadfully evil personality about as well as I have seen. He ensnares the oldest of the boys, Jamie (Lucas Pittaway, below, and dead excellent in his film debut) in such an insidious but understandable fashion that when the horrible stuff starts to happen, you realize with a thud in your stomach that it will all come to pass. And probably worse than you could imagine. Yes, infinitely.

Grant dangles the puzzle before us but makes us do some of the work putting the pieces together. He leaves out certain steps, even entire killings, or, together with Kurzel shows just enough so that we understand. And the director, while not shying away from blood and gore, doesn't over do it, either. He shows it to us full-force, once, and maybe half-force another time. Then it's all bits and pieces, for we don't need it repeatedly rammed down our throats. But we do need to understand just how grisly these events were.

We also need to understand how difficult it is for young Jamie to take part in all this, yet how impossible it is --- given his being under the thumb of his stepfather -- not to. Together, the writer, director and Mr. Pittaway make us understand this, and it's because of their fine work that we're able to bear the horror in store. But, then, every characterization is on target here, which says something for the director's understanding of casting (he used a lot of local talent from the actual Snowtown area) and how to draw good performances from all his actors.

From IFC Films, The Snowtown Murders -- non-stop tricky terrain handled masterfully -- opens this Friday, March 2, in New York City at the IFC Center, and will play the Los Angeles area, starting Thursday, March 15, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.  It is also now available, as are many of the current IFC movies, via Video on Demand. Click here to learn how to get access it VOD.

Propaganda time: Manfred Kirchheimer's ART IS...THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION

And just what's wrong with some hot propaganda? Nothing, according to Paul Marcus, one of the artists whose work and views are seen and heard in this new documen-tary (his photo's at the bottom of the post).  After all, notes Mr. Marcus, artists from Giotto to Albrecht Dürer have been handing out propaganda over the centuries, though theirs was used in the service of pushing religion rather than politics. In ART IS...THE PERMANENT REVOLUTION, German-born emigre Manfred Kirchheimer gives us a crash course in some of the world's best propaganda art, while interviewing three artists (while following their current projects) and a smart, talkative print-maker, all of whom produce this kind of art.

Herr Kirschheimer, shown at right -- who wrote, directed, produced and edited this film -- shows us why outrage is so important to these mostly left-leaning artists and how they've used it through the ages to nail the sleazy and guilty who were, among other activities, foisting war upon us while getting richer in the process.

His modern-day artists -- Sigmund Abeles, Ann Chernow (below) and the aforesaid Mr. Marcus -- prove fine hosts, as they show us their current project and lead us through various steps toward its completion. And that print-maker -- James Reed -- proves a font of good information about the various types of prints and how these are created.

But, really, for TrustMovies the major excitement of the film comes from seeing such an array of terrific artwork from the expected greats like Goya, Grosz (at left) and Daumier, as well as some artists better known for other types of art (Rembrandt and Picasso) and some that I had not heard of till now: Massereel and Kollwitz (the work of the latter is shown below), among a number of others. In all, the work of some 60-odd artists are assembled here -- most of them in black-and-white (which seems to preferred color choice for this kind of angry satire) and a few in fiery color.

Many artists of the periods shown tended to identify with the struggle of the masses (would that it were so today), and Kirschheimer notes the difference between political artists and humanist artists. While the former were always part of the latter, the reverse was not necessarily true. And while their work tended to enrage whatever powers-that-were (the work of Otto Dix, below, left the Nazi quite unhappy), these artists have left us a remarkable and indispensable history. (Early examples of water-boarding torture can be found in this film.)

There is history aplenty here, as well as information on wood art, soft ground prints and dry point. While the work shown here might be called ugly by, say, the standards of Thomas Kincaid, it is also never less than bracing to view. And the filmmaker has chosen some appropriate music to background his film -- everything from Brother, Can You Spare a Dime to various religious pieces and the rousing Which Side Are You On?

Art Is...The Permanent Revolution (from First Run Features, 82 minutes) opens this Friday, March 2, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. I would hope there will be more playdates around the country, but as of now, nothing is set.

Monday, February 27, 2012

THIS IS NOT A FILM -- or so Iran's Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb explain it

As you may have surmised by now, TrustMovies' favorite way of seeing a film is simply to know as little about it as possible and then plop down in his seat to watch. Many, if not most, good movies work fine this way because what you need to know to appreciate the movie is usually built into the film itself. Not so with THIS IS NOT A FILM, opening this week in New York City and next week in the Los Angeles area. Even though some upfront information is given at the beginning and end of the movie, I can't imagine a film-goer -- even one who appreciates foreign, arthouse, independent and/or experimental movies -- stumbling into this film, made by Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, and being able to appreciate it fully without having known, and long enough for it to register and sink in, the history and background of this (not a) film, as well as the prior work of Mr. Panahi.

In 2010, Panahi (at left)-- a multi-award-winning Iranian filmmaker (The White Balloon, The Mirror, The Circle, Crimson Gold, Offside) was given a six-year prison sentence plus a ban of 20 years from making films and having interviews with foreign press, due to his open support of the opposition party during Iran's 2009 election. This sparked an immediate and ongoing protest from the worldwide filmmaking community, although who did (or more to the point, did not) rally to Panahi's support inside Iran caused some surprise and name-calling. (Trust me, it's much easier to support this particular cause when you're outside Iran, a country not noted for its freedom-of-speech, either during the pre-fundamentalist era or today.)

For some time, Mr. Panahi has been under what appears to be the Iranian version of "house arrest," and This Is Not a Film -- shot surreptitiously on a small DV camera by Panahi's friend and collaborator, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (shown at right) and on an iPhone by Panahi himself -- endeavors to show us some of the filmmaker's daily life. And a not uninteresting life it is. First of all, take a gander at the gorgeous apartment in which he lives. This is upper-middle-class by any standard, including, I would say, the pet iguana, below, that provides some exotica and humor. (Iguana sales should spike nicely in any cities where the movie will be shown.)

During the film, we get an interesting crash course in some of Panahi's earlier films, and learn some of his filmmaking tips (how someone new to acting often invents wonderful things; how a wisely chosen location can, in a sense, direct itself). Along the way friends and relatives call and Panahi talks to his lawyer, learning that his case is not proceeding very well. Another friend (Mirtahmasb, now also banned from filmmaking) appears, and Panahi sets out to tell him the story he wants to film (about a young girl locked into her room by her religious parents), marking off the perimeters of the imagined set on his beautiful Persian rug. "You take a shot of me," requests his co-director/cameraman in the middle of things, "in case I'm arrested."

Once or twice, the filmmaker seems to be on the brink of giving in to despair, but he holds back. Finally, when a young man appears at the apartment door -- he's a temporary replacement for the regular janitor -- Panahi seizes the opportunity to interview him with the DV camera. On the building's elevator, as the young man goes from floor to floor collecting trash, Panahi talks to him about life, work, school and options. You can feel the liberation that the filmmaker experiences, just being able to communicate and ply his trade again. These are lovely moments, made all the richer by our understanding of the director's plight. And then the end credits -- particularly humorous and ironic -- roll. The finished film was smuggled out of Iran and into France in a cake, just in time for submission to Cannes, where it had its world premiere.

Only 74 minutes long, This Is Not a Film is certainly not a film like any other you'll have seen. In its circumspect, circumscribed manner, it manages to be a smart, plucky defense of art threatened by the state, as well as an implied message to the rest of the world's filmmakers: Use your freedom.  The (not a) film opens, this Wednesday, February 29, at Film Forum in New York City. On March 2, it will open in the Los Angeles area, at Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Encino Town Center; and Pasadena Playhouse 7.  But sorry, folk, no personal appearances by the filmmakers this time around.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cinematographer/phy heaven: James Chressanthis' NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY

A must for Hungarians, movie buffs and cinemaphiles who especially prize terrific cinematography, NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: Lazslo & Vilmos tracks the life and careers -- here in Hollywood and back home in their native Hungary -- of two of the great motion picture cinematographers, Vilmos Zsigmond and László Kovács. Written/directed by James Chressanthis, himself a good cinematographer, the movie is full of the usual idolatry we've come to expect from movies about movie people. But -- let's be clear here -- these guys and their work are worth a little worship.

The filmmaker, shown at right,  hops and skips all over the place, from present to past and back, Hollywood to Hungary, and while one occasionally pines for a more standard timeline continuity, one also admits how interesting are his two subjects and their lives and work. If we might want more, what's here in the film's 84-minute running time is plenty fascinating. Chressanthis' movie is made up basically of three things: movie people -- actors, directors, producers and other cinematographers -- talking about the work of the two men; the men themselves, speaking of their past and present life and work; and the work itself, which we see plenty of and which speaks quite beautifully for itself.

Though László (1933-2007), shown at left, was born three years after Vilmos (shown below) and considered the latter, beginning with their days at the Hungarian film school, to be his mentor, it was László who died first -- nearly a year before this film had its premier at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Vilmos is still with us and still going strong with two films in pre-production this year, one shot last year and two in 2010. If TrustMovies prefers the work of Vilmos over that of László, he admits that this movie made him reconsider certain films. After viewing what Chressanthis shows and tells us about László's work on the Jessica Lange vehicle Frances, for instance, I'm going to have to see that movie once again.

Although Vilmos has worked on some real turkeys over the years (what in-demand cinematographer hasn't -- Sliver, anyone?), when I consider some of those non-flying birds, it's generally the look of the film that has stayed in my mind longer and more positively than anything else. When I think of Scarecrow, for instance, it's that amazing shot of the sunlit golden foothills in the foreground with the ominous angry sky in the background that comes to mind first (we get to see that shot in this documentary). And as far as shooting films that are now standard-bearers, this guy has to his credit the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (a film, he tells us, that he was fired from and then rehired multiple times before winning the "Oscar" for Best Cinematography!), McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Deer Hunter and Deliverance.  There is great beauty to be found in so many of Vilmos' movies and yet it is rarely of the clichéd variety (and when it is, it's so damn gorgeous you don't give a shit).

We hear from everyone from the late Dennis Hopper (at right) to Sharon Stone, Karen Black to Sandra Bullock,  Mark Rydell to Bob Rafelson, Owen Roizman to Steven Poster -- and what they say is of course complementary but also often intelligent and pointed. We learn how the two men smuggled themselves out of Hungary, as well as film of the Hungarian uprising that was ruthlessly put down by the Russian overlords during the 1950s (that film was later shown on national television, introduced by Walter Cronkite). Coming to Hollywood, at first they had to work on some pretty sleazy and funny exploitation movies (using slightly assumed names) before cracking the big time -- László with Easy Rider, Vilmos with Red Sky at Morning. Overall, this is rich, enjoyable movie that never got a theatrical release, although I believe it was shown on American television. There is so much that's interesting and fun here, I can't imagine that film buffs won't welcome the opportunity to enjoy every succulent minute.  (And now that we've covered these two fine cinematographers, I hope someone is currently working on a documentary about another Hungarian who shoots fabulous films -- and has directed a couple, too -- Lajos Koltai.)

The DVD, from Cinema Libre Studio, hits the streets this coming Tuesday, February 28, for rental or purchase and comes with over 45 minutes of extras, including
  • The birth of EASY RIDER – A tribute to Dennis Hopper, featuring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Karen Black.
  • Actor Master Class with Karen Black on EASY RIDER and FIVE EASY PIECES
  • Drugs on EASY RIDER with Peter Sorel
  • Director of Master Class with Bob Rafelson on HEAD, EASY RIDER and FIVE EASY PIECES
  • Peter Bogdanovich on László

Saturday, February 25, 2012

HEIST and PATRIOCRACY: Two new political docs open at NYCs Quad Cinema

This coming week is all politics at New York City's Quad Cinema, where three new political-themed documentaries will open on Friday, March 2 -- one of them about art and revolution (which I'll cover in the next few days), the other two (covered below) concerned with what's been going over the past few years and continues today. One of these attempts a bipartisan look at the nasty tone of our current political discourse, the other takes a gander at how the "business community" -- read the international corporate world -- has hijacked our country and our lives. Both are worth seeing, even if they cover a lot of territory already trod by other documentaries.

The better of the two docs -- HEIST, which in its very title should remind you of the film that won last year's Best Documentary "Oscar," Inside Job -- takes as its jumping-off point a memorandum written decades ago by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court), in which he described/proposed a strategy for the corporate takeover of America's dominant public institutions. This memorandum was new to TrustMovies, and I found it more than a little interesting, almost shocking in its relevance to what has happened over the past forty years since the memo was written (in August of 1971).  The movie does not scream nor yell and, in fact, it finds, in it own bipartisan manner, that regimes both Republican (from Nixon and Reagan through Bushes I and II) and Democratic (Carter, Clinton and now Obama) kowtowing to money and corporate power. In a most interesting moment of truth, even Paul Craig Roberts, co-founder of the ridiculous "Reaganomics," notes that we now have "an economy that is starting to impoverish its own work force."

The film's co-directors -- Donald Goldmacher (below, left) and Frances Causey (at right) point to the media deregulation as one large threat to democracy, along with the big lobbyists and their corporate agenda. They point to the utter lack of accountability in our leadership and suggest taking private money out of public elections as a good start. (Good luck!) They also suggest acting locally, and offer a positive example of a community -- Richmond, California -- that went up against the Chevron corporation and won.
The movie is smart, fast, and neither petty nor smug. While you may know some of what the filmmakers have to tell you going in (restore fair taxation, and make Wall Street play by the rules!), you're bound to have learned some new things coming out. Bonus treat: two good pieces of music/lyrics played over the end credits: The Corporate Welfare Song and Never Surrender.


It's commendable that filmmaker Brian Malone (shown below) -- he directed, edited, composed and co-produced PATRIOCRACY, the second of the three political docs that hit the Quad this coming week -- wants to put back some civility into our political discourse. It doesn't hurt to be reminded of how uncivil the airways and print media (not to mention what can be found on the worldwide web) have become over the past decade. "How did we get to this level of vitriol and refusal to compromise in our government," Malone asks. Well, I'd say that it's pretty easy to figure out how. A decade of being lied to outright by our highest elected officials, even as more and more transparency in government is sacrificed to the power and wealth of corporations and to that less-than-one-per-cent of our population who now "owns" America. Lack of civility is the least of what we should be worrying about. It is the unethical, dishonest and criminal behavior of our government, including the still-befouled majority of the Supreme Court, that has spawned the Occupy Wall Street movement. More than two centuries ago, the situation of all the wealth in the hands of the few, leaving the rest of society with ever less to live on, helped spawn the French Revolution, because of which the ruling class lost its collective and individual heads.

Civility is all very well when the leadership is playing a civil game. We're past that point when President Obama spends more time, money and effort going after whistle-blowers than bringing to justice Wall Street and the banking community, or holding accoun-table the previous administration for its many crimes. If there is not much that's really new here, still, within the framework Malone has given his film, he comes up with some very interesting provocations. One such is the ex-politician (a Republican) from South Carolina who tells his constituents that if Glen Beck scares them so much (as they've just informed him), why not simply turn the guy off. After which, he loses his primary election. Malone also covers the despicable Supreme Court Citizen's United decision, the Gaby Gifford shooting, the debt ceiling deadline, and best of all, he lets retired Southern politican Mickey Edwards, hold forth with a bunch of good ideas for mending our fraying country. The filmmaker closes with a decent laundry list of ways to correct the situation and organizations dedicated to doing this. But without a clampdown on political campaign contributions, all this is barely a band-aid. And with Citizen's United now at work, what new horrors lie ahead?

See these two interesting docs (each runs 90 minutes) starting Friday, March 2, at New York City's Quad Cinema. Click the link ahead to find for further playdates for Heist. To locate further Patriocracy playdates, click here and then click on Screenings at the top of the page.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nat Christian's MONDAY MORNING: an odd & dark look at the "haves" & the homeless -- plus an interview with the filmmaker

What a strange film is MONDAY MORNING, the new genre mash-up (maybe unintentional) combining politics, fantasy and gritty documentary technique from writer/director/producer/editor Nat Christian. Mr. Christian even plays -- and very well -- one of the more interesting of the homeless characters who dot the film and give it its lasting resonance and meaning. Before you take this post as yet another rave from TrustMovies, let me first say that, on a certain level, Monday Morning seems a rather silly movie, in that it uses a fantasy gimmick (a slightly bizarre homeless woman with near-magical powers) to get its hero/non-hero -- a popular right-wing radio personality named Thomas Bach -- to experience life as one of the have-nots, rather than the "have" to whose cushy existence he feels entitled. (Well, as Stephen Sondheim once lyricized, "You gotta have a gimmick.")

Thomas' mantra, which he voices consistently in the beginning of the movie, seems to be that unrestrained capitalism guarantees competition, which leads to a healthier society. Instead, of course, we're seeing capitalism, as practiced in America, leading to a monopolistic society that is turning us all into wage-slaves. The filmmaker, shown at left, sees to it that Thomas (very well-played by a handsome, four-square, mostly-television actor named Victor Browne, below), whose only perceived negative (other than his attitude) is his diabetes, wakes up after that whack from the homeless woman with his memory impaired, his wallet and ID gone, and his diabetic symptoms beginning to kick in. But, ah, he gets to discover -- in fact, join -- the American underbelly.

In its spirit and, well, its naïveté, the movie may remind you of some of the Capra-corn from the 1930s and 40s: It reminded me of It's a Wonderful Life turned inside-out, while my companion saw it more as an updated Sullivan's Travels but without the crack casts, budget, and, yes, a certain gee-whiz sentimentality that those films possess. Instead, Christian manages to give us certain scenes that are surprisingly powerful, often upsetting, that involve his homeless. And we must deal with these as best we can -- including an ending that is more complicated than feel-good.

The movie is un-rated, and when you see it, you'll understand why. There's a literal shit being taken by a homeless woman, as we (and the camera) look on; later, another of the homeless must give a blow-job in order to earn enough money to get something to eat, and we catch a glimpse of what's being sucked. These people look like the real homeless, too -- the filmmaker gets their teeth right -- rather than merely one step away from it. They're addicts and crazies and more, but they are also human and are definitely, at the remove of the motion picture experience, worth spending time with. This is the achievement of Christian's movie: We actually grow to care about these homeless, and even about Thomas, who for a time becomes one of them.

The idea of a right-wing talk show host discovering what the director calls "his better nature" (see interview below) and doing right by more than just the "haves" of our nation is a subject that merits all the time, money and art that could be lavished upon it. And if Christian manages only about half of the job, still, his movie is worth a shout-out. Those of my readers in the Los Angeles area, try to see Monday Morning during its week's theatrical run, beginning Friday, March 2, at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 (in Beverly Hills, yet! That's really rubbing it in). Depending on attendance, the film just might make it to theaters in other parts of the country. Let's hope. Note: There will be a Q&A with Nat Christian taking place on Monday, March 5, right after the 7:30 PM show.


TrustMovies had not planned on doing an interview with the filmmaker of Monday Morning, but when he asked the film's excellent publicist for some art work, he was asked in return if he'd like to speak to Nat Christian. As TM had only just watched the movie the evening prior, it was still rolling around in his head, so sure! he answered and later that day found himself knee-deep in some really delightful conversation -- which, of course, he couldn't begin to type fast enough to catch all of. What remains is below -- in which TM appears in boldface, while Nat Christian (shown again, below) speaks in standard type.

The first thing I have to say is just about how impressed I was that, despite what seems like a silly fantasy element in the film -- where the bag lady whacks your hero and knocks him out -- you still manage to...

You got that?! I'm really impressed, because subliminally she is a very symbolic character, and the symbolism was not meant to be so clear. It was subliminal sort of like the "atmosphere" in a room can become a character.

Really? Because it seemed pretty obvious to me.

Good. And I understand that the beginning might seem silly. Yes, I wanted the beginning to come off like some kind of soft romantic comedy: So we have this guy who is basically a horn dog having a great time and then, bam! -- he is hit by the bag lady. But so is the audience. What was my little secret, and no one is supposed to really get, but it helped me direct, was that the bag lady was waiting for the birth of Thomas's true nature. But no one is supposed to get this. It was much more of an intriguing question mark: a coincidence that comes around later. After that, with the lady that takes a poop, I was hoping that the viewer would say "Okay, this story is going somewhere"

Is that the same bag lady that we see at the beginning of the film?

No. The bag lady who is in Minnesota, who asks for money, is another character. She sort of looks like the bag lady who whacks Thomas. They have a certain similar look in their eyes. But that bag lady who whacks Thomas does appears again in the movie.

Right --

And when she hits him, it's really the best thing that happens to this guy. By getting hit, Thomas finds his true nature.

Yes, but can he hold on to it? How you handle that is, well, interesting.... And how you handle the homeless sure is, too!

I wanted to make a movie about homelessness that took the subject seriously. The homeless in my movie are the hard-core homeless. Not the ones who were one paycheck away from being homeless, but the hard core. Those who can't do. Who can't bag groceries. I've heard people say "Well they could work or bag groceries..." They can't. There is something going on in their minds. I feel that it would have been hypocritical for me to have a soft cushy ending while making this movie about them. I mean, I feel funny sometimes, just when I wear some nice shoes....

Oh, honey -- so do we all! Well, some of us, anyway. 

 The reason I made Monday Morning is out of guilt. I don't know why. I don't know, but that is why I made it.

You show some awfully real-looking stuff in your movie: the shit, the cock.

Yes, there are explicit scenes in the movie, but that is what is going on. I've seen it. I saw a woman on 57th St in New York stop and go to the bathroom and then just move on. I 've seen deals going down between people in back alleys. So I show it. I mean you can go to a museum and see explicit work. Mainstream directors have done this years ago. Just the other day I was watching Paul Verhoeven's Spetters, and there are a lot of explicit scenes in that. Great movie. And he made that in the eighties.

God, Spetters was a wonderful film! I haven't thought of that movie in quite awhile.

Yes, and I think you need to show things as close to "as they are" as you can. This all goes on, and it's only the half of it. I did my research.

You sure did.

I am amazed that you got all this -- you understood it -- and even the dream sequence....

Well, when you see enough movies, you tend to catch stuff like that.

I tried to bring a little magic into the reality. Let's call it "real magic" That was the idea behind the bag lady.

What did this film cost to make?

The total budget for the movie was under $74,000.

Whew -- that is very little, considering your fine cast and the look of the film. You really got a good cast, together -- from the leading man, right down to the smaller roles.

Yes, wasn't Victor Brown phenomenal. But everyone was terrific and so willing, and it wasn't always easy for them. Molly Kidder, Jessica Spotts - the whole cast and crew, just wonderful. With the cast, locations and vendors, I've found just being honest with people about what you want and expect can really help you make your movie. The whole cast and crew worked so hard. Victor dove into that dumpster. He jumped into any situation, and for a good-looking guy like that to be able to access all the emotions that he does, it's just wonderful.

I was also pleased (Editor's note: maybe a spoiler ahead) that you didn't feel it necessary to provide a happy ending where everybody wins.

My point of view is that I'm a guy with a flashlight shining into a dark corner of a huge warehouse and I am saying "Look: this is what I see," knowing that many have seen that exact same corner and still see it their way, while I'm presenting it in mine. Look, if you're middle class, you have to have the homeless in order to be middle class. It's all relative. If everyone had ten million dollars then there would be no "rich." So we are middle class or rich because there are many who are poor. They define us.

I don't have the answers to how to solve the homeless situation. I mean, it would take some major changes. I'm not a politician. I can only show what I feel. This is how I feel. Hopefully, we can all come to a place where we a little more grace towards these people and each other. Grace. Let's just have some grace -- instead of all the vitriol that's out there. (There's a pause)  I don't mean to go on like this.

No, no, its great. It's good. You should go on: That's what an interview like this is all about. And it lets me understand how you feel as person and as a film director.

It's funny, because when I got this money, I had the opportunity to do a movie about girls on motorcycles with machine guns....

I'm glad to opted for this one.

Before I forget, I want to share something with you. About digital techology. When you see these old movies - some of those directors were great. They couldn't go back to the film a year later and replace a tree for a chair. The film was cut (I mean it would take an awful lot of money and labor to do that). Well, with Digital Technology, you can. Everything is file-based: cutting and pasting (in the most basic terms). Movie makers nowadays can keep working on their movies far longer than they used to. There is a saying, I can't remember who said it - Coppola? Truffaut? Who? - and I'm paraphrasing - "You never finish a project, you abandon it." Well, moviemakers are taking a lot more time before abandoning their projects. I was up till 5 this morning with my editor fixing some technical problems, and watching the movie again to make sure everything is fine. If a moviemaker so desires, he/she can work with everything in the digital world. Now here's a theory: we're into digital technology. They even have digital billboards now. And with digital cinema, if everything is projected digitally, then theoretically, if a studio head decides he wants to change a movie that he owns, he could even change the ending of that movie from wherever he is over cable or Wifi.  He may have an alternative ending shot and ready. Digital is just amazing, and it's scary, too.

I think your film is coming to us at a good time, what with Occupy Wall Street, and all its incarnations around the country and the globe. And speaking of the better nature that your character seems to get in touch with -- for awhile anyway -- isn't that part of what Occupy is all about?

Yes, because the Occupy Wall Street people were and are sacrificing without with any reward in sight.

That 's right -- that is what they are doing. And that is certainly an element of a person's better nature. One little thing in the movie that I liked that shows Thomas indeed has a better nature happens when he saves that ant. But then when he's faced with a whole bunch of ants, he just can't deal with it and so gets out the water and just drowns them. We all have a better nature, I guess, but just don't ask too much from it.

This'll sound funny, but in my mind I can see a musical production of this work. Maybe someday. What I wanted to do with the movie was to entertain people while depicting a very dark arena -- to start with something light and goofy like the feeling you get from Wedding Crashers at the beginning. Then hit them when we get to the poop, and.... You know, there are real statistics about the homeless, particularly the women, and why they let themselves get so horrible and smelly. Can you guess why?

I would think maybe to keep men away from then, from raping them.


Before we end this conversation, I should tell you how good I thought you were in the role of "Damn." You were an actor first, right, and then went into the rest of it, and now you do a little bit of everything? In what job are you happiest?

For me, the most satisfying of the processes would be when I finish the final draft of a screenplay, because I have used my imagination in directing it or acting in it. And no amount of locations or equipment can compete with your imagination. You asked me if I was happy. Well, I don't think I can understand true happiness - I mean, I think it was Tennessee Williams who said: Happiness is insensitivity. Maybe I can feel content at times. Digital Technology has allowed a lot of us in this business today to be multi-hyphenates. Everybody does everything. What is beautiful is that a kid from some small town anywhere can make a great movie. I guess I just like to tell stories, and to share experiences. Where I would like to see movies go, is where music is now. I aspire to be where you can make a movie and get that same powerful experience the hundredth time you see it. Just like you can do with a great song or a great symphony. I aspire to be able to make a movie that will do that.

Maybe music doesn't demand as much from you as a novel or a film? Music is more immediate and on a single level. You just listen and experience.

Yes. Maybe it's the manipulation going on in the movies, the twists, the surprise elements in stories, and music doesn't have as much of that manipulation, I think.

I know Monday Morning is only opening for now in L.A. But would you bring it to NYC?

I would love to. If it does well in L.A. then maybe. You know, at the end of our shoot, we had four hours of movie to deal with, to cut down. I told all the extras that we would list them in the credits. I wanted to personally go to every actor and tell all the ones who were cut out of the film how good they were, even so. But really, you can't do that because, by that time, they've gone on to other jobs -- unless you did it by email.

Oh, yes: one more question, I'm from L.A. I grew up there, but I don't ever remember as much rain as I saw in your movie.

(He laughs) Yes, they're sure is a lot of rain in this movie -- and that's because we shot it in the rainiest season in all of L.A.'s recorded history!