Sunday, March 08, 2009

"An American Affair" -- like a 60s Cold War Hitchcock "character study"


Well, one of my “unmade” screenplays is “An American Epic”, so the title of this wonderful Hitchcock-like character – “An American Affair” and spy drama caught my attention. It’s sort of a small scale “Topaz”, set in 1963, tying a teenager’s coming of ate to the Kennedy Assassination – but keeping our attention on the teen protagonist. He’s Adam Stafford, played by young Canadian actor Cameron Bright (originally Cameron Crigger). He was apparently 15 while this film was made – meaning that the production company Astrakan Films (Screen Media is the distributor) hired a studio teacher. And Cameron completely dominates the film. Perhaps he’s already primed to become the “next” Shia LaBeouf. As the film opens, he is supposed to be a 13 year old coming of age in a Washington DC Catholic school, son of journalists (for the Washington Star – now defunct). But as the movie progresses, he seems like the only character with any moral compass at all. He really does do the right things, and finds himself drawn into discovering a supposed plot for the Kennedy Assassination (although the latest Zapruder evidence really does support the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone). Even his parents, we will find, are not just what they seem. He challenges his dad (Noah Wyle) with, "You're my father. You're supposed to do the right thing for me!" The adult world makes no moral sense. “They” will do anything to stay in power.

More specifically, much of the story centers on his “affair” with neighbor Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol), who seems to be a glamorous call girl for JFK -- and maybe a commie, ready to set JFK up. He spots her from the “rear window” and is always taking pictures (Hitchcock, again). To earn money for a field trip, he offers to work in her garden, and they develop a platonic affair. Except for a couple brief moments, their behavior is discreet enough (in one scene they have a fingerpainting party) but pretty soon he is spying on her friends, especially along the C&O towpath in Georgetown. All of the film was shot in Washington and Baltimore, and the long staircase near Georgetown University provides a logical place for the film’s murder – and rest assured, Cameron will survive the better. There are other ideas, too: Catherine keeps a diary – in pre-blogging days, it seems like personal journals lying around your house could still bring you down. And there are a couple of X-file-like “cigarette smoking men”.

It’s always a challenge to mix “ordinary people” with the generators of history. Here, at least, the history is known; it’s more challenging to do it with predictions of future history, which can make your work outmoded. No danger of that here (except maybe from Zapruder and Posner).

The film is directed by William Olson and written by Alex Metcalf.

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