Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Documentary "The Outsider" pairs with James Toback's "When Will I Be Loved?"

It’s not often that a documentary about the making of a movie is really a separate movie in its own right. But that’s the case with “The Outsider” (don’t confuse with “Outsiders”), about the career of maverick director James Toback. This is not an exercise in narcissism or self-reflection: it has its own director, Nicholas Jarecki, with a lot of commentary from other stars, especially Robert Downey Jr., as well as Woody Allen and Harvey Keitel. The film was distributed to Cable by Showtime and the DVD is distributed by Red Envelope (Netflix) itself.

Most of the documentary traces the 12-day shoot in New York of the stylish sex thriller “When Will I Be Loved”. Toback says he got $2 million from British investors to make any movie he wanted. The documentary goes through some of his earlier highlights: Bugsy, Black and White, Exposed, and Fingers.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Toback’s work is his freedom and independence. A Sony Pictures executive says, well, he could get a studio job adapting screenplays, but he would have to compromise.

As for the “Loved” film, he talks a lot about his actors, how they adapt. He gives some details about a sequence in “Loved” where Frederick Weller’s character Ford is smothered by beauties in the Rambles in Central Park (I guess it’s there), and how they undo his shirt and practically perform surgery. In the actual film that sequence is intercut with scenes where Vera Barrie (Neve Campbell) looks for love herself (including at least one lesbian episode), but on the “gobacks” not much of Weller is shown, as most of the shots are distant (although the camera approaches a bit) and he is covered with, well, young women.

Toback talks about his techniques, especially the Steadicam camera.

That brings us to the film itself. The documentary shows Toback meeting with IFC (Independent Film Channel) for initial theatrical distribution (I don’t know if it got into festivals), and it did not get much attendance. But then MGM picked up the DVD rights, and the film made $5 million. (For investors, that’s a PE of 0.4, effectively).

The story is the stuff of soap opera. Vera and Ford break up, and they plot at each other. Ford comes up with a scheme to pimp her to a rich Italian (Dominic Chianese). She tricks him when she says, “set it up!” and that sets up a tragic confrontation at the end. (By the way, the same concept drives some of the current plot of the NBC soap "Days of our Lives.") The movie (shot in full 2.35:1) looks glitzy, kind of like “Gossip Girl”. Weller usually doesn’t play mean characters (he’s likeable in “Stonewall” and in “The Business of Strangers”) but here he proves he can play the part of a slimeball who is perhaps redeemable after all.

The music is quite effective: Vera's scenes (especially intimate ones) are accompanies with music from the slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 7 in F major: "Rasumowsky Quartet"; Glenn Gould playing Bach and a pensive Brahms intermezzo (staple performance on Columbia records from the early 1960s) also deepens the mood of the film.

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