Monday, June 18, 2012

Kittredge's "Pornography" is a monument to Lynch, De Palma, Cronenberg, Verbinski, Ridley Scott

Screenwriting teachers talk a lot about “beginning, middle, and end” of a screenplay (there’s more, however, such as “point of no return” and “point of recognition”). More advanced classes talk about “layered storytelling”, which can throw away a lot of the rules and fracture the narrative.

There are different ways “to layer”.  The simplest is the flashback or backstory. Another is to embed a fiction story written by one of the characters. 

Then you can weave everything together in a continuous narrative, or you segment the film into separate “shorts”.

The 2009 experiment by David Kittredge (from Wolfe), “Pornography: A Thriller” (the official title has only the first word) takes the latter approach, splitting into three “long short” films, with characters crossing and connecting. He doesn’t title the sections (he should have).

The first part, about 28 minutes, shows a backstory of adult film star Mark Anton (Jared Gray) in 1995.  Anton wanted a better life and walked into a dangerous business deal. Strapped to a chair and then a gurney in an isolated closet apparently in NYC (you think about Sweeny Todd), he argues for his own independence.  They can pay him to perform, “but you can’t buy my pain” he says.  He also talks about how pictures freeze time at the present, which always vanishes into the future from the past, otherwise (sounds like General Relativity).  A masked monster engages him, and he disappears.

Part 2 takes place in 2009, as a “regular guy” gay journalist  Michael Castigan (Matthew Montgomery, made to look about age 30, easily the steadiest character in the film  -- perhaps inspired by Anderson Cooper) is writing a book about the history of gay porn, and moves into a large apartment near the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn (the area looked familiar to me) with a lover William (Walter Delmar), whose appearance is interesting when you look closely (as in the bedroom).  Michael finds a hidden safe in the closet, with a business card showing an image of a ring with an ankh already shown in the first part.  He also finds an old DAT tape with video of whom we know to be Mark Anton.  Intrigues, he wants to find out what happened to Anton.  He starts to visit a video technology shop. When the owner (David Prevsner) restores the tape and watches the video, he disappears, too.  Now, the film is in territory visited already by the 2002 thriller “The Ring” by Gore Verbinski from Dreamworks (where anyone who watches a particular VHS video expires).  At this point, we also feel like we’re in David Lynch territory – concepts both from “Lost Highway” and the infamous “Twin Peaks” series and movie prequel (“Fire Walk With Me”). There’s also some reference to David Cronenberg, Brian de Palma, and even Ridley Scott.  This section of the film takes about 35 minutes. 

‘Suddenly, we see a new character, actor and writer Matt Stevens (Pete Scherer, who looks a bit too much like Montgomery), finishing off a screenplay in Final Draft that seems to be writing itself.  All the sudden, we’re in Hollywood, and Part 3 of the film is announced by oversaturated hues and an almost cartoonish look.  Matt gets to direct his film about Mark Anton, which in time recreates (in pieces) Matt’s theory about what must have happened to him.  The work on the set is quite taxing – no pee bathroom breaks allowed for actors.  He gets a cell phone call from  journalist Michael, who appears only once more in the movie.  We start to wonder if Matt had Michael set up to live in that apartment.  What’s not so clear is all the surreal goings on.  The last part of the film is the longest, and the hardest to follow.

My own (“Do Ask Do Tell”) screenplay has a protagonist (based on me) in a mystery interview situation (apparently on another planet).  I embed a troubling short film that my character wrote and posted as a screenplay (showing it in black and white), leading to a presentation of “life history” incidents, generated in reaction to the screenplay, in natural color.  In the ashram (on this other planet, perhaps Titan), “Bill” is given tasks to prove himself worthy for a special ritual, which the other characters, who brought Bill here, must also face and need Bill’s story in order to prepare themselves.  Back home, on Earth, it will soon be the End of Life as You Know It (but by no means the End of the World).  But in my setting, the “screenplay” is totally fictitious, not a reenactment of past events; rather, it generates events.  The other “angels” who have brought Bill to “Titan” have a definite interest in Bill’s attitudes or fantasies about them.  Following the example set by the Kittredge film here, it would be necessary to select one "angel" character and funnel all the information about "Bill" to him (his performance on the "tests" and backstory viewings) from the other companions, and show why he needs it. 

“Pornography” is an ambitious film,, even monumental. It played many of the LGBT festivals and at the Atlantic Film Festival. The DVD includes a featurette “Smile for the Camera” (12 minutes) about the film, and a lot of replaying delete scenes.  The original film had run 150 minutes before trimming to 104 minutes. 

The official site is here

Pictures, mine (2012): Baltimore Pride (2);  Palm Springs CA.  I do get around!

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