Seldom has a filmmaker shared more in common with his subject than Doug Block with the fellow struggling American independent movie makers in his acerbic yet cheery "The Heck With Hollywood!" It's strategically airing on KCET-TV Channel 28 as soon as the Hollywood Establishment has had its self-celebratory orgy with the Academy Awards tonight.
And while the Bravo Channel is promoting its airing of the Independent Spirit Awards during breaks in Oscarcast, the real, hard-bitten, rock-hard indies are in Block's film. He's collected a good range of types.
The Artist is documentarian Jennifer Fox, whose "Beirut: The Last Home Movie" is her personal account of a visit to Beirut to inquire why people are drawn to war--and why she is as well. The Good Guy is Ted Lichtenheld, and with his violence- and sex-free movie starring David Morse, "Personal Foul," he presents an ideal of Middle American cinema. The Huckster Clowns are director Gerry Cook and co-producers Charlie Schmidt and Peter Hundrichs as they hustle to sell their made-in-Spokane comedy, "Only a Buck," about--of all things--a guy trying to make his own movie.
They reflect the shades of value in the movie business, independent or not, and they surely reflect Block's own personality.
Fox is a serious go-getter, with a clear sense of her role as an artist and businesswoman, both reflective about her work and willing to run around New York streets to put up posters. She doesn't hedge ("I'm not a Hollywood filmmaker"), she knows how to operate at the annual Independent Film Project market, and she openly criticizes her distributor, Circle Releasing, when she thinks it's not working as hard as she is. Even better, "Beirut" wins awards.
Lichtenheld's film doesn't wow folks at the IFP screening for "Personal Foul," and, judging by the clips here, that's not surprising: It looks like a lame TV movie-of-the-week. But Lichtenheld filmed it in his hometown of Rockford, Ill., risked his marriage and credit rating, seduced investors and secured a distributor.
Block probably has the most fun with Cook and his buddies, who work up all sorts of gimmicks to sell their comedy, from a portable video monitor showing clips from "Only a Buck" to a traveling van from which they actually sell video copies.
Fox, Lichtenheld, Cook, Block--they're all seemingly hooked on a crazy dream, since even the movie we're watching was a struggle to get made and sold.
But we're seeing it, aren't we?