A few dozen passengers were settling into their seats in the
Quiet Car of the Acela Regional Express as it rolled out of Boston’s South
Station on Friday, July 30, when a slightly rumpled guy boarded the train, a
Democratic National Convention credential still slung around his neck.
The man began talking-quite loudly-about Senator John Kerry’s
speech the night before, and how great he thought Barack Obama’s speech had
been earlier in the week. Did he have fun? someone asked him. Yeah, “but I
worked my ass off!” he shouted. It soon became clear that the one loud man in
the otherwise quiet Quiet Car was none other than Al Franken: comedian,
Bush-basher and all-around loudmouth.
The train announcer-and the other passengers-were not impressed.
A little bell rang, and a heavily Boston-accented voice boomed through the
loudspeaker: “THIS IS THE QUIET CAR! If you’re sitting in THE QUIET CAR, you
can’t use cell phones and conversation must be kept to a minimum!” When the
announcer stopped, the passengers started in on Mr. Franken. One walked up to
him and made it clear that the announcement was meant for him. “O.K., O.K.,”
Mr. Franken said. “SHHHH!” said another man, sitting a few rows behind the
comedian. Then the announcer came on again, just as loudly, reminding
passengers to live up to the Quiet Car’s name.
Asked about it later by The Transom, Mr. Franken seemed rather
humbled. “I didn’t know it was a Quiet Car,” he replied. “I was stupid. But
when I got shushed, I shut up. For the next three hours and 27 minutes, I
didn’t make any loud noises. I went in between the cars to make a phone call.”
John Sayles, join the club. With his newest film, Silver City -a sardonic account of a
fictional Colorado gubernatorial candidate from a prominent political dynasty
caught in an election-year scandal-the writer/director is the latest filmmaker
hoping to unseat the Bush administration.
“What you hope is that some of these documentaries, as they’re
coming out now, and a fiction film like Silver
City don’t have to be post-mortem,” Mr. Sayles said over the phone from his
New York office about the timing of the film’s release. “That they can help
people, through getting into the conversation, make decisions that will stop
things that are negative, that will turn things in a better direction.”
The film is a political thriller with the tone of Barry
Levinson’s 1997 political lampoon Wag the
Dog . Since it will be released on Sept. 17, as the election really begins
to heat up, Mr. Sayles hopes that the subject matter will draw a large and
varied audience. He also hopes to attract more than just the liberal choir with
a well-known cast: Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah, Tim Roth,
Maria Bello, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Zane. Mr. Cooper plays the bumbling,
verbally challenged Richard (Dickie) Pilager, a reformed political neophyte who
was modeled, in part, after the current President.
“The lexicon is closer to Bush than other politicians I could
name, but it’s not really an impression,” said Mr. Sayles. However, he added,
“They’re unavoidable parallels.”
But like a character in his breakthrough film Return of the Secaucus 7 , Mr. Sayles
remains an aged idealist with no illusions regarding the impact of his work.
“You don’t expect a single movie to change the conversation
totally,” he said. “But you do want it to be part of the conversation and get
people asking questions.”
According to Mr. Sayles, not only is the American population at
large ignorant of the corruptive influence of big-money lobbyists, but the
media does very little to “connect the dots” and inform the public. The film,
which is a dark comedy, is meant to motivate the audience to question the
actions of elected officials.
“What you hope is that people can extrapolate a little bit,” he
said. “Shit doesn’t just happen. It happened because someone made it happen.”
At a time when computer-generated effects are turning action
movies into high-budget video games, director Chris Kentis was striving for
realism in his shockumentary film Open
He succeeded all too well.
On the first day of filming, lead actress Blanchard Ryan was
bitten by a barracuda. “I was horrified!” said Mr. Kentis. “Here I’d spent
months assuring her that she’d be completely safe swimming with sharks, and
then I look over and there’s blood in the water.” Luckily Ms. Ryan was the
consummate professional. “All she cared about was whether we’d gotten it on
camera or not. I’d missed the shot.”
When the film bobbed into a Chelsea cinema for its premiere on
Monday night, there was no missing the similarities to another terrifying indie
production, The Blair Witch Project .
It’s a parallel that producer Laura Lau, who is married to Mr. Kentis, is eager
to dispel. “We understand why the comparisons to Blair Witch have come up-both Sundance movies, video camera, scary,
unknown-but we were trying to do something very different. Blair Witch was pretty much a horror movie. We were not setting out
to make a horror movie.”
Nevertheless, Blair Witch co-director
Eduardo Sanchez considers himself a fan of the fin-slasher, and drove up from
his home in Washington, D.C., to attend the premiere. “I e-mailed Laura [Lau]
after Sundance congratulating her, and we became online friends,” he explained.
He joined the cast for the
after-party at Coral Room, where an Asian “mermaid” writhed in a tank behind
the bar while waiters with scuba masks perched on their heads scurried about
delivering canapés to the ravenous crowd.
The Transom asked actor Daniel Travis whether he’d suffered any
lingering physical effects post-production. “Shrinkage issues!” he laughed.
“Yeah, we intended initially to shoot interiors after we’d finished the water
sequence, but we were so beaten-up-looking that Chris took one look at us and
said, ‘We gotta go home and chill out.’ It took about a week to recover my
horizon line and get my fingers to plump back out again.”
“These brown patches on my forehead will probably never go away,”
said his co-star, Blanchard Ryan, her fingers anxiously wiping the area above
her eyebrows. “And I still have dreams about the water. It’s not even
nightmares, it’s not even the sharks-I just feel like I’m still in the water.
It’s that point of view of seeing the water around you for day after day after
day for all those hours. It’s haunting.”
Ms. Ryan, who admits that she still doesn’t venture over her
knees in the water (“I’m very apprehensive about the animals in the ocean!”),
has no trouble suspending her disbelief.
“During the screening at the Maui Film Festival, this shark came
out of nowhere and I jumped out of my skin. My boyfriend was like, ‘How can you
jump? You were there!'”
How did she endure all those hours bobbing around in the cold
“I would always say to myself, ‘Look how lucky I am. I’m in the
middle of this beautiful Caribbean paradise, I’m not stuck in an office
somewhere in midtown, I’m the luckiest girl on earth!’ And then I’d be like, ‘I
don’t care! I’m cold and I’m scared and I want to get in the boat!'”