Saturday, May 28, 2011

Masters of the Compendium

On February 17, 1998, the acclaimed filmmaker Cesario Flores was asked by a critic to name his favorite movie. He answered by naming We Won’t Go Home Again, a book divided into a series of photo essays followed by some tense journalistic prose of obvious relation, which seemed to at first confound and then infuriate the critic. “Every movie I make is about a lesbian relationship between a young girl and a woman in late middle age,” Flores added as a somewhat generous explanation.

The critic, Christopher Dennett, responded by letting the interview devolve into an argument. Dennett had become known for championing a very controversial French zombie film. Seeing how he could profit by trading in provocation, he later wrote “A Review of a Film That Doesn’t Exist” which earned him at first a letter of rejection but later further notoriety. With that in mind, Dennett decided to needle Flores about his constant conflicts with producers over their requests that he stick to a script rather just going off and shooting footage of all the people he met on location.

Flores tried to explain by referring to a dream he had shortly after completing work on his first feature. In the dream, Flores had to convince the actor Gabriel Byrne to appear as William Shakespeare in a movie about going to Bermuda to research The Tempest. Believing that this was a sign that he had been infected by out of control cinephilia, Flores decided to completely shift his way of working. The argument instigated by Dennett because he felt Flores was deliberating obfuscating eventually bloomed into a sham rivalry that persisted between the director and critic for many years.

Flores and Dennett never realized the formative experience they nearly shared in common. When Flores was a boy, his great uncle died and left a minor and insignificant fortune to his family. They proceeded to fight viciously amongst themselves over the inheritance until they had consumed both themselves and the fortune. Flores avoided being swallowed whole by the conflagration but it left a distinct imprint on his consciousness.

In his own childhood, Dennett watched his parents conflict with increasing frequency over family finances as they found each other less attractive and lovable (and we will ask which direction the causality runs without ever receiving a satisfactory answer). The divorce battle that ensued, a mess of money and machismo, traumatized young Dennett. He had to live with his mother’s sister when it became increasingly violent. Later he would describe this experience infrequently to close friends when the mood struck him. One friend, the actor and director Danny DeVito, based the film The War of the Roses on what Christopher Dennett told him late at night in dimly lit bars.

But this story was not true, or at least it was exaggerated. The divorce was not as much about a financial conflict as it was about a deep disagreement about how to live in the world.

This article’s sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations where appropriate. (July 2010)

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