4B - The Michigan Daily - /Wu4 , e. - Thursday, April 4, 1996
Director David O. Russell flirts with brilliance
Latest film proves to be nothing short of a perfect 'Disaster'
By Alexandra Twin "This time wehadstar negotiations and
Daily Arts Writer studio negotiations and trying to ex-
Writer-director David 0. Russell is plain to someone why you cannot have
not your typical film geek. Kim Basinger on the couch," he said
He did not pick up his first wryly. "Ifit's Kim Basingerplayingthe
camcorder at the ripe old age of three. a adoption agent, instead of Tea Leoni,
He has not watched back-to-back it's like having Marilyn Monroe there,
screenings of "Taxi Driver" and you're gonna know the rest of the sub
"Mean Streets" 273 times in the last plot."
month. He cannot recite the dialogue In a search for a "young Dustin
of "Pulp Fiction" verbatim. He does b , Hoffman," Russell cast comedian BA
not even claim that one screening of Stiller. "I defy you to name any other
his charming and inventive new film well-known actor who fits that type,"
"Flirting With Disaster" will change ,hesaid."Maybe David Schwimmer has
your outlook on life. What he does . emergednow,butthathadn'thappened
suggest is that if nothing else, it will '° at the time. I was looking for someone
change your outlook on the armpit. . smart,urban, slightlyneurotic,maybe a
"I'm hoping people will begin to little ethnic. The period I grew up in
appreciate the armpit as an erogenous t. with movies was the '70s. It was Pacino
zone," he said sardonically, in a re- and Hoffman, the kind of guys who
cent interview with the Michigan aren't really around anymore. Now it'
Daily. "It's been demonized by the more of a Brad Pitt-Ethan Hawke p
deodorant companies. The implica- totype."
tion seems to be that you should just On the phone, Russell is faintly
scorch it with a blow torch, paste it Mel-ish, but with more of an edge.
down with tar and then slap deodorant V He's wryly acerbic, pleasantly ob-
on it ... whereas, I think it's a great noxious, deadpan hilarious and thor-
place to go ... with your mouth." oughly self-aware. New York City-
He's kidding. But whether explor- speak blunt, fast-talking and gently
ing the sexual power of the armpit or arrogant, his low, gravely voice trills
the Oedipus complex, the 37-year- lovingly on each word, each jabbing
old New Yorker is not likely to tread response, each opportunity to amuse
the well-worn path, or do it quietly. his listener. Like any good comedi
His unusually confident and emo- Russell clearly enjoys the sound
tive debut feature, "Spanking the Mon- his own voice, the clever, biting quips
key," won the Audience Award forBest that his twists on words and ideas can
Feature at the indie film version of the produce, the way he can simulta-
Oscars, the Sundance Film Festival. neously mock and expand upon the
Releasedby Fine Line Features in 1994, most sacred of American standards.
the film was an art-house hit and the He is a complex character himself,
recipient of two prestigious Indepen- but vividly, refreshingly real.
dent Spirit Awards, for best writing and As happy as he is with his newfound
best directing by a first-timefilmmaker. mainstream success, Russell doesn't
With a deft comic touch dangling near - . ..see it as a compromise to the notion
the macabre, and an engaging perfor- David 0. Russell is not your run of the mill director, as he has proved with the art- being an independent filmmaker. Lie
mance from Jeremy Davies as the con- house hit "Spanking the Monkey" and his latest film "Flirting with Disaster." the '70s movies he so loves, Russell
fused protagonist, Raymond, Russell --thinks it's entirely possible to make
tore a lopsided yet sizable hole through "The way it functions is like channel to a comedy void or something." studio films that have guts. "I think
Suburbia's well-mowed status quo, surfing or family surfing or city surf- Under Russell's comic microscope being independent in film is about
shoved in a fun-house's distorted mir- ing," Russell said. "It's like, what if I are wacky Bed and Breakfast owners, wanting to deft expectations, wanting
ror and made his audience re-examine was from San Diego - whoosh! - the post office, LSD-laced food, cir- to break, push genres to their limits,
the family in "family values." Brilliant, you're in San Diego. What if I was from cumcision, jealousies, marital misun- pushing things as far as they can go so
satiric and deeply disturbing, the film Michigan - whoosh! - you're in derstandings and of course, armpits. that they become new."
was easily one of the year's best. Michigan. What if I was from New "But the most important thing we Next up for Russell is probably a
It also almost didn't get made. Mexico? It zaps around the country to need to get into is the fact that this is the period thriller that would take place
He was offered a$ 1.5tmillion budget all these different places." first film to include a joke about the first quarter of the century. Otl
and < deal with a major studio if he As for how he chose which places, hypospadia," he said. A condition in future endeavors could include a "po-
could get an actor like Faye Dunaway Russell said, "In an age when cities are babies that can cause the curvature of litical satire, but it would be very, very
to play Raymond's well-meaning but becomingincreasinglyidentical through the penis, it provides the film with a contemporary."
over-involved mother. The script was strip malls, you want to find places that numberofcomicmoments. Russell dis- Once .a union organizer, a poet, a
solid, Russell had already won awards are gonna have their own character." covered it quite accidentally when au- short story writer, and a journalist be-
for earlier short films, everything While the film's Michigan scenes were ditioningsetsoftwinstoplaythename- fore finding film at 28, the now 37-
seemedplausible. Yet, Dunaway wasn't shot mostly in New Jersey, shots like less baby in the film. "When it hap- year-old Russell is thankful for his de-
interested, perhaps due to the film's the signs for the airport and Kellogg's pened to the second set of twins, I said layed entry into the celluloid world.
racy subject matter. With no star, the were shot here. "I've been a life-long that someone is telling us to put this in "By the time I made my first full-
deal fell through. Russell persisted, fan of Kellogg's so I thought I'd better the movie." length film, I was 33. I'dbeen throu&
rounding up $80,000in grants, amostly pay my respects," he quipped. Filling outthecastis Patricia Arquette a lot of relationships, I'd had a lot'
inexperienced cast and crew (who With typical ruthless aplomb, when ("True Romance") as Mel's wife, Tea different jobs, I'd met a lot of differ-
worked for deferred payments) and asked what sets the film apart from the Leoni ("Bad Boys") as the adoption ent people. I'd been through tragedies
made the film on his own, no-budget slew ofother comedies out now, Russell agent whojoins them on the road, clas- and comedies and good things in-
and no studio. said: "Well ... it's funny." sic actors Mary Tyler Moore andGeorge between. I think that experiencing all
Hard workpaid off. Thealreadycom- "But here's the main thing," he con- Segal as Mel's adoptive parents and that first will help give me the depth
mercially successful and critically tinuedeagerly. "Youneverknow what's Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as his birth of insight, the experience to make a
hailed "Flirting with Disaster" is the gonna happen. We defy expectations at parents. variety of films over the course of my
proof. every turn. Yet, it's real. When people Casting for "Spanking the Monkey" life, instead of just referencing cul-
A twisted roadstory aboutthe adopted laugh orcry, it feels very real, it doesn't involved putting ads in trade publica- ture."
and very confused Mel (Ben Stiller), feel like a parallel comedy universe. tions, going to arts schools to look for "Although,"he added wryly, "lIhad
your average New York yuppie who's Then there are bizarre happenings in students and holding open auditions. to write a bunch of bad screenpl
obsessed with the notion of finding his this very natural, real world as opposed Casting "Flirting" was a little different. before I finally wrote a good one."
birth parents, "Flirting With Disaster"
careens from state to state with funnier
1Land more outlandish consequences at
each turn. GINSBERG
-- - - -Continued from Page 1B
£i acota benefit readings in Ann Arbor) as
well as his short, 17-syllable Ameri-
Barbers can sentences.
615 E. Liberty These are his interpretation of the
"near State St" Japanese H aiku. They are "one single,
simple declarative sentence so that it
will be straight forward. It eitherpacks
N O MA I T I N G a punch ... or it doesn't ... It opens up
in your mind, like a flower, a minute
after you hear it." He proceeded to
give a few examples of these: "A few
blocks from his hotel, in his taxi, the
fat llama punched out his mugger."
Ginsberg's advice to his students is
not concerned with specific verse form
at all, however. Rather than try to set
down some sort of-law for writing
poetry, he offers four general slo-
gans: "Notice what you notice. Ob-
serve what is vivid. Catch yourself
thinking. Vividness is self-select-
Given the tremendous amount of
attention Beat writers, such as
Ginsberg (who sells out nearly every
local he appears at, including Hill
Auditorium in the past two years),
have received in recent years,
Ginsberg maintains a cautious view.
"They tell me there is a Beat re-
vival," he says and points out, with-
out further comment, the symposiums
at New York University on the Beat
Generation and the two major art ex-
hibits that have appeared in the last
year, which center around the Beat
influence in the visual arts. But he
does not see this as an imposing or
stifling thing. He is aware of the in-
fluence he has had, and continues
have, but feels it is more a case.o
young poets "taking the ball and run-
ning with it."
The reading at Hill will show such
progressive creativity. Ginsberg will
read, almost exclusively, new and re-
cent poems. Patti Smith, who share
the stage, hasrecentlyreemergedfrom
a temporary "retirement" with new
and, often, improvised verse. Also,
young musicians, including so
from Ann Arbor will accompany boW
Ginsberg and Smith.
The combination of all these artists
promises an enjoyable and, quite pos-
sibly, extraordinary evening for ev-
eryone that loves poetry and music or
politics and rock'n'roll.
M IANES'3$ Wg, - 7 ' e v'c-su
'w.AfL"e..4 4t~.A t vo'ore ,a.a.s
SQ4.A ~ (AIArer I #.hPGOOG - SQd
d.t ' aryl- 1t.zv A 5+ lett
f ?SEYV~ e7?
An Evening of Poetry and Song
A bsngt pwrfor ane for
JEWEL HEART TIBETAN BUDDHIST & CULTURAL CENTER
FRIDAY APRIL 5, 1996
HILL AUDITORIUM - 8 PM
Tickets $5, $7 & $10
Available at Shaman Drum, Mayflower Bookshop & U of M Ticket Office-
To charge by phone call 313-763-TKTS
Shaman Drum Aar 6.3 Dian
For inbmation call
JEWEL HEART at 313-434-4411
Presented by JEWEL. HEART in cooperation
STARTS FRIDAY A A
APRIL 12 4100 CARPENTER RD. ANN ARBOR