I saw a movie recently that I can’t get out of my mind. Not because it was a great movie or because of the filming, soundtrack, or special effects.
It was low budget, filmed with a hand held camera, and described by its writer/director as an autobiographical confessional documentary-type of film. I enjoyed the “director’s cut” menu feature (where the director narrates over the movie dialogue) more than the actual film, but I had to have watched the film to enjoy it.
The movie, “Manhood,” is described in one review as a darkly funny, compelling family drama that probes the depths of masculinity, specifically Jewish masculinity, in America. Interesting enough; but what interested me most was what I learned from the writer/director, Bobby Roth, in his behind the scenes narrative. In the movie, and in Roth’s real life, his sister was violently killed. Re-living his trauma through making a film about it, using dream sequences and his own son as an actor, Roth used his art to process his sister’s death and to honor her life.
I wrote “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the book about losing my brothers a month apart, for the same reasons. And while Roth’s film tells a modern story through a Jewish experience, mine is told through a working class Irish Catholic one, covering the 60s and up until my brothers’ deaths in 2001.
Another reason I liked and the film was that it was filmed on a shoestring budget using local resources, as my book was. In the directors cut, Roth tells how he and the cast got creative and stole some scenes in places they didn’t have permission to be. He explained how he used his friends as extras in the movie, his real son’s bedroom to save money, and rather than pay to film in a pawn shop, he had John Ritter, one of the actors, walk past a pawn shop to imply that he went in, which was part of the story line.
Even the movie’s soundtrack drew on resources close to home for Roth. At first glance, you wouldn’t think the music of Bruce Springsteen would be so, but in the director’s cut Roth reveals that he’s married to Springsteen’s sister.
The actors, John Ritter, Janeane Garafolo, Nestor Carbonell, and others didn’t get paid upfront for their work. They got involved because they support independent film, the director, his message, and his methods. Those who support independent film know it as an art. They know that human stories deserve to be told… from the living room to the big screen… and everywhere in between.
I enjoyed watching Manhood, and while I recognized right away that it wasn’t a Hollywoodized production, I wasn’t aware of the bare boned and personal way it was created until I heard Roth explain it. Mostly, what I liked about the movie was that it was a testament to what art is, what art is for, and why we, as human beings, are compelled to make it.
Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com January 6, 2006.