Last week I began what will be a series of posts on my friendship with the late writer/director/actor Adrienne Shelly. After it appeared I heard from some people who wanted to know, “just where are you going with this?” Because it sounded like I was going in a very personal direction. Which I am. These friends wanted me to reflect on the savagery of her death, and whether that puts my memories of her in a special category. After all, she leaves a husband dealing day-to-day with unending grief over her loss, and there is a daughter who is growing up without a mother. I have a responsibility to be careful about what I reveal.
On the other hand, I have my own not unsubstantial grief to deal with about Adrienne. I was her publicist, which led to the two of us becoming friends, and over time, she became my best friend. Aside from my wife and family, she was the person I was closest to in my whole life. In a similar way to me writing about my mother’s recent passing, I was hoping that writing about Adrienne would help me get some closure about what happened to her. Still, considering the tenderness of the situation, it did make sense for me to stop and think about where I was going with this.
So I thought about it, and decided I wanted to write it the exact same way as I had planned to. Here is why:
I’d like people to start talking about Adrienne’s entire body of work as a writer and director. Not just Waitress, but her previous movies too. During the time I knew her, the central preoccupation of her life was her fierce desire to be respected as a writer/director. She didn’t feel that the arbiters of the independent film world got her. She felt that if she was truly respected, then it wouldn’t be such an ordeal for her to get her movies made, and seen. Neither her debut, Sudden Manhattan, or her second film, I’ll Take You There, received any significant distribution. This was heartbreaking for her.
For many years it was my task as her publicist to try to make people pay attention to her work. I don’t see why I should stop trying now. I want to celebrate what she did do during her all-too-brief time on the planet, rather than mourn what she never had the chance to do.
So those of you who fell in love with her when you saw Waitress…do yourself a favor and honor her dream by checking them out. They are both on Netflix Instant Watch. You can also find Serious Moonlight there, as well as my favorite film she did with Hal Hartley, Trust.
So what does this have to do with my desire to present a personal portrait of Adrienne as a human being? I want to do it because Adrienne was the ultimate autobiographical filmmaker. While most writers utilize their own life as material in one way or another, with Adrienne it was practically 100%. Like Larry David, many of the things her characters did in her stories were things she did herself in real life. In my opinion, you will enjoy the world of her films in a much deeper way if you know a little bit about who she was. I want to try to draw some lines between the person and the artist.
Next week I’ll pick up the thread from last week.