I’ll Take You There

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Throughout college and my early years in New York, I had a very complicated relationship with my best friend. He was an amazing guy, brilliant, funny, and in a lot of ways true blue: I could always count on him to come through for me in a crisis. But when it came to women, he was trouble. He slept with my girlfriends. He went through elaborate measures to encourage me to court an attractive friend of his girlfriend, knowing all the while that she was hopelessly in love with him. He once worked as a bouncer at a massage parlor and he brought one of the masseuses over to my apartment, explaining that she considered me a "fine hunk of penis." (I should add that the masseuse was the girlfriend of his roommate, a judo black belt, and I sent her out the door). Old girlfriends of his came on to me, and as they often were quite hot, I sometimes took them up on their offers. We went on like this for a dozen years or more, with me enjoying his company too much to face up to the blatantly homoerotic and sick competition that was going on, and how hurtful it was to me. The truth is there was so much more I liked about him than I didn't like, and eventually he got a long-time girlfriend who kept him in line. But he would piss me off and I wouldn't talk to him for a year, until finally one those separations went on so long that we stopped seeing each other altogether.

After that I decided I was through with male friendship and started actively pursuing non-sexual relationships with women. The perfect setup was if they had a boyfriend or fiancé or husband that I really liked, but was living in another country or something. I could call one of these women up at a moment's notice and say, "do you want to go to this party?" and she'd be totally up for it. Most of these relationships have endured to this day, whereas I can't even remember the names of some of the women I dated.

I remember when I was working on High Art and I was squiring my client Ally Sheedy to one event after another that her then sister-in-law/agent Rachel Sheedy told her, "it's so great that you have a gay friend to go all those places with you." If you made movies about all these women's lives, I suppose you would cast me as the gay best friend who happened to be straight. In some cases I was the confidante; they could tell me everything, and I could do the same with them, and in others it wasn't so intimate, I was just around to escort them to movies and parties. The thing that fascinated me, because it happened every time, was that as I got to know them in the context of a friendship, I could see that a more conventional man/woman relationship would never have worked. They weren’t at all right for me in that way, but as friends they were perfect.

In almost all cases, I got the better side of these friendships as the women were so much smarter and wiser than I was. They were always there to provide insight on the female mind. I would try to provide the same about men, but they understood men pretty well. I suppose I mainly provided a shoulder to cry on, plus any entertainment value they could get out of our friendship. I always wanted to have a girlfriend, but I was desperate if I didn't have a few good female friends on the hook. After all, when the woman you are crazy about breaks up with you, who do you call?

In the early 90s I was working in New York as the VP of the New York office of the international movie PR firm Dennis Davidson Associates (DDA). My number one client, Sony Pictures Classics, hired me to work on Amateur, the newest film by Hal Hartley, whose The Unbelievable Truth, had so enchanted me in London years before, and who had now, with his subsequent films, become one of my very favorite filmmakers.

Elina Lowensohn in Hal Hartley's "Amateur"  I set up a lot of press for Hal, and the male lead, Martin Donovan (still a friend), but mostly I worked with Elina Lowensohn. Once I spent some time with her, I knew that she was best friend material, and I was determined to woo her to be my non-girlfriend. She had it all. Her husband, painter Philippe Richard, lived mostly in Paris, but I really hit off with him when he was in New York. She was one of the most interesting people I had ever met. A Romanian refugee of the Ceausescu regime, she had suffered enormously in her life, and yet remained more upbeat than most people. She also had a unique and poetic way of speaking English that was irresistible. Although she looked like a bombshell with a Louise Brooks bob, inside she was the kindly old lady down the hall, who upon seeing you downhearted, insists that you come over for soup. Elina Lowensohn & Reid RosefeltThe only problem with Elina was that because she was so wonderful, everybody in New York wanted as much time with her as they could get. Among the people on the waiting list was Adrienne Shelly, and Elina would mention seeing her now and then. I definitely could have met Adrienne through Elina, but as I was such a superfan of Adrienne, I didn't want to. Civilians dream of meeting their favorite actors, and even stand on the sidewalk for a glimpse, but professionals (who are also fans) have been burned too many times. When you really like somebody's work, you just don't want to be disappointed, and that can easily happen when you assume the role of an employee.

One of the few exceptions was Ally Sheedy. I got to know everybody in her life. She was on a roll with High Art, picking up prize after prize and, as her publicist, I wanted her career to keep soaring. I took a very close hand in everything she did. When she was cast in the lead role of I'll Take You There, Adrienne's second feature film as a writer/director, of course I set up a visit to the set. It was a long subway ride to some distant part of  Brooklyn (or somewhere equally exotic). I had this little Sony Handicam, slightly bigger than a still camera (remember those?), that I took with me everywhere. While I was on set, I figured I could capture a little b-roll, material that could be used for the film's release.

So instead of trying to conjure up how exhausted Adrienne was one that day, here it is, video of the very first moments I encountered Adrienne Shelly.

The first thing I noticed was that one of the lenses on Adrienne's glasses was all scratched up. I was going to ask her about it but I realized that on the schedule she was on there could hardly be any time for her to get her glasses fixed. Adrienne told me that her first film didn't get much distribution and she was determined that this one would get seen. I said I wanted everything involving Ally to be a hit. This didn't exactly cheer her up. She looked really worried. She asked me if I'd be willing to come by the editing room after she finished shooting so we could talk more about it.

And that's how it began. I ended up working on I'll Take You There for an entire year without pay.