As a screen and teleplay writer, I can always tell when movie dialogue was crafted by a playwright. Perhaps it was my years studying Shakespeare at UMass Amherst, or learning the art of screenwriting by watching great playwrights turned screenwriters, like David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin. Whatever the case may be, stage dialogue is crisp, snappy and highly emotive. And it’s a pleasure to listen to.
So when I watched Christian De Rezendes’ short film adaptation of Jerry Bisantz’s award winning play Memories for Sale, I was immediately taken in by the dialogue. But soon after, the story itself became my main focus. The underlying subtext of this story is quite poetic. It scoffs at the lack of morals by modern day publishers and the lack of ethics found in literary agents; yet, it is crafted by a professional playwright who must have dealt with such challenges in his own writing career.
The basic gist of the story is that struggling writer Charlie O’Neal (David Sullivan) is pressured by his less-than-scrupulous literary agent Bruce Halpern (played wonderfully slimy by the screenwriter himself!) to get some final dirt on a venerated senior performer, Sid Freedman (played beautifully by Bob Colonna), from a bygone era whose biography Charlie is authoring. It turns out that the publisher won’t go forward with the project, after four years of development, until Sid comes clean on some salacious details of his past—an ostensible requirement in order to sell a damn book these days!
You can sense Charlie’s disdain to have to put his subject through this unnecessary invasion of his privacy for the sake of profit. Charlie begrudgingly accepts the task. What choice to do writers have these days but whore themselves out in order to even make a dent in their careers, right? This is a bold and brilliant statement made by De Rezendes and Bisantz, which asks the question: how much of one’s soul must an artist sacrifice in order to be recognized?
The same is true not only for Charlie, but for Sid. His granddaughter, Rachel Wagner (Melissa Penick), pressures him to give Charlie the information he’s looking for because Sid needs the money. In fact, there’s more going on with her self-interests than just fealty to her grandfather.
I feel for both characters as they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Sid has secrets buried deep down that he is loathe to share but must; Charlie feels the loss of his artistic integrity and a piece of his soul as he finds himself asking questions of Sid that he is loathe to ask. What a great duality that crosses generations and still shows that no matter what era we live in, people’s privacies are always the first casualty of mainstream media — right along with the truth!
This short film in some ways reminded me of Mamet’s American Buffalo insomuch as the dialogue was spot on, whole and immersive, unlike dialogue you find in most popular films today that are simply intercut in post between characters, choppy and down-right irritating! Furthermore, De Rezendes’ choice to keep the entire film confined to one room makes for some interesting direction and editing, as the visuals and camera work are thoroughly flawless. The dialogue, staging and acting talents carry the scenes making a small set seem big.
I was very impressed with this film, its message and its style. If I were reviewing this for Rosemary Pacheco’s and my film review show Take 2 for Motif’s MoTiV, I’d give it a Motif Must See!
Memories for Sale will be shown at Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House on January 24.