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Postcards From the Edge 

Pat Boone and Billy Bob Thornton in Namibia: No wonder it's called Levity

Wednesday, Apr 9 2003
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Ed Solomon, who grew up in Saratoga and San Jose, started out in show business as a college student writing jokes for comedians like Garry Shandling. His directorial debut, Levity, is no laughfest, notwithstanding its title and Solomon's work as co-screenwriter of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and its Oscar-nominated (not!) sequel. The pallid Billy Bob Thornton plays a paroled, repentant murderer struggling to make things right with his victim's family. To Solomon's dismay, some moviegoers have misunderstood the film as a Christian parable, in part because Pat Boone is acknowledged as the picture's guardian angel in the end credits.

"We were a week from shooting," Solomon recalled during a visit here a few weeks ago, "and I was still disagreeing with Billy Bob over when he would leave the film. We'd been going back and forth for eight weeks about this. I needed him an extra week, and I literally could not make the film if Billy was going to leave when he was supposed to. Finally he said, 'I'm scheduled to go on vacation with my wife on March 1.' He was to fly to Namibia. 'I can't fly there alone.' And I said, 'So it's about that? What if I got somebody really nice to fly with you?' 'Like who? Like Pat Boone?' I go, 'All right, what if I got Pat Boone to fly to Africa with you?' 'If you get Pat Boone, I'll work an extra week.' Jokingly. I was desperate, so I cold-called Pat Boone. He called back at 1:45 in the morning [on location] in Montreal and he said, at the end of an hour, 'If it will help your movie and it means something to Billy Bob, sure, I'll fly to Africa with him.' That's why I thanked him at the end of the film." After all that, Thornton's plans subsequently changed and the flight never happened. Levity opens this Friday at the Lumiere.

The Secret Garden It's difficult to imagine a more sensationalistic subject than a suburban family nearly destroyed by the daughter's false accusations of sexual abuse, or a more restrained documentary than George Csicsery's spare, riveting Hungry for Monsters. "I was interested in sort of fixing something -- almost scientifically -- about this particular recovered-memory hysteria epidemic," the veteran Oakland filmmaker (Where the Heart Roams) explains. "I wanted to do a no-frills case study, paring away all the cinematic tricks one could impose on it. My interest is to avoid jargon, avoid the currently fashionable, avoid whatever the avant-garde happens to be." That is, Csicsery opted to make a cautionary tale that would be valuable 10 or 20 years from now, not a flashy exposé that would become an instant artifact of the '90s. "The most dated films are message films, films with agendas, because events inevitably prove them silly," he notes.

A student of history, Csicsery sees the family's Kafka-esque ordeal -- fueled by psychiatrists, cops, prosecutors, and TV news coverage -- as a modern-day Salem witch trial, with a child once again the magnet for and reflector of a community's fears. "You hear people talking about the progress of humanity," Csicsery says with a dry chuckle. "Well, guess what: It's easy to feel superior to other ages, but our own era has produced just as many loony ideas, just as much damage, just as much persecution." Hungry for Monsters has its U.S. premiere Wednesday, April 16, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as part of the Film Arts Foundation's monthly "True Stories" series. Details are at www.filmarts.org.

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? The posters for What a Girl Wants show teen sensation and suspected al Qaeda member Amanda Bynes flashing the peace sign, but Warner Bros. recently deleted the gesture from newspaper ads. "We decided to change it to avoid any perception that we were making a political statement," a spokeswoman told Reuters, failing to identify the sole moviegoer (Larry King?) who's unaware that Hollywood ceased making pictures with social commentary after JFK. She denied that Warner Bros. honchos were spooked by a threatened DAR boycott of opening weekend. By the way, the ads retained the posters' other fashion statement: Bynes' stars-and-stripes tank top.

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Michael Fox

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