I went to a first-time-anywhere screening last night of Gary Leva‘s Fog City Mavericks — a tribute to big-name Bay Area filmmakers (George Lucas, Carroll Ballard, Francis Coppola, Chris Columbus, Clint Eastwood, John Lasseter, Phil Kaufman, Walter Murch, Sofia Coppola, Saul Zaentz, Brad Bird) and how they all broke away from Hollywood roughly 30 or 40 years ago (or became regionally self-created) and became anti-establishment, quasi-bohemian regional filmmakers, and therefore an inspiration to all independent-minded filmmakers everywhere. Guys who followed their vision, made money, did it their own way, developed their own kwan.
Blurry George Lucas, John Lasseter (r.) joshing with each other at pre-party for Fog City Mavericks
The story that Reva tells is true — these guys really did establish their own film- making shangri-la in the ’60s, ’70s and early to mid ’80s. But it’s willfully incom- plete. The fact is that the romance and vitality of the Bay Area film scene began to dissipate in the mid to late ’80s, and that with the exception of the success of Pixar, the juices — economic, regional, spiritual — aren’t flowing like they used to. And Reva’s film doesn’t begin to acknowledge this.
Fog City Mavericks, which will show up on Starz down the road, is affectionate but dishonest — a public-relations advertisement instead of a portrait with any feel- ing for depth or shadows or texture or drama. Not to sound overly harsh, but it’s basically a one-dimensional Bay Area blowjob.
The narration, voiced by Peter Coyote, is tritely written and absolutely rancid with cliches. My eyes were rolling; my sighs were constant and probably irritating to the person in the next seat.
Everyone profiled in this film (including the extremely maverick-minded Sofia Coppola) is depicted as brave, pure of heart, tenacious, gifted, full of spirit and belief in themselves — all of them pretty darn wonderful.
A doc reflecting such heavy doses of regional pride without any balancing colors or considerations would be pooh-poohed off the screen in any other city. A tough Manhattan crowd would eat this film (and its director) alive.
Fog City Mavericks (including Robin Williams, standing roughly at the center) on stage of S.F.’s Castro theatre — Sunday, 4.29.07, 7:55 pm
It’s a shame that Fog City Mavericks is such a self-fellating piece of work because, as the notes say, cinema was arguably invented in San Francisco, and that “the spirit of cutting-edge innovation that characterizes the work of Bay Area filmmakers is part and parcel of the maverick approach that drives San Francisco’s creative output, from the literature of the Beats to the technological revolutions of Silicon Valley.” Reva’s film purportedly “examines the way that the DNA of San Francisco affects and reflects the lives and work of its artists,” blah, blah.
That’s a decent idea, but to make a good doc about a culture you have to talk to at least some people who aren’t invested in the local economy. Then you have to be willing to be hard and real. You have to mix the gritty with the triumphant, the ups and the downs, the slumps and the highs….you have to forget about what will make the locals feel good and concentrate on the damn truth of it all. Some other filmmaker should take another shot at this subject some day. It’s a good story and full of great material — it just needs to be properly rendered.