Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Night in Williamsburg: New York Premiere of Pirooz Kalayeh's Adaptation of Tao Lin's "Shoplifting from American Apparel" at indieScreen

After a week that began with getting our fourth and final wisdom tooth extracted at Park Slope Oral Surgery and continued with final classes and final exams at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology, on one of our last nights in Brooklyn,
we had the pleasure of going to indieScreen on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg to attend the New York premiere of Shoplifting from American Apparel, director Pirooz Kalayeh's wonderful adaptation of the Tao Lin novella.
It's a shrewd opening up of a deliberately airless autobiographical literary work -- its airlessness making the book brilliant to its champions and somewhat tedious to its critics (we liked it) -- with a dizzingly "meta" movie, which dispenses with the book's "Sam" and "Luis" characters and instead us the "actual" Tao Lin (who exists somewhat outside Kalayeh's film, mostly in his own videos),
an actor (Brad Warner, real-life subject of a documentary by the director) playing the "character" Tao Lin (Sam in the novella), and another actor (an uncanny Jordan Castro, superb at channeling the mannerisms and verbal tics of the original) as the "real" Tao Lin -- along with the "real" (actual?) Noah Cicero and the "character" Noah Cicero, played by actor James Roehl.
We don't have the critical vocabulary do a "review" (the film's Los Angeles premiere last weekend elicited some nice reviews) nor the common sense, either (we once told Tao it was our opinion as a lawyer that he should never publish anything about his arrest at American Apparel),
but it seemed to us that the financial constraints and logistical and personnel problems that limited the production -- the director at one point says something like indie filmmmaking always means things going wrong 100% of the time -- worked to the advantage of the adaptation and somehow made it truer to the vision and spirit of Lin's novella than a straight-forward retelling would have been.
By using the backstory of the writer writing about something that really happened and taking questions from both his readers and the filmmakers and actors about it, by largely abandoning the book's black-and-gray hipster New York setting for sunny Southern California and the brighter, more open bleakness of Rust Belt Ohio (in Lin's books, most of the "sense of place" is internal anyway -- or by "the soft blue light of Internet Explorer"), by calling attention to the static nature of the Gmail chats and artfully have the most self-referential, self-conscious text comment even more upon itself,
by turning hyperrealistic fictional scenes in the store and jail into surreal filmmaking challenges -- all this "gets" what made Shoplifting from American Apparel a book that spoke to many young people ("We are the fucked generation") and makes it accessible to a wider audience.
It's also laugh-out-loud funny. We broke up at a scene where "Tao" (Castro), placing fast-food chicken bits around the Hollywood Walk star of James Dean, tells "Noah" (Cicero) and director Kalayeh that he doesn't actually know who James Dean is -- but that's only one of many comic "making of" sequences that brought to mind some of the best moments of Adaptation and Annie Hall.
The film's performances from professional actors and nonprofessionals (some picked up, apparently, on the streets of Hollywood and Youngstown) range from perfectly modulated to surprisingly credible. Production values are high; even the purposefully ragged edges appear major-studio sleek (we hope that comment is not something people will take as being negative; sleek does not mean slick).
Outside, this evening, it was New York's annual Night of the Drunken Young Santas and Lubavitchers asked us four times on our walk from the Bedford Avenue L stop to the theater, "Are you Jewish?" (our responses were the lies "No," "No, I hate them," "Not anymore," and finally "Gai in drerde"). We were the first person to enter the screening room and so sat in the aisle seat of the last row (for the sake of our prostate)
in indieScreen's very comfortable sold-out auditorium and enjoyed the 1969-ish song from The Ohioans (Jordan Castro and Andrew Borstein) that preceded the film, along with the trailer for the director's forthcoming adaptation of Noah Cicero's novel The Human War.
During the Q&A session with Pirooz Kalayeh and several of the actors from Shoplifting, the director, wearing an "I ❤ KOREA" T-shirt, seemed grateful that given the film's, uh, complexities, no one had walked out, but he should have known better. Even our prostate didn't want to miss a scene. (We did notice Tao come in with a friend late in the film, stand in the back of the theater next to us with a drink from the bar, but soon turn with his back to the screen and then walk out a few minutes later. When we asked him afterwards if he couldn't stand watching his work onscreen, Tao said no, he'd just seen it several times before.) Anyway, we're extremely grateful for having been privileged to attend the New York opening of Shoplifting from American Apparel. When we got an email on August 27, 2007 that said
hi richard, can you give me a little legal advice? i got arrested from american apparel about a week ago and have a court date, 9/11. i just have some small questions. thank you, tao
we couldn't have imagined that the incident would make for a best-selling book and now a movie that deserves a wide and appreciative audience. Of course, our imagination is limited by senescence and being a lawyer. The only friend we had who wanted to be a marine biologist was Mike, who's worked at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for decades.
We're from a different generation, people that got up every day, and did things, were proactive, got things done -- in other words, we're one of the people who suck. Frankly, we feel about Tao Lin, Noah Cicero, Jordan Castro and Bebe Zeva the way our Grandma Ethel felt about her sister-in-law Aunt Betty: we hate them like poison.
And growing up in a Garment Center family and selling schmattes in our relative's retail outlets since age 14, we were taught to despise shoplifters. But fair is fair, and we know enough to say that you definitely do not have to be young or alienated or a hipster (who of course must deny being a hipster) to like Pirooz Kalayeh's movie version of Shoplifting from American Apparel. Although it depicts a world in which people over 40 don't exist, it's definitely a film for intelligent moviegoers of any age and level of productivity. Go know!