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Mysterious Skin (2004)
DVD with a great commentary on a great film.
It was only after watching "Mysterious Skin" a couple of times that I realized there was a commentary track included. As I listened to it I was quite moved to hear two young actors -- in their early twenties -- and their director making extemporaneous and unrehearsed observations of such cogency and grace about their craft. Rather than review the film as others in this column have certainly done adequately, I decided instead to include the closing remarks of the interview, which I warmly recommend listening to in its entirety. Commentary is by director Gregg Araki, and actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.
Araki: Well, you guys had specifically avoided each other throughout the entire production and the movie was not shot exactly in sequence but this was near the end of the shoot so you guys had been through practically the whole movie already and so you guys were really ready for this scene and you had sort of been kept apart from each other and I remember you guys went off together and rehearsed the scene for a while. So it was sort of like you were meeting each other for the first time.
Corbet: Well, I feel really bound to Joe as a result of this and I think it was really from that moment onwards that I felt almost immediately familial with you which is funny considering that before all this we had uttered a matter of (a few) words with one another and that was about it so it was really special to get to connect to someone in that way.
Gordon-Levitt: I have this memory of one time between takes that, when you are doing a scene like this that takes all day, the trick is to keep your concentration throughout the day so you can maintain it throughout the scene in the different angles you have to shoot and for this character I would always go outside and smoke cigarettes and I'm not a big smoker at all but, uh, I smoked a lot during this movie and remember one time we went out and we had to take a twenty minute break or something while they turned the lights around or the camera and I was outside smoking a cigarette and you (Corbet) came out and we both kind of knew but we weren't really saying how we felt and how special we felt about what we were doing and we just kind of stood there not explicitly acknowledging but just knowing it together and they called us back in and we went to go and I went to toss my cigarette you stopped me a took a drag of it (laughs) and then threw it away and it was just, you know, the most kind of simple way to acknowledge that we're sharing something here without even saying it.
Corbet: We haven't really spoken about the major social implications of this film and the story but I remember reading the script and this is a great script, a great piece of writing, a great adaptation and immediately being attracted to the material and I was put in touch with Gregg and one of the first questions I asked him "Are you going to make a film that we can defend, that when we do Q & As or when we're being interviewed or when people say,"Why did you make this film? Why did you make it the way you did?" Are you going to make a film that we can say we made this film for this reason because we felt passionately about this subject? He really did do that and then some and gave us a movie that I feel is really one of the most heartfelt acknowledgments of child abuse that I've ever seen, certainly anything I ever had a chance to be a part of and I think it's really important to acknowledge that this film came from the purest of intentions, it came from our hearts and our souls and, uh.......
Gordon-Levitt: And you can tell -- when people come up to me, having seen this movie and, you know, I've done a lot of different things and people come up to me and talk about work I've done almost every day -- cause I was on a TV show that's still in reruns every day -- people come up all the time and say "You're on that show, blah, blah, blah" and, you know, its nice but it's casual and doesn't mean much -- but every time somebody has come up to me, having seen this movie, there's an entirely different thing going on, where people want to look me in the eye and speak genuinely about something that they felt and, uh, that's amazing. As an actor I couldn't possibly hope for anything more -- to be a part of something that actually means something to people; I'm really grateful to be a part of that.
Araki: I think that's been of the most gratifying, most amazing thing, just the audience reactions when we go to these festivals or screenings, kind of all over world at this point since we premiered this move in Venice. When I was in Seattle, a woman came up to me and she was so shaken by the movie and I think she had some kind of abuse in her personal history and she literally could hardly talk she was so shaken up by it and she said I just had to thank you for making this movie and telling the truth. .
Superb and Moving Film of Love and Sacrifice
When I first watched this film, I was unprepared for and deeply moved by the honest and touching screenplay by director Jonah Markowitz and the superb quality of acting by a fine cast. Trevor Wright can be proud of his convincing and moving portrayal of a young man at a point in his life at which he is confused about and questioning his sexual orientation. Trevor Wright develops his character, Zach, in a completely natural and unforced manner. His control of his body language and facial expression -- particularly his eyes -- has to be seen to be believed in an actor of his age. His dialog flows naturally, giving one the impression that it is all being said for the first time. This last is true of the entire cast attesting to the knowing guidance of their director.
Also brilliant are the performances by Brad Rowe, Tina Holmes, Ross Thomas, Katie Walder and Jackson Wurth. Repeated viewing of the film makes even more clear the depth of characterizations by this very able cast. Most impressive is the emotion expressed by eye contact achieved between Trevor Wright and Brad Rowe -- something very uncommon and unforgettable in a film of this kind.
My only criticism is that a few scenes seem a little rushed. Another 8 to 10 minutes wouldn't have hurt this fine film. One example is the night scene in Zach's (Trevor Wright) backyard, beautifully shot incidentally, with the lights of the Vincent Thomas bridge in the background. A little more time could have been given to Zach's indecision to go to Shaun (Brad Rowe) and allow the scene to flow more naturally; a closeup of Zach's looking out at the bridge and then a shot of the bridge that will take him to Shaun might have been nice.
It is regrettable that this fine movie has not been given wide theatrical distribution.