Monday, May 12, 2008

The Purpose of Sid Vicious (And What Might Have Been)

Simon John Ritchie a/k/a Sid Vicious
(May 10, 1957 – February 2, 1979)

This past Saturday, May 10, would have been the fifty first birthday of the late punk rocker Sid Vicious, had he, of course, made it past 1979. Imagining Vicious, who never saw his twenty-second birthday, as a middle aged man is difficult, if not impossible. Surely, though, he would have devolved into self parody sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s, fallen into relative obscurity in the 1990s, and then been resurrected anew in the 2000s with his contributions to the various oral histories of the early days of punk that have been published of late. Or would he have overdosed a short time later, his assigned fate merely been postponed? More likely, though, he would have spent a substantial number of those years in prison for the October 1978 murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. (Though his friends insist that he was incapable of murder, a jury of non-punks may have found him guilty based on the evidence.).

He was not a founding member of the Sex Pistols but became its bassist when Glen Matlock left the band in 1977. (Matlock went on to form The Rich Kids, whose records are difficult to find in 2008.). Although an untalented musical hack, Vicious became the "look" of punk and was thus excused for his inability to play his instrument and lack of talent. (It is said that Vicious was chosen for the group solely for his image, which purportedly defined the burgeoning punk "movement" and effectively mimicked the look of Richard Hell, who actually could play).

That Vicious covered "My Way" somewhere along the way is well known (and his version was itself covered by a young Gary Oldman in Alex Cox's 1986 film Sid and Nancy). Sid's version appears on Sid Sings, his only solo album, which was released almost a year after his death. Preceding the studio recording is live crowd noise through which you can hear a number of specific comments and heckles, including that of a young woman who yells to Vicious, "You're a poseur!" The identity of that young woman is most likely lost to history, although she could not be more correct in her assessment. He could not play his instrument, nor could he sing.

The question: Would he be so revered today if we had all saw him age, and had he lived and ultimately escaped his legal difficulties, would he have ultimately learned to play the bass?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Deaths of Robert Preston and Dean Paul Martin

Did you know that last week marked the twenty-first anniversary of the death of not one but two celebrities of whom I was quite fond in the 1980s? On March 21, 1987, both Robert Preston and Dean Paul Martin died.

Most people my age know Preston from his role as Centauri in 1984's The Last Starfighter. I think I saw that film at least twice at the theatres that year and endlessly thereafter on premium cable. If you haven't heard of that film, you were not an adolescent boy in the 1980s. It is the story of a young man who, by scoring very, very well on a video game (called The Last Starfighter, of course), catches the eye of a extraterrestrial military recruiter, played by Preston. Preston, essentially, plays himself. He is much more famous for his role as Prof. Harold Hill in the stage and film adaptation of The Music Man. Born in 1918, he died of lung cancer in his late 60s. I actually remember hearing the news of his death. So often, when you are young, celebrity deaths are meaningless to you, because you don't know the work of the celebrities who are old enough to be passing away. (I suppose this is why the death of George Reeves so affected the youth of American back in the late 1950s.). But I knew Preston from both films I mentioned above, both of which my family had taped off of television and watched often.

Martin was the son of the famous singer, Dean Martin, and he was only a few years older than I am now when he died. He had a brief musical career, but I knew him for something far different: he was the lead in the 1980s television show, The Misfits of Science. Martin was the affable, slightly goofy ringleader of the self-described Misfits, a group composed of people each with his or her own paranormal power. Think of it as a campy precursor to Tim Kring's Heroes. To modern television viewers, that program is the answer to the trivia question, "What was Courteney Cox's first television show?" They reran the show on the Sci Fi Network sometime in the mid to late 1990s, and I was embarrassed to have ever been fond of it. It featured Max Wright, for goodness sake. But back in the mid-1980s, when it aired, I loved it. I have a vivid memory of leaving school one day and being excited that it was to air that night. Yikes.

Martin, who was in the National Guard, died in a plane crash. He was married to the very beautiful Oliva Hussey, who you will know as the lovely young girl who played Juliet in the 1968 cinematic version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. You probably watched a tape of this in your high school English class and were disappointed (maybe) when the teacher had to fast forward through the brief nude scenes.

From what I have read, Dean Martin never recovered from his son's tragic death. I don't remember hearing of his untimely passing until a number of years later, during the early days of the Internet when I did a pre-Google search engine search on the fateful television series.

Resquiat in Pace.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Living with the Dead #1, #2, and #3 (Dark Horse Comics)

"Hold on . . . you're surrounded by about a zillion blood-sucking, brain-eating, friggin' walking-dead zombies and you don't like to be around guns?" - Betty Davis, to Whip and Straw, fellow survivors in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, in Living with the Dead #2 (Dark Horse Comics, Issue Date: November 2007).

Published by Dark Horse Comics, the series is written by Mike Richardson, with art by Ben Stenbeck, letters by Clem Robins, cover art by Richard Corben, cover color by Dave Stewart, design by Kristal Hennes, and edited by Scott Allie, the three issue Living with the Dead limited series is yet another attempt by an indie comic publisher to milk the zombie genre. So often has this well been revisited that its novelty not only wanes, but congeals. In perpetrating this narrative, writer Richardson tells the tale of Whip and Straw, two lunkheads whose prospects in life were no doubt elevated by the end of the world. In their post-apocalyptic metropolis, they visit the local mall and take to their city rooftop to perform as Bucktoof, the last remaining band in the city. (Interestingly, Whip and Straw's names are not provided at all in the first issue of the series, a careless omission indeed in the grand scheme of things.).

In a city infested with zombies, Whip and Straw have learned to assimilate. When venturing out into the city by day, they wear makeshift hockey masks and act as if they too are undead. This tactic fools the teeming masses of walked dead, and the creators of the series have attempted to capitalize on this plot point by including a "zombie survival kit" with each of the three issues of the series. The kit, which is a paper hockey mask one can cut from the centerfold of the comic, is accompanied by a legal disclaimer on its use:
Warning: Dark Horse Comics takes no responsibility, and makes no guarantee that this mask will save you from an attack of the living dead. Furthermore, wearing a mask does not guarantee safe passage through zombie-infested areas. Please refer to the actions a to the actions taken by the characters in this book, and practice moaning the words "Brain and "Flesh" in public areas. Dark Horse Comics takes no responsibility for the looks you will receive for utilizing your Living Dead Disguise.
How clever.

The issue that is to come between these two best friends is not unfamiliar. In establishing this conflict, Richardson recycles a plot not from comics but from sitcoms: Whip and Straw begin to stab each other in the back over issues large and small upon the appearance of Betty Davis, a woman they both come to admire. She is a tattooed hipster and the last remaining female in the city, leading to the tagline of the series: "Two boys, a girl, and seven billion living dead!" Davis is feisty and a bit self absorbed, but she captivates the two male would-be heroes, who rescue her from the mall in which they find her and then attempt to woo her. The two risk their friendship - and each other's lives - just to be in the same room with her. Ultimately, though, upon finally realizing they she is a threat to their cozy existence, they toss her from the rooftop into a pack of zombies, thereby resolving the issue of the day.

The aforementioned comparison to a sitcom is apt not just with respect to the tone of the series, but also its scope. This is not an epic tale of survival, as is The Walking Dead, the fine series by the famed Robert Kirkman. Of course, this series does not aspire to be a such, but its tired premise and overly familiar romantic sub plot are derivative of prior narratives which themselves were derivative of what came before them, as well. The question: To invest the time, energy, and effort required of a three issue comic series these days, why refrain from an attempt at something fearless and inventive? Dark Horse Comics provides no answer to that question.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars

Last night's relatively uninteresting Oscar telecast, hosted by the usually amusing but apparently inhibited Jon Stewart, offered little in the form of meaningful entertainment. Stewart, the erstwhile host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," proved that he is far more easily irreverent in the confines of his distant New York studio than in a room full of mega-celebrities and potential guests for his show. Sly and acerbic comedians, apparently, have but one path when hosting the program: neuter themselves when hosting the Oscars - and resort to hackneyed jokes about the show's length and Jack Nicholson's notable presence. (Did he really introduce tired old Harrison Ford as "either a international movie star or a car dealership"? Are we certain that this show employed the services of the long gone writers?

Certainly, though, there were several moments of interest which confirmed that, occasionally, sparks of originality do not go unrewarded. The victory of No Country for Old Men in the Best Picture category, and the accompanying wins of Joel and Ethan Coen for Best Director(s) and Javier Bardem for Best Supporting Actor, may have been enough to cleanse the lingering sense of disappointment and disdain from the recent Best Picture win of Crash two years ago. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, in winning for Best Song for "Falling Slowly" from their wonderful gem of a film "Once," illustrated that a tune need not originate from an animated film to win.

Why the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists each year on allowing its president to make a presentation is still perplexing. With the erosion of viewers from the telecast and the perennial complaints of the program's length, no reason - other than vanity - remains to justify the presence of the Academy president, who no viewer knows or recognizes.

Viewers with a sense of the macabre look forward to the montage of actors, crew, and other various showmen who passed away during the year preceding the telecast. Typically, one can gauge the audience's fondness - or even familiarity - with the deceased by the level of applause accompanying the late performer's appearance in the montage. This year's level of applause was oddly subdued, and only the very recently deceased Suzanne Pleshette, Heath Ledger, and famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman received noticeable levels of applause. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, sadly, received little in the form of clapping. One cannot help but feel a pang of regret, or even sorrow, for those who lived just a bit too long and received little, if any, applause because no one else from their era remained in the audience to applaud them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Competing Civil War Epics of 2003

In 2003, the ghosts of the Civil War haunted the multiplexes, although they have mostly spared cinema-goers since then. That year saw the release of two Civil War epics, the first being the ridiculously pompous Gods & Generals, the other being the far better melodrama Cold Mountain, released on Christmas day. Both films were based on popular novels, G&G by Jeff Shaara and CM by Charles Frazier. A comparison of the two films arose when the trio of film critics then working for the New York Times, A. O. Scott, Elvis Mitchell and Stephen Holden, gathered together for a frank discussion of the worst movies of the past year. The transcription of their discussion reveals this exchange between Scott and Holden:
HOLDEN But the worst movie, undoubtedly — and all the critics agree with me — was "Gods and Generals." And to sit through four hours of it! It was absolutely ludicrous in every way.

SCOTT And oddly, audiences didn't go for it.

HOLDEN They promoted it quite well——

SCOTT And it was still a bomb.

HOLDEN A total, total bomb. But if "Gods and Generals" tried to get the Civil War too literally — much, much, much too literally — "Cold Mountain" erred in the other direction, trying to make it into "Reds" or "Dr. Zhivago" or something like that. It didn't feel authentic. That's one of many things that bothered me about "Cold Mountain," which is also a disappointment in my book, but a noble one.
Their cold assessment of Cold Mountain was hasty, but the critics could not be more correct in their dismissal of Gods & Generals. In the eyes of G&G director Ronald F. Maxwell, the Civil War was simply an event centering around the proud bluster and vainglorious speechifying of great men, all of whom were mere victims of historical happenstance. This was a film about rhetoricians who paused to bloviate as their troops, just props to them, were obliterated. As every gentrified gentleman is a honorable prisoner of fate, no one is a perpetrator of an evil institution, no one is a profiteer, no one is overly ambitious or reckless. Indeed, no one in the film -- on either side of the fight -- appears to be be motivated by malice or ill will. In an effort not to offend any who might harbor a nostalgia for the losing side, the film presented no one - certainly not a general - as a villain.

The facts, as presented in the film, also seemed a bit questionable. In much of G&G, the battlefields are portrayed as eerily silent -- the wounded do not cry out in pain for their mothers or sweethearts. There was no cacophony on the battlefields, which were littered with the mortally wounded. The few African American characters who appear were depicted mostly as sympathetic to the Confederacy or its partisans, which is curious indeed. While, of course, conversational stylings of the 1860s were likely far different than those of our postmodern 2000s, surely even then individuals spoke to each other, rather than speechifying at each other.

Spoke Joshua Lawrence Chamblerlain, played by Jeff Daniels, during the course of the film:
All these thousands of men. Many of the not much more than boys. Each one of them some mothers' son, some sisters' brother, some daughters father. Each one of them a whole person loved and cherished in some home far away. Many of them will never return. An army is power.Its entire purpose is to coherse others. This power can not be used carelessly or recklessly. This power can do great harm. We have seen more suffering than any man should ever see, and if there is going to be an end to it, it must be an end that justifies the cost. Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it Tom war is a scruge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic cohersion of one group of man over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis it exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right infront of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine,is part of the price to end this curse and free the negro, then let God's work be done.

lasts for an almost unendurable 231 minutes, a length that suggests an editor's outright timidity at the thought of confronting produce Ted Turner. Maxwell is also the perpetrator of the 1993 sequel/prequel Gettysburg, which came first in film but actually occurs after the events depicted in G&G. Interestingly, that means that in G&G the actors are ten years older in scenes that take place but a year before the events of the 1993 film. Maxwell's IMDB entry reveals that he had not directed a single film between 1993's Gettysburg and 2003's G&G.

It showed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Off Duty XIII

Sigh. An absolutely ridiculous amount of business travel this past week kept me from my duties as your resident Chronological Snob, and the past weekend was reserved for recuperation from same. Thus, after a week of radio silence, I must resort to an "Off Duty" post today. Never fear, though, as my stockpile of posts needing only a bit of tinkering to finalize remains intact. Regular posting will resume anon.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Week That Was (2/4 - 2/8)

"Thank god the 'Zero Effect' week is over," - Anonymous, commenting on Monday's Chronological Snobbery post entitled "Dan Cortese as Burger King Spokesman (1992)," following a week's worth of posts on the tenth anniversary of the 1998 film, Zero Effect, (2/4/08). Tell me about it. Last week's series of posts on the tenth anniversary of that film was wearisome, although I thought it turned out rather well in the end (and it even merited a link on USA Today's Pop Candy blog). Fear not; it's ten years until the twentieth anniversary.

"I confess that, yes, a culturally jingoistic part of me pitied these folks for caring so much about Super Bowl hoopla instead of enthusing over the sorts of things that keep me riled up and entertained. Meandering through crowds, slurping syrupy margaritas and hogwash beer, cheering music so proletarian and awful that listening physically made me blush (including a Tom Petty cover band performing on a stage in the midway outside the stadium), greedily snatching up promotional trinkets, and devouring all the entertainments presented to them like famine refugees at a banquet . . . why was this fun? Hadn't they ever read a book so thought-provoking they could hardly stand not to tell someone about it or stared at a sculpture so beautiful it made them cry or . . . cared about what I care about? Didn't they know how much richer life could be than this? I wanted to lead them all off to see a Tarkovsky film, like some bleedingly self-righteous Pied Piper of Culture. I felt very adolescent for feeling this way, since I knew better," T.S.T., "(Another) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: The Super Bowl Edition," Digest, (2/04/08). Who thought that winning free tickets to the Super Bowl would be such a moral and ethical dilemma?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

J.D. Salinger and Two Films of 2002

Hipster Hollywood screenwriters have always slavishly worshipped Catcher in the Rye, and five years ago, the cinema saw two products of such idolatry: Igby Goes Down and The Good Girl. Both feature frustrated youths tortured by the quotidian demands of contemporary society. In Igby, Kieran Culkin plays Jason "Igby Slocumb, a put-upon adolescent who always has some clever, post-modern retort to the latest episode of adult hypocrisy. In The Good Girl, Jake Gyllenhaal is "Holden" Worther, a character with his own Salinger obsession, although his character is a bit less self aware. Isn't it gilding the lily to name the protagonist of your Salinger-themed screenplay "Holden"? (The Good Girl also features actress Zooey Deschanel, named for one of the title characters in Salinger's "Franny and Zooey.").

Said the 2002 New York Times review of Igby:
What is it with "The Catcher in the Rye" these days? Is it just a coincidence that in a matter of months, the J. D. Salinger classic has rung two cinematic bells? (Three if you count "The Good Girl," in which Jennifer Aniston's character has an affair with a clinically depressed self-styled Holden Caulfield.) Nor should we forget the plaintively whimsical films of Wes Anderson, which flaunt a Salingeresque sense of their own rarefied sensibility.
But this trend is not new. Even as far back as 1989's Field of Dreams has a connection through is source material according to the Internet Movie Database:

In the novel, the reclusive author whom Kinsella sought out was J.D. Salinger, whose novel "Catcher In The Rye" included a character named Richard Kinsella. The producers of the film adaptation were forced to create a fictional reclusive author (James Earl Jones' character, Terrence Mann), because of the threat of legal action by Salinger, who was reportedly incensed when the novel was published in 1982.

Click here for some photographs of Salinger's town, including one of his driveway.

So what is it that screenwriters, then, now, and everywhen heap worship upon Salinger? Is it because in high school, they, as the unappreciated and socially awkward writers, found solace in his works when their social oppressors were wooing cheerleaders and drinking cheap beer, activities they publicly held in disdain but secretly longed to join? Is it because Salinger captured the inarticulate social revulsion of adolescents and the maturation of those feelings of discomfort into more pronounced forms of adult awkwardness? Or is it because Salinger was cool and trendy in a way that John Grisham or other pop rubbish simply is not?

Perhaps the question is not why screenwriters or bloggers or journalists so adore Salinger. Might the inquiry best focus on why one would seek to translate that admiration into a theme or motif present in one's own work? By naming your protagonist after your own favorite protagonist, do you get to wink ever so slyly at yourself in the mirror and marvel at your own cleverness? Or are there other unforeseen rewards awaiting you, the writer of such things?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Off Duty XII

With the sudden influx of quotidian toil at my office, I can relate to Harry Lime, depicted above and played by Orson Welles in the 1949 film, The Third Man (which, Wikipedia notes, was released on the second day of 1950 in the United States). If you've not seen it, you have been deprived of a fine cinematic experience. The film also starred Joseph Cotten, who had appeared with Welles eight years before in Welles' magnus opus, Citizen Kane. Rounding out the cast was the lovely Italian actress, Alida Valli, who had appeared in the early 1940s Italian films, Noi Vivi and Addio, Kira, both based upon "We The Living," the first novel of Ayn Rand.

Directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, "Noi Vivi" (later combined with its sequel into a single film decades later) was a bold anti-totalitarian work considering who was running Italy at the time. The film generally avoids the haughty certainty of its source material and its author, who most thinking people abandon after a literary fling during the first semester of their freshman year of college. Although Rand was fiercely anti-communist, a champion of individualism seems less credible when she runs her school of thought as an absolutist. Rand - like the totaliarians she held in such great disdain - refused to tolerate any dissent in her philosophical movement, Objectivism. Further, Rand's novels are vexing in that her characters are not human beings to whom the reader can relate so much as amalgams of Rand's various philosophical tenets. As such, these Objectivist archetypes do not feel, emote, or change, as they have already reached the Randian ideal and thus they are already perfect in their creator's eyes. The other characters, as polar opposites of Rand's darlings, are weak stereotypes of collectivists or traitors to the capitalist utopia for which Rand longed. But with Valli as the protagonist/Rand surrogate, such faults can be overlooked when translated to celluloid.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dan Cortese as Burger King Spokesman (1992)

"BK TeeVee, I love this place!"

Time was, Dan Cortese of MTV Sports became the official spokesperson for Burger King's television advertisements. In so doing, Cortese, attempting hipness in the most goofy of ways, interacted with everyday customers and employees, all the while exclaiming, "I love this place!" If you watched television in the early 1990s, you could not escape this ad campaign.

Forgotten fact: Burger King offered popcorn to patrons waiting for their food.

Surprisingly, these commercials, once so ubiquitous, have little presence on the Internets. Nevertheless, Chronological Snobbery has cobbled together a few that do exist online to create this entry dedicated to a once annoying, now nostalgic consumer culture campaign.

"They give you popcorn, just to chill with."

"If you loved the movie, you'll love the cup!"

"What's up with that?"

"It's table service!"

Believe it or not, Burger King's advertising strategy in this campaign was a significant enough change of pace to warrant coverage in the paper of record, The New York Times. In late 1992, the NYT's Adam Bryant reported:

In Burger King's current marketing campaign, an MTV host, Dan Cortese, declares, "I love this place," as he mugs his way through a series of rapid-cut ads pitching the fast-food chain's new table service.

Now that Burger King has been running its "BK TeeVee" campaign for a couple of months, it seems fair to ask whether others are embracing Burger King and its table service as eagerly as Mr. Cortese, who in the ads elicits enthusiastic reviews from the customers and crew members he interviews in Burger King outlets.


Other than saying Burger King's dinner-time business has jumped and the dinner-basket promotion has exceeded expectations, [Burger King's marketing czar Sidney J. Feltenstein] is not sharing proof of how well the ads are playing in the hearts and stomachs of fast-food fans.

If nothing else, Mr. Feltenstein can pat himself on the back for working Burger King onto the radar screens of the late-night hosts David Letterman, who has chided the ads as annoying, and Jay Leno, who took a camera crew to a Burger King for a "Tonight Show" segment.


Some franchisees and industry watchers have criticized the BK TeeVee campaign as too focused on the younger set, thereby missing the slightly older crowd for whom table service might hold some appeal. But Mr. Feltenstein shrugs off the notion, saying Burger King is drawing customers of all ages. "Some people have perceived a weakness in this campaign that it is so focused" on MTV-age viewers, he added. "But one of the strengths is that it appeals to broader demographics."1

(See also here2 and here3 for additional NYT reporting on Burger King's early 1990s advertising).

In 1993, Cortese told Entertainment Weekly: "Burger King, that's not how I act in real life. Sometimes , people call out, 'Dan, Dan, the Whopper Man!' I go, 'Yeah, right, thank you.'''

So what is the former Burger King pitchman up to these days? Cortese was recently cast as the host of the new reality show, "My Dad is Better Than Your Dad." (Link courtesy of TV Tattle, which also linked one of the commercials above).

1. Adam Bryant, "The Media Business; Advertising; Official Tries to Reverse Burger King's Marketing Record," New York Times, December 17, 1992.
2. Stuart Elliott, "The Media Business; Advertising; Once Again, Burger King Shops for an Agency," The New York Times, October 21, 1993.
3. Stuart Elliott, "The Media Business: Advertising; D.M.B&B. Promotes to Executives to Shore Up Basics," The New York Times, November 6, 1992.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Zero Effect: Behind The Scenes

Above: Jake Kasdan directs Ben Stiller in Zero Effect.

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (released ten years ago this week), today's post, the final in the series, offers some behind the scenes perspective and features interviews with cast and crew members from the 1998 film.

Shot in Portland, Oregon from late April to early June of 1997, the film was helmed by Kasdan, then a twenty three year old first time director with a famous surname. Casting of some of the minor roles was done out of Portland; Chronological Snobbery tracked down a number of the supporting cast and interviewed them about their experiences working on the film. Rather than intersperse their memories with additional commentary and remarks, I've included their memories in the foregoing block quotes so that they can tell their stories themselves.

Above: Jake Kasdan and director of photography Bill Pope.

Galen B. Schrick, though uncredited in an unspeaking role, grabbed the audience's attention as the first suspicious character to catch Daryl Zero's gaze in the aftermath of a fire alarm pulled to divert attention from the pick-up of a blackmail pay-off. Of his part, Schrick recalls:
Once I was cast, my agent told me that it was a non-speaking role . . . . There was no preparation involved. I just had to show up and deal with whatever was asked of me. "Man with Bag" was only a red-herring suspicious character to divert Zero's attention from the real blackmailer.

I believe I only had two days work on that project, and only two locations. I only appeared in one scene in the final film that included several interior set-ups (in the NW Children's Theater lobby, and the bathroom interior was shot at the Convention Center near Jantzen Beach), and the one exterior shot at NW Children's Theater with all the police and ambulance vehicles and crowds of extras. Essentially I just had to hit my marks to be moving through the right place at the right time for the camera. My whole experience of that film was a very technical thing. That was the one film project where everything I shot was seen in the film. Jake was very efficient that way with his work; not too many takes, and a fairly controlled shooting environment even with all the extras. I remember being impressed with how well young Mr. Kasdan handled the whole cast and crew management issue.

. . . I really only worked around Ryan O'Neal, but Bill Pullman was on the set when I was working. (Ben Stiller did not spend all that much time on the film when I was called - a lot of his stuff was shot in LA.) I do remember that Mr. Pullman was fairly genial and open to the local people working on the film. He was very business-like and professional when working, but certainly did not "cop an attitude" around me.

Spending a little time with Mr. O'Neal was the big surprise for me. Like many people of my era, his Love Story breakout role was still reasonably fresh in most minds, but I was very favorably impressed with his work with Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon - a complete change from what we had previously seen. My time with him in Zero Effect had more to do with the mechanics of filmmaking than anything else. He and I had to enter and leave the bathroom where the blackmail payment was left. Well, "the bathroom" was really a fairly small closet in the lobby of the NW Children's Theater space, so he and I had some face time crammed in a closet waiting on the PA's call over the radio to exit on cue. That time allowed us time for him to talk with me about working with Stanley Kubrick, Ali McGraw, and I believe that Farrah Fawcett may have been mentioned as well.

The next day when we shot the bathroom interior at the Jantzen Beach Convention Center was memorable for Mr. O'Neal's antics on the empty, concrete-floored open space of the center. While the crew was setting up and lighting the large, many stalled bathroom - Ryan O'Neal was running all out, playing catch with a Frisbee. I remember several of the production folks being more than a little concerned that he might fall and damage himself on that dangerous surface, but he would hear nothing about it from them. I remember Bill Pullman making a few catches as well before begging off when some of the producers appeared very concerned about their shooting schedule and the potential for injury. I just remember how surprising and fun it was to see "name" stars acting like kids.
Above: Jake Kasdan directs Bill Pullman in Zero Effect.

Margot Demeter played Clarissa Devereau, the former love interest of Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal), who whose subsequent murder by him becomes the basis of his being blackmailed.

Demeter recalls:

Zero Effect was my first audition for a major feature film and I was thrilled to be cast as Clarissa in what I feel is some what of a cult classic film. Working with Jake Kasdan was such a great experience. He had such a clear vision of exactly how each scene was shot. For my first film, I believe that having the opportunity to work on a film with such amazing talent as Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller shaped my views on film as an art form.

Wendy Westerwelle played the clerk of the motel at which Zero stays while investigating the blackmail. In so doing, she shot a single scene with Ben Stiller, whose character Arlo appears:

We filmed at a Motel in Hillsboro Oregon which is a farming community that has many migrant workers living there and some great Mexican restaurants. The scene was very straight forward. I was behind the desk at a sleazy Motel and played the clerk and Ben's character was looking for [Zero].


I auditioned for Jake in Portland Ore. and he was a totally sweet boy. I liked him immediately. I could tell he wanted me because he was so warm and kind. I met Ryan in makeup and he was very friendly.

Above: Jake Kasdan directs Kim Dickens and Ryan O'Neal in Zero Effect.

Veronica Rinard served as the assistant director of the Oregon Film and Video Office in 1997 at the time of the film's principal photography. A decade later, she recalls:
I scouted with Jake some-it was really fun to work with someone who was so enthusiastic about Portland. I took my step-daughter on the set-I think it was "take your daughter to work day"--and Ryan O'Neill had a nice conversation with her-he asked if she was interested in being an actress and said that it had been a very good life for him.


I thought it was a fun movie and deserved more attention than it got.


I thought it portrayed Portland well-again the quirkiness of the script kind of fit, and Jake wanted to show off some of what's cool about the city.


Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge played the exterior of the planetarium, and the interior was at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). They also used the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center.

"The script was written for Portland," Rinard told the Portland Oregonian in 1997.1 "They really want to show off the city."

David Doty played Officer Hagans, the police officer with whom Stiller's character consults in trying to obtain some records. (Doty also appeared in the ill-fated 2002 Zero Effect TV pilot, and was interviewed in yesterday's piece on that production.). He knew Kasdan for some time:

i first met jake when he was 17 or 18. he had just finished high school and had written a play that he also directed called, i think "losing sleep" he wanted an actor named jack kehler, a friend of mine, who was busy so he mentioned me. i read for jake and that was it. i did one more play with jake and then he called and said he was doing a film, would i like to be in it. i said sure. just give me a call time. iv'e been in every film he's done since i thought he was brilliant when he was 17 and still think so. didn't do too much prep for the role as it was pretty much all right there on the page. the scene, with ben stiller. who was great to work with, was slimmed down about 80%, but understood because the cut, off my reaction. to the next scene really worked.

Aleta Barthell played a health club staffer who directs patrons out of the building during the aforementioned fire alarm sequence. Looking back ten years, she remembers:

I was called in to audition for the part of "Staffer #2" for the film. I was told that it was a "quirky, detective story." When I read the part of a staff person evacuating a gym...I played it as an impudent worker, put-out with having to evacuate all of these people. Jake laughed, and I got the role.

When we filmed the evacuation scene at the gym, Jake had chosen two actors from the extras who had dressed outlandishly (one in a vibrant bow tie) to misdirect the suspicion of who had planted the item in the bathroom. We did a lot of takes with these characters...the two of them seeing one another, then moving away from each other, etc. Zero was watching all of this while the gym was being evacuated. In the end, these two characters were cut from the scene. I was still visually in the film, but they dubbed my voice and lines in afterward, because during the shoot, I kept referring to the guy as "Bow Tie" and telling him he had to go as I moved him out of the building.

I was very impressed with Jake as a director. Everyone had heard that he was "really young" (in his 20's) and was doing this big film. The Jake that I saw was calm, positive, very approachable and in the face of enormous pressure to keep things rolling and moving, he persisted in taking his time to experiment with different ideas during the shoot. I thought this was admirable, and it made the experience great for the actors. It really allowed everybody to play off of one another. I saw him and Bill Pullman have a tremendous time trying out new ideas.

I didn't interact with Bill Pullman directly, but remember that he sent for a stack of headshots and signed them in between takes for a line of little kids that kept calling him "Mr. President" and asking him about Independence Day.

The person I especially remember is Ryan O'Neal, who played Gregory Stark. It was the second film I had ever done, and the largest one. I was nervous, and he affably made me feel comfortable and explained what was happening at different points in the shoot. After seeing the final film, I thought that he really shined in his part.

When I initially read the script, I loved all of the twists and turns that the story had in it. I was especially impressed with the role of Gloria Sullivan. The role was cut down considerably in the final version, and I felt it missed the depth and zing that Jake had written into Gloria. She and Zero were much more of a match for each other in the original script that I read. I thought the film came out well, but was sad to see Gloria somewhat diminished.

J.W. Crawford played a convention employee in a scene that was ultimately cut from the film. Describing that sequence, he observes:

My agent called and said they had submitted me for a small speaking role in a little film with Ryan O'Neal. The casting director asked to read me for several "day player" roles. I was called back to read a funny little scene for Jake Kasdan as a "Convention Employee". It was a quick little bit with the Kim Dickens character showing up at a convention and confronting this creepy little employee at the registration table. She knew she was being tailed by Ben Stiller and was making it look like she was trying to track down the guy who was blackmailing Ryan O'Neal. Except that I couldn't find the person on the list and was about as motivated as someone on doggie downers. She was in a hurry and getting nowhere with me so she gave up but not without me hitting on her. She just kept walking away from me (and Stiller) as fast as she could. There was no real preparation for me....I guess playing creepy just comes natural!

I met Bill Pullman and Ryan O'Neal at my wardrobe fitting the day before we shot my scene. I didn't really do anything more than shake their hands. They seemed like nice guys. Ryan was on his cell phone the whole time talking to a friend in L.A. about the film. He was smaller in stature than I would have thought.


I was introduced to Ben Stiller by Kim Dickens who actually invited me to join them at their table for lunch after our scene together. That's not something that doesn't happen too often when you're a day player. They were absolutely down to earth and terrific people. Ben made my day...year...maybe lifetime when he told me that my work was "really funny stuff"! WOW! Jake Kasdan joined us at the table for a few minutes and he seemed happy with my work. He was a real actor's director! Later, the day of the Portland premier, Jake asked one of the producers to call me and let me know my scene had been cut. He said he wanted me to know that it had
nothing to do with my performance. Now that is real class!

These interviews conclude Chronological Snobbery's five part series on the tenth anniversary of the 1998 film, Zero Effect. All that is left to say is: "That spooky rumbling is a distant timpani," the curious phrase that Kasdan slowly reveals, word by word, on his commentary track to the DVD of the film. (He shared the phrase in that fashion just to ascertain whether or not anyone actually listened to the commentary.).

1. Kristi Turnquist, "Movie Cameras in Portland Roll again, Shooting 'Zero Effect'," The Oregonian, April 21, 1997.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Zero Effect: The Television Pilot (2002)

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (released ten years ago yesterday), today's post profiles the ill-fated 2002 pilot episode of the proposed television adaptation of the film (and features interviews with two cast members). Several years after the release of the film, Jake Kasdan, its writer and director, teamed up with Walon Green (the writer of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, among other things) five years later in an attempt to translate the film to the screen. British actor Alan Cumming replaced Bill Pullman as the brilliant and mysterious Daryl Zero, while Krista Allen, David Julian Hirsch (as Jeff Winslow, perhaps the replacement of the Steve Arlo character played by Ben Stiller in the 1998 film), and Natasha Gregson Wagner rounded out (presumably) the principal cast.

You will not be able to find a copy of this pilot on DVD or on the Internets. Many of those associated with the project never saw the completed pilot following its post production. There are likely copies somewhere in the vaults of NBC Television, Castle Rock Entertainment, and perhaps even elsewhere in the vast expanses of the Time Warner empire. Kasdan no doubt has a copy somewhere amongst his possessions and projects, but he is not sharing it.

Above: Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero.

Also credited, according to the pilot's IMDB entry, are Julio Leal and Andy Brewster (as Barfly and Barfly #2), Laura Ford, Tom Gallop, Patrick Wolff (as Room Service Waiter).

According to this Entertainment Weekly article, NBC passed on the series, forever condemning it to television limbo. But television pilots are a tricky business, as Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) observed almost a decade and a half ago in Pulp Fiction:

Well, the way they pick the shows on TV is they make one show, and that show's called a pilot. And they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing. [Uma Thurman's Character] starred in one of the ones that became nothing.

Kasdan's show also became nothing, and for the most part, its existence is unknown. Kasdan no doubt built upon this experience when he wrote and directed 2006's The TV Set, a film starring David Duchovny as a television writer attempting to steward his own pilot through the treacherous network processes. But, alas, his prior pilot was not a special feature on that DVD.

Above: Zero (Pullman) illustrates his method.

Six years later, there is little, if any, information about the pilot on the Internets. Associates of Kasdan who responded to email inquiries remained tight-lipped. Said one person interviewed: "I'm pretty sure Jake would not be too interested in letting a copy out. . . ." Those who were kind enough to offer some memories could not recall specifics:

Remembers Leal, the aforementioned actor who portrayed "Barfly," about the project:

I was in LA selling a script and meeting with an Agent when a friend of mine was called to work for 2 days as a Medic for the show. I decided I would tag along. The Tavern in Aspen scene was set in a downtown motel bar. I was invited by Director Jake Kasdan himself to step in to the shot sequence in the Scene Featured along side the principle female Standing at the bar hearing a crazy Zero story that is being told by a thin white guy. The entire bar is listening enthralled.

David Doty, who played Officer Hagans in the 1998 film and just appeared in Kasdan's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, had two small parts in the pilot, about which he remembers little:

i was in the pilot that jake and waylon green shot. but have never seen it. jake said they should promo it "from the people who gave you "freaks and geeks" and "the wild bunch."

An interesting tagline indeed. (There will be more from Doty in tomorrow's post dealing with the behind the scenes of the film.).

Above: Zero (Pullman) gazes into the distance.

There may have been some attempt to maintain musical continuity with the film, as well. Michael Andrews of The Greyboy Allstars (interviewed in more detail in Tuesday's post about this scoring of the film) believes Kasdan "might have used our music in the temp but we wrote no new material [for the pilot]."

But little else can be pieced together. (Multiple attempts by Chronological Snobbery to obtain a copy of the episode, or even it script were unsuccessful at best, rebuffed at worst.).

Above: Zero (Pullman) hiding in plain sight.

One wonders if Pullman was initially approached about reprising the character for the pilot. Surely, a film star such as he would not be enthusiastic about a weekly television series (although he directed the 2000 TV remake of "The Virginian" as well as a 2001 episode of "Night Visions" and even appeared in the 2005 series "Revelations" and a 1986 episode of "Cagney and Lacey").

(UPDATE: Here is a 2002 thread from Ain't It Cool News on the pilot casting).

Above: Zero (Pullman) rocks out.

Digital Boy, in his recent review of the film in conjunction with Monday's general post on the film's anniversary, posits an interesting theory:
It should be noted that in 2002, Kasdan attempted to resurrect the character Daryl Zero for television, with Alan Cummings in the lead role. However, NBC did not pick up the pilot, which is interesting as that was the same year USA Network debuted its breakout hit “Monk”, which features a brilliant, yet neurotic private eye. [USA Network was purchased by NBC when NBC acquired Vivendi Universal’s North American-based entertainment asset in 2003].

Knowing the NBC of 2002, perhaps Kasdan would have had more success if he had simply renamed it, "Law & Order: Zero Effect"?

Tomorrow: In tomorrow's coverage of the Zero Effect tenth anniversary, Chronological Snobbery focuses on the behind the scenes of the film with cast and crew interviews.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Zero Effect: Dan Bern's Unreleased Title Track

Above: Dan Bern, circa 1997-1998.

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (which was actually released ten years ago this very day), today's post profiles folk musician Dan Bern and his 1997 song, also called "Zero Effect." Never released, the song exists only as a 1997 live recording in those corners of the Internets where such unauthorized recordings may be found. In an interview with this site, Bern reflects upon the song and its origin as a tune told from the point of view of Gloria Sullivan, the character played by actress Kim Dickens in the film, and sung to the character of Daryl Zero, played by Bill Pullman.

By the mid 1990s, Bern had released three self produced cassettes, a self titled full length album, and an EP called Dog Boy Van. His friendship with director Jake Kasdan led to his song, "One Dance" being played over the closing credits of Kasdan's 1998 directorial debut. Just two months after the release of the film, on March 31, 1998, Bern's new record, entitled 50 Eggs and produced by none other than Ani DiFranco, would hit stores. (The full version of "One Dance" would appear on this album.). Somewhere along the way, though, Bern composed a song, "Zero Effect," which includes these lyrics relevant to the film's plot and premise:

All your fancy words
Your well-constructed theories
Everything that you wore
Everything that you swore
Was what brought me to you

It was nice - all of it
It was sweet - all of it
But it was not the thing that made me come to you

It had zero effect--on me
It had zero effect--zero
It had zero effect--
The thing that brought me to you
Was you

You coulda looked for the clues
Till your magnifying glass was worn out
You coulda talked to everybody that you've ever known
Collected evidence--found a lot of evidence
Everything you think was there - was there
Everything you think took place - took place
But it was not what made me come to you

Bern played the song publicly, perhaps only once. On May 11, 1997, during a gig at Portland's Aladdin Theatre, Bern played the song and introduced it as follows:

I wrote this when I - when I - when I heard my friend was going to make his movie. So I'm going to try to do it. It's actually - it's not to him - in fact if - if - like - if something inspired this song it was reading the script and thinking about it from the woman's point of view - in that thing. So that's really what's in this song, but my vice isn't high enough to approximate it, so it will sound like me still. [Laughter].

In an email interview with Chronological Snobbery a decade later, Bern confesses that he has but "a vague recollection of playing it at that show; it was probably the only time." He recalls:

i am pretty sure i wrote the song "zero effect" as a pitch to jake for his film. i might have performed it once, and i think i recorded it well enough to give to him as a possibility for him. my guess is that it was too literal, in that it was the name of the film and all. as a director, it seems he wanted things that would resonate with his picture more obliquely than to have a song with the actual film title....somewhere in my vaults i may have the recording, but i can't even be sure about that.

Kasdan did, however, choose Bern's "One Dance" to be prominently featured in the film. The track was also released as its own promotional single. Bern remembers:

obviously, it was cool that jake used "one dance" over the end titles for zero effect. it was a really cool movie, i thought, and i was thrilled when "one dance" would come up at the end. i remember writing it in the stairwell of some hotel at a music conference somewhere, and i used it for my second sony/work album, 50 eggs, that ani difranco produced, and we did a special edit for the was my first foray into having a song in a movie, and it was awesome. especially that it was jake, who i had become good friends with a few years before, when we met in a coffeeshop in LA through a mutual friend. what a great guy. funny, smart, and incredible instincts about many things. when i first met him he was just a kid really, and we both had lots of free time for sitting around, playing scrabble, and musing on things. now he has, let's say, just a little more on his plate (!), but a great guy always. that's what i remember about zero effect, the song and the movie.

But over ten years later, Bern admits that his memory of the song "Zero Effect" is not very strong as it once may have been:

i'm sure i read the script, and i may have also seen footage; i also got to see one or two days of shooting (in portland, by the way), so any of that may have contributed to writing the 'zero effect' song. BUT...i really don't remember when i wrote it, in the timeline of the movie itself.

Bern and Kasdan have certainly kept in touch since Zero Effect. Recently, the two worked together on 2007's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. The December 15, 2007 Bern Bulletin (his periodic email newsletter) notes:

As many of you may know, Dan has been dedicating a lot of time and energy working on the film "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Dan has written, or co-written, a great deal of the songs that "Dewey Cox" performs in the film. And from what I've heard, if you appreciate the song writing style of Dan, you'll really get a kick out of hearing his contributions to "Walk Hard." So, please go out and see the movie, and support this project which Dan has been so proud to work on!

But will anything ever come of his song about Daryl Zero and Gloria Sullivan?

"Maybe I'll dig up the song and use it for something else sometime," says Bern. "That's how these things work sometimes. you just never know."

Tomorrow: In tomorrow's coverage of the Zero Effect tenth anniversary, Chronological Snobbery focuses on the ill-fated 2002 attempt to turn the film into a TV pilot and series.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Zero Effect: The Soundtrack (Tenth Anniversary)

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect, today features interviews and commentary on the film's soundtrack., including new interviews with Esthero, Neil Gust of Heatmiser, Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers, and Chris Stillwell and Michael Andrews of the Greyboy Allstars). Released in January of 1998, prior to the premiere of the film itself on January 30 of that year, Zero Effect: Music from the Motion Picture boasted as its executive producers Jake Kasdan (the director of the film, Zero Effect), Manish Raval, and Happy Walters. Featuring fourteen tracks from twelve artists, the album, at a decade old, features a number of artists still rocking and thriving a decade later.

Above: Elvis Costello in December 1977, during his infamous "Saturday Night Live" set.

1. "Mystery Dance" - Elvis Costello

Originally from 1977's My Aim Is True, "Mystery Dance" plays over the film's opening title sequence. Twenty one years old at the time of the film's release, the song is also the oldest track on the album. (For completists, an acoustic "honky tonk" version of "Mystery Dance" was included on a recent reissue of My Aim Is True, Costello's very first album.).

Dan Bern, circa 1997-1998.
2. "One Dance" - Dan Bern

Perhaps the musician most closely associated with the film and with director Jake Kasdan, folk musician Dan Bern was rising to fame in the mid to late 1990s, even being compared to Bob Dylan. His 1998 album Fifty Eggs, released two months after the film on March 31, 1998, also featured "One Dance," which plays over the closing credits of the film. Produced by Ani DiFranco (who is mentioned in the song's lyrics), "One Dance" was released as a promotional single for the film, and Bern even penned an as of yet unreleased tune, titled "Zero Effect" (more about which in tomorrow's entry on that rare title track).

3. "Starbucked" - Bond

These days, if you Google "Bond," you'll find this "Australian/British string quartet," most certainly not the band which perpetrated "Starbucked" for the Zero Effect soundtrack in 1998. Thus, tracking down information about the decade old band is a Herculean task, as the band's name is not the most Google friendly; nor is that of the song, searches for which lead to either coffeehouse culture or "Battlestar Galactica." Members of 1998's Bond included Steve Eusebe, Jimmy Hogarth, Scott Shields, and Martin Slattery. On his official MySpace page, Eusebe notes:

[B]y the summer of 1996 I had formed a new band with accomplished musicians that I’d met on the road, service stations, Venues and Airports. I wrote some new songs at the time with Scott Shields (Gun & Shakespeare’s Sister), Jimmy Hogarth (Shakespeare’s Sister) and Martin Slattery (Black Grape) and within 3 months we were being courted by Record Companies in America. By the end of the year we had jumped the UK ship and signed to Sony/Work Group in Los Angeles, which became our new home and the Band Bond was formed. We produced the Album ‘Bang out of Order’ with Matthew Wilder of No Doubt fame and courted the services of the legendary Grammy award winner engineer/mixer Andy Wallace of Jeff Buckley, Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame. Bond toured the U.S extensively with Spacehog and on our own before Fatherhood forced me to make a decision to stay in America or come home. I came home. The band split . . .

The opening bars of "Starbucked" played as one would access the official Zero Effect website.

4. "Into My Arms" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

In the film, just as Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) and Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) have shared a vanilla malt and bonded as only they can, the camera begins to drift away from their table and the deep voice of Nick Cave abruptly overtakes the film. He sings: "I don't believe in an interventionist God. But I know, darling, that you do," which, really, is a distracting sentiment. Originally from 1997's The Boatman's Call, "Into My Arms" is perhaps the only song in the film which makes its presence known with such authority that its breaks the aesthetic distance.

Above: Mary Lou Lord, circa 1998.

5. "Some Jingle Jangle Morning" - Mary Lou Lord

In the mid to late 1990s, alternative rocker Mary Lou Lord was most famous for her alleged dalliance with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's subsequent trashing of her during online chat sessions. Also on 1998's Got No Shadow, "Some Jingle Jangle Morning" makes reference not just to the phrase from Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," but also Guns N' Roses, with its reference to "Mr. Brownstone," slang for heroin. Since 1998, she has offered the world acoustic covers of both Van Halen's "Jump" and Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road." Lord did not respond to a request for an interview.

Above: Brendan Benson, circa 1998-1999.

6. "Emma J" - Brendan Benson

Now a member of The Raconteurs along with Jack White, Jack Lawrence, and Patrick Keeler, in 1998, alt-folkster Brendan Benson was a relatively unknown commodity. He had but one album, 1996's One Mississippi, under his belt, and it was from that record that "Emma J" came.

The Greyboy Allstars, circa 1997-1998.

7. "The Method Pt. 2" - The Greyboy Allstars
11. "Blackmail Drop" - The Greyboy Allstars
14. "The Zero Effect" - The Greyboy Allstars

If any artist's music defines the film, it is that of The Greyboy Allstars, the funky jazz or jazzy funk San Diego based group that scored the film with their upbeat and offbeat contributions to its score. In an interview with Chronological Snobbery, GBA member Michael Andrews remembers being "contacted after Manish Raval had been listening to our West Coast Boogaloo cd." But no tracks from that album were used in the film.

"All the music we made specifically for the movie," says Andrews. "None of the stuff existed before ZE."

Andrews remarks on the process:

The approach the film, write some music. We all wrote stuff separately and brought it in after seeing the film. We started at my studio in San Diego for about a week just writing and adding to what others had brought in. Then we holed up in a small theater to see how the themes would work with picture. The music editor [Jonathan Karp] was there to help us find the right tempos to work best with picture. Jake manipulated the arrangements. Once we had most of the main themes penned, we spent ten days in the studio recording directly to picture.

Also interviewed by Chronological Snobbery, GBA bassist Chris Stillwell remembers the film being a new experience for the band:

Being it our first experience-we were pretty green. We knew as far as what mood was needed per music cue-as dictated by Jake's score notes. Some things were easier than others. The longer & trickier cues required tweaking and refitting. Usually it's just one guy composing, and then he gets an orchestra to perform it. We were a basic line-up of sax, drums, bass, guitar, and keys. You'd think it would be limited, but there's a pretty wide palate of sounds you can get with something that simple.

The basic rules for scoring a film is a main theme, and thematic material for the main characters, love scene, chase theme etc. I was starting to get into film music around this time. I loved espionage/detective/spy music, so there was a piece I had written that had a sort of surf/spy melody well before the film was offered to us. It fit perfectly, and was easy to reharmonize and shift the melody around to suit whatever the main character (Darryl Zero) was up to. Everybody came up with tons of ideas. We actually ended up with too much material, so we had to ditch some cool things. As for myself, I thought everything fit well, and was well written.


I listen to what we did every year or so from a CD that was given to us by the music editor. I think it's pretty interesting stuff. Of course, it was Mike's introduction to his movie scoring career. For a big movie company to take a chance on us was a gamble, and I think both parties ended up happy.

"I think it was one of the most creative things the band has ever done together, and for me it was the beginning of my involvement in film music," Andrews notes.

Above: Jamiroquai, circa 1998.

8. "Drifting Along" - Jamiroquai

In early 1998, Jamiroquai was chiefly known for its single and video, "Virtual Insanity," which had become popular the year before. But what can be said about Jamiroquai's contribution to this film when that band will be remembered in far more detail for its contribution to a later quirky comedy: Napoleon Dynamite (which was, incidentally, a previous alias of Elvis Costello, also on the Zero Effect soundtrack with Jamiroquai)?

Above: Candy Butchers.

9. "Till You Die" - Candy Butchers

Candy Butchers began as the brainchild of Mike Viola and Todd Foulsham. In an interview with Chronological Snobbery, Viola recalls his experience with Zero Effect:

Jake was into my band Candy Butchers and asked if "Till You Die" could be included. Of course...I was thrilled. When I went to the New York premiere I LOVED the movie and couldn't believe how cool the song worked in the diner scene.

As to how the song fits into the film, Viola replies that "it's kind of perfect" as well as "dark and funny." Looking back, he relates that "the song kind of wrote itself" and "always had a life of it 's own." Describing the origin of the song, Viola points to, of all people, Dostoevsky:

I was living in Quincy a blue collar town south of Boston and making pizza's for a living. I had to get up at 5am and walk to the restaurant (didn't have a car). on my way one snowy morning I happened upon a box of books somebody was throwing away. a few inches of snow on top of ackie collins novels and their ilk. it was still dark out side....freezing cold.... but I dug into them....and pulled out Crime and Punishment. never read that book before. I was so busy playing live shows in rock bands that I barely made it through High school. so I took the book...went to work....and on break started to read it....soon I devoured it. and out popped Till You Die. and I swear...that song alone landed me a publishing deal and subsequently a major label record deal......right there for the taking on the side of the road one snowy morning at 5am 15 miles south of Boston. WAY too much info for you...but it just came back to me....

In November of 2007, Viola released to the Internets "Girly Worm" from his new album, Lurch. He was also involved with the soundtrack for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, released in late 2007 and directed by none of than Jake Kasdan. Viola provided the lead vocals for the song "That Thing You Do!" as a part of the 1996 Tom Hanks film by that name.

Above: Esthero, circa 1998-1999.
10. "Lounge" - Esthero

At the time of the release of the Zero Effect soundtrack, Canadian singer Esthero had been nineteen years old for less than a month. In an interview with Chronological Snobbery, she remembers the early days of her career and her involvement with the film:

I had just signed with WORK GROUP records, and EMI had my music publishing. I'm not sure if the song was something pitched through EMI or from the co president of WORK Jeff Ayeroff. What I DO remember was the experience of being escorted to the premier with Jeff, my very FIRST movie premier, btw....and being a country bumpkin of sorts, it was also at the after party for the event that i experienced sushi for the first time. A California roll. Ha!

I thought it fit in just fine - but I'm biased. I remember thinking it was a lil quiet - but I'm also biased on that one too. I'm just glad i liked the movie, I've had songs in movies before that weren't necessarily directed towards my own demographic. But this was something i could be proud to be a small part of. I really dug the film. I briefly met Jake the evening of the premier, and he was so young - I remember thinking "this has got to be such a big deal for him, he must be so stoked" and I was so happy for him. Especially after seeing the film. 'He did good, real good', as they say.

Her first full length record, "Breath from Another," was released three months later in April of 1998.

12. "Three Days" - Thermadore

Thermadore's "Three Days" came from that band's 1996 release, Monkey on Rico (to which Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard contributed). Somewhere along the way, the band folded, and its legacy, if any, is left mostly unpreserved on the Internets.

Above: Heatmiser.

13. "Rest My Head Against the Wall" - Heatmiser

Composed of Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Sam Coomes, and the late Elliot Smith, Heatmiser rose from the streets of Portland, the city in which the film is set. By the time the Zero Effect soundtrack was released, the band had already self destructed. Although Smith is remembered for his contributions to such films as 1997's Good Will Hunting, "Rest My Head Against the Wall" was a song by Gust. In an interview with Chronological Snobbery, Gust recalls that Kasdan requested the use of the song after hearing it on their 1996 Mic City Sons album:

I got a call from someone who was putting the soundtrack together and he asked me if he could use the song. I was blown away, and very excited to be asked. At the time, my band mate Elliott Smith had a few solo songs in Good Will Hunting and was having enormous success from it. I thought it was cool that one of mine got to be in a movie, too.

I remember I went to see the movie by myself at a multiplex in Portland, it was out at the same time as Good Will Hunting, and I walked passed 3 theaters showing GWH, all the way to the very end of the hall where the smallest theater was, and sat down with about half a dozen other people to see Zero Effect. I thought the movie was awesome.

Heatmiser broke up shortly after we made that record and I started a new band called No. 2. I used the money I made from having my song in this film to pay for the recording sessions of our first record "No Memory."

Gust recalls the scene in which his song is used in the film:

[I]t's played in a scene where Ben Stiller is sitting at the bar, and the song sounds like it's coming from the Juke Box. they filmed it at this grimy club called Satyricon that had a magnificent juke box of all-local bands. It was a triumph for a band to get one of their records on it. Ironically, Heatmiser never actually made it on to the real juke box.

It took me a while to realize it was my song when I was watching the movie. My first reaction was that my voice sounded way off key. It was almost impossible for me to pay attention to the movie while it was playing, I was so distracted by how weird I thought it sounded.

Looking back ten years to the song's inclusion in the film, and twelve years to its official release on the Heatmiser album, Gust appreciates his musical work product.

"I like that song, I like the way we recorded it, and I like the story it tells," Gust recalls. "I read a description of the song in a record review that I really liked, they said the song sounded like a cowboy hanging his hat on a hook at the end of a long day, and his head comes off with it."

Tomorrow: In tomorrow's coverage of the Zero Effect tenth anniversary, Chronological Snobbery focuses on Dan Bern's unreleased song "Zero Effect" and offers a new interview with folk musician Bern thereupon.