This So Called… Disaster

Just in from my first Tribeca Film Festival screening, ‘This So Called… Disaster.’ It is a documentary following Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, and Woody Harrelson through rehearsals of writer/actor/director Sam Shepard’s ‘The Late John Moss,’ a play based largely on Shepard’s own life. It was terrific.

The film is so loaded with paternal conflict, hard-drinking, and male rage, that I walked out of the theater — literally feet from the site of the World Trade Center disaster — craving cigarettes and alcohol. But I settled for a fistful of fat-free pretzels, a soy Boca burger, and a Red Stripe.

I was engrossed on many levels. For one, the film affords unprecedented access the actor’s process. Director Michael Almereyda and his two camera DV crew shot over 140 hours of footage in the three weeks prior to opening night. As an audience, we are on stage, backstage, in the dressing room, and everywhere in between. We see the actors at their most vulnerable as they swear, sweat, and seek to find their characters, and themselves.

But what was perhaps most gripping is watching Shepard wrestle with the demon that is his own father, and his turbulent relationship with him. Here is a grown man in his 60s still coming to terms, in the most public way possible, with the legacy of his alcoholic father. ‘An artist hides his life in plain view,’ he says.

When taken in context with tomorrow morning’s panel discussion on screenwriting from the personal, Friday’s documentary panel, my experience as a very autobiographical singer/songwriter, and my ambition to shoot a memoirish documentary about Mr. Rogers and me, it all begins to make some sense, to add up to something.

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