Hello, Aspiring Filmmakers! - and Goodbye to an All-Time Hero


Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife

Writer, Non-Registered Critics


For the ten days between March 8 and March 17, the Hipster felt as if he was trapped inside some Twisted version of the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day.  Each weekday mid-afternoon he would get into his 20 year old car and head East toward Pasadena with the hope of getting to the Film Festival there by six pm, when the first block of films would start being shown.  And each weeknight, he would arrive around seven pm, missing several short films in the process - regardless of which route he took to get there.  (And no, there was no love interest waiting at the other end of the journey, unless the films themselves were that romance.)  By the time the last fadeout had faded away - in this case on the film Slipaway, co-directed by Daniel Mentz and Julia Butler (pictured right), which also won the festival award for Best Picture - well, in the end the Hipster managed to see around 70% of the films, and he is eager to give you a full report on some first-rate movies, both fictional and documentary, as well as several filmmakers who were gracious enough to do sit downs with the Hipster.  So keep reading this column this week for an analysis of emerging trends, as well as an inside peek at some of the remarkable talent that might otherwise slip past even the most observant spectator of our overwhelmingly busy and multi-faceted film scene.

And now it's time to raise a glass to the dearly-departed JIMMY BRESLIN, who was simply the greatest newspaper columnist of all time - apologies to Murray Kempton and Pete Hamill and Red Barber, who were certainly great as well, but there can only be one Michael Jordan, and for newspaper columnists, James Earle Breslin was that one.  And he knew it too.  "I'm the best person ever to have a column in this business," he is reported to have said.

Jimmy Breslin was a constant presence for anyone growing up in New York City in the '60s through the end of the '80s, with his tabloid columns and his mock run for political office with Norman Mailer and his legendary beer commercial for Piels Beer.  ("Piels, it's a good drinking beer!" he proclaimed - as opposed to what, a good shampooing beer? - it was played often back in the day and is still available for for viewing on YouTube, along with the rest of our cluttered civilization).  Jimmy Breslin was a great storyteller in the manner of all great barroom regulars, he knew how to get your attention, keep your attention, and then put a final spin on the ball that would make you laugh and at the same ensure that you never forgot the story or the streetwise fellow who told it to you.  Yes, it's true, the Hipster heard the great Jimmy B. in action, heard that voice which made its way into your memory bank, and once there, would not be forgotten.  And yes, the Twisted Hipster was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of this bard of New York City, and he has his own Breslin tale to tell.

So way back in the last millennium, the Hipster was a student traveling to Europe for the summer with his best friend from school - at that time there were cheap student flights and rail passes and other such wonderful amenities! - and the Hipster's mom was no fan of this arrangement, which involved hitchhiking and sleeping under the stars and other free-spirited "plans."  (Even the Hipster had to agree that he and his friend had little in the way of actual "plans.")

Then mom found out that one of the student flights set down in Dublin for a few days, and she remembered that her friend Jimmy Breslin had a home in Dublin where he moved his large family each summer.  And she asked her friend if he had a spare room where the Hipster and his friend could stay while in Dublin.  And Jimmy Breslin said yes.

The Hipster had never met Jimmy Breslin before that time he stayed in his house, nor can he remember being particularly aware of him, despite the fact that this was shortly after Breslin and Mailer had lost their bid for the mayor's office, while garnering tons of publicity in the process.  But the Hipster was not of voting age yet,  nor did he have any particular interest in politics or newspapers.  No, the Hipster was a poet (0f course),  obsessed with British poetry, Russian novels and Renaissance Art.  For him, Jimmy Breslin was just another family friend, and his house was just another place to crash for a few nights.  Imagine the Hipster's surprise, then, when he and his buddy entered the Breslin manse and found it to be overrun with kids of all ages.  Breslin's bio says he had six children, but there were at least twice that many racing around the rooms, often to the dismay of Rosemary, Breslin's then-wife.  In the Hipster's memory, she was always in a dirty housedress, endeavoring to clean up one kind of mess or another.

Jimmy Breslin himself was rarely around, or at least he seemed to disappear for long stretches at a time.  It's amazing that he even noticed the Hipster's presence, given the level of constant activity going on in the house.  But the Hipster distinctly remembers a conversation in which Breslin asked the Hipster what he wanted to be.  "A writer," the Hipster said.  This elicited a bemused look from Jimmy Breslin.  "A writer?  Really?" he said.  The Hipster nodded.  "Well," Breslin said, "I'm taking off tomorrow for Belfast to cover the Troubles.  How would you like to come with me?"  The Hipster must have looked flustered, because Breslin then added: "You wouldn't mind getting shot at, would you?  I mean, it can be a pretty violent place."

The Hipster was then halfway through his first reading of Ulysses, and his plans for the next two days consisted of hanging around James Joyce's tower and continuing to read Joyce's book in a way that might attract the attention of any literary-minded girls walking by.  Getting shot at was definitely not on the menu.  So he declined Breslin's offer, as Breslin surely knew he would.  But oh, how the Hipster regrets that now!  How wonderful would it have been to dodge bullets with Jimmy B.!  And what a reversal of expectations that would have been for the Hipster's mom, who had made these arrangements with the Hipster's safety in mind!

Ah well - another opportunity missed.  I raise my glass of Piels - only metaphorically, since I don't believe they even make the stuff anymore - to Jimmy Breslin, a poet of the workingman and a great storyteller.  You dodged bullets for as long as you could, Jimmy B.  But in the end there's always one with your name on it.  Right?  Salud!