Have you ever been sitting in a movie theatre and wished that you had a remote control; wished that way you could take a closer look at the scene you just witnessed in order to reexamine your own feelings and observations? In a moment in Drop Back Ten, a man chases a woman and her daughter into the ladies’ room. The five-year-old girl hides in a locked stall, shaking with fear. Her mother, stunningly beautiful even when horrified, asks the man over and over, “What are you doing? What are you doing in here?” until finally the tension is released. . .and he kisses her. This is the point at which the viewer begins to wonder: Was that erotic? Was it violent? And then comes the desire for the remote.
This past Saturday at Images Cinema, Williams alumna Stacy Cochran ’81 presented her newest movie, Drop Back Ten, as part of the Williamstown Film Festival’s (WFF) third season. Cochran’s film contained many moments like the bathroom scene above: some humorous and some disturbing, but all begging for a second look. The opening scenes of the film introduce the audience to out-of-work writer Pete Barnes played by Jon Ritter look alike James LeGros. Pete finally gets a job and is hired to write an article about an up-and-coming 19-year-old actor named Spanks Volney, played by Desmond Harrington. Arriving on the movie set, Pete and meets the director and crew of Spanks’ movie, setting in motion an acerbic but amusing commentary on Hollywood stereotypes.
During the question-and-answer period after the film, Cochran was asked about her biting take on the film world. “Well, I don’t want to get myself in trouble. I’ll just say they’re kind of ripe for being made fun of,” she said with a smile, her honesty provoking several chuckles from the audience.The film’s humor turns darker as Pete discovers more about Spanks’ world. In a whirlwind of coincidences, including suspicious packages delivered to his room, chance meetings on the street, and an attack on Spanks by some unusual “muggers.” Pete becomes aware of a complex web of lies underlying Spanks’ persona, including a twisted relationship with his ex-wife Mindy (supermodel Amber Valetta).
Other than the gripping bathroom scene, the opening of the film is the best moment of the scene. Combining the credits with Pete’s one-sided telephone conversation, the sequence is both involving and hilarious. Cochran commented that the sequence was actually greatly reduced from its elaborate original conception due to budget constraints. However, despite the cuts, the simpler beginning turned out to be fantastic.
Of course, this small budget adversely affected the film in a few small ways. One scene that struck me as having a bit of that “home video” characteristic of some independent films was set in a train station. Cochran explained that the production team had only four hours at the station in which to shoot seven pages, and were rushed beyond belief. Since no one seemed to know when the trains were coming, each scene was shot only once, and the takes had to be hurried through. According to Cochran, one scene was shot so hurriedly that the sound technician looked up afterwards and asked, “Oh. . .were we shooting that?” Needless to say, the sound for the train scene was taken from another shot.
In general, though, the film’s seamless editing and amazing acting belie its low-budget status. The acting quality was especially impressive in light of Cochran’s comment that she doesn’t like to rehearse with actors because “I’m afraid they’ll say it in a way that is so great, it will never be like that again.” Apparently, this strategy workedâ€”the performances by Tate Donovan and Barnes were solid and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Additionally, Valetta broke the mold of the supermodel turned horrible actress, delivering a touching performance. Cochran describes her film as being about “stories inside stories.” Perhaps when it comes out on video, not only can more people appreciate and learn from her multiple levels of meaning, but I can stop wishing for that remote at a movie that was never meant to be seen only once.