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Eyes Wide Shut and Stonewall

Wednesday, Nov 24 1999
Eyes Wide Shut
I called Philip Kaufman's office and, lo and behold, Northern California's greatest (and shiest) filmmaker answered the phone himself. Back only a few days from London, where he just finished shooting Quills with Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine, and Joaquin Phoenix, Kaufman was uncharacteristically ebullient. "We just had the best time," he exclaimed. "Everything was terrific. Kate Winslet thought it was the best experience she ever had in the film business."

Winslet's point of reference is James Cameron, of course, but I let that slide. After all, the Titanic set was an asylum while Quills is only set in an asylum (where the infamous Marquis de Sade duels with a priest for the affections of a young woman). Winslet's comment must carry some weight, though, since she has some intimate scenes in Quills. When I mused aloud that he'd probably have no problem delivering the R-rated picture his contract requires -- Fox Searchlight is planning a fall 2000 release -- Kaufman laughed ruefully. "We'll see," he said, recalling his previous run-ins with the MPAA. "I've given up on that subject. I never thought Henry and June was an NC-17."

Kaufman raved some more about the shoot: "We found ourselves with dozens or hundreds of friends every day," he said, whether at Pinewood Studios or on the occasional days of location shooting. The director typically does postproduction on his films near his San Francisco abode but to discourage uninvited guests he deflected my question about exactly where this is. "Just say we're quietly editing it back in San Francisco," he said. He was equally coy about whether he will relocate his office to the new San Francisco Film Center in the Presidio, saying he hasn't made a decision yet.

From my skewed vantage point, any film that depicts one-time Supervisor Dianne Feinstein with more dignity and common sense than Sister Boom Boom is suspect. Showtime's carefully mainstream Execution of Justice (premiering Nov. 28) arrives 21 years after double murderer Dan White single-handedly tried to reverse the progressivism then energizing San Francisco politics and culture. In attempting to translate Emily Mann's harrowing Eureka Theater-commissioned play (which was based on the transcripts from White's trial) to the screen, director Leon Ichaso and co-producer/star Tim Daly have made a standard-issue docudrama -- albeit one that's fully (and pointlessly) tricked-out with slow motion, freeze frame, jagged editing, and even interviews with the likes of Tom Ammiano and Corey Busch.

Execution of Justice is at its best conveying White's frustrating lack of purpose and short-fuse psychosis. But San Francisco's emergence as a haven for gays and lesbians -- and all young people's increasing distrust of an out-of-control police force -- is handled in the most simplistic way imaginable. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Times of Harvey Milk should be required viewing within a week of unpacking the VCR in one's first San Francisco apartment. In 17 fewer minutes than Execution of Justice took, the late Richard Schmiechen and Rob Epstein masterfully delineate the forces that propelled Harvey Milk into office and the ensuing power shifts that continue to define San Francisco. It's only one of the best documentaries of all time.

Michael Fox is co-host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.

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Michael Fox


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