Houses played at The Sarasota Opera House on Day Two of the Sarasota Film Festival. Directed and co-written by Jenner Furst, tonight’s screening was a World Premiere. The film had never been shown to a ticket buying public before tonight. In fact the film is so new, that the hastily produced poster only arrived in the film’s publicist, Dayle Hoffman‘s hands today.
The star of the film is veteran actor Nick Sandow, who you will recognize as the same actor who plays Joe Caputo on the hit TV Series – Orange is the New Black. Sandow also co-authored the film script.
Houses is a layered film. The subject of the title is actually houses – the kind that we live in, the kind made of stone, cement, plaster, wood, and other construction materials. We live out our lives in houses, and this is also a foundation of the film.
But there are other, more interior kinds of houses. For example, our bodies are houses – and there are rooms within these houses for our friends, our lovers, our passions, hates, successes and failures. Like a turtle carries his house around with him, so too do we carry around our personal interior houses.
Now for those of you with long memories, or those of you who go back to the days of the beat poet Allen Ginsburg, or the On the Road author Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti – founder of The City Lights Bookshop, this film will resonate for you.
In fact, it was Ferlinghetti’s book of poems called Far Rockaway of the Heart that was a major inspiration for the film. The film has only just received Ferlinghetti’s sign off to quote his poetry in the film:
Nick Sandow, who plays a theatrical director in the film, named Nick, quotes from Ferlinghetti:
Walking through the house of yourself
You climb to all the rooms of yourself
Full of the other lives and cells that have passed through them
Rooms, rooms, rooms
Piled up haphazard
In the architecture of time
All the people of your life,
in one house, in the night, all lights lit
Like a cruise ship
Some day, as time bends around
You find them all again,
In fact, nearly every thing in the film is multi-tiered – both fact and fiction, melded together. Nick’s real life wife, Tamara Malkin-Stuart, plays his on-screen wife Tamara. Their actual children, Sasha and Sterling portray the on-screen couple’s children. What’s more – the home in which a majority of the film was shot – is Nick and Tamara’s real life home.
Nick Sandow has a real life friend. That would be John Ventimiglia, who once upon a time, appeared in 37 episodes of The Sopranos, as Artie Bucco. In Houses, Ventimiglia plays a character named Johnny – a part-time cook, and a one time excellent actor. He’s fallen on hard times as his beach front home in Breezy Point was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
So within this context – John’s character has experienced the loss of an actual brick and mortar house. As he says – My home was destroyed the storm, and my life got reclaimed by the fucking sea.
He is at loose ends. Nick had to fire a miserable actor in the play he is directing at the Off Off-Broadway venue – The St. Marks Playhouse at 80 St. Marks Place. Nick commutes into the city from his Bergen Street home, where he is now putting John up. So he asks John to take on the role.
Of course, Ventimiglia has real life fiends too. One would be Steve Shirripa and the other would be Michael Imperioli, who once upon a time played the never to be forgotten Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos.
Here, in Houses, Schirripa plays Gene a friend of Lenny (Imperioli). Lenny is somewhat lost – he’s paranoid, and lost, and rarely ventures from his own house – in a sense he is a prisoner of his past which prevents him from really living in the present.
Schirripa’s character Gene is very much like Steve’s character in The Sopranos – Bobby Bacala – who devoted much of his life to caring for Junior Soprano.
So Nick Sandow finds a Ferlinghetti book of poetry on a bookshelf in his home. He reads the poem that was quoted about and thinks there could be a movie within. He brings it to his friend Jenner Furst. Together the are able to create a script. According to Jenner Furst – they got no outside financing. His wife Julia Willoughby Nason is also the film’s producer. With not much money to work with – they used the Sandow home and family (wife and kids).
The trio of Soprano alumni all worked for SAG minimum scale wages – like $100 dollars a day. Likely the rest of the cast, if they were SAG members also worked for scale. Furst told us tonight, that he hasn’t a distributor yet, but that he has high hopes.
In my view the film took a while for me to be able to wrap my mind around it. It was slow and difficult initially.
Do you recall a line from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – when Henrik Vanger is asking Mikael Blomkvist to investigate an old case. He told him that he will be investigating thieves, misers, and bullies
The most detestable collection of people who you will ever meet – my family.
Yeah, that’s how I felt about this motley crew early on in the film.
Even Nick Sandow, in the Q & A following the screening, said after co-writing the script and production had already begun – that this could be a film that would elicit a WTF! kind of reaction. But he changed his mind. As did I.
For me, the story coalesced when Lenny gave away all the artifacts of his past – the detritus of what was physically in the house. As he would say to Nick – You have to let go of things, to get rid of things.
And that was the World Premier of Houses. Was it a glass house that enabled us to see into people’s souls, or was it more like a three-dimensional game of tic-tac-toe where every move would leave a trail of wrecked emotions, or was it simply a story of real people playing imaginary people against the back drop of homes and lives torn and twisted by real life storm courtesy of Mother Nature.
If you are thinking that this is all gloom and doom – there really is plenty of that. But the word ALL definitely doe not apply. There were many laugh-out-load moments just as there was many moments of intense emotionality. The film has its moments of searing intensity, which paired off against some funny situations involving kids, and dogs, and the sometimes over indulgence in feeling sorry for yourself.
Above all – the film looks and sounds good and surely has a good amount of sensitivity to the fact that within all our homes – either the kind we live in, or the kind that lives within each of us – there lies a tender heart.
I can’t say where you might have an opportunity to see this film, but if you are near Sarasota, the film will have another screening on Sunday April 19th at 12:15 PM.
Until you can see the film, see if this trailer intrigues you …