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TEN HUNDRED KINGS (director/writer/editor: D. W. Maze; cinematographer: Nils Kinisten; editors: Jim Towne/Sabine Hoffman; cast: Elizabeth Marvel (Caroline), Bill Camp (Paul), Lynn Cohen (Ann Shephard), Malachy McCourt (Fred Shephard), Adam Lefevre (Frankie); Runtime: 80; Granis; 2001)
“It is easily one of the better films I have seen this year.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A brilliant and moving indie drama filmed on a shoestring budget of $400,000, money allocated from the Actors Guild. It took 28 days to film in NYC. The creator, D. W. Maze, used only one take for all his shots in order to save expenses. It took six months for the film’s producer Jim Towne and the director/writer Maze to edit, while Sabine Hoffman helped on the editing for six weeks. Maze mentioned that if he had it to do over again, he would use guerrilla filming techniques to have a less glossy look. The tradeoff is that would allow him the ability to edit daily and reshoot scenes. As far as I could tell, there is only the abrupt happy ending scene I would have edited. Otherwise, the film had a tension that made all these one take scenes seem honest, fresh and gripping.

The film has not been released as of yet, but has been going around to film festivals. I saw it at the Williamstown Festival. That is the fifth and probably last festival it will play, as it either must find a distributor after a year of festivals or risk the possibility of never getting released. The director, a 1994 graduate of Williams College, came from LA to be at the festival, where he discussed his film afterwards–which justifiably received great audience acclaim. He mentioned that some cable TV networks might be interested in it if the nude scenes are removed. This prompted Maze to jest that the film in order to get a release could be retitled “Blind Babe’s Boobs” in imitation of a Hong Kong film.

The drama centers around a married couple undergoing a strained relationship, each keeping secrets about themselves from the other. For Paul, his grief has grown ever since their young son died from a car accident when he took the child to the park. Caroline Shepard (Marvel) has been blind since childhood. When her mother died and her alcoholic father couldn’t raise her, older brother Frankie did. He has since become a NYC policeman, but doesn’t have the inner strength to look out for Caroline anymore. She feels she can’t turn to him anymore for consolation. He, also, never liked the smugly intellectual Paul and therefore is not disturbed that the couple might be separating. Paul Shephard (Camp) is an Ivy League graduate, an intellectual and a taciturn man who is deeply hurting and can’t communicate anymore with his wife. He once loved her so much that he volunteered not to go into his chosen profession as a classical scholar, but instead worked for his father as a housepainter. He did this to earn money to put his wife through law school and as a result still works as a housepainter.

Paul reacts poorly to his wife telling him in the middle of their sex act, that she’s not enjoying it. He goes for a walk in Central Park, and the surprise is that he’s not about to get mugged when approached by a threatening looking gang–but that he buys drugs from these thugs. This heroin habit is something Caroline doesn’t know about him. It’s an interesting role for Camp, since Maze mentioned that Camp was a former heroin user (it is one of the reasons he took the part). Whether it’s acting or his life experience speaking, he is very genuine in this role and draws a very deep picture of someone losing a grip on himself. He’s going through a deep meditation on his life as he brings back memories from his childhood to the present and how his life has veered off course because he feels guilty about his son’s death and about his love life.

In Caroline’s career decision to be part of the corporate world, she philosophizes that she made that choice because it is easy for her to compromise some of the things she believes in order to get what she wants. It has been her nature to view the world ever since childhood as a hostile place and she has learned to live by compromise and by being dependent on others to help her. Her aim is always to carve out for herself as independent a life as she can. In one shot the screen fades to black as the viewer sees the world as darkly as she does for the moment, as she asks a stranger on the platform what subway train has just come into the station. She’s dependent on others giving her the right information, whether at home or on the street or among the staff at the law firm she works for. It’s also revealed that she married Paul not because she loved him, but because of the stability he offered.

The film looked great, its script was well thought out and intelligently done, and even though the actors were not household names they were all superb. Marvel is known as an intellectual actress, someone who usually works in the theater and has garnished Obie awards. Camp was a good counter-balance to Marvel, as the couple is fighting through their selfish secret lives, the lies they are insidiously living with and the real love they have for each other. Incidentally, Marvel and Camp have a real-life longtime romantic relationship.

One of the outstanding scenes was when Camp returns when tipsy to his childhood home and those awful memories of his childhood come back to haunt him in the presence of his parents (Lynn Cohen & Malachy McCourt), who don’t understand him and the love they offer seems misdirected.

This is a deeply emotional film with many complex layers, it is the kind of film that Hollywood can’t make because they believe there isn’t an intelligent audience that wants to see films like this one. That is precisely why such a heavy and intense film like this one, that takes risks and is unafraid that it does not fit into a niche market, deserves an audience. It is easily one of the better films I have seen this year.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”