I like to put a recent film release in the top ten list, but this year the most impactful cinematic experience I had was sitting at home watching a 6 year old HBO Film on DVD – Moises Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project”.
As some of you know, I have been developing a film based on the life and autobiography of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. It’s a long process in the course of which I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of renowned directors, most recently Kaufman himself, the founder of The Tectonic Theater Project.
Moises was recommended to me by Colin Callender at HBO, for whom Kaufman had made the film adaptation of his play “The Laramie Project” – an examination of the events and more particularly the people connected either to the murder of Matthew Shepard or the town of Laramie, Wyoming. (Matthew Shepard was the gay college student who in 1998 was kidnapped, beaten, and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie and left to die.) Both the film and play came out of more than 200 interviews conducted by Kaufman and other members of the Tectonic Theater Project who traveled to Laramie a mere 5 weeks after the murder.
Talking to residents as varied as the bartender who served Shepard his last drink, the policewoman who untied the body, and a local limousine driver, the plays blends a narrative account of the event with an oral history of the townspeople. A stellar cast including Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Bill Irwin, Laura Linney, Amy Madigan, and Christina Ricci, play the various interviewees with remarkable self-effacement, and as the film proceeds, the many subjects covered – crime, punishment, justice, gay rights, hate, values, pride, AIDS…. and on and on – spread like ripples on a pond.
After ordering the film on Netflix I have to say I had to steel myself for the viewing. But just over an hour and half later I felt I had seen one of the great films of the decade – and one, given its horrific subject, that was handled with remarkable creativity, restraint and life affirmation. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
As a postscript, it should be noted that this year members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what has happened to the community over the last 10 years. From their interviews an epilogue for the play will be created and added to the script.
Additonally, Tectonic’s newest production, “33 Variations”, about a musicologist who becomes obsessed with a mysterious chapter in Beethoven’s life, will open on Broadway on March 5th starring Jane Fonda.