Sirk and Camp, 90's Style: Tommy O'Haver's "Hollywood
by Tom Cunha
Writer/director Tommy O'Haver's debut feature, "Billy's Hollywood Screen
Kiss" addresses the burning gay dilemma of "is he or isn't he?" Billy is
a lovesick L.A. photographer who stumbles upon a ravishing (and presumably
straight) coffee house waiter Gabriel and soon invites him to model for
his latest project, a series of screen kisses devoted to Old Hollywood.
Billy quickly becomes smitten with Gabriel, whose self-proclaimed
heterosexuality isn't entirely convincing.
"I want to make it like the next 'Crying Game.' Is he or isn't he?,'"
jokes O'Haver, who based the film on some of his own experiences. "It's
fairly autobiographical," he says. "It's sort of based on my straight
crushes. I've had several. There was one in particular, when I made
this short [called] 'Catalina,' which is essentially a short version of
this film. Over the course of that I kind of developed a crush on the
lead actor who was not really interested. So then I decided to expand
the whole idea to this feature length version. The idea is to take a
story that's pretty personal and blow it up on a grand cinematic scale.
It takes something that could happen to anybody and makes it seem like
the most important moment ever experienced in the history of cinema.
That's the idea of the women's melodrama, which I was really watching a
lot of from the '40s and '50s. Movies like 'The Heiress' and 'Letter
from an Unknown Woman.' Those movies are usually about women who can't
have men that they are in love with."
Blended in with the melodrama are some outrageous drag dance sequences
as well as a hilarious supporting turn by Paul Bartel as a prominent
photographer who takes a particularly creepy interest in Gabriel. "I
like to see it as a melodrama, not the negative connotation of the word,
but like a Douglas Sirk film or something that has emotions that are
played to the hilt. It's not like a typical coming out film that resorts
to cheap tactics. That may as well be an afterschool special."
Using his own personal experiences as a starting point for his projects
has ended up working to O'Haver's advantage, though he didn't always buy
into this philosophy. "They tell you to write what you know. For so long
I just thought it was bullshit. Then I did write what I knew. I did
make a personal film and it worked so unbelievably well. I thought,
wow, Maybe I should go in this direction for awhile and it's been good."
"Billy's" received a glowing response when it was first unveiled at this
year's Sundance Film Festival. It peaked the interest of distributors
and was ultimately picked up by Trimark which releases the film today.
O'Haver was raised in Indianapolis, Indiana with initial aspirations of
becoming a film critic ("I was just kind of a movie geek at school"). He
studied journalism and critical studies at Indiana University before
arriving in Los Angeles. He worked as a production assistant on
"Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare," which led to a job in the mailroom
at New Line Cinema. It was during this time that O'Haver wrote a short
called "The Pitch" that was picked up by Showtime and ultimately got him
admitted to USC film school where he went on to make countless other
shorts where he says, he "sort of came out on film." A number of his
shorts have played the festival circuit which led to "Billy's."
O'Haver's next film is going to be "Archie" for Universal Pictures. This
big-screen project will force O'Haver to put aside another idea he'd
been tossing, which sounds like it has marvelous camp potential. "A
college-age remake of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" starring
Elizabeth Berkeley and Tori Spelling." Could this be for real? "It's
kind of tongue-in-cheek," admits O'Haver, "but the more I think about
it, the more I think it would be pretty good."