I received a VHS tape in the mail around 1992 that featured some short Super8 films conceived, written and created by one Danny Plotnick, whom I was already familiar with as one of the editors of MOTORBOOTY fanzine & as the Film Threat-heralded “King of Super 8”. Plotnick, then as now based in my hometown of San Francisco after most of a life born & raised in Michigan, was making way-underground comedic films via that most passé of mediums, Super 8 film. It was a dying medium then; it’s a dead medium now. Anyway, I quickly become marginally obsessed with one particularly hilarious short on the tape called “STEEL BELTED ROMEOS” , which I’d seen screen before a rock show earlier that year – and which you can and should watch right here.
I memorized the film’s dialog, and when I served as “road manager” (i.e. roadie) for Claw Hammer in 1993 on their North American tour, taught them choice portions of the dialog as well - so much so that when we were cut off by a driver, it was not uncommon that one of us would instantly scream, “Hey youse, what the fuck! Did you see what youse almost done did dere?!?”. A few years later, thanks to a couple particular common connections, Plotnick and his wife Alison and I and my then-girlfriend/now-wife-of-14-years became friends. Danny was sort of “between films”, having recently made his one and only feature, the 1996 “I’m Not Fascinating – The Movie”, a fictionalized fantasy tale about real-life and oft-loathed (though decidedly not by our crew!) band The Icky Boyfriends. I recall that in 1997 at some point, needing his most “straight” friend to play a role, he pitched me on the idea of being in his next film. I’d play a cuckolded husband who got to act my real-life persona of stressed-out businessman while my “wife” was getting busy in softcore form with the Fuller brush man back at our house, before the whole thing abruptly swung into being a preposterous “murder mystery”. That was the pitch. Me. In a movie. Assuming that it was his drink talking, I of course accepted and simultaneously assumed it would never happen.
Oh but it did. “SWINGER’S SERENADE” was shot on 16mm during the early summer of 1998, essentially over the course of a weekend for all of the scenes that involved Alison Faith Levy (Danny’s real-life wife and my pretend one), Miles Montalbano and myself, with my desk and running scenes shot later that week. The scenes with the “narrator/professor” Chris Enright – who memorably was one of the two guido goombahs in “Steel-Belted Romeos” as well – were shot either down in LA, where Chris lived, or somewhere in SF shortly before our weekend. The filming couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I used to egotistically fret a bit that year that whatever “edge” I might have had as a younger man who published fanzines, hosted college radio shows, toured with bands, sang in bands and so on was now either dwindling or gone. I’d just finished my first year in grad school up in Seattle getting an MBA, about as non-punk rock as it came, and I was engaged to be married in a few months. I had recently become estranged from a small contingent of college friends who still partied far harder than I did, through some combination of ham-handedness of my own making and alienating juvenile alcoholic antics of theirs. Being asked to be in an offbeat short film in which I got to dress like some 50s highballer with a cool fedora, despite having never acted before (and if you watch this, you’ll see my wordless performance here could hardly be called “acting”) was at the very least an opportunity to claw back a few style points from the utter depths of lamedom.
Danny worked at San Francisco’s Film Arts Foundation, and had a number of friends and associates from the world of local underground film who helped him out on the set. There was a makeup artist – she’s the reason I look so unbelievably handsome in my skinny suit – a wardrobe person, a person taking still photos for “publicity”, as well as various production assistants of all stripes. There may have been a gaffer and a best boy. As I said, having never seen a film set before, I got to take in the sight of my normally laid-back pal Danny Plotnick in action as he morphed into a supreme taskmaster livewire director, as all directors must. Maintaining order on a set, especially when everyone involved is a friend, has got to be a thankless job. But damn it, the thing wrapped when he said it would, and the whole weekend was fairly painless and actually a hell of a lot of fun. The heavy lifting (editing) came during the rest of the summer and was Plotnick's job alone, and by that time, my fiancé and I were back in Seattle and my film career had already both started and ended in the same four-day period.
The 24-minute “SWINGER’S SERENADE” came out in 1999 and showed at a number of showcase events both in San Francisco and then out on tour in the US & Europe that year and in 2000. It’s a “tawdry tale of suburban sexual malaise” as well as an intentionally discombobulated history lesson on 1950s/60s amateur movie-making. Plotnick filmed an only-slightly embellished version of a script found in a 1960 amateur film magazine, and then had Enright play a pretentious professor with a dubious British accent who over-explains everything that’s going on to the audience. The “meat cleaver” with which I murder my wife (“mystery” aside, that is my hand) is, as you can see, a vegetable scraper. My real wife Rebecca, who helped out on the set, even gets a thank you in the credits. And Plotnick is still making videos and creative little films of all kinds, as you can see here. And me? Well, I have my own IMDB page, and it’s a glorious thing to behold.