September 28, 2006
Trio of films offers eclectic choices: sea, spies, punk
Raised in a secular Jewish family in Chicago, "The Guardian" director Andrew Davis learned early the values and ethics he continues to believe in.
"My parents taught me war is not a good thing, so do everything you can to not go to war," he says during a telephone interview. "And it'd be great if the armies of the world could help people and not hurt people."
"The Guardian," which opens on Sept. 29, is about the U.S. Coast Guard's rescue swimmers, of whom there are only about 300 because of the rigorous training and the dangers of the job. Written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff, the film stars Kevin Costner as a heroic but aging swimmer based at Alaska's Kodiak Island. Assigned to training school, he struggles to teach a brash, possibly reckless young recruit played by Ashton Kutcher.
"At this stage of my life or career, I didn't want to make a film about how wonderful it is to kill somebody," says Davis, primarily known for action films, including "Collateral Damage" (2002). "There are no bad people in this movie. Nature and the forces of weather motivate the heroism.
"I've done movies about cops and about soldiers, where violence is part of the tension and the entertainment. My most successful movie is 'The Fugitive,' which starts off with a woman being killed because her husband was not cooperating in drug protocol. That's a very dark environment. So I was glad to make a movie where violence is not a part of it."
Davis' first work on a feature film was as assistant cameraman on Haskell Wexler's groundbreaking "Medium Cool," a political drama shot during Chicago's 1968 Democratic Convention. His directorial debut was 1978's "Stoney Island," based on his brother's experiences growing up white in Chicago's racially changing South Side. Davis also directed "A Perfect Murder," "Under Siege" and "Holes."
Preparations were under way to shoot "The Guardian" in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit last year. The crew evacuated to Shreveport, La., amid the chaos.
"We were six weeks away from shooting," Davis says. "When we arrived at Shreveport, there were 1,000 evacuees at the university gymnasium. So we were in the midst of an evacuation and trying to keep our movie alive. We hired about 200 people all told who had been affected by the storm -- cast and crew."
The Coast Guard, itself, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, was called into action to help those stranded after Katrina. By all accounts, it performed outstandingly -- the Coast Guard's Leadership News cited 24,135 lives saved by its personnel. Katrina inspired Davis: "I thought it was more important than ever to make this film and really point out what these guys do."
"We felt the best thing we could do was maybe try to bring more light on these guys, so hopefully the government will fund them better, and there'll be more of them, and they'll get better facilities to train in," Davis says. "It's an element of the military I do support."
-- Steven Rosen, Contributing Writer
"American Hardcore: A Tribal History"
What would you do if the frustration in your life manifested itself in worries about civil liberties and a lack of freedom of speech, and you felt a combination of repression and depression about the policies and practices of the current political administration? You might be upset enough to write your local government representative or you just might be angry enough to write a punk song.
Steven Blush, author, promoter and now scriptwriter compiled the quotations of around 60 of the most notable American-born hardcore bands in "American Hardcore: A Tribal History." In the book, Blush documents the history of the more hard-edged, second-generation of punk rock. Following up on the book's success, Blush has written and produced a documentary using the same format. The fragmented and frustrated feelings that inspired this music are all too familiar to Blush, from his beginnings as a nice Jewish boy to his sub-culturally-inspired adulthood.
Growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Blush is the son of a typical Jewish family. His parents made sure he was always cared for; he became bar mitzvah and on the cusp of adulthood, they sent him to George Washington University to get a law degree.
One night while in college, Blush went out to a club and became fascinated by something that would change his life -- a band called Black Flag. The group was one of a handful of emerging sub-cultural bands made up of and being followed by a bunch of frustrated and wistful kids with backgrounds similar to Blush's.
Blush remembers, "I had liked groups like the Sex Pistols; they were pure rock 'n' roll out of England, known for being rebellious. Although I loved the music, I had trouble identifying with the scene completely, because most of the people who followed them were either artists, bisexual or heavily into drugs. It really wasn't me; I was just a suburban kid who played basketball."
But after he witnessed the slam dancing -- the raw and often violent tendencies of what was to become standard behavior at hardcore shows -- Blush found his calling. He quickly made friends with everyone in the scene by being the first DJ on the East Coast to play the bands on college radio and by letting touring bands stay on his couch when in town. Blush's life finally had a deeper meaning for him.
He recalls, "My mom tried to give me the best education and surroundings, whatever our resources were, but I never connected to it and never agreed to it. I didn't feel part of the thing. The values in my high school were materialistic, they weren't into the big picture, like politics and free speech. When American hardcore music happened, it was like a perfect storm, it took me over."
Blush was certainly not the only frustrated kid willing to submit allegiance to the hardcore music scene. From 1980 to 1985, the American hardcore subculture rallied support for its cause against yuppies, conservatism, drugs and most especially, the Regan administration. Blush adds, "It turns out I have been shaped by two ethical codes, one from my Jewish heritage, which I learned from my family, and one from being a part of this music scene. Writing the book and doing the movie is studying my life's path."