Bobby (Jason Liebrecht) joins the party with Susan (Nicol Zanzarella) in Home, the feature film debut of film and TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, showing at the Pioneer Theater from Thursday, March 2 through March 8.
Movie critic takes directors seat in Home
By Steven Snyder
Matt Zoller Seitz said he was always one of those people at parties who observed the action from the sidelines, taking in the stories and characters that only seem to come alive when alcohol, friends, and streams of strangers all mix together.
So perhaps it was no surprise that when this New York Press film critic set out to make his first feature film, he wrote and directed a story steeped in sociology.
Its a zoological drama, really, Seitz said. Im less interested in what these people are saying
its how theyre interacting that matters more.
I wanted people to get through the entire movie without revealing their last names it creates a zoo.
His final vision does one better than create a zoo. Home, scheduled to open at The Pioneer Theater next Thursday, denies all of its 50-plus characters last names, many of them first names and sees this swinging house party from the eyes of a voyeur, the camera entering a Brooklyn Brownstone over the shoulder of Bobby, a stranger, invited to the bash by a friend of a friend.
Most memorable about Seitzs world is how perfectly he picks up on the different acts of a partys existence. First, theres the small gathering of wine-sippers and chit-chatters. Then, as more people show, the music gets turned up and the dancing begins, the party spreads out between the houses many floors and its back yard, and tension starts to mount amongst the drunk men, a bickering couple that arrived to the party mid-fight and the partys singles who kick their flirting into high gear. He even captures the intoxicating peace of a post-party house with only a few partiers left, as the mess is cleaned and the clock runs out on both the hopeful and dejected lovebirds.
Though Home excels as an observant social document, Seitz is quick to dismiss the party concept as less a stroke of genius than a choice made out of economic necessity.
The budget for the film is what the catering costs were for one day of Brokeback Mountain, Seitz chuckled, explaining that he needed a cheap concept for Home that would limit the number of the films locations. The only situation where I could have a lot of characters in one apartment building is a party, so there you go.
The story of a party, however, helped Seitz artistically in unexpected ways. A fan of Robert Altman, he was able to stage the film with overlapping storylines and dialogue. He also said the more his actors embraced their characters, the more they improvised on the script and approached Seitz with proposed changes. In one instance, he even altered the ending of the movie based on the thoughts of leads Nicol Zanzarella and E. Jason Liebrecht, who play the partys host and the stranger who arrives at the party sporting a suit.
I hate exposition, Seitz said. I dont care about that, I care about the behavior of the characters in that particular moment how close are those two characters talking, does she touch his sleeve?
And, as it turns out, thats also what matters most to actors, or at least the actors that worked on this story, he said. So I couldnt pay them much, but I paid them in freedom that, and a sandwich.
Originally a film student at Southern Methodist University near Dallas, Seitz said he fell into journalism by accident, and as a critic has always seen through a filmmakers eyes, favoring form over content. He said his favorite single shot in Home is a long take that first zooms out to reveal a romantic rendezvous and then pans up, to show a third character observing the scene from a second-story window. He quickly added: Thats my shout out to John Frankenheimer. Hes a hero of mine and I ripped off one of his most spectacular shots.
Set to screen at two more film festivals before seeking nationwide distribution on DVD, Seitz said he never really imagined that Home would be widely seen. And he points to the films appearance at a dozen film festivals, as well as a select group of avid Home fans, as the real indicators of his first features success.
The movies got its own life and its own odd little personality, he said. It feels familiar, but unfamiliar and its the kind of movie that if you show it to 10 people, probably one of the 10 is going to become a raving fanatic and I know because these people email me.
Seitz said that at some festivals, people who have even seen the screener have then showed up at the screening, eager to revisit the party on the big screen. And some of these fans write him, wondering if they have interpreted the story, and the characters, correctly.
Why such a small ratio of converted fanatics?
Its a difficult movie in at least one sense, Seitz said. You have to give yourself over to its peculiarities and its rhythms and intricacies
the structure is all subterranean and intricate in the way a poem is, with motifs and images and dialogue and themes that run throughout.
He admitted that subtlety, though, does not always work. In todays environment, you need to kick people in the nuts, but Im not that much of a nut kicker, he said.