Monday, August 9, 2010

Andrew Mungo and the fame game

This is the story of two Andys. The first one came up with the insight — prescient, now a cliche — that in the future everyone would be famous for oh, just about a quarter of an hour. And he became very famous indeed, Andy, almost as famous as the amazing Lindsay Lohan is today. The other Andy has a peculiar relationship with celebrity. Unlike Andy I, a genuinely revolutionary artist who became famous the world over for being famous, Andy II is very well known, famous you could say, but only within narrow geographical constraints. Call him a local celebrity. If you’ve been in the city for a while, chances are that you know him. You’ve probably given him money for a good time. He's been a fixture in downtown Blueberryport for more than three decades .... What's that? Yeah, right, Blueberryport. That’s what our Andy — Andrew Mungo, the owner (and the guy behind the ticket counter and sometimes behind the projector and popcorn machine) at The Screening Room — calls the community that looks an awful lot like Newburyport in “Thanks for Listening, A Memoir," a film that has been in the works for a decade and that will make its big-screen debut this week. Not at the alt-hip downtown cinema, but just up the street, at a meeting of the Newburyport Public Library's Film Club.

So, somewhat famous Andrew Mungo, what gives with this Blueberryport business, anyway? You don't love us anymore, you embarrassed by us, you? "It's not because I don't love the area because I do," he says. "It's a wonderful area, but that's not the point of the film. It's not about a place, it's about a character." And that character, of course, would be Mr. Mungo himself. The 76-minute film is a visual memoir, part biography, part documentary, peppered with stories from his youth, his life as a former Catholic boys school expellee and juvenile delinquent from Lawrence, also not mentioned by name in the film — like getting thrown out of a bookie joint, running into an old flame who had become a drug-addled hooker and the ongoing trauma caused by his mother's insistence that he had a freakishly large head.

This is actually the third incarnation of "Thanks for Listening." Mungo started the project eight years ago with Rain Breau, daughter of Screening Room projectionist and almost-famous street musician Jack Garvey, in the director's chair. The project came to a disastrous end when the film got snatched during a burglary at Breau's home in Los Angeles. Mungo doesn't like the phrase "disastrous." He prefers to think of the loss of years of work as "an opportunity to start fresh." He connected with Salem filmmaker Amie Spiridigliozzi-Keefe to reimagine the film in 2005, then three years later, with an all-but-finished reel in their hands, they decided they had to reinvent the project one more time, reshooting and recutting it in the now-mandatory high-definition format.

It's done now. Finally. But not exactly. Or, as the star of the show says, "It's finished, but it will change," making Andy II sound a more than a little bit like Andy 1. Actually, they'll be shooting additional footage tomorrow, just two days before the film flickers on the screen for the first time. Which, for the record, is not an official debut, but more of a focus group thing, giving Mungo a chance to test public reaction and get some feedback. There'll be some tweaks before a final cut is released early next year.

Then, as now, Mungo is likely to remain only somewhat famous. "I'm not under any illusion," he says. But if the film gets a bump on the festival circuit and is marketed properly — and after three decades in the movie business, Mungo's got the connections — he could, at least in theory, expand his fame beyond Blueberryport, beyond Amesburyport and the shores of Salisburyport and perhaps "carve out a bigger niche of the niche market nationally," maybe in  the arty subcultures of Deluthport, Austinport and even Ann Arborport.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Newburyport Public Library Film Club will screen “Thanks for Listening, A Memoir" by Andrew Mungo at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at the library. The screening is free. A discussion will follow. Call 978-465-4428 for more information.

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