1959-2003 (APPROXIMATELY)

DANNY SMIGHT

Q: This is a unique topic for a story, and yet the story very timely. What was your inspiration?

A: Last fall, I moved from LA to New York and was eager to do something new, start a project, stay sharp. So, in-between my attempts to settle in – job interviews, resume revisions, sublet searches – this idea of a docu-drama developed; a one day in the life of… sort of thing. Of course, I never intended to dramatize, only to “observe”, but after finding Mr. Harold Tarr - the actor who plays Grant Heller – through an online casting network, I met up with him in Queens and heard his full story. As it turned out, Mr. Tarr was a California transplant himself who spent decades working for the same company, neverneeding a résumé until he quit about a decade ago and began a second career as an actor / performer. Noticing certain parallels between Harold and myself, I decided to write something new, fusing his life with my own, trying to tell a story that was as true for us as anyone else — young or old, employed or retired, American or expat.

Q: The mores of work and career have changed so much over the nearly three generations you cover in the film. Which spoke to you the strongest?

A: This movie was never meant to indict our present culture or lament past work mores, merely to take account of one man’s life and through that account give viewers a better sense of themselves. Of course, there are a lot of assumptions in that credo, and I won’t pretend that 1959 doesn’t make some sort of stab at America, some subtle critique of where we are circa 2013, but I tried to avoid any conscious agenda or social bent as much as possible. If Harold and I did our jobs correctly, than this film is less about American work mores and more about one man’s earnest – if somewhat belated – search for self-fulfillment. Which, hopefully, anyone can relate to.

Q: How do you think the value of work, and what was valued about work, is different in the time frame of the film, and how did you try to show that?

A: Like most people in this country, I was raised by parents who, like their parents before them, followed the standard American paradigm: work hard, save money, retire at 60-65. This is still the dominant mode organizing life here – and elsewhere in the Western world – but as time has passed (and I can only account for the changes I’ve witnessed in my own life) it does seem that the standard model is under pressure from numerous fronts: the Internet, longer lifespans, changing values, less job security, etc. Again, I’m not an expert on socio-economic changes in the continental US, nor am I exempt from my own personal beliefs / cultural blinders but I do know that, amongst my own age group and social set, there is a notable lack of faith in the traditional American package, the paradigm my parents and grandparents followed (and still follow today).

That recourse from this paradigm is just as hard to find at twenty-three as it is at sixty-eight is less a status of the times than a trait of our culture. Resistance to the industrialized life has been there from the beginning (Henry Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener being one of the best examples and an admitted influence on my short) but disapproval takes on a whole new tincture when you look at it outside of these heavy concepts – Economics, Ideology, History – and consider the individual worker, the retired careerist, the lonely widower. This was the story I wanted to tell with1959, the story of one person’s existence within “the system” and his tepid efforts to escape and / or subvert it

Q: When people first enter the workplace, they sometimes bemoan that their whole life is reduced to the contents of a sheet of paper. What does it mean to the central character that, in light of his much longer life, he is experiencing the same thing?

A: It’s a commonly observed fact that working-life, and résumés in particular, rob people of their identities, reducing them to a list of italicized facts. That this is necessary to “survive” (in the working sense) doesn’t temper the fact that you have to hide and / or truncate some part(s) of yourself in order to get hired. Having worked at one company for over fifty years, Grant Heller has been abbreviated – in job title, in sense-of-self, in social life, in schedule – most of his life. The task of writing a résumé awakens him to this fact, but he’s had other reminders for a while now: firstly, his routine, the same old cycle still dragging on, filling time, bereft of any eminent purpose. Grant is a man in a rut, so to speak, and his condition is both a side effect of a life spent in the office as well as a symptom of “modern times”. 

We live in a highly developed and seemingly rational world in which time and space have been compressedfor the sake of convenience. I’m currently writing these answers to your questions on the notes section of my iPhone while in flight from LA to NY, 35,000 ft in the air. When I land, I’ll email these words to myself, check for spelling errors, maybe change the font, then send them off again, all from my phone, in a matter of hours. So, from direct experience, I know this world moves faster than it used to, even five years ago, and is only accelerating everyday, growing exponentially but being compressed because of this growth. Part and parcel of this compression is the loss of nuance, the erasure of detail, the growing gap between image and reality. Whether watching TV, writing an email, checking the weather, talking to friends, real life must be attenuated, altered, channeled into a slimmer, more digestible form in order to accommodate the split-second commotion of the 21st century. 

Why does this happen? Well, there’s many reasons, too many reasons to enumerate, but if technology doesn’t exist for the sake of making us sane, productive citizens, than it’s there to sustain the 7 billion or so citizens currently on this Earth, occupying x amount of space, vying for food and land and that ever-elusive happiness. This isn’t necessarily a bad or a good thing, it just is, but, nonetheless, people are still affected and life has changed, irrevocably, because of our growth. So, on a more ambitious and maybe far too abstract level,1959 attempts to depict this modern “divide”, to capture the friction between stereotype and self, résumé and identity, routine and real life. Those are vague topics under a vaguer thesis but I’ll avoid going into further detail so as to spare the viewer any highfalutin ideas that might interfere with the film. Because, again, this is a movie about life as it’s lived – in the present, amidst ads and sirens and silence and traffic – not an argument for or against America or a Luddite’s denouncement of technology (in fact, I made this film with digital equipment so the very tendency of compression I was talking about earlier (reality to words — words to images) was perpetrated in the shooting / editing of this film, which attempts to winnow down the fullness of reality for the duration of a short film). Hopefully, some of this came across in the finished product

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Home 2013 Filmmaker Interviews 1959-2003 (Approximately)
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