Tinseltown’s Merciless Maw

Tinseltown’s Merciless Maw

A band, a screenplay and a popular bar are angst and ego enough

In essence, “Overnight” is a low-budget version of VH-1’s “Behind The Music,” depicting filmmaker/musician Troy Duffy’s abrupt rise and precipitous fall. Its two directors, Mark Brian Smith and Tony Montana, were the managers of Troy Duffy’s band and members of his production company, thus privileged spectators of his world. (They include themselves in a “where are they now?” segment towards the end.)

Nominally a cautionary tale about Hollywood, it appeals to spectators’ schadenfreude, reveling in the spectacle of an egomaniac’s demise. As storytelling, it’s pretty gripping. One can’t help feeling, though, that the directors aren’t telling the whole story. I don’t doubt that Duffy is the jerk they portray him to be, but there are several villains here, only one of whom they were able to film.

In 1997, Duffy was working as a bartender at J. Sloan’s, a West Hollywood tavern. He sold a script, “The Boondock Saints,” to Miramax. The company was so enthusiastic about Duffy that CEO Harvey Weinstein agreed to buy him J. Sloan’s. At the same time, Duffy was trying to get his band off the ground. The chip on his shoulder rapidly expanded in the wake of hysterical press coverage of the Miramax deal. (It made the front page of “USA Today.”) As his bar’s hipness quotient continued to inflate, he hung out with actors including Mark Wahlberg. But he couldn’t get a cast together and got into disagreements with Miramax executives. Eventually the studio dropped “The Boondock Saints.” For most people, the story might end there, but Duffy’s downhill trajectory was only getting started.

“Overnight” is not a documentary about the making of “The Boondock Saints.” It includes only two scenes from that film’s shoot and no clips from the finished version. Nor does it include much of his band’s music. No doubt this is due to the impossibility of Smith and Montana getting rights to Duffy’s work for a film that trashes him. Nevertheless, this absence colors “Overnight” by making it impossible to tell whether Duffy has any talent.

Ondi Timoner’s recent documentary “Dig!” paints an unflattering portrait of musician Anton Newcombe while insisting that he’s practically a genius. Smith and Montana are far less generous. The two, who also edited “Overnight,” have a weakness for cheap shots. They intercut Duffy complaining about not being able to find a girlfriend with piggish behavior toward women at a bar. Earlier, Duffy’s speech about his production company’s need to behave responsibly is juxtaposed with their drunken antics. They even use montage to compare him to the cows grazing near a Massachusetts recording studio.

Troy comes off the worst when dealing with his band members. Not coincidentally, the directors had the most access to this part of his life. Although record producer Jeff Baxter, one of the film’s few voices of sanity, thinks that Troy’s guitarist brother Taylor is crucial to the music, Troy acts as though the band is a one-man show. Flush with Miramax money, he refuses to help a member who’s being kicked out of his apartment. He selfishly insists that that other members’ contributions don’t matter nearly as much as his. It’s a wonder that they stayed together long enough to record an album.

“Overnight” shares the same bias toward the producer and against the director as the Miramax-produced TV show “Project Greenlight.” Smith and Montana show a plethora of Duffy’s bad behavior, while Weinstein is a distant voice on the phone. As much of a jerk as Duffy is, Miramax is notorious for acquiring the rights to films and then refusing to release them or cutting them heavily. They held back on Zhang Yimou’s “Hero,” which became a major hit, for almost two years. After Duffy completes “The Boondock Saints,” his rant about refusing to sell them the rights is a rare moment of clarity. However, “Overnight” implies that his personality is largely responsible for his difficulties with Miramax. The number of filmmakers who’ve faced similar problems suggests that he’s not the only guilty party.

As it happens, “The Boondock Saints,” which received a very cursory theatrical release before going to video, has found a cult audience. Googling the title produces 66,500 hits, with Duffy’s official Web site and two fan sites in the first ten. It’s particularly popular with authors of homoerotic fan fiction. Is this a happy ending? You’ll have to watch “Overnight” to find out if he manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again.

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