Monday, August 04, 2008

Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache "Pittsburgh" (2006).

Not many smaller cities get a film titled after them. It's mostly for that reason that I picked up Pittsburgh, starring Jeff Goldblum. Actually I needed a fourth DVD to qualify for the special, and I had mild interest in the film. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see an informed yet distant perspective of the 'Burgh. Ultimately it turned out to be about the lot of a professional actor who has "outgrown" his hometown, and decides on a lark to come back and make a summer stock production of The Music Man. While Goldblum had been casting about for an interesting project that would merge the documentary approach with fictional elements, the directorial voices (Bradley and LaBrache) are just as significant in the film's production.

For those not familiar with Goldblum's ties to Pittsburgh, it should be pointed out that he was born (1952) in West Homestead. His parents were Orthodox Jews who had an interest in show business. When Jeff turned 17 he split town and never really came back. He studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC. His first roles were bit parts in movies as diverse as Death Wish, Nashville, The Sentinel, and Annie Hall. He seemed to peak creatively in David Cronenberg's 1986 re-make of The Fly. After that he attained financial success in inane blockbusters like Independence Day and Jurassic Park. Presumably his interests have recently returned to smaller idiosyncratic projects.

Pittsburgh gets going with Goldblum's decision, against the strident opposition of his agent, to play the starring role in the Pittsburgh CLO's production of The Music Man. It's fairly clear that his infatuation with a 23-year old Canadian dancer named Catherine Wreford is the impetus for this unconventional career move. Apparently she is having problems retaining her visa, and needs to either get married to Goldblum or find a job in-country. So they present themselves as a package deal to the CLO. What's particularly amusing is that the The Music Man's Pittsburgh producers seem to smell a rat almost immediately. They fear that Goldblum will flake out after committing to the project, and get distracted into some big budget film.

So Goldblum and Wreford actually have to audition for the gig. While Goldblum does indeed have musical talent and has some distant experience in musical theater, it turns out that he has to strenuously prepare for the job. It also seems he must bribe his way on board with the inclusion of his friends Ed Begley, Jr and Illeana Douglas. What originally started as a lark transforms itself into a bit of an ordeal. The play's director accuses Goldblum of being smarmy and over-acting, and even says he thought about shooting the actor to avert an impending failure. The biggest surprise is that all of this is really happening, and what is marketed as a "mockumentary" is really an lot more real than the joke it was intended to be.

Basically everyone in the film plays themselves. There are a couple entirely-contrived subplots including Begley's scheme to involve Goldblum in the marketing of portable solar generators, and a completely fictional (but hilarious) romance between Douglas and rock star Moby. But by and large the narrative traces Goldblum's realization that Pittsburgh musical theater is no joke. While the city itself takes a back seat to the main plot thread, there is a smattering of scenes featuring the Golden Triangle and the end credits depict a visit to Kennywood. However, in the end Pittsburgh is more concerned with portraying Goldblum's self-identity as a "serious actor". It has very little to do with the culture or character of this city.

Extra Special Trivia: The directors state on the commentary that Goldblum originally wanted to title this film Two Pickets to Tits-burgh, which is apparently the punchline to some joke.

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Blogger Dagrims said...

Close, but "two pickets to Tittsburgh" is actually the set-up for a relatively unfunny joke dealing with Freudian slips and insulting one's wife.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I knew someone would have more information on that (although I thought it would be someone from the area)... and I suspected that it was probably a pretty lame joke.


9:26 AM  

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