Sex and Death and the Whole Damn Thing: Gary Walkow and "Radio Mary"

by Dan Sallitt


28 Nov 2017

American independent director Gary Walkow started good and got better. We discuss his new film, "Radio Mary", starring Kate Lyn Sheil.

MUBI is hosting the exclusive global premiere of Gary Walkow's Radio Mary (2017), which will be showing November 28 - December 28, 2017.


Gary Walkow’s filmmaking career has a peculiar shape. For a while he looked like a low-key American indie success story waiting for his breakthrough. His first feature The Trouble With Dick shared the Grand Prize at the 1987 US Film Festival, which was renamed to Sundance a few years later. Notes From Underground (1995), a modern-day Dostoyevsky adaptation, premiered at Toronto and got good reviews and a modest bit of distribution; but Beat (2000), with Kiefer Sutherland and Courtney Love as Bill and Joan Burroughs, had a rocky reception at Sundance and seemed to mark the end of Indiewood’s flirtation with Walkow. After a hiatus that included an unfinished film, Walkow’s career began a second, more clandestine phase with Crashing (2007), a very low-budget comedy that eventually received DVD distribution, boosted by a cast that included Campbell Scott and Lizzy Caplan. Since then, Walkow has operated almost invisibly, making a series of inexpensive features that have rarely screened at festivals and never been acquired for distribution. 

On the bright side: Walkow started good and got better, and his obscure filmography is as impressive as that of any American director of his time. As his budgets and crew sizes have diminished, the careful framing of the early films has yielded to a somewhat more spontaneous visual style; but his instinct for composition in depth never falters. He generally develops his story ideas through repetition, doubling, and other tricks with mirrors that seem like the signs of writerly excess, but that in Walkow’s hands create shifting layers of reflexivity that are the heart of the movies rather than an adornment of them.  

I’ve been Gary’s friend and sounding board for almost 35 years, and generally feel as if I know his artistic strengths and inclinations. But I have no idea where Radio Mary came from or where he’s been keeping that side of his creative self, even though I watched the movie take shape. Based on a novel that was based on one of Walkow’s dreams, the movie quietly dissolves the conventions that keep most horror movies in our comfort zone. We meet Mary (the brilliant Kate Lyn Sheil) as she prepares to go to her Century City office job, using a tea bag retrieved from her garbage can for her morning tea. We know this Everywoman must go through some changes to earn her titular status, but greatness is never thrust upon her. Instead, she is almost immediately reduced to the plaything of Hayward (Eric Gorlow), a malevolent supernatural figure who casts Mary into a shadow world between dream and reality, where she becomes a helpless accomplice to his serial killings. (The film’s title is literal: Hayward uses Mary as a receiver to play music, thus commandeering the soundtrack at will.) The question posed by Mary’s victimhood is not whether she will free herself—resistance seems impossible—but rather to what extent Hayward can co-opt her emotions as well as her actions.  

The protracted section in which Mary tries to grasp whether Hayward is real or a figment of her unconscious gives Walkow the opportunity to indulge his sense of narrative play. He cycles through variations on is-it-a-dream trickery until the ludic excess comes out the other side and the film arrives at a state of abstraction where the dream/reality opposition has no importance. Our confusion as we pass through this hall of mirrors is also a trap for our identification. As Mary is drawn into Hayward’s sphere of power, the possibility that none of what she experiences is real makes her obedience seem natural and inconsequential, as it is in dreams. The trap is fully sprung in the extraordinary scene in which Mary, in her nightdress, stands on the edge of the room as Hayward plays cat-and-mouse with the screenwriter Tony (Matthew Brenher), whose house he has invaded. To the accompaniment of pulsing dance music that Hayward channels through Mary, Hayward demands that the hesitating Mary abandon her spectator’s posture and join the killer and victim on the sofa. “If I don’t move, maybe I’m not here,” thinks Mary on the soundtrack, clinging to the role of audience to this genre movie. But finally Mary obeys her dream, leaving the rest of us spectators behind and very slowly assuming her supporting role.  

Mary’s submission and Hayward’s dominance are charged with sexuality, and Walkow chooses to make the connection explicit. He gives the sadistic Hayward the answer to every question and the cool to dominate every situation, and uses Hayward’s control of the music track to give us direct pleasure from our identification with the killer. No less focused on the flip side of the psychosexual coin, Walkow cements the natural link between Mary’s passive role and the audience’s passivity by means of Mary’s omnipresent inner monologue, which evokes our compliant relationship with horror movies. The voluptuousness of Mary’s masochism is so akin to eroticism that the film barely has to break its stride when Hayward actually has sex with Mary. Tormented by a sense of her complicity, Mary is no more able to disclaim responsibility for the sex than for the killings in which she participates: “He takes me, and I let him.” But any pleasure she might feel within her nightmare is just bait on the hook, and cannot transform the horror film into a fantasy: the film’s trance-like ecstatic vision of sex and violence is wedded to its disturbing subjective depiction of Mary’s Hayward-induced insanity. One scene in particular, in which Mary spirals into paralyzing self-consciousness during a session with her therapist (Ilka Urbach), puts Walkow’s cyclical verbal and visual riffing in the service of a persuasive vision of hell.  

In the film’s second half, a broken Mary is ejected from Hayward’s dream world and left in the hands of the police, implicated in the murder of her sometime boyfriend Rand (the appealing Daniel Kaufman, also the cinematographer). Here the film pivots to suggest an old-fashioned damsel-in-distress narrative, as Mary attracts the personal and professional interest of the sympathetic detective Tom Reese (Dylan McCormick). Mary’s resignation to her fate gives her an almost Hawksian detachment that enhances the appeal of her victimhood. With no hope of rescue, she acquires a degree of wit and control that can be interpreted either as identification with Hayward’s power or as her having nothing left to lose. Describing her relationship with Hayward to Tom, she says with bemused understatement, “He’s taken a certain interest in me, and I’ve found it very difficult to dissuade him.” No longer much concerned with her welfare, she gives herself the consolation prize of rejecting the protection of her sister (Sherill Turner) and brother-in-law (Napoleon Ryan), shooing them away from her apartment with an exaggerated hand gesture; spotting the cop who is staking her out, she walks up to his car and waves hello. For Mary, the movie has ended unhappily before its actual conclusion: her poignant goodbye to Tom after their nighttime conversation in his car is already a missive from the next world.  

Without giving away the action climax (a showcase for Walkow’s skill at articulating spatial relationships), suffice it to say that the business of rescuing the damsel from the dragon doesn’t work out quite the way the film’s second half led us to hope, and that its heretofore traditional structuring of gender and power breaks down surprisingly.  


The following interview with Walkow was conducted via email.




NOTEBOOK: What do you remember about the dream that gave birth to Radio Mary?  

GARYWALKOW: The initial impetus was a dream of a woman in prison, who was in great jeopardy. I felt responsible in some way. Perhaps I was a detective. The dream left me with a great feeling of unease and guilt. I started writing, very episodically, with no plan in mind.   

As the writing coalesced into a novel, there were three major strands: 1. Tom Reese, a homicide detective, who gained fame from capturing a serial killer nicknamed the Monkey Man. 2. Hayward, the Monkey Man's nephew, who wanted to avenge his uncle by killing all those associated with capturing or profiting from his uncle. 3. Mary, a legal secretary, who crosses paths with Hayward and Tom Reese.  

I tried writing a script from the novel and it just didn't work. Then, much later, I had another dream. This one was about the novel. The insight I got from the dream was that, instead of making Detective Reese an anchor for the story, if the story was from Mary's POV it would be unmoored, floaty, mysterious. At that point I hadn’t thought of the book in years. I lay in bed and played this alternate version in my head. Then, at my computer, I excised all of the Reese chapters in ten minutes. Suddenly it seemed like a movie.  

So there were two dreams. One that started the novel. And a second dream that was a vision of how the book could be a movie.  

NOTEBOOK: I know that you've been interested in the Charles Manson mythology for a long time, and Hayward seems like the realization of that interest.  

WALKOW: Yes. After I wrote the Radio Mary novel, I wrote a screenplay about Charlie Manson. The story was structured as found footage of a UCLA MFA student who set out to make what he hoped would be a California version of A Hard Day's Night, centering on an up and coming charismatic singer-songwriter, Charles Manson. As the documentary proceeds, things get weirder and scarier. Eventually feeling his life threatened, the filmmaker abandons the project. Years later, the filmmaker's daughter assembles the footage. This structure made ellipsis quite natural. No footage of the Tate killings -- it's a ticking bomb and it's entirely offscreen. The only violent act in the script is Charlie punching someone on the nose.  

The sixties are a period that fascinate me, and Manson is the guy who pulled the curtain down on the era. Maybe he's a channel for or to or from my id. If there is such a thing as an id. Or my inner sociopath. I'm not the best one to try and explain it (self-knowledge only goes so far) but it's a voice that I can do.  

So, yes, Hayward is an incarnation of a Mansonesque character.  

In the novel, Mary is committed to a mental hospital, and Hayward is an orderly working in the hospital. Hayward has a crew of mental patients that he takes out with him at night to do bad things. Very much in the mold and mood of the Manson family. But all that got stripped away for the movie.  

NOTEBOOK: The threat to Mary within the movie seems to emerge from her dream world, and you get a lot of mileage out of blurring the line between dreams and reality. Was this part of the novel as well? Did the dream origin of the project make you think of using dreams as a structural element?  

WALKOW: Yes, dreams and blurred lines are an important part of the novel. Dreaming as a structural element wasn't given a lot of thought -- it was part of the book's DNA. Dreams, interior landscapes, fantasies have often been elements of my work. In Radio Mary they are at the core.  

NOTEBOOK. You've been working with a very small crew for a while now. How hard was it to adjust to that?  

WALKOW: The adjustment came pretty easily -- from Beat, which was $2.2 million, 35mm, and shot at a distant location in Mexico, to Crashing, which was under $10K, digital, and shot primarily in my apartment in Santa Monica with a four-person crew. I bounced up to a bigger budget again with Callers. But my two recent documentaries, Chasing Flavor and Existential Risk, have taken the transition to small crews as far as it can go. I shot these films myself, sometimes with a sound recordist, but more often completely alone. There's a real intimacy when I am the only person in the room doing the filming. Joe Swanberg was the impetus and inspiration for this mode of filmmaking. Filmmaking now seems relatively easy when I have a crew. A five to eight-person crew works beautifully. Once the crew gets over ten then you need a support staff, so things start spiralling bigger.

The advantage of a small crew is the great mobility and the ability to quickly adjust to opportunities presented by location, light, and the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

One aspect of Radio Mary, which was shot with a core crew of five, was that the lead actors were available for the run of the shoot so there was great flexibility as to what we could shoot on any given day.

The downside of working with small crews is getting typecast as a low-budget filmmaker. I believe it was David Thomson who said, of Edgar Ulmer, that once you demonstrate the ability to make low budget movies you get locked into doing just that. As if I would have a problem making a one or two or five million dollar movie.  


NOTEBOOK: Kate Lyn Sheil gives a beautiful performance as Mary. Did you have any particular directions for her, or did you give her her head?  

WALKOW: Kate had a complete conception of the character and was giving a full performance from the first scene on the first day. We began production with the first scene in the movie (Mary waking, making a cup of tea). Things went so well that we shot the final scene with Hayward in Mary's apartment on the first day, which I had scheduled for much later in the shoot. Eric Gorlow was performing at the same level on the first day. I've never had a first day where extra scenes, and crucial ones at that, were filmed.  

Six months earlier I began shooting the film with a different cast, and was so unhappy with the result that I stopped production. It was wonderful to begin production again with Kate. It felt right from the very first frame we filmed.  

Sometimes I would make small adjustments, but mostly I felt blessed with the great good fortune of having Kate in front of the camera. You really do need the casting gods to smile down upon you, and this time they did. For me it was a perfect fit of actor and role.  

NOTEBOOK: A lot of good actors would have tried to project strength to balance out the role, but Kate works within the uncomfortable sexual dynamic. The bare bones of the plot suggest a damsel-in-distress thriller.  

WALKOW: The distress is shape-shifting and complex. The boundary between what is inside of Mary's head and what is outside of it is permeable and uncertain. Mary is complicit. Her surrender to the distress is at the heart of the story. "He takes me and I let him."  

NOTEBOOK: The Tom Reese character seems to be trying to resolve the simpler damsel-in-distress movie rather than the film of complicity. And casting Dylan McCormick, who projects decency and stability so well, reinforces the audience’s hope for a clean genre conclusion. Does Tom Reese do any better a job of stabilizing the novel than he does the movie?  

WALKOW: Tom definitely stabilized the novel as it was originally conceived. In the novel, Hayward is intent on killing Reese as part of the elaborate payback for the incarceration of his uncle (a notorious serial killer). When Tom Reese crosses paths with Mary in the Century City lunch court, Hayward observes their interaction and shifts his interest to Mary. From that point on, the three points of view (Tom Reese, Mary, Hayward) triangulate.   

NOTEBOOK: What projects have you worked on since Mary?

WALKOW: I've made four features since, two narrative (Caffiend, Be My Baby), two documentary (Chasing Flavor, Existential Risk). All four films connect. 

A big project has been to become a competent shooter. I filmed Chasing Flavor and Existential Risk. I'm now shooting a new film. It's been the most productive period of my career in terms of getting films made. 





This excerpt is from Iain Sinclair's "American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light" 

 I played the Beat DVD I found in the Croydon charity pit.

The replay of a double-death memoir was hypnotic. Much truer to source than Cronenberg’s respectfully overimagined account of Naked Lunch or any of the implausible translations from Kerouac into Hollywood. A palpable lack of budget pared Gary Walkow’s film down into rigorous close-ups, brown rooms with low ceilings, a script made from quotations. And postcards from Mexico: an empty road, a river, the distant volcano.

Walkow’s Beat was my passport to the Land of the Dead. A slim plastic wallet with a pixilated portrait of a man in a hat, who looked about as much like Burroughs as I do.

The actors, none of whom resemble their originals, sleepwalk with listless conviction, repeating lines they appear to have received under a general anaesthetic. Kiefer Sutherland makes a pass at that cryogenic Burroughs voice of world-weary cynicism, hot ash in the throat: a man who has come back from the abyss with grumbling haemorrhoids.  The tapeworm of raw meat sex stays at the bottom of the Mescal bottle, untasted. Too much human flesh at the end of the fork.

Here is a narrative framed between the formal austerity of Bresson and the rum psychosis of Jim Thompson. Lucien Carr, the blond boy of New York, stabs and kills his stalking predator, Dave Kammerer. A paradox frames my sense of America: impossible spaces, claustrophobic cabins. Kammerer is actively on Carr’s tail (rubbing him with cash money, booze), while Burroughs, implicated in every action, plays witness and confessor. I’m back again in Gloucester, staring at Leon Kroll’s painting of the two women and the sun-drowned man. A configuration in which the rape or betrayal or act of liberating violence has not yet happened.

Two deaths. Kammerer as he tries to mount Carr. And Joan Vollmer, the glass on her head, challenging Burroughs to accept his fate and become a writer.

‘Do they have ruins in Guatemala?’

‘It’s all ruins.’

Sutherland’s pastiched Burroughs likes a drink, but he’s not Malcolm Lowry. He suffers the same tick, the compulsion to find the right word. ‘Did you see the flock of vultures?’ But is flock the best collective noun? Bevy, covey, flight, gaggle, brood, hatch, litter, shoal, swarm? Like Lowry he is on the Mexican bus with the chickens and the people.

Burroughs, his boyfriend (a version of Lewis Marker, with whom he visited Ecuador in search of the hallucinogenic drug yage), Joan Vollmer: eternal triangle. Vollmer, Carr, Burroughs: ‘Too bad you’re not a man.’ Ginsberg, Burroughs, Vollmer: dry hump. Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neal Cassady: poetry. Cassady, Kerouac, Carolyn Cassady: confession. And on. And on. Until one of them strikes out for Mexico. Walkow’s budget version has the mathematics of catastrophe absolutely pat. Maya plus Los Alamos. The pyramid of black smoke.

‘No Mexican really knew any other Mexican, and when a Mexican kills someone (which happened often), it was usually his best friend.’

The miracle of Beat is Courtney Love who is nothing like the febrile Joan (who had two small children and was too smart to write). Love is embedded in her performance, emboldened by sofa lips, harvest of hair, the supreme physicality. At moments she looks like a shire horse in scarlet lipstick and a wig. She’s better than Kim Novak in Vertigo – where awkwardness of performance reaps dividends. She should be painted by Kroll.

‘Lucien can write a song about anything.’

‘Why don’t you write us a volcano song?’

 Walkow references everything from Malcolm Lowry to Billy Wilder: ‘nobody’s perfect’. Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain, visited Burroughs in Lawrence. There were rumours that he spent his last seventy-two hours staring into the flicker and strobe of a Burroughs/Gysin dream machine. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Seattle.

Beyond the dust of the Mexican road, as the Ginsberg actor and the Carr actor carry Courtney Love towards the cone of the distant volcano, is the shadiest, coolest river. They strip, plunge, drift. Love vanishes. She is sitting in her damp underwear in a wood. All the good Westerns have a version of this scene. Peckinpah liked nothing more than crossing the border; a respite in a green place, before red death.

That was it, I thought. Walkow had summarised it for me, broken the complexities down. I couldn’t imagine where this DVD came from or why it could be found in Croydon for £1.50. And then the name rang a muffled bell. Alongside the director/performer Andrew Kötting (who had the look of Lowry and a major swimming habit), I was invited to talk about our project of taking a swan pedalo from Hastings to Hackney. We were in Trinity Buoy Wharf at the mouth of the River Lea, the precise point at which, months later, when a budget had been secured, I would come ashore, quitting the swan before she completed her voyage by disappearing into the tunnel in Islington. The swan reminded me of somebody: Courtney Love. White lady of destruction, shredder of myths.

         After the event, a man approached. He knew my work and said that, if I were willing, he’d like to present me with a DVD. It was a film he made in 1995, a version of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. I remember sending this person a note of thanks and I tracked the email down.

         At first I found the shift from 19th-century Russia to 21st-century California disorientating, but all that soon settles. Sometimes limited means (budget) does create a useful tension. It was good to meet at the river’s edge.

         The man’s name was Gary Walkow.


by Dan Sallitt

Published in 24fps, Vol. 5, Issue 2.


(Full disclosure: I’ve become friends with Gary Walkow over the years, and I even receive a thank-you credit on this film, though I’m not quite sure why.)

Gary Walkow’s third feature Beat, based on incidents from the lives of the Beat writers in the forties and fifties, premiered at Sundance 2000 to hostile reviews that killed its chances of theatrical distribution.  Why?  Certainly the film has flaws, and some of them are prominently placed; but are its extraordinary virtues really that hard to spot?

Perhaps the critics weren’t expecting to see a story about the Beats play out amid the urban and rural landscapes of Mexico....  Oh, well, no point in trying to figure it out.  Beat opens with a flash-forward to the infamous “William Tell” incident that cost Joan Burroughs her life in 1951.  Then it reconvenes in 1944 New York, where the poor but exuberant young Beats are partying with a case of benzedrine inhalers that Joan (Courtney Love) has scored.  The social fabric is rent when Dave Kammerer (Kyle Secor) is knifed and killed by charismatic, irresponsible Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus), with whom he was sexually obsessed.  Seven years later, Joan and Bill Burroughs (Kiefer Sutherland) are married with two children, living in Mexico City, coping with their separate chemical dependencies, and not writing much.  Bill’s homosexuality has pushed the marriage to the breaking point; after he leaves for a jaunt to Guatemala with a male lover, Lucien, carefree as ever after a two-year jail sentence, shows up with Allen Ginsberg (Ron Livingston) for a visit.  Attracted and repelled by Lucien’s wavering attentions, Joan hovers on the edge of love, or mere infidelity, or a fresh start back in the U.S.  But despair may have taken root too deeply in her....

Beat doesn’t find its center immediately; the brisk exposition seems to drive Walkow into overstating the characters.  Sutherland’s impersonation of Burroughs’ lockjaw growling swamps the characterization at first, and Reedus tends to overplay Carr’s callowness.  Most conspicuously, Kammerer’s hysterical obsession, the dramatic linchpin of the New York scenes, is hammered home both by the script and Secor’s exaggerated performance.  

As the action shifts to Mexico, however, the overheated drama gives way to reverie.  The Burroughs’ impossible marriage is portrayed with delicacy: unhappiness has made Joan bitter and Bill remote, but alongside the weariness there is mutual respect, the last vestiges of concern, and the occasional lapse back into camaraderie.  The couple’s unorthodox parenting techniques are suggested only in a few throwaway shots: their eldest daughter helpfully tapes rejected pages of prose to the living room wall, then ducks as Burroughs ritualistically destroys them with a slug from a handgun; the children sit mutely in the background, never getting their closeup, as Bill and Joan speculate about their desire to fuck their parents.

It soon becomes clear, however, that this is Joan’s movie.  Burroughs’ humiliating sex holiday with his contemptuous young lover is an unrewarding, one-dimensional digression that Walkow gives short shrift to, the better to follow Joan, Lucien and Allen as they set off to visit the volcano at Paracutin, circling each other endlessly with words and feelings of regret, faint longing, and nameless dread.  Lucien’s seductive behavior toward Joan is sometimes mechanical, sometimes heartfelt; he is awed by Joan, in fear of the commitment that she and her children represent, intimidated by his friendship for Bill.  Joan, more down to earth, sees Lucien’s fickleness and is appalled at how lightly Dave’s killing weighs on him; but the animal attraction between them inspires in her dreams of a better life, even as her destructive mutual dependency with Bill seems to be dragging her beyond the pale.  Allen is by circumstance and by nature an observer, committed to an affection for Lucien that he’ll never act upon, seeing Joan’s trap closing on her but only able to visualize her salvation via the unreliable Lucien’s heterosexual bond with her.  The three watch each other from distances, overhear each other’s intimacies, pair off in all combinations to discuss the absent party; time and again one person withdraws from a conversation, and the camera lingers for a moment of contemplation with the one left behind.  The few actions that do occur change nothing; in this metaphysical Mexican standoff, the will to act is swallowed by the voluptuous mood of time standing still.

No small part of the film’s power is due to Courtney Love’s superb performance.  Actresses like Love, who always bring aspects of their own personality to their roles, tend to be underrated; but she has the gift of existing persuasively on camera, and it’s hard to think of another actor today who conveys intelligence so forcefully.  Walkow is at pains to convey that Joan is the intellectual equal of her more famous peers, but all his literary allusions and snappy dialogue might not have turned the trick without Love’s sly looks of appraisal and her fleeting, amused reactions to her own emotions.  Some of Joan’s dialogue is witty banter that could easily have come across as brittle, but Love keeps a low flame of anger burning under the repartee: when Joan sarcastically says of Lucien’s murder, “I think it’s perversely attractive,” Love conveys a quiet challenge, not a breezy superiority.  Even as Joan’s fate closes in on her, Walkow preserves her lucidity and composure, and Love’s bemused, wry distance from her own pain brings out the pathos in the uninflected narrative.

To this viewer’s eye, Beat is one of the most visually beautiful films in recent years.  Walkow’s modernist widescreen compositions are gloriously old-fashioned, reminiscent of the look of Vincente Minnelli or Nicholas Ray’s fifties melodramas.  Partial to slightly elevated or depressed camera angles, Walkow maps out the spatial tension in even the shallowest set, composing around triangles of characters and using short lenses to open up the space between foreground and background.  And Ciro Cabello’s rich, primary-color, high-contrast lighting is an infinitely more exciting and romantic evocation of period than the dreary reduced color schemes that Hollywood and Indiewood alike seem to favor.  The visual highlight of the film is an idyllic river swimming scene worthy of Murnau, shot mostly from above to emphasize the expanse of glistening water, broken into a series of discrete downstream movements separated by dissolves, turned melancholy by Ernest Troost’s beautiful score, starting with the promise of sex and ending with Joan peering into her own private hell.



Todd McCarthy's "Variety" review of "Crashing" (March 2, 2007):


There's nothing like a little menage a trois with two foxy college girls to cure a middle-aged author's writer's block, but the fix works both ways in "Crashing." A follow-up, but not a sequel, to the 1987 Sundance dramatic competition prizewinner "The Trouble With Dick," writer-director Gary Walkow's insidiously engaging low-budgeter employs a literate sensibility, breezy tone and warm performances to put across an amusing story about three fiction writers self-consciously using their intimate relations for material. A nice fest ride could lead to modest theatrical exposure prior to more robust cable and other home market distribution.


All of Walkow's films, which also include "Notes From Underground" (1995) and "Beat" (2000), possess elemental literary roots. "The Trouble With Dick" was about a struggling sci-fi writer who becomes distracted by a mother and daughter competing for his attentions. Same format applies in "Crashing," in which good-looking but graying onetime boy wonder Richard McMurray (Campbell Scott), whose bestselling first novel (which just happens to have been titled "The Trouble With Dick") now is seven years old, finds his follow-up getting worse with each successive draft.



Kicked out of his Malibu house by a fed-up wife, Richard agrees to speak to a college writing class taught by former flame Diane (Alex Kingston), who's still sore about how unflatteringly Richard portrayed her in "Dick." After Richard casually mentions to the class that he has nowhere to sleep that night, the use of a couch is proffered by cute blond student Kristin (Izabella Miko) and seconded by her sultry roommate Jacqueline (Lizzy Caplan), much to the consternation of Diane.



Predictably, Richard doesn't spend all his time alone on the sofa in the coming days and nights, although it's the girls who provoke the situation. While Richard initially gets enough stimulation to reignite his creative juices just from hanging around these saucy young ladies and prying into their personal lives, the girls have their own creative agendas; they are both aspiring writers and, in lieu of rent, request that Richard service them via "literary consultations."



Pretty soon everyone's busy writing in ways variously influenced by the interactions, fantasies, suspicions and suggestions that flow among them. While the refreshingly forthright Jacqueline states her ambition is to become the "postmodern Jacqueline Susann," Kristin's work runs more toward the schoolgirl poetic.Richard, finding his rhythm again in more ways than one, ruminates on the layers of literary awareness wafting through the small apartment, where no secrets can be kept from anyone.



Performances are uniformly sharp, with Scott lightly conveying both the strengths of insight and the weakness of imagination that conflict Richard. Both suitably luscious, Caplan and Miko hold their own in the sometimes highfalutin, otherwise casually suggestive banter with their older willing captive.



Given the confined quarters, Walkow keeps things visually nimble with unjittery mobile camerawork and fleet editing. Limited nature of the conceit makes itself felt toward the end, and the film proper is wisely wrapped up in well under 80 minutes. 




Scott Foundas's article in "LA WEEKLY" about Gary Walkow and "Crashing," Jan 17, 2007: 


One morning, Gary Walkow was suddenly transformed into a successful Hollywood filmmaker. Gone were the hat-in-hand searches for financing, the deferred salaries, the long shooting days with undermanned crews and the months upon years spent touring the festival circuit while seeking a distribution deal. For a moment, he was taking calls by the dozen instead of waiting for the phone to ring. Producers happy to fund whatever project he desired were making a beeline to his door. And then, as abruptly as someone yelling “Cut!” Walkow awoke to find himself still seated at the desk of his broom-closet-size office at the Santa Monica Airport, where he comes every day to write, a stopwatch close at hand. The stopwatch is there to ensure that Walkow writes for his self-prescribed minimum of two hours per day. If something interrupts, Walkow stops the clock. “The frustration with filmmaking is that it takes such an enormous effort to practice it, whereas writing I can practice on a daily basis,” he says. “I’m ridiculously organized and anal about it.”


Back in the mid-’80s, when Bob and Harvey Weinstein were still a couple of scrappy up-and-comers and nobody much knew what an independent film was except for those who were making them, Walkow pulled together $200,000 to make a 35 mm feature called The Trouble With Dick, a clever amalgam of farce and hothouse melodrama about a blocked sci-fi writer who unwisely enters into a ménage à trois with his wanton landlady and her equally hormonal teenage daughter. Walkow submitted the film to something called the United States Film Festival (then in its fourth year and soon to be rechristened as Sundance), where it was selected for the competition and ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize.



Never heard of it? Most haven’t. That’s because FilmDallas, the small independent distribution company that bought Dick in the wake of its festival win, folded before it got around to releasing the film. In fact, so few people ever saw Dick, which stopped briefly at the Nuart in 1989 en route to home video, that former FilmDallas marketing head Bob Berney (now the president of Picturehouse) recently suggested to Walkow that he think about revisiting the material. Walkow did just that, and the result is Crashing, Walkow’s fourth independent feature and the first-ever sequel to a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner. Now, exactly 20 years after his first Park City premiere, Walkow is readying himself for another. Only, when the curtain goes up on Crashing, it will be at Slamdance, the 13-year-old alterna-festival that offered Crashing a slot after Sundance gave it a pass.  As it happens, Walkow’s career is littered with such twists of fate. After all the trouble with The Trouble With Dick and a few years spent directing for network television (including the cult Sledge Hammer! series), Walkow ventured back to Sundance in 1996 with an ingenious modern-day adaptation of Notes From Underground that immediately drew the interest of Fine Line Features president Mark Ordesky, who promised to return for a later screening with more studio brass in tow. “It was like Raging Bull,” Walkow recalls. “That was going to be my night, my shot at the title.” But as luck would (or, rather, wouldn’t) have it, the main event the night of Walkow’s screening turned out to be the now-legendary Main Street tussle between Harvey Weinstein and New Line CEO Bob Shaye over their competing bids to purchase the movie Shine. Nobody from Fine Line or New Line showed up to see Notes From Underground(which was eventually released, two years later, by the small, Massachusetts-based Northern Arts Entertainment). “There were heavy snows that year, and the last day, when we were leaving Park City, I felt like I was Napoleon retreating from Russia,” Walkow remembers, only half-jokingly. How fitting, then, that the very subject of Crashing turns out to be artistic perseverance, as another blocked writer (Campbell Scott), who once wrote a best-seller called The Trouble With Dick (the plot of which mirrors Walkow’s earlier film), is cast out by his actress wife and takes up residence on the sofa of a couple of nubile coeds — aspiring authoresses both — who get his creative (and hormonal) juices flowing. In outline, the movie sounds like the kind of middle-aged male fantasy better suited to a therapy session than a movie screen, but Walkow is much smarter than that, and as Crashing plays out, it subverts our expectations at nearly every turn. It is, I think, the best thing Walkow has done — funny and sexy, but also honest and lived-in and knowing of the way writers draw upon (and sometimes exploit) the people around them for inspiration. It’s also, unlike a great deal of what passes for “independent” filmmaking nowadays, a movie independent not just in its financing, but in its thinking — a highly personal vision expressed without a second thought given to box office, audience expectations or career advancement. “Look, it would be really depressing if 20 years later I couldn’t make a better film,” Walkow says when I tell him I like the movie. But in a way, what’s most remarkable about Crashing is that, after 20 years, Walkow is still making films at all, given the odds that are stacked against him. Of the 290 dramatic features that played at Sundance between 1984 and 2002 (the last year it seemed prudent to include in this survey, given the amount of time it can take to set up an indie film), 156 of their directors have gone on to make zero or, at the most, one additional dramatic feature. 

For every Tarantino- or Soderbergh-size Sundance Cinderella story, there are dozens of others for whom life as an independent filmmaker more closely resembles Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Little Match Girl.  “To survive on the fringes making these films, I’m basically a miser,” says Walkow. “I’m pretty nonmaterialistic. I think objects own you; you don’t own objects. And I’m just real sensitive to the fact that our lifespan is shockingly brief. So, what do you want to do with your pitiful few years on Earth? Do you want to be a lawyer and do contracts all day? That’s great if you enjoy that. To me, making art is the most engaging thing to do. It’s sensual; it engages every aspect of my being. I would rather live simply and be able to come to a little office and do that every day than live on some grandiose scale and not be able to do that. And I think that’s possible in our culture.”



Walkow is living proof that where there’s a moviemaking will, there’s a way. In between projects, he has supported himself as a photographer, a novelist and even a video-game developer. And in an industry where there are few certainties, it’s a safe bet that, upon his return from Slamdance, Walkow will be back in his Santa Monica office with his legal pad and his stopwatch. “I think it was Marcel Duchamp who said he liked to create a work of art every day,” he says. “He had a piece of rope he would drop on the ground, and that was his work of art. And I’m like that: I have my pieces of rope, I drop them, and that’s okay.”



From the Emanuel Levy's "Variety" review of "Notes from Underground" (September 1995):

Henry Czerny, who mesmerized audiences in “The Boys of St. Vincent,” gives an astonishing performance in “Notes From Underground.”’s a wry, ironic and insightful portrait of the complex, often deranged workings of the human psyche.

Scripter-director Gary Walkow should be commended for finding an effective way to visualize the introspective workings of a feverish mind.

No plot synopsis can do justice to the nuanced richness of the material, drolly adapted by Walkow.