[13 July 2004]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I have just signed a contract, one that says I will be paid $5,000 to write a review of American Whiskey Bar. The contract stipulates I am not to mention in my review, or anywhere else, any details involving plot, character, setting or dialogue, or any of the talent involved in the production of this book. It also stipulates that I am to write what is to be construed as a good review.
This leaves me in a bit of a bind, to say the least. Not because the book is bad. Oh no, I actually have nothing but good things to say about this book! (Honest!) It’s just that this review comes with complications that are kind of hard to ignore.
I have to write a review about a book that’s a screenplay of an obscure, fictitious 1997 film. This is somewhat strange because, after this book was published in Canada months after said film was supposedly “shot,” Canadian director Bruce McDonald was hired to film a live version of American Whiskey Bar in 1998 by Toronto’s CityTV despite all of the controversy.
This means there are two films based on this book floating around out there. Am I writing a review of a screenplay to a 1997 film that doesn’t exist, or am I writing a review of a screenplay to a 1998 film that was barely seen? God, this is making my head start to hurt. Anyway, since the 1998 film was televised and watched by someone, I guess I’m off the hook when it comes to telling would-be readers what this book is about.
To start with, you should know the 2004 reprinting of American Whiskey Bar is only different from its 1997 counterpart in that it boasts new cover art and a new, two-page foreword written by some guy named William Gibson. You may have heard of him, as he’s apparently written a few science-fiction books that appear to be quite popular with the kids these days. Gibson’s bit is cute, but inconsequential. Personally, I would have preferred if the book was packaged with the 1998 movie as an enclosed DVD bonus, but you know how uptight media companies are nowadays about releasing obscure properties not guaranteed to recoup some money these days.
After Gibson’s foreword, the book’s next sections include a preface by the author of the screenplay, Michael Turner, detailing his involvement dealing with director Monika Herendy, who in turn writes about her experiences “making” the film in the book’s introduction. Both are illuminating, especially when taken with the novel’s deft afterword, written by noted reviewer Milena Jagoda. (You may have seen her work in the unreal Paris-based film journal Taynik). While Jagoda describes why the 1997 film adaptation by Herendy never got a proper airing, one should be careful and note that she was offered $5,000 by this far-out character named Klaus 9 to write a review of American Whiskey Bar, even though, by then, it was obvious to her that so few people would be allowed to see it. (It may have helped for the movie to be filmed, but I digress.)
The bulk of American Whiskey Bar‘s mid-section is made up of Michael Turner’s screenplay. What can be said about it? Well, there’s a bit of Spike Lee in there. There’s some Godard, some Antonioni, and perhaps a touch of Cassavetes as well. I can’t say much more than that, though.
For one, I haven’t seen the movies—either real or unreal—spawned by this controversial screenplay—rife with all kinds of sex, coarse language and racists/sexist situations. (I can only imagine what this would look like on celluloid, considering the entire two hour and 10 minute movie is one uninterrupted tracking shot.) Plus, there’s the matter of that contract I signed. Notwithstanding the $5,000, I’m afraid that Klaus 9, who produced the non-existent 1997 movie and whose name is attached to my contract, might get ticked off if I reveal too much. After what he allegedly did to Monika Herendy at one point—if her account of events in the book is to be trusted—I really have no inclination towards waking up on a hospital bed in a strange city after spending two months in a coma, thanks.
So, that’s all I have to say about American Whiskey Bar. I mean, sure, I could very well draw the obvious parallels between the buried, fake 1997 film produced by the unholy alliance of Klaus 9 and Herendy, and Michael Moore’s recent troubles with Disney in getting his film, Fahrenheit 911, distributed in America. Alas, I’m not really sure how far that’d get me as a reviewer by going off into weird tangents about the business side of things. As Milena Jagoda might say, “My job is just to review, right?” Especially when $5,000 is involved.