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Video Makers Who Got Down And Outrageous

April 07, 1986|TERRY ATKINSON

Max Whiteman has something in common with many American teen-agers: He finds it tough to talk to his father. Otherwise, Max has a lot that's not in common with today's teens. He's a rich, androgynous Beverly Hills Brat with the technology of the '80s at his fingertips.

So he has his own way of expressing himself to Dad. He makes videos.

Max, if you missed the movie, is one of the characters in Paul Mazursky's hit comedy film, "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." Early in the picture, clothes-hanger tycoon David Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss) finds a videocassette that his son (Max, played by Evan Richards) has planted next to the VCR in his parents' bedroom.

All of a sudden, along with Dad, the movie audience is watching a video within a movie, a scene suggesting we've come a long way from the days when television was something only to be occasionally ridiculed in a film. The impact of video on today's youth is such that it was a natural for Mazursky to create a video-entranced 15-year-old in his plot, along with a barrage of video images meant to represent Max's state of mind.

In fact, this moment has such wacky, surreal energy that it sets a challenge for the rest of the picture to match. We see a lightning-quick montage of an exploding H-bomb, a crashing jet, a post card ridiculing the Pope, the Three Stooges wreaking havoc, the family dog wearing sunglasses and a man being whipped by a scantily dressed woman--all set to a crazed punk song. Just what a parent likes to know his kid is thinking about.

"The focus was definitely on sex and violence," says the film's associate producer, Geoffrey Taylor, who put together the video with independent editor Michael Herzmark. "He's trying to communicate with his parents, trying to shake them up, even if it takes a hydrogen bomb."

It was Taylor, whose production duties for Mazursky include coordinating television-oriented scenes, who got the task of figuring out what kind of video Max might make. Herzmark, recommended by art director Todd Hallowell, assisted. Mazursky thought at first that maybe they should get a real 15-year-old to do the video, but Taylor begged to be given a chance.

"I remember being that age," Taylor said, "the extremism of youth, being on the edge of insanity, wanting to set things on fire. Besides all that, Max is androgynous."

"He doesn't know which way to go," observed Herzmark, "not in anything."

Still, Max appears to be a stunningly savvy video-maker for his age.

Taylor laughed. "It did wind up more sophisticated than something a 15-year-old would probably do. Someone who knows about video could see Max's and wonder, 'Where did he get all that equipment?' You don't get all those little flicker cuts easily."

(There's actually a second video by Max in the film, which Taylor refers to as the "anger video," showing how often Max, from the viewpoint of his video camera, is angrily dismissed by others in the house. But when Taylor talks about "Max's video," he's talking about the first, more chaotically funny one.)

The video began to take shape early last year when, after some preliminary discussions, Herzmark came over to Taylor's office carrying an armful of tapes he'd collected during a variety of TV editing/production jobs, including three years on KCBS's "2 on the Town." He brought his video resume, too--a quick-cut survey of his work, set to rock music.

The two men spent several hours looking at Herzmark's tape collection. It was a music video by the punk group the Weirdos that eventually served as the sound track for the Max video. "Once we had that," said Taylor, "it was just a matter of hanging images on it."

The video in the film is a few seconds shorter than the one they put together. Some shots had to go just to keep it brief enough. Others were cut for different reasons. Though Mazursky loved the video immediately, he thought there were too many explosions--so one of the two H-bombs and all three nuclear heat-wave shots came out.

As did Donald Duck.

Surprisingly, the shot Taylor and Herzmark hated losing most--a Donald Duck temper tantrum--was blocked by executives at Disney, the studio distributing the film. "They said OK to everything else we showed them, as long as we could clear the rights," Taylor recalled, "but Donald was definitely out."

"Everything else" included that snippet of the man being whipped by a woman wearing "B&D" (bondage and domination) gear. This scene was actually one of the two things Taylor had to re-shoot--the other was a flash of nudity--because, as Herzmark put it, "We didn't want to call up some guy and say, 'Hey, we've got this shot of you being humiliated that we'd like to put in a movie.' But what was re-shot looks pretty much the same."

That original B&D shot must have come from one of the really weird sources in Herzmark's collection of offbeat videos.

"No, not really," he laughed. "It was from a segment of '2 on the Town.' "

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