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Serious Film Raises Some Serious Funds

July 24, 1996|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a film is titled "Killer: A Journal of Murder," its premiere benefits the American Civil Liberties Union and former California Chief Justice Rose Bird is the featured guest, it's probably inevitable that the occasion will be as serious as an Amish funeral.

At least that was the case Monday when the Ixtlan Production feature debuted at the Directors Guild.

"This is probably the most serious film of the year," said writer/director Tim Metcalfe. "This movie has serious written all over it. This isn't one of those bad Tarantino imitations where violence is portrayed as something funny and flippant and ironic. In my movie, it's ugly and scary and there aren't any criminals who talk about the price of hamburgers in France."

Though the film's 1920s setting probably contributed to the lack of chatter about Le Big Mac, it did present a number of themes that made the premiere appropriate for an ACLU benefit. Executive director Ramona Ripston said she thought the story of a serial killer on death row and a prison guard who encourages him to write about his life "raised interesting issues. Issues about prison reform, about people being treated with dignity."

Before the screening, the 500 guests were treated to a reception and music of a chamber quartet. The evening ended with a panel discussion of the issues brought up by "Killer."

The discussion group was originally scheduled to include executive producer Oliver Stone, but he was traveling in Greece and Morocco. Bird was his replacement. It was an intelligent substitution that exchanged opinionated theatricality for judicial eminence.

The former chief justice came well-prepared and spoke at length on California prisons as a growth industry upon which more public money is currently lavished than upon higher education.

Actor Mike Farrell voiced his impassioned opposition to capital punishment. As the film's producer, Janet Yang, seemed awed and thrilled that a movie with a serious theme could actually get made. Metcalfe spoke of his ambivalence on filming violence and his own changing positions on the death penalty.

Star James Woods showed the most energy. There was a feeling that he'd banter with anyone just for the sake of arguing. "I like being in a provocative environment like this," said the actor. "I like a lot of what the ACLU does, but a lot of what it does drives me crazy."

On this occasion what the ACLU did was raise $35,000. Which isn't bad for a serious film premiering in the season of fluff.

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