Monday, March 18, 2019

SXSW Review: Sunset Over Mulholland Drive

Actress Connie Sawyers

"We take care of our own."

Founded in 1921 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home (television was added later) seeks to care for members of the industry who were in need of full-time support. More than just a nursing home, the MPTF is a thriving community of retired visionaries. As Ted Witzer, former talent agent says, MPTF's community boasts "an incredible wealth of talent... just a little bit older."

Directed by Uli Gaulke, Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is a documentary that takes an intimate look at a group of MPTF residents and how they come together to collaborate on a project. The film was shot on the campus in 2017 and features the following residents:

  • Connie Sawyers - Actress
  • Ted Witzer - Talent Agent
  • Joel Rogosin - Television Producer
  • Deborah Rogosin - Therapist
  • Tony Lawrence - Screenwriter
  • Jerry Sedley Kaufmann - Director
  • Anne Faulkner - Actress
  • Daniel Selznick - Television Producer
  • Wright King - Actor
  • Phil Haberman - Sound Editor 
  • Dena Dietrich - Actress 
  • Duke Anderson - Sound Engineer
  • Maggie Malooly - Actress
  • Brett Hadley - Actor

I had the pleasure of visiting MPTF last Spring so I was particularly excited to see this film on the slate for this year's SXSW Film Festival. It's important for us to recognize the contributions, both big and small, that the MPTF residents made on the entertainment industry. So many figures from the past have been forgotten and overlooked and that's why classic film fans, like myself, know how valuable it is when the spotlight is focused on them. We cannot risk losing their stories forever.

The film focuses on a creative writing group which is organized by an MPTF staff member. It encourages individuals to write down their stories to preserve their legacies for their families and for future generations. About half way into the film we see the group work on a sequel to Casablanca, imagining what would happen if Rick and Ilsa reunited many years later. It's not the most interesting part of the documentary. This helps to give the film a storyline but I was much more interested in hearing from the different subjects than I was in finding how their project turned out.

Classic film lovers will appreciate all the references to films like Gone with the Wind2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, A Streetcar Named DesireAmerican Graffiti and many others. The different residents discuss working with people like David O. Selznick, Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Elvis, etc.

Some of my favorite moments in the film included Connie Stevens talking about her career, the sweet story about how John Lawrence found love again after his wife passed away and seeing actor Wright King watch his scene with Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Pretty much any moment when the film lingers on a scene or interview with one of the residents is a highlight for me.  A few of the subjects have passed away since the filming making these moments even more special.

There are beautiful shots of the MPTF campus. And as someone who's been there I can tell you it's stunning in real life. There is a short tour at the beginning but I wish we learned more about the history of MPTF and about the different facilities on campus.

Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is an important documentary for the sole reason that it brings awareness to those elderly members of the entertainment industry who have contributed so much but are at risk of being forgotten. There are times I felt the film a bit rushed and that perhaps it could have gone in a different direction. Until I get the MPTF documentary of my dreams, I'll be pointing people to this one as essential viewing.




Sunset Over Mulholland Drive had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

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