by Chuck Myer, Sacramento Bee / Neighbors, 28 February 1999

Folks in Placer County who worked as extras for the movie "The Independent" last June have been anxiously awaiting their big screen debut. Schoolkids that got in the film are now revered among their peers. Sierra College student Laraine Schneider filmed her own documentary video about the "Making of the Independent." Karen-Grace White, the local waitress selected by the producers to hire and coordinate the extras, has since quit her "day job" and started her own production company. Now, after nine months, they are all standing by for an announcement of a glittery, glorious opening night gala at the Colfax Theatre, where the movie's climactic scenes were filmed.

But they might just as soon leave a porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa.

If they want to wait somewhere for this movie, they should wait at the video store. Near the back. If this movie ever sees the light of the day, that's about the best it can hope for.

The movie was to be the tale of the churn-'em-out "King of the B movies." But that description fits the film itself better than the character of Morty Fineman, played by Jerry Stiller.

What I found (and revealed in my June 21, 1998 column) was that the cast list was a veritable "Who's Who" of B movies and even sleaze movies. Since then the plot has thickened (or thinned?). Here's a deeper look into the pedigree from which this film hails: Colfax citizens, who worked cheap as extras pretending to be film festivalgoers, had no clue that the part of the film festival party-planner would be played by former Sex Pistols leader John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten). Rotten, the punk-rock icon who has assaulted fans in person, on record and in print, used "The Independent" as a stepping stone to a feature-length film version of his 1995 scathing, vitriolic autobiography, "Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs".

Nor did they know that the "film within a film" they were allegedly viewing (and giving standing ovations for) was about venereal disease ("The Simplex Complex"). Nor did they know (or admit they knew) that their "mayor" was actually porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, quite prolific herself, having claimed to have made 69 films in a two year period (1984-85). We still have no idea how much of Ginger Lynn's well-published backside might appear in other scenes in the film. The same is true about machisma pinup girl Julie Strain ("6'-1" and Worth the Climb"), who likes to call herself the "Queen of the B-Movies".

"Independent" executive producer Jerry Weintraub just got his fourth "Razzie" nomination for "Worst Achievement in Film for 1998". The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation gave Weintraub's "The Avengers" 8 Razzie nominations, calling it "Nit-Witted Numb-Skullery". He was previously nominated for The Specialist (1994), Karate Kid III (1989) and Cruising (1980).

Even the semi-reputable names in the project were chosen for a reason. Jerry Stiller has spent a lifetime in B films before his unlikely break as Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld". And Janeane Garofalo, who plays his daughter, has developed a cult following as the "anti-movie star". She is churning out movie credits at an incredible rate, having already shot scenes in eleven 1999 films (including "200 Cigarettes" and "Abbie!") and one for 2000 ("Planet Ice"). Garofalo didn't come to Placer County, and probably phoned in her scenes anyway.

We know Billy Burke is in the film because he did shoot scenes in Colfax. Others reported to be in the cast are Disney animation voiceover veteran Phil Proctor, Andy Dick ("News Radio"), Max Perlich, Jonathan Katz, and Stiller's comedienne wife, Anne Meara. Also appearing is 20-year-old Ethan Embry, who starred with Jennifer Love Hewitt in "Can't Hardly Wait" and played Rusty Griswold in the only other feature film directed by Stephen Kessler, "Vegas Vacation" (talk about your B films).

Until this month, the Internet Movie Data Base could find only one actor who even admitted to being in "The Independent" — Richard Paul, who played Walter Jeffries in the film. Paul had the requisite "B" credentials, having been in 1991's "Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight" and having played Jerry Falwell in both "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and the 1990 TV film "Fall from Grace". But on Christmas Day 1998, Richard Paul died, and the cast list was back down to zero.

What's even stranger is the career turn of writer/director Kessler, a documentary and commercial director who has yet to sell a script to Hollywood. It was obvious in Colfax he was working on a shoestring budget, bankrolled by his father, Paul Kessler. ... That ought to tell you how much money is available for editing and distribution of "The Independent".

Colfax Theatre owner Wendell Jacob predicted this very outcome for the project. Jacob, whose priceless collection of antique projectors is on display at the Colfax Theatre, has been in the industry for decades. He graciously provided free movie passes for all of the extras, but demurred when asked if he would be screening the final product.

"That all depends," he smiled.

I must confess that that I, too, donned Southwestern attire and pretended to be a citizen of the fictional "Chaparral, Nevada" in the movie's "High Desert Film Festival". So, I have this prediction for my fellow extras (or "atmosphere", as assistant directors Jack Ziga and Daniel R. Suhart referred to us): You can put the tuxes and gowns back in mothballs because it ain't gonna happen that way.

But if or when this movie does go straight-to-video, I'll get some popcorn and you can all come over to my place and see it. After I've screened it first, of course. After all, I still have my own reputation to think of.

©1999 Sacramento bee

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