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Exceptional documentaries provide insight and information without drawing conclusions yet, provide it in such a way that we, as the audience, come to our own conclusions. Also, exceptional documentaries tell a cohesive story, and draw on general themes to bring (insert subject here) to a level that anyone can appreciate. Such is “Off the Boulevard.”
A great example of an exceptional documentary would be “Inside Deep Throat”, a documentary on the most popular porn film of all time (incidentally, that documentary isn’t nearly as hot as it sounds. Believe it or not, you should see it for it’s INTELLECTUAL stimulation). Not many people feel they can relate to being a pornstar, (except in my bedroom, knowhatImsayin) but the documentary focuses on the people, and feelings of the people, who lived through the ordeal “Deep Throat” created. Thus, it brings it down to a level that each of us, regular people, can appreciate (even though we’ve never had sex on camera) (At least for money, anyway).
“Off The Boulevard” is a story of art and heart and the dedication it takes to achieve your dreams. It is an entertaining and informative documentary feature film about seven artists: two musicians (Nick Nicholson, Keith Jackson), two filmmakers (Troy Duffy, Jeff Santo), two actors (David Della Rocco, Sanel Budimlic), and one comedian (Bob Rubin), whose friendships are created through struggle and perseverance.”
That is what the press release says. While there is no doubt the “friendships are created through struggle and perseverance”, the movie I saw was not so lighthearted; rather it was a real world look of the Average Joe in Hollywood as he tries to achieve that ever elusive dream. As so many of us know, it can be difficult (to say the least), draining (emotionally), and painful (sometimes physically) (ask any starting stunt man).
Furthermore, there are far more unhappy endings than happy ones (insert your own joke). It forced me to look at my own life, my career, and ask where my future is taking me. Of course, that is the exact response a good documentary should instigate, and the exact response the filmmaker intended. (Mission accomplished, Captain Santo.) Questions like:
“Am I moving in the right direction?”
“Am I wasting the best years of my life on a dream?”
“Can I really make it in the porn industry (with my look) without doing gay porn?”
It just so happens these are the questions (or some of the questions) asked by the subjects of the documentary. Sure, they have (and we have) our own justifications for all of our conclusions, good and bad:
“I’m still persuing the dream because I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.”
“I’m still persuing the dream because I have a different aspect of the industry that I’m trying and (hopefully) it may work out better than the last.”
“I’m still persuing the dream because I just don’t think I’d be very good at gay porn.”
“Off the Boulevard” tells the story of seven people. It explains their ups and downs, as they continue to pursue their dreams in Hollywood (I use Hollywood as a metaphor for the entire entertainment industry. Some of them aren’t actually in Hollywood, California). Ten years, 15 years, and even over 20 years of reaching for the dream, and what do they have to show for it? (They have 10, 15, and over 20 years of reaching) The ups are just enough to keep them continuing and the downs (mostly consisting of stagnation, but not all) aren’t ever enough to make them give up completely. Because who really cares if your cable gets shut off for failing to pay the bill (another justification?)
While most documentaries are made with a particular niche audience in mind, the ultilmate goal, like “Inside Deep Throat”, is to create a universal story that goes beyond the boundaries of the niche audience. Such is “Off the Boulevard.” While I can relate, as the intended niche audience (filmmaker, producer, indie director, fan of Troy Duffy, etc), the stories of heart break are universal at their core. So, anyone with unfulfilled dreams will appreciate this artistic epic. Tragedies and accomplishments pepper the lives of our subjects as they persevere the Hollywood machine trying to become one of it’s many integral pistons. It truly inspires you to continue, no matter the uphill battle. At the same time, there is a quite a bit of self-loathing in this film (as in life). This may be due to the universal condition of Hollywood professionals (or it could be my own self projection) (My own justification?). Furthermore, there is a little too much positive spinning on (what could be) an unseen failure to achieve a dream. It starts to resemble a pep talk the filmmaker might give to himself when one starts to have doubts.(or perhaps it is the pep talk I give to myself, I’m not sure):
“Should I give up?”
“Why am I doing this?”
“Should I autograph adult dvds at my high school reunion?”
Conclusion? Well, without giving away the ending or anyone’s story, the answer has little to do with achieving one’s dream. According to this documentary and the subjects followed, it is summed up by Troy Duffy (the most successful of the group, and the one with the most troubled past), “Find people who think like you do. People to share your dreams at whatever cost.” The filmmaker does not promise that there is a happy ending (nor should we come to that conclusion); rather, he shows us that those in his group, because they have each other, are still able to chase the dream. If the dream hasn’t eluded them completely, then, consider it a win. There is still a chance and they have companionship on their journey (once again, a very universal response that all can share).
3 1/2 stars out of four.
(And please realize, this documentary has nothing to do with the porn industry.)
Directed by: Jeff Santo
Release Date: September 7, 2011
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Company: Santo Productions