MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Death and Taxes…

There’s nothing quite like receiving bad news to set your week up wrong. So, when the phone rang Monday morning with the news Sid Adilman had died, I at least could anticipate nothing worse happening immediately.

Sid Adilman was for many years the entertainment editor at the Toronto Star. He was also the Canadian bureau chief for Variety for decades. More important, he was a friend and I suppose in some ways a mentor though the latter was never a role he ever copped to.

I can’t precisely remember when we first met but I have a pretty strong notion it related to some event for the Canadian film awards in their nascent years. A few years later when I was running the now defunct Canadian Film Symposium he called me up for information on where to stay and a list of event locations.

It took me some time to fully appreciate the import of the telephone call. Sweeping aside the fact that about 98% of the Canadian press corps had less than no interest in movies made in their backyard, it was only later that I could put the inquiry in context. It wasn’t about convincing him to attend or write about the conference. Unlike other blind calls, he’d already done his homework, knew who was participating, what films were being screened and the panels on the agenda. He’d done his homework and made his decision. So, the only things left were a few basic logistical details.

Sid knew his stuff. He didn’t need to be attended to and the coverage he gave the event was the sort of thing that at the very least established its credibility and weight. The few questions he asked me about the symposium were to the point and appropriate. Before he left, he also asked me to consider stringing for Variety.

At the time there were only three Canadian journalists that were doing serious and informative reporting on the Canadian film, television and theater scenes. Sid was third ranked but he was also second and first … so if you cared, he was who one talked to and read.

I’ve been told over the years that he was someone that had a bad side you didn’t want to encounter. I suppose we all do to some degree but I can’t recall seeing it even on a second hand basis. The worst sin one could commit in his eyes was lying and I not only appreciate that bias but can think of several personal instances in which I stopped talking to industry contacts that were playing very fast and loose with the facts.

What set him apart from nearly everyone else in the field was his scrupulous integrity. He was also extremely generous both professionally and on a personal level. And not to get overly maudlin, he had a great marriage and two terrific kids.

Every summer he’d pack up his household and put all business concerns aside. The Adilman’s had a place in Prince Edward Island and industry concerns would just have to wait. When I got married, he sent a gift I still cherish that evokes my sense of the timeless charm of his vacation destination. I also recall his tremendous largesse when my brother-in-law, who lived in Toronto, was dying and I receive the call to come immediately.

Sid’s health began to decline a couple of year’s ago. He left the Star but never lost touch with what was happening in the entertainment industry.

It was clear last month at the Toronto Film Festival that it was very difficult for him to get to events even with assistance. We talked and e-mailed and at the tail end of the festival met up at one of only two screenings he attended.

Providence was obviously smiling because I wound up staying an additional day to attend a family event and asked him if he wouldn’t mind my staying at his house (as I’d done many times in the past) on my final night. After my obligation to kith and kin I went to the house on Albany and we talked for a couple of hours. For that brief window of time his focus and engagement was as good as ever even if his stamina was obviously limited.

There were a lot of sentences that began “do you know about …” and at least one point of discussion that concluded with “you’ve got to call him and find out what’s going on.” No promises were made but that call will be made next week.

There are plans afoot for a memorial but there’s nothing that comes to mind that would truly give him appropriate recognition. The diminutive, bespectacled man cast a very long shadow and his passing will leave a giant hole in my life. A part of me will be crying for the rest of my years as well as smiling about the profound ways he touched my soul.

A Bridge So Far …

Death and its aftermath are at the core of The Bridge, a documentary by Eric Steel that chronicles a year in the life of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. Primarily it’s about the roughly two dozen people that hurl themselves from the structure every year. It has the ignoble distinction of being the number one destination site for suicides in the world.

Steel – who was on a promotional stop in Los Angeles last week – wasn’t positive but believed second on the list were people that hurled themselves in front of Chicago’s subway trains. The attraction, so to speak, of both is the relative certainty of ending it all.

The filmmaker says that an article in the New Yorker back in 2003 about the Bridge’s dark legacy spurred him to make the film. However, another seemingly unrelated incident also informed the piece.

“My apartment looks out at the World Trade Center,” says the native New Yorker. “When the planes struck, I had a bird’s eye view. I could see jumpers and I think that memory stayed with me. I thought what sort of emotional inferno would cause someone to do that.”

The film doesn’t have the answer, though among the people interviewed is a survivor of the precipitous fall. It does have considerable footage of friends and family still grappling with the loss of a loved one. And no matter how much they have come to rationalize, the act they remain at best bewildered but more often angry and frustrated.

He also managed to capture a number of people in the act. In several instances they just do it. It’s rather shocking to view someone walking to the edge and leaping to almost certain oblivion. There’s no drama or hesitation and no way of knowing whether the final moment was informed by steely resolve or a passing compulsion.

Steel didn’t have to comb through television and film archives or put out internet appeals to secure footage. Every day he simply set up two cameras and over the course of a year long schedule amassed roughly 10,000 hours of images. While he admits that San Francisco’s famous rolling fog sometimes obscured details, ironically virtually every jump occurred on sunny days when most of us are at one with the world.

The obvious question that emerges is why the city’s Bridge Authority hasn’t, given the span’s infamous history, taken steps to deter the steady stream of suicides.

“That is the question,” avers the filmmaker. “The Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway is over the center – you can only jump into traffic. Other famous sites – including the Empire State building and the Eiffel Tower – put up barriers to make it virtually impossible to get into harm’s way.”

Similarly, local landmark and one-time suicide destination the Hollywood sign cordoned off the area with electrified fences and sensors.

He, of course, approached the Bridge Authority for comment and inclusion in the film on several occasions and eventually was refused any assistance. In fact, all departments under its umbrella including coast guard retrieval and harbor police were instructed not to participate in the documentary.

“Somehow the word got out that we had footage of jumpers and they did make a comment to the press,” says Steel. “I was accused of all sorts of things which is pretty interesting because they’d never spoken to me or saw a single frame of footage. They subsequently announce they were doing a study presumably to find ways of making it more difficult to jump off the bridge.”

Ultimately The Bridge‘s potency is in the not knowing. Unlike the situation at the World Trade Center, the option to look or jump can’t be equated with the frying pan-fire analogy. It goes to the heart of darkness and those touched by it experience a different sort of pain than the one that led to the final act.

Even the survivor interviewed cannot get back to that place where in a split-second he stepped out. His method of coping is to push forward and disassociate from what he has to believe was an aberrant moment. And the sum of all the peculiarities might just add up to a portrait of humanity that’s oddly balanced between something terribly disturbing, hopefully and resilient.

October 20, 2006

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon