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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

The First Saturday in May (2008, 1/2 *)

Louisville, Kentucky racetrack and pari-mutuel parlor Churchill Downs is one of the financiers of the eighteen-city release of John and Brad Hennegan’s “The First Saturday in May,” a decidedly subpar specialist documentary about the annual gambling and drinking bacchanal, the Kentucky Derby. Despite the dreadful pacing in its vérité about something exceptionally false (a gleaming symbol of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, a battered and dying state), aggressive and aggravating intertitles and captioning and an eclectic, abysmal score credited to The FirstSaturdayinMay_3458.jpgRyan Brothers (among almost a dozen credits to the Hennegan brothers in the end roll), “First Saturday” provides a distinctly unflattering portrait of the attendants of the six equine hopefuls on display. It’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers are aware that virtually everyone on screen, painfully banal and semi-articulate almost to a soul are also dislikeable, earnest, often profane bores. (There’s a shocking amount of profanity that would likely alienate some of the potential buyers who’d place the DVD in their third bedroom of their second home.) A typical example: a trainer in a wheelchair who’d had a dirt-bike accident, we’re told, was a shining example, for him to have “come back with a vengeance… to show the determination… it’s just beyond the call of duty… it’s just something unexplainable.” (And nearly unwatchable.) A rich trophy wife of a horse-owner is shown making jokes about plastic surgery (and even gets subtitles despite not having that distinct a drawl). One trainer has a pair of cousins who are given one of the film’s final scenes in a drunken, profane ramble on a golf course. One jarring moment is when a black man sweeping the stables reflects, “We takin’ care of million dollar horses, horses worth a million dollars, we takin’ care of.” (It’s strange and casual, but it’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers understand the weight of the moment’s inclusion, which is almost as troubling an editing choice as the words from the Kentucky congressman over the weekend who called Barack Obama “boy.”) There’s Tammy, a tiny female jockey, who seems likeable, but her moments are shared with her small young son who’s got a wad of “a thousand and thirty-four” dollars he’s going to bet. “Horses and poker, that’s his thing right now… He’s just like his father,” she says, leaving us to imagine what that truly means. Mostly, the screen is given over to tedious arcana that doesn’t demonstrate anything memorable, with rare flashes like the trainer who’s about to lose profanely crossing himself at post time. (“Shit fire, man! Shit fire, is his keen observation after his horse’s screw-up.) “First Saturday” may be comprehensible to someone who knows this stuff, who could stitch their own tout sheet, but to a general viewer, ought to be deeply dull. Taking a note from the filmmakers, I’ll end with the words of the hanger-on cousins on the green: “You motherfuckers don’t know anything about whiskey… Everybody’s got dreams but everybody likes t’crush ’em…. For us, the Derby’s fucking everything, it’s like the World Series, Superbowl, everything, and our whole life we’ve been going to the track and Dale’s starting from nothing… I say we’re in the Derby, but I use it as we, it’s the best thing that every happened to him or us… We’re at the big dance. It’s a proud day…. Shit… we’re on top of it!” And the staggeringly drunk man spits on the green. Opens Friday: Austin, Berkeley, Boston, Denver, Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. Opens April 25 Atlanta, Milwaukee, Seattle. [Trailer.]

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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