MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

Gary Dretzka Digital Nation: Kisses

As the title of Lance Daly’s sweet coming-of-age dramedy implies, lips meet lips in Kisses. If for no other reason than those lips are on the faces of characters 13 and 11 years old, the embraces are few, but memorable.

Revealing anything more about the tenor, timing or taste of those kisses would require a spoiler alert here. Instead, let’s ask Daly a different question: What’s in a name?The male protagonist was christened Dylan, after Bob Dylan, a fact that doesn’t mean much to him, but should add to the appeal of Kisses for viewers older than, say, 35. Turns out, Dylan – the singer-songwriter from Hibbing, Minnesota – holds a place in the hearts of several of the people encountered by a pair of kids who run away from home on a chilly Christmas Eve in Dublin. A key element in the overnight maturation of the unhappy neighbors, Dylan and Kylie, requires they listen to these disparate characters explain what Bob Dylan means to them.

The first is a harmonica-playing immigrant, piloting a dredger barge along a Dublin canal. He allows them to hitch a ride into the city as part of their escape from a dead-end existence with their miserable parents in a working-class suburb. The other is a street busker, playing Dylan songs to holiday shoppers in the city’s business and shopping district. Finally, they meet a Dylan impersonator, Down Under Dylan, sipping beer and smoking cigarettes between shows outside a theater.

One sums up all of their feelings about the bard, thusly, “He’s a fuckin’ musical god!”

This kind of admiration-bordering-on-obsession won’t surprise anyone who came of age during the 1960s and ’70s. Ignoring for the time being that Dylan continues to change the story on his transition from Robert Allen Zimmerman to Bob Dylan, telling one reporter it was inspired by TV’s Sheriff Matt Dillon and others he wanted a stronger stage name than Allen or Elston Gunn, a moniker he briefly tried on for size. In his autobiography, “Chronicles,” he finally copped to being influenced, at least, by the poet.

Birth records show that very few newborns, male or female, were given the name Dylan before 1965 and those who were probably were of Welsh ancestry. That would change radically in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when Baby Boomers started having babies of their own.

Instead of paying homage to their favorite pop-cultural icon by naming a pet after him, boomers began calling their spawn, Dylan (or, in a pinch, Che). At the height of its usage, in 2001, 0.798 percent of all baby boys in the U.S. were given the name Dylan, making it the 21st most popular choice. It’s entirely possible, though, a good many of those children were named after Dylan McKay, Luke Perry’s character in Beverly Hills, 90210.

Daly says that his father was a big fan of the American singer-songwriter and he grew up listening to the albums. Tellingly, “Bringing It All Back Home” was stuck in the tape deck of his car while Kisses was being prepped. A heavy rotation of “electric Dylan” must have worked some mojo on the Irishman’s brain.

“Dylan’s songs are infused in the life of the film,” he acknowledged. “The song, ‘Shelter From the Storm,’ was in my head when I thought about the children spending a cold night, alone, in Dublin, looking for Dylan’s brother. The lyrics were perfect, so I had the dredge captain play the song on his harmonica.”

The larger question, perhaps, is how such a micro-budgeted indie as Kisses could have afforded a soundtrack that included several Dylan songs. Normally, the rights to even one title would have cost the production as much as all the other expenses combined.

“Actually, I finished the film before approaching anyone about the rights,” Daly added. “I sent a copy of Kisses to Dylan’s manager, who responded favorably. It didn’t hurt that we referred to him as a ‘fuckin’ god.’

“The only two conditions were that we couldn’t discuss the deal in the press and it had to be made clear, somehow, that the impersonator was sharing his beer with the children, not an actor playing the real Bob Dylan. He didn’t want it to seem as if Dylan would endorse allowing kids that young to drink beer.”

No problem, there.

Daly was able to convince Stephen Rea to play Down Under Dylan, although even his fans would be hard-pressed to recognize the popular and influential Irish actor.

“We’d worked together, in 2002, on The Halo Effect,” said Daly. “I ran into him again at a Dylan concert in Dublin and was struck by his likeness to the musician. He’s a national treasure and very supportive of Irish filmmakers, playwrights and artists.”

The adventures of Dylan and Kylie, in Kisses, might remind some viewers of those attributed by Mark Twain to Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher. Tired of the verbal, physical and sexual abuse heaped upon them by their parents and step-parents, the kids decide to head for the city, where they’ll search for Dylan’s long-lost brother.

“It might surprise American audiences to see how small a town Dublin is,” Daly says. “You can walk around it in a few hours. I’ve always lived near the canal, so they were kind of iconic to me.

“They don’t use those kinds of dredges in the canals, anymore, and the company wouldn’t rent one to us. We had to build one of our own.”

One of the first things Dylan does when they reach the city center is get his head shaved, possibly to resemble his brother, as seen in photographs around the house. The haircut seems to add two years to the 13-year-old’s stature and put him in a position to be taken seriously as Kylie’s knight in shining armor, when the situation presents itself.

At 72 minutes, Kisses almost qualifies as a short subject. Even so, Daly said he wasn’t tempted to re-insert the pair of scenes that were edited out, simply to meet the unofficial minimum length of 90 minutes. As interesting as they sounded, the writer/director deemed the scenes unnecessary.

“They’ll probably wind up in the DVD package, along with the auditions of Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry, the kids who play Kylie and Dylan,” Daly said. “We interviewed hundred of children who were good actors and followed our instruction, but those two came in and claimed the roles. They were amateurs, so it took a bit of brainwashing on our parts for them to learn their lines.”

He cited Tom Tykwer’s 80-minute Run Lola Run as a movie that convinced him he could stop editing when he felt Kisses was finished and not to fit some proscribed length.

“’Lola’ was small and perfect,’” he said. “I think audiences were energized by it. There’s nothing wrong with getting people in and out of a cinema in a hurry.”

Like Kisses, Daly’s two other features, Last Days in Dublin and The Halo Effect, were made on shoestring budgets. The $7 million provided for his American directorial debut, The Good Doctor, felt to him like a fortune. Moreover, it will benefit from the presence of Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean star Orlando Bloom. (He also co-wrote the screenplay for Constantin Werner’s period fantasy, The Pagan Queen.)

Now, Daly laments, “Its back to Ireland and another film I’ll have to make on the same budget as the first two.”

– Gary Dretzka
July 14, 2010

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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