OCFF 2018: Remaking Your Own Movie
The 2nd annual Ocean City Film Festival (OCFF) has at least one short playing that has a unique distinction. One of the first films playing on the first day is Death, Sammie Baker & A Loaded .38, a 12-minute drama, written and directed by Michael E. Pitts, a young actor-turned-director from the Washington, DC area who’s now based in Los Angeles. What distinguishes it is that this film is a remake. In 2013, Pitts wrote and starred in Death & Sammie, a 7-minute drama that Pitts didn’t direct but produced himself. Now, Pitts is in the director’s chair and is remaking his own idea. That basic idea is a suicidal young man is visited by the Grim Reaper. With the two versions now in existence, the opportunity arises to compare and contrast them.
The first thing to compare and contrast is the running time. This 2018 version is longer than the 2013 version. The question becomes why the extra length or what is the extra length used to do. The 2013 version starts with a brief but powerful scene involving the Grim Reaper. It then cuts to him showing up at the apartment of Charlie, the suicidal, young man. The movie then proceeds from there. This 2018 version instead starts with Charlie in a 2-minute, opening sequence that shows Charlie’s lonely and repetitive life. It’s meant to underline why Charlie would want to commit suicide. This difference makes the movie more about Charlie than the Grim Reaper and thus makes Charlie the protagonist. The 2013 version took a different route. It conveyed most through set design like drab colors and beer bottles everywhere, as well as dark, smoky lighting to set the grim mood thus making the Grim Reaper essentially the protagonist.
The majority of both versions is the conversation between the Grim Reaper and Charlie. In that, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the performances and the writing. A starting point are the two pairs of actors in both versions. Pitts (pictured above on the right) plays the Grim Reaper in the first version and Chad Perkins plays Charlie. In the second version, James Giordano plays the Grim Reaper and Philip Rodriguez plays Charlie.
One obvious difference is that Giordano is much older than Pitts. That changes the dynamic a bit. Originally, Pitts wanted the Grim Reaper to be like a guy at the end of the bar, maybe like Norm Peterson from Cheers. Giordano better fits that role than Pitts does. Pitts has a side-job as a bartender and in this case Pitts does come across as a more sophisticated or more suave bartender like Sam Malone from Cheers. Pitts also plays the character with more compassion and charm than Giordano whose character is more frustrated and bitter. Pitts’ performance is funnier, warmer and a little creepier. Giordano’s performance is more sardonic, colder and combative. He’s not threatening per se, but Giordano becomes way more aggressive.
Perkins (pictured above) plays Charlie in the first version. We don’t really learn anything about Charlie besides he’s a guy who has a crappy apartment and an old cat. It’s never made clear why he would want to kill himself. It especially doesn’t make sense given that he’s a young, healthy and good-looking guy in great shape, or at least we assume he’s in good shape and doesn’t have a terminal disease or something. He’s more or less a proxy for anyone contemplating suicide, particularly someone who doesn’t do it on impulse but who puts thought into it. The argument then becomes why a person even with good reasoning shouldn’t commit suicide. Yet, that argument isn’t really made. Obviously, it’s a no-brainer, but the movie simply reduces it down to the possibility that Charlie maybe has a chance with a girl he likes. Nothing is known about this girl, except she’s single, but it’s also unknown if she wants or even would be with Charlie. For Charlie to pin his hopes on this one girl doesn’t seem like an argument most health professionals would say is good.
Rodriguez (pictured above) plays Charlie in the second version. Because we spend more time with him, we better understand his reasons for suicide. Rodriguez is good at playing depression. I don’t want to cast any aspersions, but Rodriguez is also perhaps not as good-looking as Perkins, which is a highly subjective and relative observation, but his behavior and appearance at first seem to be a human-embodiment of Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh. Also because of that 2-minute, opening sequence, we get how desolate his life is. It makes sense why the Grim Reaper would be more combative toward him. With some flashbacks to Charlie’s childhood in the second version, the trajectory of him needing to be pushed toward the girl in question makes more sense. With the reference to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957), it’s an ironic take on the character of Death doing the opposite of what he’s supposed to be doing.
There are a few quibbles that I’ve found about both versions. In the 2013 version, Charlie states to the Grim Reaper interrogatively if everyone gets this treatment, meaning he wonders if every suicidal person is visited by the Grim Reaper who then tries to talk him or her out of it. The implicit question is why is the Grim Reaper trying to talk Charlie out of suicide. In other words, why would the Grim Reaper care? Rhetorically speaking, the answer is probably not a literal one but a metaphorical one of regardless of this specific scenario, suicide is something that should always be argued against. This 2018 version does a better job of making the answer less metaphorical and more literal. Giordano’s performance also helps to sell this notion of a Grim Reaper arguing against his job.
Giordano’s character argues that living beings can appreciate the beauty of nature and should embrace the warmth of life, light and love. Strangely though, Giordano’s character references going down below, possibly meaning Hell in the Christian sense. He never argues though that if Charlie commits suicide, he’ll go to actual Hell for it, which might have been a better argument. Some scholars don’t believe that suicide is necessarily a straight path to the Devil. Depending on one’s faith or religion, the person committing suicide probably doesn’t believe that either. There are Japanese kamikaze pilots as well as Muslim suicide bombers who certainly don’t believe that. It would have been interesting to see though what this conversation would have been if Charlie were instead a kamikaze pilot or suicide bomber. Some of them think they’re going to a Heaven-like afterlife.
But if nothing else, Pitts’ film provides something to think about. You can watch the original 2013 film Death & Sammie on YouTube. The new version is playing Friday, March 9 at 11 AM at the Ocean City Film Festival at the Clarion Resort, Conference Room #4.
For more information, go to ocmdfilmfestival.com.