Volume 75, Number 41 | March 1 -7 2006

Film

Home
Written and directed by Matt Zoller Seitz
Thursday, March 2 through Wednesday, March 8
The Two Boots Pioneer Theater
155 East 3rd Street, between Avenues A and B
(212-591-0434; twoboots.com/pioneer)

Gave Evans/Richard Seitz

Bobby (Jason Liebrecht) joins the party with Susan (Nicol Zanzarella) and Rose (Erin S. Visslailli) in “Home,” the feature film debut of film and TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz,

Movie critic takes director’s seat in ‘Home’

By Steven Snyder

Matt Zoller Seitz said he was always one of those people at parties who observed the action from the sidelines, taking in the stories and characters that only seem to come alive when alcohol, friends, and streams of strangers all mix together.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when this New York Press film critic set out to make his first feature film, he wrote and directed a story steeped in sociology.

“It’s a zoological drama, really,” Seitz said. “I’m less interested in what these people are saying…it’s how they’re interacting that matters more.

“I wanted people to get through the entire movie without revealing their last names — it creates a zoo.”

His final vision does one better than create a zoo. “Home,” which opens at The Pioneer Theater this Thursday, denies all of its 50-plus characters last names, many of them first names and sees this swinging house party from the eyes of a voyeur, the camera entering a Brooklyn Brownstone over the shoulder of Bobby, a stranger, invited to the bash by a friend of a friend.

Most memorable about Seitz’s world is how perfectly he picks up on the different acts of a party’s existence. First, there’s the small gathering of wine-sippers and chit-chatters. Then, as more people show, the music gets turned up and the dancing begins, the party spreads out between the house’s many floors and its back yard, and tension starts to mount amongst the drunk men, a bickering couple that arrived to the party mid-fight and the party’s singles who kick their flirting into high gear. He even captures the intoxicating peace of a post-party house with only a few partiers left, as the mess is cleaned and the clock runs out on both the hopeful and dejected lovebirds.

Though “Home” excels as an observant social document, Seitz is quick to dismiss the party concept as less a stroke of genius than a choice made out of economic necessity.

“The budget for the film is what the catering costs were for one day of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’” Seitz chuckled, explaining that he needed a cheap concept for “Home” that would limit the number of the film’s locations. “The only situation where I could have a lot of characters in one apartment building is a party, so there you go.”

The story of a party, however, helped Seitz artistically in unexpected ways. A fan of Robert Altman, he was able to stage the film with overlapping storylines and dialogue. He also said the more his actors embraced their characters, the more they improvised on the script and approached Seitz with proposed changes. In one instance, he even altered the ending of the movie based on the thoughts of leads Nicol Zanzarella and E. Jason Liebrecht, who play the party’s host and the stranger who arrives at the party sporting a suit.

“I hate exposition,” Seitz said. “I don’t care about that, I care about the behavior of the characters in that particular moment — how close are those two characters talking, does she touch his sleeve?

“And, as it turns out, that’s also what matters most to actors, or at least the actors that worked on this story,” he said. “So I couldn’t pay them much, but I paid them in freedom — that, and a sandwich.”

Originally a film student at Southern Methodist University near Dallas, Seitz said he fell into journalism by accident, and as a critic has always seen through a filmmaker’s eyes, favoring form over content. He said his favorite single shot in “Home” is a long take that first zooms out to reveal a romantic rendezvous and then pans up, to show a third character observing the scene from a second-story window. He quickly added: “That’s my shout out to John Frankenheimer. He’s a hero of mine and I ripped off one of his most spectacular shots.”

Set to screen at two more film festivals before seeking nationwide distribution on DVD, Seitz said he never really imagined that “Home” would be widely seen. And he knows his role as critic will affect the way his film is viewed and appreciated. In fact, he said the weight of his name as a major TV and film critic has helped his film get valuable press and reviews, which have so far been mostly positive.

“Some people will write things about my movie that will make me want to kill them,” he admitted. “And others will write things that make me go and give them some lovin’. But anybody who reads my writing knows I can be unbelievably mean sometimes, so I feel there’s a bit of karmic payback here in reading reviews of my own stuff.”

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