BLOOD directed by Jerry Ciccoritti, written by Ciccoritti, based on the play by Tom Walmsley, produced by Anna Gerb and Joel Awerbuck, with Emily Hampshire and Jacob Tierney. 85 minutes. A Capri Films release. Opens Friday (November 5). Rating: NN Rating: NN
Jerry Ciccoritti lives the film maker's dream and the cinephile's nightmare.
The dream is he gets to work. As one of Canada's most respected television directors, he's in constant demand. He directed the CBC's Trudeau miniseries. And Chasing Cain, and The Many Trials Of One Jane Doe. Right now he's working on a Shania Twain biopic. Say what you want about Gemini Awards, Ciccoritti has eight of them.
And yet you still find him haunting art house cinemas and College Street cafés like a striving young auteur. He's always turned out in inky rich fabrics, with silver ingots on his fingers, but that Old World grace is spiked with a caffeinated intensity. TV is where the work is, and where the money is. But TV can't make Ciccoritti happy.
"No matter how much fun I had on Trudeau," he confesses during the Toronto International Film Festival, "I didn't wake up one morning and say, 'God, I have to do a four-hour miniseries.'
"I'd like to keep doing television movies," he says, "and use that money, out of my own pocket, to help finance these little features."
This year's little feature is Blood.
Adapting Tom Walmsley's play, Ciccoritti turns in a compacted two-hander about siblings playing power games with sex, drugs and their own tortured bond. Shot on high-definition digital video, it's a flow of split screens and superimpositions, and it's nearly all shot in one room. Say what you want about the film's flaws, it's not a movie-of-the-week.
Ciccoritti, who's often the most interesting thing about his work, can't help stating the obvious.
"I love movies," he says. "I can't see enough movies. Five or six years ago, when digital became the thing, I was like, 'Great, this'll be a new language. I can't wait to see all this stuff.' But most of the stuff is shit, right? It's shit, or it's misguided. You could have shot it on film."
Ciccoritti had actors Emily Hampshire and Jacob Tierney perform the script straight through, twice a day for four days. In the edit room he reconstructed their performances from the eight takes, shot with two cameras.
"Let's say Monday's take was particularly slow and tragic, and Tuesday's was funny and bright. I can take a chunk from Monday and a chunk from Tuesday. By putting them together, there's a character turn no actor can create. Cinema allows you that."
Ciccoritti has taken breaks from his TV career before to make films, most notably 1993's erotically charged Paris, France. But even in films, he's had to face business compromises.
He's "not happy with" his last film, The Life Before This.
"It was recut behind me, so that screwed me for, like, a year and a half. Then I started doing really interesting TV projects like Trudeau and Lives Of The Saints, where I was allowed more and more creative freedom.
"Over the last five years I did a lot of soul-searching and realized I kind of screwed up my life and my career. When I was at the starting line of my career years ago and the gun went off, I ran straight toward pretension.
"I think I made a big mistake because I was such a cinephile. By the time I was 18 I'd seen just about everything. I somehow thought I was making good movies by making movies that looked like other films, instead of looking into my heart and thinking, 'What do I want to make? What's my way of seeing the world?'
"My first few films were just too much of that."
In fact, Ciccoritti's first three film credits were Psycho Girls, Graveyard Shift and Graveyard Shift II. Those may sound more like VCR litter than Visconti, but for Ciccoritti they were opportunities to tip his hat to Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and Dario Argento.
"Now," he says, "what's gotta come first is the emotional truth. Everything else has to take a back seat. If you know your shit and if you have a natural affinity for telling a story visually, that stuff will just come. Your movie will have a look. You don't have to appliqué that look."
Of Blood he says, "I made a conscious decision that this film had to be kind of embarrassing."
Ciccoritti started out in the theatre world - he's a co-founder of Buddies in Bad Times - and he'd known Walmsley for years before he decided to adapt his play. He and Walmsley were working on Paris, France when Walmsley's real-life sister died - "a combination of drugs and disease," Ciccoritti says.
"Being his friend and knowing his history, what I saw was a man doing in art what he could not do in life, which is save somebody's life.
"That really moved me, because in a lot of ways I'm really old-fashioned in my belief about what art can do. You spend your life thinking art is redemptive, but you never see it anywhere. And suddenly I saw an example of it. I thought, 'My god, I've got to put that onscreen somehow. '"
He forced himself to resist loading Blood with cinephile references to his favourite filmmakers.
"This is how I see the world," Ciccoritti says. "I'm not making a grand statement. I needed a simple statement, simple shooting, purity of acting.
"Like Bresson and Ozu," he adds, then catches himself.
"Can you see how seductive it is? I start out talking about how I want to get away from models, and I end up talking about Bresson and Ozu. It never leaves you."