Success can be an evil temptress; Fame, its twin, a merciless succubus.
The traditional path of American artistic fame and success is as well-worn as it is well-known: Your naive, humble roots and lonely nights of hard work lead to your discovery; your first hit leads to money, power and fame; inexorably you get drunk on those three elixirs which leads you to supreme egotism (marked officially by the first time you hurl an empty whiskey bottle at your best friend); your inevitable rock-bottom self-destruction (or “OD”) which is then followed by apologies, rehab and your even more inevitable comeback. If you are lucky, you can stretch out that path over forty years (See Ray as an example). If you are unlucky, like Troy Duffy, that period can barely last five of your allotted fifteen minutes of fame (See Overnight as an example).
Following in the recent personal home videos turned yummy arthouse dish genre of films like Capturing The Friedmans and Tarnation, Overnight documents the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of Duffy, an unknown LA bartender by way of South Boston, who was paid $300,000 for his first script, The Boondock Saints, by Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. Oh! Miramax would also give him a $15 million budget to direct the movie. Oh yeah! And his band, The Brood, would also release the soundtrack album. He was an overnight success, the kind of rags-to-riches tale that fills newspapers and warms the hearts of hopefuls. Most people might be humbled by this opportunity. Most people also feel that they won’t let such early success go to their growing heads. Troy Duffy is not most people. He grabbed this crown as if it was anointed by mandate of a higher power. The early footage in the documentary (made by two of Troy’s friends, Troy Montana and Mark Brian Smith) depicts the kind of celebrity hob-nobbing and juvenile watering-hole drinking conquests that any new hotshot on the block might experience. But it is Duffy’s unabashed boasts of being the “first” ever to do this and that; check that, it’s the sheer balls of the guy to be planning his Chairman Mao-esque world cultural domination before a frame of his movie has even been committed to celluloid that show his troubling symptoms of megalomania.
Calling Hollywood a fickle town is something that even Captain Obvious might laugh at you for saying. So it is no shock that Miramax eventually put The Boondock Saints in turnaround AKA movie purgatory. Overnight, however, never makes clear what Troy did, specifically, if anything, to draw ire from Miramax. The reality of the situation can be found in the old Corleone family truism: “It’s business, nothing personal.” What is clear, as the film plays out, is that Mr. Duffy took this affront personally; making several desultory, inflammatory comments - on camera - about Weinstein. Rarely has a real man’s self-destruction, layer-by-bloody-layer been so pain-stakingly caught for our viewing pleasure; its like an 85 minute behind-the-scenes DVD extra on acid. That his initial opportunity is one that I, or any other wannabe filmmaker out there would sell his worthless soul for makes this cautionary tale all the more compelling. It automatically prompts you to whisper aloud the “What would I do in his shoes?” question, even if your dream is not to be the next Scorsese. Once in a lifetime opportunity is something we all can identify with and dream of.
Many young directors do garner a kind of totalitarian ego and it’s a trait that can serve that director well. Usually, though, you need to make The French Connection or The Exorcist before you can stomp around Hollywood and Vine like you’re William Friedkin. The Boondock Saints did get made, albeit for less money and by a much smaller studio, was barely released theatrically and has enjoyed some life on home video (personally, I think it’s a silly, overviolent, bloody John Woo-slo-mo drenched fury that signifies nothing). Some, myself included, might consider that success alone. But, in the most telling scene of the film, Mr. Duffy berates a class of film students for daring to express that very sentiment to him. By then, of course, it is too late. He has sealed his fate with the kind of fame no one wants: infamy.