Short, and to the point, Billy Wirth's feature directorial debut is a admirable attempt to capture the sad reality of the homeless and drug-addicted who live in MacArthur Park - a beautiful, small lake surrounded by greenery and trees that's become a magnet for the disillusioned and dispossessed in Los Angeles.
The making-of featurette does an excellent job chronicling the wild route which led to the film's productions. Starting as a documentary project on the homeless, Wirth was given a wad of writings by one of the park's former inhabitants, Tyrone Atkins. Stuck in jail for possession of narcotics, Atkins found solace in writing a series of recollections - mainly portraits of people, their antics, and awful close calls witnessed while he lived in MacArthur Park - but the fledgling author never believed anyone would find his autobiographical writings film-worthy.
As chronicled in the featurette, Wirth kept in contact with Atkins, met him upon his release, and helped him stay clean. Along with two additional writers, Wirth and Atkins crafted a scenario that ultimately took 4 years to realize, and the featurette covers many short vignettes with the crew on location; finishing up in post-production; and doing the P.R. rounds at Park City, Utah, where many of the cast mates joined the director for the premiere screening.
The cast is both fascinating, and quirky, but star Byrd steals the film with his vivid portrayal of a father in denial. Byrd's contribution to the commentary is mostly about his acting craft, though the inclusion of co-writer Atkins regularly promotes discussion of life in the park, and the peculiar family atmosphere that develops once a new arrival earns trust with the inhabitants. The featurette better addresses Atkins' own reunion with his son after a long absence, but there's added discussions on the commentary track regarding Wirth's insistence that Atkin's own family trauma be included in the final screenplay.
During the End Credits (which appear full screen), the trio recap the basic steps that led Atkin's writings to the silver screen, though some added discussion on the production's more dry aspects - namely financing, & distribution challenges - would have balanced the more creative-slanted track, but the lively pacing ensures listeners should stay engaged for this unique film.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan
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