Last week I wrote a review for a movie called Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney for BlogCritics. The movie is kind of a documentary and kind of a mockumentary. I didn’t particularly like the movie. Many of the situations were obviously staged and I didn’t really find them all that funny. The subject of the movie – Ruth Anson – was interesting and would have made a good subject for a documentary if the movie had stayed focused on her. Unfortunately Ruth pretty much drops out of the movie while the crew makes phones calls and argues about how bad their material is.
After I published my review, Ruth Anson herself left a comment. So did the director Mark Cushman and Ruth’s sister. They all thought I was too focused on what was “made up” (all admitted to some staging by the way) and not on the heart of the movie.
I still stand by my review, because I agree that the heart of the movie should have been Ruth Anson and her self-discovery. That would have made a good film. But that was not the film they made.
While I’m not glad they didn’t like my review, it’s rewarding to me that they all took the time to write something. In particular I would like Ruth Anson to know that I did think she was an interesting person and my main problem with the movie is that it was not truly about her.
Below is my review and their comments:
There’s a lot of “desperation” in Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney, but unfortunately most of it doesn’t have anything to do with the former Beatle. The film is a mockumentary attempting to make something out of nothing. It fails on nearly every level.
In 1965 Ruth Anson was a spirited teen correspondent for ABC News. Through her charm and perseverance she was able to push her way to the front lines and interview the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Princess Margaret, Bob Hope, and Lana Turner. Vintage clips of these interviews are interspersed throughout Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney. And of course, there is the interview that eventually inspired this film – Paul McCartney. It seems that at the end of a Beatles press conference, Anson got in one last question to McCartney: “Do you have any plans to get married soon?”
“Only if you’ll marry me now,” McCartney quipped back to the stunned Anson.
Forty-one years later Anson can’t get the comment out of her mind. Anxious to reconnect with McCartney, Anson pitches her tale at an open call for story ideas. The panel of Hollywood “insiders” is somewhat intrigued, but tells her she doesn’t have enough material. “Come up with a good story, drop Paul, and make the main character in her thirties,” they tell her. “No Paul?” says a disenchanted Anson in what may be one of the few genuine scenes in this film.
Mark Cushman, a screenwriter, decides there may be something to Anson’s story. He rounds up a “crew” to document Anson’s quest to find Paul McCartney. It is at this point the movie goes from documentary to mockumentary. It’s hard to say whether the original intention of the film was to stage everything, but that is the end result. It seems entirely possible that this project found itself with unusable footage and resorted to staged situations to salvage what little material they had.
Unfortunately, instead of amusing and/or interesting scenes of Anson attempting to “find Paul,” there are endless scenes of Cushman and his crew – which consists of a couple of PAs and a cameraman – making telephone calls. Most of the calls are to unnamed people who supposedly may have some connection to McCartney or Anson. The crew, who were clearly rounded up from some local college’s drama department, do not seem to have ever been involved in a film production in their lives. One PA said that he signed on based on the fact that Cushman must be legit because he wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (a quick search on the Internet reveals that Cushman only has a story credit for
one episode of the show).
Most of film is done like a reality show complete with talking head video diaries and manufactured conflict. The obvious setups include crew members quitting in disgust, doors getting slammed in Ruth Anson’s face, and a therapy session for Anson. There is even a bizarre intervention in which Anson’s “friends and family” try to convince her to save some dignity and drop out of the project. That may have been good advice if it wasn’t clear that Anson was in on the whole thing.
An interesting aspect about Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney is that, despite the staging, there are a couple of situations that must be real because there would have been no way to fake them. The most notable is the production’s attempt to track down McCartney at the Grammys. In a Bowfinger-esque move, the crew attempts to capture whatever they can despite their lack of invitations to the event. Anson shouts to anyone walking by that McCartney once proposed to her. The segment is a reminder of what this movie could have and should have been — a realistic look at Anson’s willingness to do anything to reconnect with McCartney.
The most honest moment in the entire film comes from adult film star, Ron Jeremy. I would like to say Mr. Jeremy’s cameo was a surprise, but his name appears in the opening credits of the film. Mr. Jeremy, in what may have actually been an unplanned event, shows up in the background of the Grammy footage. “Is that Ron Jeremy?” says a surprised Mark Cushman. “He was saying hello to me,” the cameraman explains. Unfortunately the cameraman does not elaborate on how he happens to know Ron Jeremy.
For no other reason than to gain a little “star” power in the film, Cushman sends Anson to interview Mr. Jeremy. Anson, of course, wastes no time in telling Jeremy about McCartney’s “proposal,” and wonders what her next step should be. “Give up!” says Jeremy. “He didn’t [propose] and if you think he did, you’re a fruit loop.” Anson actually isn’t a “fruit loop.” Like a lot of us, she is looking to reclaim a bit of her youth. If this film had been about that, it could have been good. In this case the filmmakers obviously didn’t trust their material, manipulating everything until almost every ounce of reality was drained out.
I also have to note that this DVD suffered from a major technical mistake. The titles were formatted incorrectly. The subtitles and credits are half off of the screen, making everything practically unreadable. There is not a lot in the way of features, but this DVD does have one that I have never seen before. The original songs written for the movie can be listened to on their own, accessible via a separate menu and accompanied by music-video style footage of a Beatles’ tribute band. Since they could not afford the licensing to actual Beatles songs, twelve “Beatles type” songs were written for the film. One of the songs was written by Jeff Toczynski, a Paul McCartney inpersonator, who also makes a seeminly embarrassed appearance in the film.
Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney is nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on an obscure decades-old newsreel clip, and of course, the draw of McCartney’s name.
(2 out of 5 stars)
September 2, 2008 @ 23:29PM – Ruth Anson
I wasn’t “in on the whole thing.”
I’m Ruth Anson, the former KABC-TV reporter who interviewed Paul McCartney in 1965, and the subject of “Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney.”
Our distributor may have done us a disservice by printing on the DVD cover that we won the “Audience Favorite” Award for Best Picture at Mockfest 2008. Doing this labels the movie as a mockumentary, even though it really is not. It is a documentary with a sense of humor.
You are correct that some aspects of the movie have been manipulated. Yes, the director did put me through the ringer. It is also true that the director did think I was a little crazy. He may still think this. I assume that every person who sees this movie will have their own opinion there, as you do. But nothing was faked. The psychology session is one such example. This was very real – and profoundly valuable for me. It was actually an hour and a half long, but, as you know, you can’t put everything in. News is edited and therefore manipulated everyday. Most things are not what they seem and, unless you do your homework, you won’t know the true facts.
You were also right that the director lost some faith in the project – but he does this on screen. He allows you to see him lose faith, and this is all very real. I think it was brave – and certainly unusual – that he allowed himself and his crew to be filmed so that viewers could see what goes on behind closed doors of reality type productions. He knew he wouldn’t be seen in a positive light, but stayed honest with the camera.
I was open to all aspects of this journey and, even though my initial intention was to reconnect with Paul McCartney, I ended up discovering something very real about myself.
Whether you like the movie or not, at least let me set the record straight by telling you that this is a documentary. How the journey began, progresses, and ends is very real.
Truly yours, Ruth Anson.
September 6, 2008 @ 16:46PM — Marc Cushman
Ruth Anson sent me the link to this site so I could check out a very negative review. She must hate me.
Then I saw the note she posted and the reply from “The Other Chad.”
I won’t debate anyone’s opinion on this movie, but, to set the record straight, I chose to list everyone who is seen in “Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney” as cast members because, whether they liked it or not, they became cast members. That does not necessarily make them actors.
Do a search at Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com). I don’t expect you will find acting credits for any of us prior to this movie, except for Ruth, who, besides doing the news way back when, appeared in episodes of “The Brady Bunch” and “My Three Sons.”
It was certainly not my desire to be on camera – especially since I knew I would be coming off as a bit of an ass. The production just went that way (see the movie and you’ll understand). I can tell you that Susan Osborn, our Production Coordinator, was not thrilled about being on camera – even though she is delightful. Even I have to admit that those cutting looks she gives me behind my back are priceless. And she still gives them to me.
As for the psychologist, he truly is a psychologist – and a very good one – not an actor. Ruth’s family are who they say they are, not actors. The Paul McCartney impersonator is just that, not an actor. And that gay fashion expert wasn’t putting on anything for the camera. That’s him.
That wonderful older woman – Alice – seems very comfortable on camera, and very outrageous. I told her I thought she could become the next “Where’s the beef” woman and should get an agent. She won’t. She wouldn’t even watch the movie we did. She’s afraid she’ll be embarrassed.
The shrink session is real, those tears at the intervention are real, and we really did crash the Grammys. And Ron Jeremy was not a plant. He spotted one of my cameramen, who, apparently, has photographed Ron in the past … in the buff.
I do not deny that I manipulated portions of this movie. You see me doing it on screen. This is, after all, a movie within a movie. But the one thing I was never able to manipulate was Ruth. To the contrary, I have a suspicion that she may have been manipulating me.
Director, “Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney.”
September 9, 2008 @ 16:02PM — April Anson Dammann
I have been close to the “Desperately” production since its inception, as my son Joe Dammann appears in the movie as Ruth’s nephew (who he is)in an honest portrayal of his concern for his obsessed aunt. I find the reviewers to be paying inordinate attention to the story’s genre–and not enough to the entertainment value of the piece. It is funny, surprising, poignant, musical and yes, even hard to believe, at times. But worrying about which scenes were set up or manipulated ignores the real emotions which are on display throughout Ruth’s wacky journey. Enjoy “Desperately Seeking Paul” without all the scrutiny about what is “mock” and what is “doc.” By any name, it’s a hoot.
– Ruth’s sister, April