At age 40, Richard Gozawsky, a San Francisco Pentecostal pastor at one of those houses of worship where the members are encouraged to speak in tongues and prayers become shouting matches with the devil, saw his first movie ever. Soon thereafter he received a message from God: Richard was to form a production company and make the greatest, biggest motion picture of all time. It was to be called Gravity: In the Shadow of Joseph, and this cross between Star Wars and The Ten Commandments was going to change the world.
Sounds like the makings of a high concept, studio-budgeted comedy from the Bruce Almighty playbook, doesnâ€™t it? Think again, my friends, because Gazowsky and his journey are the subject of An Audience of One, a documentary from director Michael Jacobs. The film, originally released in 2007 and the recipient of many festival awards, has come to DVD through Indiepix. If you’re tired of documentary filmmakers injecting their beliefs and themselves into their movies, or if you simply enjoy well-made, dramatic movies with humor and eccentric characters, then the nonjudgmental An Audience of One is a film you should see.
Jacobâ€™s film opens as preproduction of Gravity is underway. The volunteer members of the church are making costumes, running the finances, and planning a company move from California to Alberobello, Italy, where they plan to shoot their movie. Having never directed a movie in his life and having never produced anything of this capacity before, Gazowsky is able to raise enough money to put the film into production. His â€œhow hard can it beâ€ attitude about film making and his undying faith that God will guide him have convinced people that he will make this movie. As spiritual leader of his entire production staff, no one questions his actions; no one thinks heâ€™s going to fail. As for the professionals hired to light and work on the camera crew, well, a gig is a gig as long as you get paid, even if the director of the film is delusional.
After the cast of amateur actors — some of whom have literally never acted before — arrive in Italy, anything that can go wrong does. From camera trouble (Gazowsky has insisted on shooting in 70MM), to costumes that havenâ€™t been completed, to extras and Italian crew members that donâ€™t speak English, to inclement weather, the production falls apart and gets off on TWO SHOTS. Throughout it all, Gazowsky and his devout followers, which include his daughters and a guitar touting singer who accompanies each of Gazowskyâ€™s morning prayers with his plucky, almost comical chords, remain optimistic that the film will eventually get done because theyâ€™re on a mission from God.
They return to the States to resume finding financing for Gravity. Youâ€™d expect Gazowsky to return home with his tail between his legs, but the man is unflappable. So strong his is faith that he canâ€™t come to terms that Gravity is a bad idea. Quite the opposite; he thinks itâ€™s such a great idea that he becomes paranoid that the major Hollywood studios are trying to steal the script. He somehow manages to arrange a lease of a massive film studio from the city, where he continues his pursuit of money from German backers who have supposedly promised millions of dollars. Strangely, the amount heâ€™s been promised keeps going up.
The money from the investors never materializes and the production company gets evicted from the studio and then sued by the city of San Francisco for not paying their rent. Once again, Gazowsky returns to his flock to ask for money, only his vision has gotten bigger. In the end, you wonâ€™t believe what he tells his congregation that God has in the works for them.
Obviously I am projecting my opinion of Gazowsky and his church into this review. However, at no time does director Jacobs go out of his way to make Gazowsky look foolish and never does he cast his own judgment on the subjects of his movie. Instead, he allows the drama to unfold and lets the cameras roll. I often wonder how much of documentary filmmaking is intuition and how much of it is luck. For Jacobs to have signed up to follow Gazowsky and to be on hand as everything fails miserably was either genius or a stroke of luck. What is so fascinating is the access Jacobs received. Gazowsky and his family are all open with the camera.
In addition to telling the story of Gravity and Gazowskyâ€™s quest to make the greatest movie ever, Jacobs follows along with one of the actors (the only one with some experience); he interviews a local reporter who calls into question Gazowskyâ€™s ethics; heâ€™s on hand for the falling out between Gazowsky and his DP; and he is able to get Gazowskyâ€™s mother, the former minister of the church who handed the reins to her son, to speak candidly about her personal feelings about Gravity and her sonâ€™s folly.
An Audience of One is solidly directed and has the sort of seamless editing that make for the best documentaries. At no time is it a stuffy piece of reporting. Instead, Jacobs took advantage of the story in front of him and created not only a fine piece of filmmaking, but a damn fine piece of entertainment. The film is available on DVD to buy or rent and you can also download the movie from the Indiepix website. The DVD comes with insightful commentary by the director, as well as some humorous bonus features. As for those two shots of film from Gravity? Theyâ€™re on the DVD, too.
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