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[whitespace] 'Cleopatra's Second Husband'
Guess Who's Staying for Breakfast? Radha Mitchell, Boyd Kestner and Paul Hipp fail at communicaton in 'Cleopatra's Second Husband.'

Husbanding Cleopatra

Local director Jon Reiss blows up with 'Cleopatra's Second Husband'

By Richard von Busack

SOME PEOPLE will run over their parents to get into show business. Jon Reiss, who made the promising debut Cleopatra's Second Husband, wasn't that ruthless, but he did film his parents getting run over. It happened some 10 years ago at a video shoot about Survival Research Laboratories, Mark Pauline's high-explosive demolition-art troupe. "At one of SRL's early shows, I almost got maimed," Reiss says by phone. "My parents got hit by one of the machines, and I got that on camera. Then the machine swung up and came straight back at me. I was a little more careful at SRL shows after that."

Reiss, who is from Los Gatos, went to UC-Berkeley to study economics. where he became interested in the punk-rock bands that were then springing up all over the Bay Area. Working for Target Video in San Francisco, Reiss began filming bands such as the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Silvertone, Chris Isaacs' ex-group. After his time with SRL, Reiss made a famous grisly video for Nine Inch Nails, "Happiness in Slavery," in which Trent Reznor is colonized and devoured by a futuristic La-Z-Boy recliner.

Reiss' dark tone is apparent in Cleopatra's Second Husband, a sometimes intense story about a recessive worm named Robert (Paul Hipp). The meek photographer is pushed to desperation by Hallie, his castrating wife (Bitty Schram), and two housesitters who won't leave. Sexual chemistry is provided by Radha Mitchell, so memorable as the provocative, blasé culture-vulturette in High Art. Cleopatra's Second Husband is a horror movie about oppression by erstwhile friends. Reiss explains: "What I had in mind for Cleopatra's Second Husband were films that aren't being made anymore, like Joseph Losey's The Servant, Polanski's Cul de Sac and Fassbinder's In a Year of Thirteen Moons. There used to be a fair amount of these films made in the '60s. Neil LaBute (Your Friends and Neighbors) has been mining this territory lately."

Reiss' film also made me think of Blier's Ménage, though it's less a comedy than it is a Jacobean revenge story. That brand of horror stems from a society in which upstarts are menacing an established order; Robert's final turning of the tables seems to be less motivated by crime against himself than by crime against his property. "The movie is kind of more about personal responsibility than revenge," Reiss argues. "It's based on a period of my life when I had a lot of issues, a lot of problems, and how basically I was the one causing them."

Cleopatra's Second Husband (Unrated.; 92 min.) written and directed by Jon Reiss, photographed by Matt Faw and starring Paul Hipp, Bitty Schram, Boyd Kestner and Radha Mitchell, opens Friday at the Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the November 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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