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Toothsome Tale

[whitespace] Short film from local director offers amusingly paranoid tale about love and table manners

By Patrick Sullivan

IN A CINEMATIC world dominated by bloated Hollywood blockbusters, 12 minutes sounds less like the length of a film and more like the punch line to a tasteless joke about an aspiring starlet and a casting couch. But think again. In the time it takes some movies to roll their credits out past Best Boy and Key Grip, short films often manage to blow their full-length counterparts out of the water by offering unique perspectives delivered with refreshing brevity.

Or so partisans of the genre will tell you. And sometimes it's even true. Take the case of Love Bites, a 12-minute film co-directed by Santa Rosa native Michael Horowitz that begins playing locally for the first time on Friday, May 7, at the Sebastiani Theater.

One searches in vain for a tidy way to describe this unusual short, which tells the story of a jealous boyfriend who thinks he knows exactly what his girlfriend is up to, but couldn't be more wrong. "Quirky" and "offbeat" seem both condescending and inadequate. "Bizarre" and "disturbing" go too far in the other direction.

Whatever the appropriate label, Love Bites recently managed the difficult feat of catching the attention of the folks at the Sundance Film Festival. Indeed, the judges passed over thousands of competing submissions to select the film for screening last January at Robert Redford's world-famous Utah festival of independent cinema.

Attending the event with his friend and co-director Colbern Tseng was, of course, a heady experience for Horowitz, who just turned 24. He's made the trip several times before, both as a film fan and as a journalist, but presenter status makes all the difference.

"It was great," the young director says, speaking from his office in Los Angeles, where he works for Showtime Networks. "It's just a rush to be introduced as a filmmaker. We even got to take the bus out to Redford's ranch. We ate lunch and he was there with his entourage of like 10 guys, shaking hands with everybody. It was like the president coming out to touch people."

Love Bites received something of a mixed reception in Utah. The sophisticated crowd at the main screening in Park City--the festival's main base--ate Horowitz's work right up. But the more mainstream moviegoers who saw the film at a multiplex in Salt Lake City weren't quite as sure.

"They laughed really hard at first," Horowitz explains. "Then there was that scene. You know the one I'm talking about. After that, there was a lot of 'Oh my god' and that kind of stuff."

The problem with talking and writing about Love Bites is that it is a film with a secret. It wouldn't be sporting to give too much away, so suffice it to say that people in the movies, just as in real life, are not always what they seem. That immutable uncertainty is a point of paranoia for the film's main character, a jealous young man played with twitchy intensity by up-and-coming indie star Kevin Corrigan, who starred in The Slums of Beverly Hills and Buffalo 66. (Casting Corrigan was a major coup for Horowitz, who met Corrigan by doing an interview with him for an Orange County film magazine.)

IN THE OPENING scene of Love Bites, Corrigan is all rolling eyes, bared teeth, and farcical belligerence as he bolts down lunch and unloads his troubled mind on a skeptical friend. Our hero, it turns out, believes that his girlfriend is cheating on him, a theory that rests on the fact that he found a half-eaten hamburger on the kitchen counter of her apartment. (She is a vegetarian.) So he hatches a scheme to reveal her infidelity by sending in a ringer.

That means unleashing his other buddy, a strutting ladies' man played by Josh Hutchison (who, in a remarkable coincidence, grew up in Sonoma just down the street from the Sebastiani Theater). The resulting encounter between the witty girlfriend (played by Jennifer Bransford) and the obnoxious would-be Romeo is the comedic highlight of the film. From there on, things get stranger and darker.

The production values on Love Bites are high, a fact that's reflected in the film's $10,000 price tag. That might sound like a lot for 12 minutes of film, but it would have been far more if Corrigan had charged his going rate. In fact, Horowitz says the indie star was remarkably down to earth in general, though his working method was a bit nerve-racking for a cash-strapped director. Corrigan, as Horowitz discovered, pours most of his effort into the actual on-camera performance, rather than showing off at rehearsals.

"He doesn't believe in shooting his wad, as he likes to put it," Horowitz explains. "He only gives about 5 percent in rehearsal, which is pretty scary when you're only going to be able to shoot a scene twice. But obviously he delivered."

So what's next for Horowitz? He says he ultimately wants to direct a feature film, but for now he's planning two new shorts, including one that he wants to shoot in Santa Rosa this summer.

"It's about a janitor who saves the day at a school assembly gone haywire," Horowitz says. "You'll laugh, you'll cry . . . OK, maybe you won't cry. Basically, it's the cool PG-rated movie that Love Bites isn't. It's the movie that will make my mom happy, not that I'm doing it for that reason.

"If I can do a short that wins an Academy Award," he concludes with a laugh, "this is it."


Love Bites screens May 7-13 before the feature film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels at the Sebastiani Theater, on the Plaza in Sonoma. Horowitz will introduce the film on May 7. For information, call 996-2020.

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From the May 6-12, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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