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Song of Myself: Patricia Kaas goes from moody chanteuse to moody actress in Claude Lelouche's latest.

Letter Men

For Nate Gebhard and Mike Marriner, a gloomy French movie inspires a spirited life-and-death discussion

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate postfilm conversation. This is not a review; rather, it's a freewheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

"How much do you think this place paid out for all this Irish memorabilia?"

"Good question! I look around, and a lot of this stuff looks like you could get it out of an Irish pub catalogue!"

"www.fakeirishpubdecorations.com!"

Nate Gebhard and Mike Marriner are taking turns making loud jokes, shouting to be heard above the rowdy hubbub of a noisy Irish (or pseudo-Irish) pub. We've just caught an advance screening of Claude Lelouche's latest film And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, about an aging English jewel thief (Jeremy Irons) and a depressed French nightclub singer (Patricia Kaas), each of whom experiences mysterious and poorly timed blackouts. They meet up by accident in Morocco and set out on an a gloomy adventure, during which they talk philosophically about life, death, and the embarrassment of forgetting your song lyrics in the middle of a performance.

Gebhard and Marriner have been on a few adventures of their own lately, traveling the country in a big, green RV, interviewing successful and colorful people--Supreme Court justices, symphony conductors, coffee-company CEOs--about each subject's dream career and how they achieved it. The result is a PBS documentary, a popular website (www.roadtripnation.com), and a new book, Road Trip Nation: A Guide to Discovering Your Path in Life.

While embarked on yet another tour, this time to promote the book and to score a few more interviews for future projects, Gebhard and Marriner, both young enough to get carded when they walk into an Irish pub, eagerly agreed to take a break from all that self-promotion and go to the movies. They enjoyed the film, in spite of its twisted plotting, and Marriner especially enjoyed the performance of Patricia Kaas.

"She was so hot!" he says, as the pints of Guinness arrive.

"There were a lot of themes in this movie," I shout out, "stuff about journeys and finding happiness, which are also the themes of your book. But instead of getting into all that, I want to pose the question that was asked in the movie: 'If you had an envelope, and inside it was the date and time of your death, would you open the envelope?'"

They sit silently for a few seconds.

"I don't know," replies Gebhard. "On the one hand, by opening the letter, since you'd know the date you're going to die, you can lead your life a little more by-the-day and by-the-minute, making the most of it. You can plan everything accordingly. But I want to say I would not open the letter, because otherwise, your life and the freedom of living would become too structured. I think you might be tempted to work too far backwards and lose the flow of life. I don't know."

"I definitely would not open it," says Marriner. "Here's why. After a lot of the interviews we've done, we found that life is not so much about the destination, as it is about the journey. By opening up the envelope, you end up focusing so much on the destination that it would take your focus off of the journey. I don't want to know the destination.

"We were on some radio show today," Marriner continues, "and the guy asked us, 'Now that you've done all this interesting stuff, what do you want to do with your lives?' We don't know what the fuck we want to do, you know? Life isn't about knowing what you want to do. It's about taking it day by day, and having the right compass internally about who you want to be and what you want to do."

"You know," says Gebhard, "I don't think opening the letter would help you if you were going to die when you were 80. But if you opened it and discovered that you're going to die in two weeks, then you'd probably go, 'OK, I'm going to make the most of these next two weeks.' I think that's the only time that letter would do you any good, to keep you from wasting your last few days."

"Hey, we should be doing that anyway!" Marriner says. "If you are doing that anyway, if you are living your life as if the next two weeks really mattered, if you were living with passion, you wouldn't need to focus on that destination."

"You might also choose to skip bad movies," I point out.

"Yeah," laughs Gebhard, "but even bad movies can give you something to think about--you know, as you're lying there dying."


'And Now Ladies and Gentlemen' opens Friday, Sept. 26, at Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. See Movie Times, p33, for showtimes.

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From the September 25-October 1, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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