Some Notes on Love and Death on Long Island

What does one expect from a film in a series on dynamic duos? Simply two people, whether they be friends, lovers, enemies, or uneasy allies. Often one is the doppelganger of the other; other times they are diametrically opposed. But the importance is in the number two: two main characters share the spotlight. They are the duo, of course.

The film at hand, LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND, is about a recluse, a stuffy, sheltered, academic writer (Giles De'Ath) with one foot firmly placed in the nineteenth century. The secondary character, the teen idol Ronnie Bostock, is just that--a secondary character, significantly less developed than the intense complexities of De'Ath. This leads us to question where the dynamic duo in this film? Why is a film about a solitary man in a series about two-person opposition or teamwork? Just what's going on here?

But let us ignore this question for a moment and consider another. What is this film about? On the surface, it seems to treat on celebrity stalking and master/student pedophilia, but what are the themes that are close to its heart? What is it truly getting at?

"If one has to have a theme, Henry, it would be about the discovery of beauty where no one ever thought of looking for it," Giles tells his colleague Henry, referring to his obsession with Bostock. Yet it might as well apply to LOVE AND DEATH IN LONG ISLAND itself; just as Giles expected not to find beauty at the movies (let alone at one reviewed as "a puerile romp without a single redeeming feature"), we expect not to find beauty in the soul of the pin-up teen icon. But, lo, in each there is depth and in that depth, beauty.

However, Giles is not satisfied by star worship from afar; as such, he opts to make a pilgrimage to Chesterton, NY in order to meet his idol. Suddenly he has entered an entirely new realm, transgressing the bounds of socially acceptable behavior, becoming a stalker instead of merely a rabid fan. "He knows Ronnie exclusively through representation, through a two-dimensional image, really. Then he comes to Long Island and it's almost as if he's climbed into the cinema screen," comments writer/director Richard Kwietniowski.

This musing points towards the central meditation of the film. It is not about an attraction between two men, one older and one younger, one student and one teacher. Rather, it's about a love of cinema, a love that seizes the viewer and never lets him go, love that rips De'Ath out of his comfortable nineteenth-century life and letting him delve into our world of consumer devices and popular culture.

Though this drastic change may seem strange to those in the audience who are not rabid movie lovers, I am compelled to assure you that it happens, dragging its victim through the throes of film journals, film majors, film festivals and even film societies. And it is all pure bliss once one has been bitten by the film bug, which here takes a large chomp out of Giles. As Kwietniowski puts it, "I really believe that there is something very magical about the cinema in that every film is made out of thousands of different details. We all see approximately the same film, but at the same time there's enormous potential for us to be touched in a much more personal way by some detail or fragment that has particular resonance. And so I like to think that what happens to Giles when he goes in to see the wrong film could in theory happen to anybody in any cinema, anywhere in the world."

Though Kwietniowski is talking about his film, his comments apply just as well to Giles' obsession with Bostock; from thousands of different details over a variety of movies, the reserved writer creates a definite persona for his idol. And though Bostock himself is by all means a minor character in lines and screen time, the specter of his stardom overshadows the film, as present in every scene as Giles De'Ath. The writer-curmudgeon splits the spotlight with the star persona of Bostock--fitting our definition of dynamic duo. Here it is not two people, but rather a man and his irrational obsession, a man and an image on a silver screen.

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