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Monday, June 09, 2008

Choke film premiere at BAM Sundance in Brooklyn was recently invited to attend the sold-out premiere of actor-writer-director Clark Gregg’s film “Choke” a creative adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about a sex addict’s search for love. The BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) showing was the first time the final director’s cut was screened, as Gregg has revised the film after showing at Sundance. He likened his experience of screening the movie at Sundance to being in the trenches of World War I, watching as other films that screened before his were mowed down by the critics and jury. The film deservedly won the Special Jury Prize for the ensemble cast and Fox Searchlight picked it up immediately. The experience was incredibly special for the actor turned writer-director as it had been a dream of his to return to Sundance since he had taken a short film to Park City fourteen years earlier and was struck by the energy and creativity of the festival.

I was impressed not only with the adaptation but with the poignant and comedic performances of the cast. Sam Rockwell’s gift in fusing comedy and drama in his roles was well suited to the character of Victor Mancini, while Anjelica Huston and Kelly Macdonald gave stunning performances as Ida Mancini and Paige Marshall. Gregg himself played a superb Lord High Charlie and Joel Grey was a welcome surprise as Phil.

As a semi-cultish devotee of Palahniuk’s writing, I was initially disappointed that the film’s ending was not true to the novel, but Gregg pointed out that Palahniuk had instructed him not to be too faithful to the original in his adaptation and the author had expressed his delight in the film’s new creative elements. “Choke” is a fine example of American “dramedy,” blending complex and emotionally intense drama with unexpected moments of absurd comedy. Thanks to the BAM and Sundance for bringing yet another fine program to audiences in Brooklyn. After the screening, the film’s director Clark Gregg took questions from the audience.

The Q & A transcript to follow was reconstructed from notes taken and are not necessarily verbatim.

Q: Why did you change the ending?

A: The book actually has a couple of endings, four endings actually, which works better in a book than a movie. I actually shot three endings. I had been working on this film for seven years. Adaptation is a tricky thing, especially given Palahniuk’s funny, brilliant satirical voice, I was tempted to just lift the whole thing and basically cut and paste my way into getting an easy adaptation credit. But then you have characters like Paige Marshall and you simply cannot believe that she’s from the future. I did try to preserve some of the lines from the book, like “ come on down, bring a rock” where in the book people do, and this is the way that all the people who have helped Mancini from choking all start talking and realize that their proudest moment was a lie and they naturally got a little pissed and there’s a passage where Denny is trying to hide him and they start stoning him, but I couldn’t make that scene work with our budget. Michael Bey could make it work, but that would be a totally different movie. I guess I didn’t want there to be a way that the movie broke the connection with what could feel real. And what Choke comes down to is a really twisted romantic comedy, so that is where I chose to put my emphasis. Now there are cult members, fans of Chuck’s who’ll never forgive me.

continue reading the entire Q & A with director Clark Gregg by clicking here.

Reported By: Leo Deresa

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