Vintage Movies: “Living In Oblivion”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


Living In Oblivion (1995, 90 minutes)

They’re about to shoot “Ellen talks to Mom,” the big scene from Living In Oblivion tonight in some cheap NYC hotel room. It’s 4:00 a.m. and the movie’s crew is straggling in. The milk for the coffee has gone bad, but the girl who runs the food truck outside is going to use it anyway, because there’s no deli open this late. It’s going to turn out like Chekov’s principle of classic theater: “the milk carton on the wall.”

On the set, director Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi) pow-wows with his assistant director Wanda (Danielle von Zerneck) and his cameraman, Wolf (Dermot Mulroney). “I’m not blaming anybody, but we left last night and I knew we didn’t get that scene,” says Nick. “I’m sorry, I thought it was a great scene, Nick,” says Wanda, clasping a hand to her bosom.” “It was OK,” says Nick, ” and I can use it, but today I’m not going to settle for OK.” Wanda gushes, “Whatever it takes, Nick. We’re here for you.”

With everyone in place, Nick gives Nicole, playing Ellen (Catherine Keener) and her mom, Cora (Rica Martens), some last-minute encouragement. “Cora, you’re doing fine. I just want you to really listen to her and really answer her.” Turning to Ellen, he says, “I’ve got nothing to say to you. It’s all there. Just let it happen.” Wanda shouts, “Roll sound, roll camera. Scene six, take one.” Finally, Nick says, “Everybody settle and … action.”

“Dad hit me first and knocked me down,” says Ellen. “It didn’t hurt that much, but I started crying anyway. Then he went over and started hitting Danny.” “Ellen, I have no memory of that whatsoever,” says her mom. “Cut!” shouts Wolf behind the camera. “Les, your boom’s all over my frame,” he warns the mic operator. Take two is scrubbed when the focus-puller “goes offline.” Take three is halted when a car cruises by, blasting out hip hop jacked-up with ultra-bass. “Why doesn’t the guy just get a flatbed trailer with 600 speakers on it and tow it behind his car?!” groans Nick.

A stage light blows during take six, and Nick suggests a dialogue-only dry run. Ellen and Cora, of course, nail it, an exquisite scene they’ll never duplicate, while the cameraman is predisposed, vomiting from the tainted coffee.

When a “beep” appears in the room, Nick goes ballistic. “Look for it, Les! Go get coffee and don’t come back! Why don’t you go learn your lines, Cora! What are you laughing at, Wolf, you pretentious, beret-wearing, motherfucker! And you, Nicole, why don’t you do some of that magic on-camera? No, you’ve gotta wait till the cameraman’s puking his guts out!!” Nick sits bolt upright in bed at 4:00 a.m. after the worst nightmare of his life with a “beep” emanating from his alarm clock.