Road not taken: "Setting ["The Recondite Heart"] in the early '80s is partly autobiographical, but it's not for nostalgic or ironic reasons," Miles Montalbano says. (Photo by Marty Crosley, courtesy filmmaker)

Montalbano's "The Recondite Heart"

Michael Fox September 29, 2009

Summer has passed, but the revolution continues. That’s a cute way of saying that East Bay filmmaker Miles Montalbano is in preproduction on the follow-up to his lauded 2007 debut, Revolution Summer. That free-form low-budget drama, which premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2007, explored the political and romantic confusion of three frustrated twenty-somethings at the height of the Iraq War. The Recondite Heart is a dark coming-of-age story that unfolds in a small town in the 1980s, where a lone teenage punk rocker keeps the flame of idealism burning. Ray’s happy as hell when some older punks show up from the big city, and their reaction is to introduce him to the usual vices. He embarks on an intense relationship with a woman in the circle, but he’s unprepared for the dangerous depths of her nihilism. A happy ending is not in the cards.

"Setting the film in the early ’80s is partly autobiographical, but it’s not for nostalgic or ironic reasons," Montalbano says. "Rather, I am interested in looking at the recent past, and how it has informed and continues to shape our present political and cultural situation. How different things were, while at the same time how nothing has really changed, and that ideas or lessons learned from the recent past are forgotten so quickly. The film is also interested in the ideas of counter-culture and rebellious idealism that seem to have faded with the corporate co-option of today’s youth culture."

Montalbano is planning to shoot The Recondite Heart for two to three weeks next spring in and around Chico, where he grew up, with an additional week in San Francisco. He reports that some of the towns near Chico haven’t changed a whole lot in the last 25 years, which is a boon for a period piece. The film will be shot on 16mm in black-and-white, which strikes us as ideal for evoking both the punk milieu and the past.

"To me, the film wouldn’t work in digital video, or for that matter in Panavision 35mm," Montalbano explains. "There is a very specific feeling that I get from 16mm, and I don’t know if I can articulate it but I know that this particular film couldn’t be done any other way. We are talking about using reversal film, which is even more evocative. I really like texture. I like it when things fall into darkness. That’s what I mean by evocative; there’s mystery you can feel that’s exciting. I suppose in some ways it has to do with memory, which is an underlying theme. We’re also incorporating some color Super 8mm film, not for any kind of ‘style,’ but because it is an integral part of the narrative."

Revolution Summer
derived a great deal of rough charm from the combination of a DIY aesthetic with a heartfelt political sensibility. Those are rare and refreshing elements in the current climate, but it’s generally inadvisable for a filmmaker (or any artist) to repeat him or herself. So I asked Montalbano in what ways The Recondite Heart was a growth step.

"I think of Revolution Summer as very much my ‘student film," he replied. "I don’t say that to try and disavow myself from the film, because I am happy with what we did, especially since we had no money, no time and a first draft of a first script. It was made very quickly without a lot of planning, and was done in a run-and-gun, verite style. And I was, for the most part, improvising my way through it. I learned a lot about the process and about the art, and about where I personally wanted to go as a filmmaker.

"Moving forward with this film I am more assured as a filmmaker. I know what I want this film to look, sound, feel like; I know intimately what the film is about. I feel like my knowledge and command of the medium are much greater. And with this script I’m a much stronger writer. At the same time I will always consider myself an amateur filmmaker in the true sense of the word: someone who does it because they enjoy the work, not for monetary concern."

An actress with substantial name recognition is reading the screenplay, but Montalbano is totally prepared to proceed with newcomers and unknowns. Although there’s certainly a large potential audience for what the filmmaker calls "a celebration of the exhilarating recklessness of youth and a chronicle of inevitable loss" with ample doses of drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and sex, commercial success is not his primary motivation. As with most truly independent films these days, a satisfying scenario would be a hearty buzz on the festival circuit, a modest theatrical release (and a slew of college bookings), a cult following on DVD and a big check from Warner Bros. for the remake rights as a vehicle for Robert Pattinson and Kate Beckinsale.

Such jokes do a disservice to Montalbano, who’s an uncommonly sincere and earnest fellow. You have to take a man seriously who’s given to statements like, "I agree with Richard Hell when he called Robert Bresson’s The Devil, Probably the greatest punk film ever made."

Notes from the Underground

The British period drama An Education screens for free at 11 a.m. Saturday, October 10, at the Vogue Theater, followed by an onstage interview with Danish director Lone Scherfig. Donations are encouraged, however, to the San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation, which owns the Vogue (located on Sacramento at Presidio). RSVP to with both "AN EDUCATION" and your name in the subject line, and indicate in the body if you’re bringing a friend. This program is an appetizer of sorts for the Vogue’s second Mostly British Film Festival in February.

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