My first job out of graduate school (many moons ago) was as a children’s librarian at a public library in Jacksonville, Florida. My boss was a fundamentalist Christian who used to invite me and the other children’s librarian into her office every afternoon for a mini sermon on Christianity. This sermon usually consisted of boss reading something from the Bible. In retrospect, I realize she could have gotten fired for this, but in those days of long gas lines and big unemployment, no one rocked the ship. At least, not anyone I knew.
My refuge was the film department across the hall, where employees could rent projectors and movies for free. Yes, that’s right. This was in the days before personal computers, Google, the Internet, Netflix, and all the other techie wonders we take for granted. So one weekend, the film librarian and I rented a short movie called Hot Dogs for Gauguin and were in stitches. This short was one of the funniest and most poignant movies, short or long, that I’d ever seen. The filmmaker, Martin Brest, was an NYU film student at the time, in his mid-twenties. I wrote him a fan letter, a real letter – no email, remember?
We corresponded for months, with Martin talking about stuff that was in the works for him, that he was headed to the American Film Institute under the auspices of some BIG director. Was it Oliver Stone? Scorcese? I can’t remember. Someone major, at any rate.
During our correspondence, I changed jobs and went from social work to teaching Spanish to hormonal 7th graders. Brest went from NYU to the American Film Institute, and ended up at some point in South Florida. So we got together during his weekend here.
I lived a block from the beach and suggested we go UFO hunting one night. Martin resisted. It turned out that he didn’t believe in much of anything – not UFOs or psychic phenomenon, life after death or reincarnation. In other words, to him, my belief system was a joke. You can tell this friendship was off to a great start, right? Yet, this is the guy who years later, directed Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black (1998), a remake of Death Takes a Holiday, which describes the plot exactly: death takes a vacation.
In 1984, Brest directed Beverly Hills Cop and in 1992, he directed one of my favorites, Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino, and then there was Meet Joe Black in 1998, and in 2003, a movie called Gigli. This last film was supposedly a monumental flop, but I didn’t see it, so I don’t know. Since then, nothing.
So, I loved Meet Joe Black and its original version, Death Takes a Holiday. At the time I saw the movie, I was shocked he had directed it, he who didn’t believe in much of anything. But all of us change and evolve through our explorations in life. So, Martin, here’s the deal. I’ve got this novel Esperanza, with a script in progress, and its sequel, Ghost Key, that have after life themes. Let’s do lunch. In the meantime, please call my agent.