Obsession ain't pretty. Ask my very own wife, who has suffered the slings and arrows of my own private fascination with classic actress Frances Farmer, an "interest" (I use the term in a probably pointless attempt to prevent outright embarrassment) that has cost me thousands of dollars and untold hours of research time. At least I had the good luck to uncover a lot of previously unreported information about Farmer, something that helped rectify years of misinformation about her and gave me some personal satisfaction of a job well done. No such luck for Pastor Richard Gazowsky, a San Francisco based Pentecostal minister who became convinced none other than God had given him the command to go forth and make a movie. A really, really big movie. A movie, as Gazowsky himself portentously describes, that would be a marriage of Star Wars and The Ten Commandments. Gazowsky's attempt to get this huge project, a film that sought to recast the story of Joseph and his brothers in a science fiction milieu, off the ground is the subject of Michael Jacobs' unusually compelling documentary Audience of One, a piece that manages to expose the rather unseemly underbelly of personal delusion and obsession while maintaining a completely neutral albeit dare I say even kindly attitude toward its main character.
Unlike a lot of Holy Roller zealots, Gazowsky comes off in this documentary as really rather likable, if horribly naive (as his own mother, herself a minister and mover and shaker in the Pentecostal community, describes him). This is a man utterly convinced God is in private communication with him, and therefore nothing can stand in his way. Even a total lack of experience in film making. Gazowsky is surrounded by a small but devoted coterie, including of course his wife and daughter, all of whom, if at times perhaps just a bit jaundiced, are there to pray with him and make sure his vision comes to fruition. What is amazing, especially when you see the paltry congregation Gazowsky's church seems to attract, is just how far they actually got in their quixotic quest.
Jacobs documents everything from pre-production to the few halting days the film actually managed to get two (count 'em--two) shots completed on location in the rather bizarre, Hobbit-esque town of Alberobello, Italy. Throughout this long process, Gazowsky remains relentlessly upbeat, whether being questioned by his own production staff that some of his ideas seem, well, awfully reminiscent of Star Wars ("Never entered my mind," Gazowsky responds without a hint of guile), to production being halted repeatedly by technical issues ("Everything is good," he encourages a crew that seems poised to kill him).
Things get both more outlandish and more serious upon the production company's return to the states. They manage to secure a lease at San Francisco's Treasure Island (yes, the same one featured in a Charlie Chan mystery from long ago), where they plan to finish the film as soon as their German producer provides the promised tens of millions in funding. Need I tell you it never materializes? By the time the documentary ends, Gazowsky's WYSIWYG Productions is in default on their lease, facing several lawsuits, and the film is a rapidly fading memory and/or nightmare.
To which Gazowsky responds with an eight-fold "attack" delivered to his congregation via a PowerPoint presentation that seems to be some bizarre and unintentionally hilarious attempt to take over not just the film world, but also theme parks, air travel, and (I kid you not) colonizing outer space. As Tim Rice, another artist who attempted to adapt Joseph's story in a new medium, espoused, "Any dream will do." For Richard Gazowsky, the more epic the dream, the better.
Audience of One is presented in a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio that sports good to excellent color and detail, if less than ideal contrast as the film moves through a lot of different lighting situations. This is typical verite filmmaking, so don't expect spectacular image quality here.
The standard stereo soundtrack suffices quite well for these proceedings, with both first person dialogue and the copious use of music reproduced with excellent fidelity. No subtitles are available.
The two best extras are Jacobs' interesting commentary, and the actual two completed shots (sans sound) of Gazowsky's once and future epic, Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph. These clips prove two things: you need to have professional costume designers, and pulling focus is a difficult task. There are also deleted scenes, a rather strange, half screamed song by Gazowsky and family called "Second Wind," and the theatrical trailer.
It's easy to laugh at Gazowsky's hubris, at least until you realize what a basically decent and sweet man he is. Then the viewing experience becomes decidedly more complex and multilayered. Audience of One deserves an audience of many. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet