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The Guru, Or: How I sold my soul for three months of salad

A review of The Guru



Every so often, some snarky film critic finds it necessary to admonish the moviegoing classes for their indifference to the names in the credits -- the gaffers, the grips, the best boys and script supervisors who make our movies possible. Who are these people? Why should we postpone bladder relief to consider them? And if they're so fabulous, why are they absent from the pages of People Magazine?

Please allow me to be the first snarky film critic to grant you permission to continue ignoring the credits. Read a book. Read a magazine. Read the fine print on your restraining order, but life's too short for the credits. And I should know, my name has crawled down the screen many times.

Full disclosure: For several years I worked in feature film editing rooms. Where many work "in film," I worked "with film:" I rewound it, I logged it, I projected it beside assistant cameramen terrified that it would be out of focus. I was a proud union man -- IATSE Local 771, brother -- who toiled in dark rooms with New York neurotics whose workaholism was matched only by the fickleness of their self-esteem.

More full disclosure: In the spring of 2001, I labored on a manifestation of Hollywood mediocrity known as The Guru, starring Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei and Jimi Mistry.

I realize, of course, that I'm supposed to be reviewing this film, but because it has abruptly departed Cinemark 16, I've decided instead, to review my employment on it and as a film lackey in general.

A few career highlights (and lowlights), in no particular order:

Shooting rubber bands at a plastic nun finger puppet with the ever-licentious Dustin Hoffman, who said to me: "John Dicker, no one ever made fun of your name. You know why? Because your best friend is Mike Hunt!"

Wearing a groove in the pavement ferrying to and from the Harvard Square Starbucks in pursuit of "V hot tea" for David Mamet. (He usually required one per hour.)

Listening from adjoining rooms as editors finessed the filmmaking and egos of second-rate directors. To convince himself that a scene was working, one particularly apoplectic director was known to shout, "I buy that all day long!"

Lamenting with colleagues that for all its bells and whistles, the Avid digital editing system did not include a better acting button.

Directors and producers stared at me and saw not talent or ambition, but merely the assortment of food products I might fetch them. And so I fetched ... and fetched ... and fetched. Until one day I glanced into an adjacent editing suite and had the following epiphany: With years of hard work, and an astonishing amount of luck, I might have the privilege of editing You've Got Mail.

And so I started taking a popular anti-depressant.

But back to The Guru: On this production, a daily work hazard involved dodging the wrath of my chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, four-Diet-Cokes a day drinking editor whose mood -- like that of a highly pedigreed poodle -- was subject to inexplicable and unpleasant swings. She called you sweetie one second and screamed at you the next.

This pugnacious and often mean- spirited workaholic tweaked this film in excess of 14 hours a day. To the point where I think she actually believed it was destined for a better place than the $3.99 bin at Safeway.

But for all her faults, this woman fought for my lunch.

Lunch? This is supposed to be a film review and you're talking about lunch?

No friend, I'm talking about the aspiration of every working American: Free lunch. Typically, the editorial department is housed miles from the set and its denizens are denied the glory that is free, two-hot-meals-a-day catering. This is not food whose main virtue is that it's free. No, I'm talking fresh fish, I'm talking grilled vegetables, I'm talking tiramisu; Do you think for a second that the cultural elite is going to dine on soggy pasta and cold cuts?

To her credit, my pugnacious boss battled the line producer and demanded that we be reimbursed for our meals. So for three months Universal Studios brought me: Thai, sushi, Mexican, and $15 salads with vegetables I've still never heard of.

I've served my time as a glorified cabana boy for the rich, the famous and the sycophants who make it all possible. And while common wisdom claims that what doesn't kill you can make you stronger, I've found it can also make you resentful, irreverent and utterly contemptuous of the celebrity industrial complex. Thankfully though, it can't rob you of your love for the movies.

So for my complicity in this utterly forgettable Hollywood product, I would like to formally apologize.

While I could have resigned after reading the insipid script, or simply refused to deliver the footage from the lab, sometimes the price of our souls is nothing more than free lunch.

One quick note about The Guru: If you think Heather Graham is a no-talent bombshell whose stardom is owed only to her aesthetic merits, just be grateful you didn't have to endure three months of her flat, lifeless line readings rebounding around your work space.

-- John Dicker

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