"One of the most joyous American films of the year...
an absolute delight."
—Rex Reed, New York Observer
"A sharp, funny valentine to the chaos
of love in the 90's."
—Stephen Farber, Movieline
"A zippy and incorrigibly
good-natured romantic comedy."
—William Arnold, Seattle Post Intellegencer
"A stylish comedy...
with a gay twist"
—Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
"Four of the freshest-faced, brightest
newcomers make this film a delight."
—Joyce Mullins, Au Courant
"A feel-good date movie to be sure!"
—Dietrich Mantonela, Seattle Gay News
Time Out New York
By Billie Cohen
Issue 140, May 28-June 4, 1998
I hate cloying romances. I hate tales of youthful longing. I hate movies about young college grads searching for meaning in the afterlife of academia. BROADWAY DAMAGE is all that, but its insistent optimism somehow won me over.
Mark and Cynthia (Lucas and Hobel) are recent NYU grads who find an apartment by scouring the obituaries. That much is the stuff of Gotham cliche, but then Mark goes and secures the lease by bedding the super. The roommates move in and gleefully tack up their diplomas in the bathroom.
Mark is a romantic, an aspiring actor raised on show tunes and looking for his true love. Cynthia is an image-obsessed fashion maven living in a fantasy world funded by Daddy's allowance and Mommy's Bloomie's card. Although it doesn't take long for baggage-laden boyfriends and nervous breakdowns to complicate their lives, Mark and Cynthia's world is buffered by frequent shopping sprees and a Broadway-musical approach to the everyday, complete with outbursts of song. Cynics they are not.
Writer-director Mignatti glosses up a potentially bleak story with shiny optimism and big dreams. Is it realistic? Somewhat. Is it irritating? At times. But the beauty of Mignatti's achievement is in the details - as when, early on, two elderly tourists look up in awe at the "Entire State Building." (Overhearing this, Mark decides to give up on living in the Flatiron district and stick with the Village or Chelsea.)
Because of her strong dramatic and comedic abilities, Hobel manages to steal every scene she's in, but Lucas's feet-on-the-ground/head-in-the-clouds portrayal of Mark anchors the other characters and keeps the film's romantic-comedy plot on track. There's a contagious giddiness to the whole thing, and the issues dealt with are real and recognizable, however inflated.
Pessimists beware: You might leave this one with a goofy smile on your face.
Stephen Farber, Movieline (Premieres)
Romance gets some new twists in Hope Floats, the Object of My Affection, The Opposite of Sex, BROADWAY DAMAGE and Mr. Jealousy.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a simple formula for romance movies: boy meets girl, they fall in love, and they either walk happily into the sunset together or are separated by war, disease or natural disaster. This primordial story hasn't completely vanished -- perhaps you've heard of a little number called Titanic -- but it's been supplanted by far more tortured and convoluted romantic tales. Instead of stories about star-crossed lovers meeting cute and pledging their devotion, we're more likely these days to see stories about couples succumbing to fatal attractions and self-destructive obsessions.
I prefer BROADWAY DAMAGE, a small indie, which has the same acerbic humor as The Opposite of Sex but a lot more heart. Like The Object of My Affection, it focuses on a gay man and straight woman rooming together, but in this case the woman has no romantic designs on her gay pal. Mara Hobel (who has the right camp credentials for this venture, having played Christina Crawford as a child in Mommie Dearest) gives us a very stylish performance as a shopaholic who dreams of being the next Dorothy Parker. Her roommate meanwhile falls for a handsome, sociopathic Mr. Wrong while completely ignoring the amorous attentions of his nerdy best friend. Surveying this troubled menage, writer/director Victor Mignatti has made a sharp, funny valentine to the chaos of love in the 90's.
Damage Spins; Cousin Bette Drags
On The Town With Rex Reed, New York Observer
At the movies, marquees are changing fast. Here are a few words about some new arrivals. BROADWAY DAMAGE takes such a buoyant, optimistic view of clean-cut gay life in New York, it might easily have been an M-G-M musical. A group of New York University graduates from an extended-family support group as they seek careers and love in the cut-throat concrete jungle. Mark (Michael Shawn Lucas), a struggling actor who sells theater tickets, takes a six-flight walk-up in Greenwich Village with Cynthia (Mara Hobel, who played young Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest), an overweight Cabbage Patch doll from Long Island who craves a job at The New Yorker while their best friend Robert (Aaron Williams), an aspiring song writer, stays home with his mom's meat loaf. Mark is a dream boat who is only attracted to perfect 10's. Robert is in love with Mark but is more like a 4. They all need jobs, and they all need to get laid, big time.
When Mark's heart is broken by David (Hugh Panaro), a rock musician who moonlights as a hustler, everyone comes to the rescue with a maximum of BROADWAY DAMAGE. Too young to remember Studio 54 and too old for suburbia, they're at the awkward, innocent age when all things seem possible, and fairy tales can still come true if life doesn't get in the way. While Cynthia orchestrates a campaign to get Tina Brown's attention, that only attracts the F.B.I., Mark and Robert discover that sometimes romance can be found right in your own backyard. Everyone is perfectly cast, but Mr. Lucas has the kind of wholesome charisma destined for real stardom. The same thing goes for writer-director Victor Mignatti, whose sensitive construction and crisp writing give a contemporary spin to an old-fashioned story that might have been dreamed up by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. One of the best American Independent films in years.
By Chuck Wilson, LA Weekly
In BROADWAY DAMAGE writer-director Victor Mignatti gets three eager young college grads in the middle of Greenwich Village and lets the city have its way with them. Actor-writer Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) moves in with Cynthia (Mara Hobel), a right girl who doesn't see any reason why her first job shouldn't be with The New Yorker's Tina Brown. Their best friend is Robert (Aaron Williams), a dweebish composer with a silly hat and a bad haircut who is secretely in love with Marc. Too bad Marc only has eyes for David (Hugh Panaro), the manipulative hunk next door. Forgoing the usual mania of gay themed comedies, Mignatti concentrates on those silent, internal moments when lives shift: finding yourself alone in your apartment after the abrupt exit of a loved one, or that long pause of consideration that sometimes occurs before a first kiss. One surprise is how slyly the three principal actors subvert expectations of their stock characters. The cute actor-slash-waiter, the nerd, the funny fag hag -- all three edge out their prescribed cliches. Which is what being 20-something is all about.
"Why is this movie so much fun? Maybe it's the kind-hearted spirit that informs it, or the appeal of the main characters: three recent college grads convinced with varying degrees of self-delusion that they're destined to fulfill their dreams of fame and romance in New York City. The filmmakers have a feel for the cramped quarters and gallows humor of young New Yorkers."
David Warner, Philadelphia City Paper
"BROADWAY DAMAGE follows a group of Greenwich Village denizens as they search for love in the Big Apple -- a glossy Hollywood-style romance that makes New York look so romantic and magical that you want to pack up everything instantly and move there."
Jonathan Lewis,Gay Chicago Magazine
`Broadway Damage' a sympathetic look at gay life
Dennis Hunt, San Diego Union Tribune
DENNIS HUNT is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer who specializes in the film and video industries.
Movies about gays aren't what they used to be -- which is a relief.
It used to be that any movie with gay male characters had to be somber and oppressive and peopled with tragic characters dying of AIDS. But now that AIDS is no longer the scourge of the gay community it once was, there's room for sweet little romantic comedies like "Broadway Damage," which opens tomorrow.
This low-budget, low-key indie, about the trials of a trio of dreamers scuffling to make it in New York City, refers to AIDS only insignificantly, when a minor character talks briefly about the horror of having lots of friends die.
Also, this isn't one of those movies bulging with characters who're tortured about being gay and are teeming with self-loathing. The two main characters, Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) and Robert (Aaron Williams), don't suffer through a lot of angst about being gay. They accept it and seem quite happy with their choice.
This first feature by writer-director Victor Mignatti shows that you can circumvent the two major gay-movie themes and come up with a lively, funny, touching little film.
These characters are riddled with the kind of hang-ups that infest all idealists in their early 20s. Marc moves into a Greenwich Village walkup with Cynthia (Mara Hobel), an overweight, spoiled shopaholic who's living on her parents' money and spends too much time dreaming up scams to meet magazine editor Tina Brown.
Robert, who's nice but a bit nerdy, has a crush on Marc, a marginally talented actor who prefers one-night stands with sexy hunks.
Like many young people, these characters are just trying to find their niche in the working world while testing the relationship waters. Their relatively blissful world turns somewhat sour when Marc falls for a mysterious neighbor (Hugh Panaro) and Cynthia's parents cut off her cash supply.
Soon we see what these characters are made of. Mignatti ties things up a little too neatly and unwisely introduces a fairy-tale element at the end. Since he's largely grounded in realism throughout, this detour into fantasy-land is a bit disconcerting, but not enough to spoil the movie.
Working at a slow, deliberate pace, Mignatti skillfully creates engaging characters. The movie sneaks up on you and gently lures you into its web. All the performances are first-rate, but Hobel is downright marvelous as the likable young blob of a woman whose life is in terminal disarray.
The character of Marc may upset some people because of his yen for casual sex. But if Marc were straight, these detractors probably wouldn't be as bothered.
Some will undoubtedly knock this movie as a fantasy that skirts crucial issues. But all the movie is doing is pointing out that just because you chose a gay lifestyle, you're not doomed to a life of gloom. Strip away AIDS and the emotional pitfalls many associate with this sexual preference and gays, Mignatti is saying, are just like straights.
A Village Arts Pictures Release. Writer, director: Victor Mignatti.
Cinematographer: Michael Mayers. Composer: Elliot Sokolov. Cast: Mara Hobel, Michael Shawn Lucas, Aaron Williams, Hugh Panaro.
(C)Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
The Best of the Rest from Outfest 97
by R. Hunter Garcia, Entertainment Today
It seems that Hollywood independent acquisitions people have been a little asleep at the wheel this year when it comes to scavenging the film fest circuit for high quality product with reasonable to great box office potential. In a year when so many films showing at Outfest 97 already had distribution lined up in advance -- and when few of the remaining were world premieres, meaning that they've already been shown at at lest one major festival before -- one of the great surprises was the number of films still available for distribution that no less than wowed audiences at their DGA screenings.
The most powerful "Rocky-like" audience reaction came to Victor Mignatti's Broadway Damage, an irrepressibly infectious romantic comedy about three innocent NYU grads grappling with their first year in the real world of Manhattan. In one scene, the audience actually seemed to forget it was watching a movie and clapped and cheered as though they were at a concert when one character finished singing a love song (Cindy Soltoff's "Men/Someone"), one of three original songs in the film. Sort of a cross between Everyone Says I Love You and Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Broadway Damage is a great ensemble piece, but the primary scene stealers are Mara Hobel as Cynthia, a helplessly spoiled rich girl from Long Island obsessed with getting hired by New Yorker editor Tina Brown, and Aaron Williams as the heartbreakingly callow Robert, a young songwriter who reads the Cliff Notes to Zola's La Bete Humaine in order to impress a literary greeting card cashier whom he's afraid to ask out for a date. (As if to confirm the Rocky-like cheers, Broadway Damage later went on to win the festival Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature).
Cinema: Objects Of Our Affection
by Richard Corliss, Time Magazine, Monday, Aug. 24, 1998
Fate, that impish old bitch, has thrown the smart one and the cute one in bed together for the first time. So far, they have been just friends, but now what? The cute one, topless and asleep, rolls over against the smart one, who suddenly dares to hope and grazes his love object with his fingers. A caress leads to a kiss--and then the cutie pie bolts up awake. Comedy! Drama! Horror! And, since the characters are both men, in a scene that stirs a smiling shudder of recognition in viewers straight and gay: Breakthrough!
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, a bubbly musical comedy romance that wowed 'em at Sundance, is as modest as it is beguiling; its director credit reads A TOMMY O'HAVER TRIFLE. But the trend it represents has some heft to it. There are more gay-theme independent films than ever--"an explosion hitting the marketplace," says Marcus Hu, co-president of Strand Releasing. And they aim to appeal to viewers of all sexual orientations. Gays have come out of the celluloid closet and into the movie mainstream.
Not mainstream movies, exactly. In films like As Good as It Gets and My Best Friend's Wedding, homosexual characters appear in sympathetic but supporting roles. In indie films, which are made inexpensively for niche audiences, gays get star treatment: in The Opposite of Sex, Love and Death on Long Island and, by year's end, a dozen more. Just as important is the attitude behind many of the new films. Instead of ghettoizing the gay experience, it integrates it into familiar Americana--gays and straights laughing, loving, misunderstanding one another. As O'Haver says of Kiss, "The idea was to set up these labels of straight and gay, and then by the end of the film forget that Billy is gay. The labels don't really mean that much." That is an aim of the new Gay Wave: to tear off the labels of stereotype, the better to consider the common fabric of our emotional lives.
In movies, gays were first ignored, then scorned. By the early '90s, with AIDS doing its dirty work, gays got to be pitied. But they were typically portrayed as a separate species, the exotic other; and films about them tended to be about their gayness, its birth and death. "It was either 'Mom, I'm coming out of the closet' or 'Oh, my best friend is sick,'" says David Elzer of Trimark, which distributes Kiss. "It was issue, issue, issue. Now we're coming into a new age. Billy's story is universal. Everyone has longed for someone else who may or may not have loved them back." Says Ray Price, head of the company's film division: "The movie is so wholesome that you could take your mother, your sister, your Ronald Reagan uncle, and it'd be O.K."
Of course it's O.K. Kiss and its siblings, including Victor Mignatti's Broadway Damage and Brian Sloan's Big Chill-ish I Think I Do, are as geezer friendly as a sappy sitcom. Like the ruck of hetero indie films, many in the Gay Wave have ambitions no higher than a Friends rerun. They are comedies of courtship manners.
Kiss and Broadway have identical plots: a smart guy falls for a hunky guy and spends the whole movie waiting to be kissed by him. Even the supporting characters are similar. Whereas straight film romances may feature a wisecracking gay neighbor, the gay movies are about two guys and a chirpy-cynical woman friend--Eve Arden on Fire Island. With their bright colors and show-tune overlay, these films are unapologetically romantic. They're at their most endearing when they attend to the crucial, clumsy negotiations at the beginning of any relationship, and to that old-fashioned movie wallop, the impact of a first kiss.
Most important is the films' mood: romantically retro. The sunny disposition, the swooning sentiment, the neat haircuts whisk you back to the pastel '50s--to Doris Day comedies and Gene Kelly musicals--and, even earlier, to the studied innocence of MGM's teen tuners starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, but with a little sex. And even that is so sweet it's tweet. (In Broadway Damage two young lovers climb up a tree for their first kiss. No kidding.) It makes sense that O'Haver, who evokes the retro spirit with such expert elan, has signed with Universal Pictures to direct a movie of the Archie comic book. We can't wait to see if Archie gets to pining over Jughead.
Not every gay film wants to be a Minnelli musical. Three of the new gay dramas, all about artists in extremis, are traditional in another sense. They locate the not so divine decadence--all that is theatrical, naughty, self-destructive--in gay sex. Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters stars Ian McKellen in a parable about '30s Hollywood director James Whale (Frankenstein, Show Boat). Like Billy, he is consumed with sexual longing, but here it is the ultimate form of masochism: a desire to be killed. The erotic charge sizzles in Lisa Cholodenko's High Art, a pensive throwback to the drug-and-sex angst of the '70s. It tosses Ally Sheedy into heavy, fraught clinches with Patricia Clarkson and Radha Mitchell. (Mitchell: "It's hot in here." Sheedy: "No. You're hot.")
John Maybury's Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon examines the English painter's long affair with a petty thief and his need to be the submissive partner in sadomasochistic sex. The film is broken into shards of images like shrapnel: coupled male bodies mime the exertions of Greco-Roman wrestling; Francis bends over for a whipping, or to be tattooed with a hot cigarette. Which makes the film both exquisitely observed and tough to watch.
The reach of either of these genres—happy-gay or sad-gay—is limited. They appeal to people who are open to gays and to modestly experimental films. Jenni Olson, whose PopcornQ website compiles data on gay and lesbian movies, warns against expecting one with Titanic or even Full Monty box office. "They can cross over to a straight art-house audience," she says. "We're not talking about an 'Oh, let's take the kids to a gay movie' crossover." The point isn't that everyone needs to see these films. It is that "out" films are finally and fully out there.
Real to Reel: An Indie Director Speaks Out on the State of Queer Cinema
by Allen Kalchik, HeatStroke
"People say this is a good time for gay films in America. But that's really not true, in my opinion," says movie director Victor Mignatti. "It's actually a very precarious time for gay films."
Mignatti has written, directed and edited a new romantic comedy called BROADWAY DAMAGE. He spoke to HeatStroke by telephone from his home in Los Angeles, where he is currently putting together a trailer for the film. BROADWAY DAMAGE is the former New York ad man's first feature, one of four films selected to screen at Phoenix's 1998 Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, February 13-14.
"When you look at popular gay movies--and I'm talking about independent gay films like mine, the festival type films--there are a lot of really wonderful gay and lesbian films out there that no one is ever going to see in a theater," Mignatti says. He explains that gay films have not made the kind of money that creates a trend in the distribution end of the film industry.
"It's been awhile since gay films have made a significant amount of money. We had kind of a freaky thing five or six years ago with GO FISH, POISON and TWO GIRLS IN LOVE. I think we all hoped that was going to be the start of a money-making trend for independent gay films. But it really didn't do that--instead it was a kind of freakish, one-of-a-kind situation."
Mignatti says last year, by comparison, most of the gay films that came out did terribly at the box office. "None of these recent independent films, from KISS ME GUIDO to LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! have made the kind of money that creates a trend--that warrants the millions of dollars in marketing and advertising that must go into selling the film. Distributors don't see it as a worthwhile market. They are licking their wounds and have become very cautious. Some of them won't even look at gay product or consider handling it."
BROADWAY DAMAGE, for example, has won Best Film awards at various festivals. Mignatti says the comedy has played not only gay film festivals, but has also been screened at some of the biggest international film festivals including those in Edinburgh, Seattle and Chicago. "It's gotten a real crossover audience as far as festival acceptance and exposure." And the film is consistently well-received. We've even had standing ovations at some of our screenings, with cheering and screaming."
Despite that kind of acceptance, it has taken a huge effort on the part of Mignatti and producer David Topel to line up wide distribution for BROADWAY DAMAGE. "We are really lucky because after months of looking for a distributor, we have finally found one. But we're still not going to have a heavily financed release with a flashy ad campaign." For that reason, word of mouth will be really important to the success of BROADWAY DAMAGE.
"That's one of the reasons festivals are so important. Because if 400 people see it in Phoenix and like it, and they tell five of their friends, then we can run our movie for a week in Phoenix -- that's really exciting to me."
Mignatti says the recent success of gay-themed films geared toward mainstream audiences, like THE BIRDCAGE and IN & OUT, are important politically-- particularly in terms of the responses they generate in the media and popular culture. "A film like IN & OUT is important because politically, our journey is one that is taking baby steps. It almost has to be done in a subversive way, and so I think IN & OUT is enormously successful on those terms. But when people say [gay filmmakers] must be doing great because of the success of IN & OUT and THE BIRDCAGE and all that stuff, I think we have to see a very serious distinction there."
He explains, "Those are Hollywood vehicles, essentially star-driven products. They are wonderful films in many ways and I enjoy all of them for various reasons. But my theory is that you look at those films -- and I include PHILADELPHIA in this -- in every single Hollywood gay movie, they always create that dynamic that lets heterosexual audience members feel superior to the gay characters." For a Hollywood gay film to be financially successful, like BIRDCAGE, IN & OUT or PHILADELPHIA, a heterosexual viewer must always be allowed to feel in some way superior, Mignatti stresses.
"By contrast, mostly gay independent films do not create that dynamic ever, in any way. The movies on the gay and lesbian festival circuit and other independent films are very matter of fact about sexuality. Some characters and some relationships in them are gay, an you either deal with it or you don't. They don't create that weird safety zone for the straight audience." It is the lack of that apologetic safety zone, he suggests, that makes distribution companies leery of the product.
BROADWAY DAMAGE is a touching comedy that deals with the lofty aspirations of three New Yorkers just out of college. All are looking for romance and direction in their lives. Two of the main characters are gay men, Marc and Robert, who are best friends. Each is hoping to land a career in the theater and find his own version of Mr. Right. The third major character is Cynthia, a witty, plump and very hetero Rich Daddy's Darling who shares an apartment with Marc.
Why did this 38-year-old writer/director feel the need to create an original story so earnest, youthful and romantic? "Because I felt the world was ready for it and needed something like this," he says. "I was working in advertising -- directing TV commercials, videos, corporate films and high-end fashion stuff. So much of what I was being called on to do was supposed to be very edgy and very hip, and I realized a lot of edginess is just a disguise for cynicism."
Mignatti says he started looking at images in popular culture and then looked inward. He had never considered himself a cynical person, but realized the work he was producing for others had taken a toll on his outlook on life.
"I thought, 'What was I like -- what was my life like --before I became cynical and jaded?' And I flashed back to when I was about 19. When my parents had just dropped me off at NYU and absolutely everything seemed possible."
Mignatti thought it would be a lot of fun to make a movie "about a group of friends that are just wide-eyed optimists -- hopeless romantics -- in a very cynical day and age. Three people for whom anything is possible. And that's what I did."
Actress Mara Hobel co-stars as Cynthia. Now in her twenties, Hobel is best known to most audiences for her portrayal of little Christina Crawford in the camp classic, MOMMIE DEAREST. "This is probably her first role as an adult," Mignatti says. "I have very little memory of MOMMIE DEAREST, except that it was totally over the top -- so that is not why we cast Mara. The casting director brought her in and she was wonderful. She totally nailed the part."
Having finally landed a distributor for his fresh and warmhearted flick, Mignatti is now very caught up in the process of marketing BROADWAY DAMAGE. He is also planning his next feature. "I'm developing two projects. One is another comedy, the other is a period film, set again in New York City, but in 1982." Both projects have primarily gay themes. "But I don't see myself as someone who is going to do exclusively gay things. I really don't," he says.
"I think festivals like the one coming up in Phoenix are really important, because the gay community really needs to support gay filmmakers. It's a very hard thing to make a film, because of the financial aspect of it. And for most of these films, not to have any kind of outlet to bring money back in can be financially devastating."
Like many openly gay artists, Mignatti seeks approval from within the community and yet has mixed feelings about the categorization of his work. "Look, we all know BROADWAY DAMAGE is a gay film and it's going to be mix-marketed. It's going to be marketed to the gay community and, hopefully, it will then cross over and be marketed in the straight community as well. That's the reality of it," he says with a sigh.
"But I don't like labels and it kind of bothers me to have it always called a gay film. I really hope that someday -- and this is me being an idealist -- I just dream that there is going to be a time when we don't have to label all these things: a Gay film, a Black film, a Latino film. Really, I'm sort of over all that."
"A charming film."
Chicago, Berlin, Kreuzuber
By Dietrich Kuhbrodt, Jungle World, 18 Dec 1997
We saw the very romantic comedy BROADWAY DAMAGE, a delightful film (director Victor Mignatti) that without inhibitions, without asking anybody for permission, tells a story about gay group living and relationships in a very lighthearted way as if there has never been a movement for emancipation or any film esthetics after Frank Capra (Arsenic and Old Lace, 1941). A low-low budget film financed exclusively through selling shares ($5,000 each share) and without any subsidies whatsoever. Of course every German/European committee would have criticized the absence of subject matter and debated about why this film is important. Right on. The film thrives on being decidedly unimportant and that it's fun to watch it. And that you feel better after having watched it. I am allowed to dare to write that here because I wanna try out what it's like to get out of my academic role. Just for the fun of it.
For our jury deliberation I tried to find out from our very romantic young director if he intended to play around with the aesthetics of the Broadway/Capra comedy - "I wasn't aware of that, I take what suits my purposes." Someone who just goes for what he wants. Don't we have to be alert?
Who does he think he is? We worked so hard on our emancipation and then this someone comes along and uses it without thanking us for it and without bowing down. And aren't there still enough miserable people in this world? Just look at those faces, this director, these actors - they laugh and grin smugly and look you straight in the eye.
Will BROADWAY DAMAGE find its way to Europe - when it is well known that we only get to see here about 10% of the US productions?
A Slice of the Big Apple's Sweeter Side
By Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
BROADWAY DAMAGE is a sweet-natured slice of life that, although set in present-day New York, has a jaunty innocence more in keeping with Breakfast at Tiffany's depiction of the denizens of the big city.
Yes, there are references to AIDS and male prostitution in Victor Mignatti's handsome first feature. But in the world of best friends, Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) and Robert (Aaron Williams), even the most dire circumstances has an up-side, and more than a few of the film's scenes end with a breezy musical motif -- a tooting horn, a cavalier clarinet -- that suggests a sit-com universe, not a real one.
In BROADWAY DAMAGE, Marc is a struggling musical theater actor, Robert, a struggling songwriter. Between their auditions and day jobs, the pair amble around Greenwich Village, ogling hunky guys (they rate them on a scale of 1 to 10) and ruminating about their love lives. Robert, shy and owlish beneath his floppy Woody Allen hat, secretly pines for Marc, while Marc is preoccupied with studlier fellows - notably David (Hugh Panaro), a singer who lives across the way.
There is also Cynthia (Mara Hobel), Marc's roommate, a compulsive shopper and compulsive gossip, obsessed with becoming New Yorker editor Tina Brown's personal assistant. Only Tina isn't returning any of her calls. (And who can blame her? Cynthia's manic-depressive behavior is hardly appealing.)
BROADWAY DAMAGE can meander, like Sunday strollers with no destination in mind. But Lucas and Williams evince an easygoing rapport, and writer-director Mignatti's deliberate lack of cynicism is a tonic when so many other movies about the gay urban experience are steeped in hip nihilism and ennui.
On BROADWAY DAMAGE
Instinct, May/June 98
A colorful, breezy feature in which a trio of friends (played by hunk-a-burnin-love Michael Shawn Lucas, Aaron Williams and Mara Hobel), fresh out of college, descend on Greenwich Village and struggle to land apartments, jobs and boyfriends (and not necessarily in that order). Without giving too much away, it's worth reporting that folks always seem to leave this one smiling.
Jean-Pierre went for this movie in such a big way, Oila was taken aback, (so impetuous, that one!) Perhaps it's an age thing: Jean-Pierre, though a very mature 25, is admittedly a trifle younger than Oila. But Oila appreciated the film's optimism and its illustration of the contortions of young boy-boy love, mediated by goofy gal pal Mara (so different from the Little Christina she played in Mommie Dearest). Ultimately, strange to tell, the story's element of suffering brought pangs of pleasure to Oila, as the cute youngsters weathered rejection, heartache, and household pets.
By Andrew Huang, The Village Voice
Uneven but amiable, Victor Mignatti's debut BROADWAY DAMAGE is at once a meditation on the dream/reality chasm, a satire festooned with piquant repartee, a feel-good dramedy that blindly pursues its romanticism, and a facile morality play where the good guy wins the prince. The roommate set-up: a rakish, blond Greek god (Michael Shawn Lucas) who wants a "perfect 10" lover; a bespectacled gay nerd (Aaron Williams) who, head over heels for the former, defines the phrase unrequited lover; an overweight, over-accessorized struggling writer (Mara Hobel) whose phone calls Tina Brown won't return - promises a certain amount of nefarious humor as the three engage in a series of madcap quests for the perfect career and love affair. The film vacillates between two incongruous modes: at its sardonic best, the riffs on "the hierarchy of beauty" and "the bad-boy myth" are Solondz-worthy; at its sentimental worst, the shameless banalty can be hokier than Meg Ryan's smirk. The zany pursuit of ideals escalates to the finale, where an improbable happy ending is tagged on. Always bittersweet, sometimes trenchant, and often hackneyed, it's a gem tarnished by its forced finish.
Next Stop, Greenwich Village
By Ken Fox, TVgen Movie Guide
Frothy romantic fun on a shoestring. Writer-director Victor Mignatti offers further evidence that you don't need a lavish budget or a big-name cast to turn out winning entertainment. Robert (Aaron Williams), Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas) and Cynthia (Mara Hobel) are recent college grads looking for careers, boyfriends and an affordable Greenwich Village apartment - in short, the impossible dream, Manhattan-style. Robert is a shy, Steven Sondheim-worshipping songwriter who's secretly in love with best friend Marc, an aspiring actor; Marc, however, is too busy looking for the perfect 10 to notice. While Robert and Marc pursue love and Broadway stardom, Marc's roommate Cynthia, a compulsive shopper with spiraling credit-card bills, angles for a job with magazine editor Tina Brown. Unfortunately, her "creative" tactics soon attract the attention of the FBI. That this well-worn premise actually works is due to Mignatti's sharp script - the film is full of incisive observations about the often harsh realities of dating that anyone, gay or straight, can relate to - and a trio of appealing performances. Hobel, in particular, is wonderful, and comes complete with built-in camp clout: As a child she starred as the young Christina Crawford, the little girl on the receiving end of Joan Crawford's wire hanger tirade in Mommie Dearest.
Stereotypes are the Stuff of Comedy
By John Knox, Brooklyn
Letter to the New York Blade News
David Noh's review of BROADWAY DAMAGE (New York Blade, May 29) struck me as largely missing the point.
I happen to know quite a few New York City gay men who like show tunes and work out at the gym regularly. I know just as many who enjoy neither of those things. Should films not portray one side of gay life merely because some regard it as stereotypical?
While stereotypes do abound throughout the movie, those same stereotypes brought tremendous laughter and giggles throughout the audience the night I saw it at the Quad. Perhaps Mr. Noh saw a videocassette screener copy, or saw it with other critics. Regardless, perhaps by not seeing the film with a representative audience, he really missed the meat of this film.
The crowd that I saw the film with seemed to completely understand that the film was poking fun at those same stereotypes with which Mr. Noh took issue. Further, the characters were working largely in a comedic context. Did Mr. Noh understand this film was a comedy? Judging the characters as if they were working in a dramatic context is an injustice.
For example, in taking issue with the character seeking an apartment through the obituaries, Mr. Noh displays his total ignorance of the New York real estate market. People have done that and much worse in this city, all in the name of affordable housing. The film was clearly lampooning that and many other fixtures of New York life.
I have seen this film twice now, and both times the audience completely understood and enjoyed the film for what it was: a fun, perhaps too schmaltzy gay comedy. The film is not without flaws, and I'll be the first to acknowledge that. But for those readers with a sense of humor and a desire to enjoy a fun gay comedy, I'd recommend they ignore Mr. Noh and go see BROADWAY DAMAGE anyway.
Pass the Popcorn
By Christian McLaughlin
Letter toThe Advocate, readerforum
You know you're in for a load of bull-shit when a critic devotes one third of a review to a self-importantly irrelevant essay decrying the ultimate failure of all gay artists. Jan Stuart faults Victor Mignatti's BROADWAY DAMAGE for daring to display "insouciance and cheeky high spirits" in today's oppressively bereft political climate. God forbid someone should make a gay movie that's sweet, exuberant, and escapist - i.e., a romantic comedy. To dismiss "implausible, feel-good" flicks is to trash a classic Hollywood genre. BROADWAY DAMAGE may not be "Tootsie" or "Desperately Seeking Susan", but it's well-made and unapologetic and beats the hell out of "Kiss Me, Guido."
As if Stuart's bitter attitude weren't reason enough to disregard this pan, his statement that star Mara Hobel "hasn't much of anything going on" brands him unconscious. Any and all story quibbles aside, Hobel's vibrant, funny, touching performance is flat-out adorable, bringing to mind the question "What's Jan's damage?"
Mara Hobel Survives BROADWAY unDAMAGEd
By James Colt Harrison, Prevue, Spring 98
As a child actress, Mara Hobel played Joan Crawford's daughter, Christina, in Mommie Dearest with Oscar winner Faye Dunaway. Television fans remember her as the young neighbor, Charlotte, on "Roseanne."
In her latest feature film, BROADWAY DAMAGE, Hobel plays Cynthia, a spoiled rich kid who strikes out on her own to make it big in New York. She is armed with an allowance from daddy, a Bloomingdale's credit card, and sheer wit and determination.
"She is fun and carefree. She is a lot of what I'd like to be. It was fun to wear all the beautiful clothes, wigs and make-up," Hobel says.
By hook and by crook, Cynthia and her new friend, an aspiring gay actor named Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas), are able to find an apartment in the heart of Greenwich Village.
"It's a lighthearted romantic comedy," Hobel says. Except Cynthia doesn't have any romance. She doesn't have time. When she's not shopping, she's dodging cockroaches or rats in her apartment while devising desperate schemes to find a job before mommy and daddy force her to come back home and 'be sensible'.
Though she possesses what she feels is a fashion IQ of 300, Cynthia just can't understand why the fashion editor she has been stalking isn't beating down her apartment door begging her to come work at her magazine. Could it be that Cynthia has absolutely no work experience?!
Meanwhile, time is ticking by. Cynthia turns into a woman on the edge, living with a man who listens to recordings of Broadway musicals. Her money runs out, her charge card is cancelled and the magical romance of New York has turned cold and is taking its toll on her pampered little psyche.
"What a character!" Hobel says. "For me to get to play someone like her was great!" Her bubbly enthusiasm permeates her on-screen character as well as her personal life. When told that in BROADWAY DAMAGE she steals the show, she gushed, "Wow, that's refreshing!"
Edinburgh Film Festival
By Alan Morison, Scottish Screen
Life is growing more complicated for laid-back Marc, despite his cool new pad in New York's gay, arty haven of Greenwich Village. His overweight flatmate, Cynthia, is a spoilt brat on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He's struggling as an actor, his latest lover disappears for long night-time periods, and his best friend, Robert, is harboring great but unrequited love for him. Blowing away cynicism with a fresh degree of old-style romance, Victor Mignatti's gentle, gay comedy plays out in a modern world where casual sex doesn't exclude tender kisses.
Their Hearts Are Young And Gay — Really
John Anderson, New York Newsday
Oh to be young, gifted and gay. And underfinanced. But able to afford Manhattan. And, obviously, pay the gym bills. Oh, heck, this is fantasy, isn't it? Why be persnickety?
It is definitely fantasy. In the great tradition of Woody Allen -- whose New York is created in his own image, Victor Mignatti gives us a city that's clean, bright, gay and uh, gay. And since it's strictly television -- from the musical cues to the antiseptic sensibility -- we might call it "Tales of the Other City."
The actual title of Mignatti's good-natured but very fluffy film is BROADWAY DAMAGE -- a reference to any aspiring stage star's fragile patina -- and the would-be actor is Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas). The would-be employee of the New Yorker magazine is Cynthia (Mara Hobel) who has a Tina Brown fixation that's pathological. Together they traverse the rocky road of love. Marc loves David (Hugh Panaro), a handsome pop-star wannabe whose music sounds like Michael Bolton on Romilar. Robert loves the oblivious Marc. And Cynthia loves Bloomingdale's; although her father keeps cutting off her charge cards. Hobel, who played the young Christina Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" and was a "Roseanne" regular is a scene-stealer, and the rest of the cast is very pleasant. Mignatti's intention, clearly is confection and he achieves it, although the results are a little saccharine for my tastes. People like to see themselves on screen, though, and given the scarcity of movies that treat gay people like, well, like they're people, this one should have a ready-made audience.
Diary of a Mad Film Viewer
By Michele Spring-Moore, The Empty Closet, New York State's Oldest Gay & Lesbian Newspaper
BROADWAY DAMAGE, by Victor Mignatti: This lighthearted story set in Greenwich Village features three protagonists: Mark, a handsome, well-built aspiring actor who works as a theater ticket telemarketer to pay the rent; his roommate Cynthia, a heterosexual, fashion victim, rich girl from Long Island who can't bring herself to do anything to pay the rent and their friend Robert, a nebbishy actor-turned-show-tune-composer who has a thing for Mark but can't bring himself to tell his friend. All of the characters have Broadway dreams that get sidetracked - Mark and Robert audition for parts until Mark enters a relationship with a good-looking con man. Robert continues chasing guys in his half-hopeful way, and Cynthia devotes time and energy that could go into job hunting or training, to trying to contact the editor of the New Yorker.
The film avoids sliding into stereotype - Robert could be a gay Woody Allen, Cynthia could be just a fat fag hag and Mark could be another hunk of dumb beefcake who thinks he can act - but by making the characters just well-rounded enough to be believable, while maintaining their comic appeal, Mignatti creates a genuinely warm and funny film. He takes aim at many gay men's tendency to overlook their peers who lack "biceps for days and washboard stomachs," but shoots only a few arrows at this particular target before ending the movie predictably.
The opening sequence, in which the two guys look for a new apartment for Mark and Cynthia, is delightful, and telling in what it fails to mention aloud: Robert and Mark find the place by reading the obituaries and trying to guess who's gay, and they put the previous tenant's acting head shot in their refrigerator in a silent thank you gesture to this young man who died of AIDS.
By Robert B. DeSalvo, IN, Los Angeles
June 8 , 1998
The feature film debut BROADWAY DAMAGE, from writer/director Victor Mignatti, promises to be an antidote to cynicism, or "a valentine to New York City and the dreamers who still believe in the magic of the grand romance gesture," as Mignatti puts it. The hopeless convert here is Robert (Aaron Williams), a sweet-but-nerdy aspiring writer who's in love with his best friend Marc (Michael Shawn Lucas), a struggling actor. While combing the streets of Manhattan looking for an apartment, Marc confesses to Robert that he only dates guys who are a perfect "10."
Mara Hobel, best known _portraying the young Christina Crawford who Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford beat with a wire hanger in "Mommie Dearest," plays Cynthia, a lovable-yet-neurotic fag hag with a shopping disorder. She calls her gay friends "lamb chop" and spends her time - in between running up daddy's credit cards - hilariously stalking magazine editor Tina Brown for a job. Meanwhile, Marc falls for his sleazy, gigolo neighbor, David (Hugh Panaro), who is anything but what he seems. This allows Robert time to try to get realistic about his sex life, but each unfulfilling romance makes him ache more for Marc. When Cynthia freaks out after her umpteenth encounter with an apartment-dwelling rodent and flees back to her parents' Long Island mansion, inviting her "lamb chop" to come for the weekend, it becomes now-or-never time for Robert, while Marc must come to terms with what really makes a person attractive.
Some might claim that BROADWAY DAMAGE is nothing more than a silly geek-loves-stud story and that its tidy ending is a little too sweet to swallow, but it's hard not to find yourself charmed by this little nugget of a movie, especially with Hobel, who really shines here. Watch her try to find the directions for washing dishes on a detergent bottle, tack her diploma above the toilet and, when she first sees the apartment, say, "Fabulous - and I don't use the f-word lightly." She's campy, for sure, but she's in on the joke and makes up for lulls that newcomers Lucas and Williams sometimes provide. If the film ultimately fails as a gay romance, it at least succeeds in capturing a more innocent time in many of our lives when, fresh out of college, we escaped to a big city with little more than a few good friends and a head full of dreams. This joyful sense of adventure is the warm heart of BROADWAY DAMAGE and during these jaded and serious times, is a refreshingly "fabulous" concept.
Broadway Damage Tunes Movie Musical
By Cheryl Klein, UCLA Daily Bruin
We knew they were out there - twenty-somethings who read the Sondheim Review and revel in the simplicity of a happy ending, but refrain from launching into campy reprisals of, well, anything from "Funny Girl." They're suffering BROADWAY DAMAGE of the best kind.
Victor Mignatti has written and directed a movie for a small but sincere segment of the population.
Its central characters are almost immediately likable. Marc (Michael Shawn Lucus) is a determined actor, on the lookout for the perfect part and the perfect man, which appear equally unattainable. Robert (Aaron Williams) is his puppy-doggish best friend, who, in a lovable tribute to financial suicide, is trying to land an acting job to finance his career as a musical theater writer. Marc's roommate Cynthia (Mara Hobel) thinks the best route to her dream job is stalking New Yorker editor Tina Brown.
In many ways, the film follows standard musical form, though with one notable exception -- the soundtrack plays third fiddle at best. Robert moons over Marc. Marc is blind to it, falling instead for a string of losers, namely the dashing David ("Side Show's" Hugh Panaro) whose tattooed biceps holds the key to a seedy double life.
But they're a duet waiting to happen and we know they'll be together before the credits role. Cynthia is the staple comic best friend, filling in for that funny looking guy who follows Gene Kelly around and gave him girl advice in "An American in Paris."
So, yes, BROADWAY DAMAGE is predictable. It succumbs completely and knowingly to the psychological condition that is its namesake: that desire for flash and innocence and romance. There is an innocence to the film itself. Most of the cast could stand an "and introducing" tag before their names and it shows. Early lines get an overly ambitious, read-through treatment, suggesting the film was shot in sequence. The uneven dialogue mixes random cliches and flat sit-com gags with wisdom and wit. (Theater ticket operator Jerry to client on the other end of the line: "No ma'am, you cannot get hit by the flying chandelier.")
But this naivete also opens a door for nuance and, believe it or not, refreshing realism. The Greenwich Village apartment, for instance, is actually small. Cynthia is actually fat. And she still has friends, sex and a wardrobe that any savvy drag queen would kill for.
And if the three principles (especially Lucas) are less-than-natural in front of the camera at first, they end up embracing their characters and forcing the audience to follow suit. Williams' Robert evokes winces when he unsuccessfully flirts with a card shop employee - think Jon Favreau's answering machine scene in "Swingers" - but becomes his own Derby dynamo when he pours his heart out on the keyboard later.
Hobel balances Cynthia's thick-headed, poor-little-rich-girl rants with humor and a no-sobs-barred scene which genuinely conveys the sublime terror of fending for herself in a world without Daddy's credit card. Lucas manages to be a catch without being a Ken doll. The only performance that never adds up is Panaro's: with a leather vest, '70s haircut and smarmy smile, David is always more dirty than dreamboaty.
That said, BROADWAY DAMAGE carves itself an interesting niche in the movie musical history books. First, there's that little detail of it not being a musical - not musically speaking. Here Mignatti adopts playwright Terrance McNally's ability to weave musical motifs and structures into a non-musical format. Thematically, though, it tap dances in the footsteps of Fred and Ginger's early romantic romps.
Yet by dropping the needless bickering (Marc and Robert never question their friendship) and the cardboard setting, DAMAGE is very much the '90s. With colorful street scenes and characters who would never address Lloyd Webber as "Lord", it has the texture of "Rent" with a few more cockroaches.
Agruably, the movie musical has been suffering an identity crisis for 30 years. Once the '60s happened and we could no longer kid ourselves, musicals toyed with darker themes, from the psychadelic but ultimately un-impactive "Hair" to the ingeniously cynical "All That Jazz."
BROADWAY DAMAGE will have none of that. We can almost see Robert's bespectacled eyes widen with betrayal at the thought. And perhaps the statement is all the stronger when we see the perfect, comfortable, pettin'-in-the-park love story against a background of rejection and peeling linoleum.
This dichotomy ultimately makes for a film that is both industry and amateurishly indie, nostalgic but not condescending. People break into song and even if there's no off-screen band to back them up, they still fall in love. Why? Because the courtees are suffering from a beautiful case of BROADWAY DAMAGE themselves.
On Location With: BROADWAY DAMAGE
By Leslie (Hoban) Blake, Backstage
"BROADWAY DAMAGE" marks the film debut of writer-director-producer Victor Mignatti, known for ... commercials and music/fashion videos.... His co-producer, David Topel -- whose background is in theatre -- told Back Stage they'd managed to stay within three days of their original 28-day shooting schedule, and went only "a little over budget." Indie films without set distributors rarely discuss actual numbers, and Topel would only say that the "SAG modified low-budget film cost just under a million." The production paid for several actors to join SAG, and all the actors involved received modified (very low) weekly base salaries in return for deferred payments and video-release residuals. Even the crew worked for a mere fraction of regular salaries.
But Topel and Mignatti were happy to discuss the film which the director describes as a throwback to a time "before I was jaded and cynical, when I still believed in the lyrics of show tunes. It's about the difficulty of finding someone to love in New York." The story concerns college friends Marc, Robert, and Cynthia, who move into a Village apartment together after graduation, and how they learn about life, love, and "shopping at Bloomies." The title refers to singing one show tune too many, or, as the two men put it, "If you can sing all the lyrics to 'I'm a Shady Lady From Brazil,' you've got 'BROADWAY DAMAGE.'"
The pajama-clad Panaro plays David, a rock-star wannabe (hence the eclectic wardrobe) whose "dark, sexy quality" attracted the actor. "It's actually rubbed off a little on Gaylord, which is just fine," he grins. "I always used to be cast as boring Ken dolls." Panaro also played Raoul in "THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA," Julian Craster in Jule Styne's ill-fated "THE RED SHOES," and Marius in the first national company of "LES MISERABLES" before boarding "SHOW BOAT."
That show's producers allowed Panaro to miss 10 performances, in return for which he had to extend his contract for another six months -- right through Jan. 5, when "SHOW BOAT" sails away from Broadway. During the final week of the film shoot, he worked two 16-hour days back to back, then 7 am to noon on Wednesday, followed by matinee and evening performances of "SHOW BOAT" and two more 12-16 hour days on the film. Fortunately, his wife-actress Tracey Shane -- understands; she's the current Christine in "PHANTOM."
The role of Cynthia in "BROADWAY DAMAGE" is played by Mara Hobel, who bears the dubious double distinction of having played Christina Crawford as a little girl in "MOMMIE DEAREST" and then, a few years later, having appeared as an 11-year-old in Broadway's "MOOSE MURDERS." A veteran of 20 years in the business, Hobel describes her character as a "fashion queen who quotes Diana Vreeland and stalks her idol, Tina Brown, in hopes of a job."
Aaron Williams plays Robert, "the nice guy, always the best friend" who gets his heart's desire by the end of the film. Marc, "a struggling actor," is played by-of all things -- struggling actor Michael Lucas. "THE BOYS IN THE BAND" 's James Lescene puts in a cameo appearance as [Robert]'s one-night stand.
Panaro, Williams, and Lucas each shared his favorite Back Stage story: Way back when Panaro was a non-Equity actor appearing in an Off-Off-Broadway revue, he saw a call for an Equity tour of "CHICAGO," a show he'd done three times in Philadelphia. Ultimately, he contacted and convinced the director to see him, and got the tour and his Equity card, bumping his weekly salary from $80 to a cool $750 in the process. "I live my life through Back Stage," claims Williams, who says he's "scoped out the stands" where he can pick up the paper late Wednesday nights. Among the 10 jobs he's gotten via Back Stage listings was a role in a recent revival or "BEIRUT" Off-Off-Broadway. "Hey," he jokes, "a couple were even paying gigs."
Lucas relates that he arrived here from Altoona, Pa., four years ago, "without a clue. Through Back Stage, I landed a singing job on a cruise ship for four and a half months, and that gave me enough money to get started in New York." By now, the actors have crossed the street to the "craft service table"-no food trucks or "honey wagons" on such a low-budget. Strewn with bagels, fruit, and juices, the table sits on the sidewalk right in front of Charley O's. An equipment truck unloads a dolly for a tracking shot (called a "walk and talk") that will follow Marc as he leaves an audition with his friends.
Topel reveals that DP (director of photography) Michael Mayers, whose credits include "DENISE CALLS UP" and "SPANKING THE MONKEY," and makeup man Kelvin Trahan ("JFK," "BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES," and Broadway's "LA CAGE AUX FOLLES") are donating their talent to the project because "Victor is an old friend. We could never have afforded either of them, much less both." Moreover, Stephen Sondheim has given special permission for songs from COMPANY," "A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC," and "ANYONE CAN WHISTLE" to be used in the film.
Mignatti stands on the edge of Shubert Alley, surveying the block (45th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues) with its seven theaters housing so many Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winners. "This street just is Broadway," he sighs happily -- and then he gets to work filming.
By Brian Caffall
Philadelphia Gay News, Contributing Writer
David Topel's law career was going along at a merry clip. He'd cut his teeth on politics as a research assistant to Sen. Hubert Humphrey at the age of 18. Later, he was instrumental in the political campaign that sent Delaware's Joseph Biden to the U.S. Senate. He was clearly on the fast track for a partnership with a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. What he really wanted to do, though, was make movies.
Victor Mignatti was enjoying a similar success in the world of television commercials and music videos, working with such high-profile clients as Ralph Lauren, Pink Floyd and Cyndi Lauper. His commercials include the infamous "Pizza Face" campaign for Clearasil. A native of Jenkintown, Mignatti studied film at New York University before establishing himself as a director of videos and documentaries, including an episode of PBS' gay and lesbian newsmagazine, "In the Life," that is now included in the collection of the Museum of Broadcasting. He was a director much in demand for television work. What he really wanted to do, though, was make movies. The two met through Philadelphia actress Barbara Winters Pinto. Mignatti had created a promotional trailer for the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, called "Dede's Glamarama," in which "Babs" Pinto played a how-girl-turned-beautician.
"That trailer was better than half the films being shown in the festival," Topel recalls. "I wrote to Victor telling him that I thought that two of the charter members of the Babs Pinto Fan Club should certainly meet each other." That meeting resulted in Topel's signing on to work on what was to be Mignatti's first feature film, "BROADWAY DAMAGE."
"Initially, I approached Dave about helping with financing the project," said Mignatti. "But the more we worked together, the more I realized how inordinately gifted he was in all aspects of organization." Ultimately, Topel assumed the full responsibilities of producing the film.
Although this was his first venture in producing a feature film, Topel was not exactly a neophyte in putting an entertainment project together. He had worked with Philadelphia songwriter Michael Ogborn in presenting Ogborn's revue, "C'est La Guerre," and is now developing two film scripts of his own.
The script for "BROADWAY DAMAGE" grew out of Mignatti's own growing disaffection for the images of youth he was seeing in film and television. "Everything was such doom and gloom, very cynical and jaded," he said. "The industry wanted things that were edgy and hip, and that was the sort of work I was doing myself, even though that wasn't who I was. To write 'BROADWAY DAMAGE,' I had to flash back to who I was before I let myself become cool, aloof and pissed off, back to the day my parents dropped me off at the dorm at NYU, and anything was possible." A chance encounter with a friend from those student days in New York gave him the focal incident that triggered the script for "BROADWAY DAMAGE."
"I hadn't seen him since 1978, when he'd locked himself out of his apartment and I helped him climb up his fire escape to break in," Mignatti said. In "BROADWAY DAMAGE," Marc and his best friend, Robert, break into an empty apartment in their hunt for a place to live for Marc and his roommate-to-be, Cynthia.
"Marc, Robert and Cynthia are all hopeless romantics, going after their dreams," Mignatti said. "They're optimists in a pessimistic time." In addition to his admiration for Mignatti's work, Topel was drawn to the specific qualities he found in the script of "BROADWAY DAMAGE." "It offered us a chance to put something into the world that's positive and good-natured," he said. "I was tired of drag or the health crisis being used to make Hollywood a buck. This was about real men and women."
Although the title of producer may sound impressive, Topel describes his day-to-day work on the set as being that of "troubleshooter," having to deal with the hundreds of details of filming on locations throughout New York City while holding to a tight budget and an equally tight shooting schedule. On one occasion, at least, Topel also had to cope with what amounted to blackmail.
"Victor needed a shot on a particular pier that happened to have been condemned by the city. We thought we had permission from a guy who owned a shop at the end of the pier, but, while we were shooting, a bunch of, well, thugs is pretty much the word, came along and challenged our right to be there. We ended up reaching a sort of compromise where they'd allow a total of 10 people to finish up the shot. I refer to that as guerrilla shooting."
Still, Mignatti and Topel agree about one aspect of the total process of bringing the movie to audiences. In Mignatti's words, "Making a movie is easy compared to selling a movie." The two have been showing the film and buttonholing possible distributors everywhere, from the Cannes Film Festival to gay and lesbian festivals in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles.
When "BROADWAY DAMAGE" is shown here on July 10, though, the event will have a special sweetness to both men. They're both bringing their work to their hometown. "BROADWAY DAMAGE" opens the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. July 10 at Ritz Five, 214 Walnut Street. Director Victor Mignatti, producer David Topel and several stars will introduce the film. The screening is sponsored by the Sundance Channel and Philadelphia Gay News.