When I meet Nic Bettauer, the director/writer/producer of the critically acclaimed movie, DUCK, on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, she is wearing a pair of gigantic rubber-soled platform shoes that she'd just bought for "less than $10." Even in the shoes, she remains the only movie auteur still shorter than Woody Allen. Far easier on the eye though.
"I love it here, " she says of Venice, "It's open-minded and open-ended, and when you look out over the ocean then head up the beach, then the world appears to be open and limitless."
Nic walks out onto the sand and kicks off her shoes. The sand is hot and we walk to waters' edge. From where we stand we can see Catalina burning off the coast, and inland too the flames over Griffith Park. We have good eyesight. What if the Hollywood sign burnt down I am thinking. She used to run every day in Griffith Park, and lived at MacArthur Park, the other park, in LA, she remarks darkly, that was 'lit-up' recently, she seems genuinely dismayed by it all.
Duck, after all, amongst other things, is a love-letter to Los Angeles akin to Quinceanera and Training Day... "I've briefly met the directors of 'Quinceanera' -- wonderful - - " she says, "and I'm the hugest fan of 'Training Day', 'Collateral', that ilk of L.A. based cop films, having grown up on the N.Y. ones of the 70's, still my favorites. I like character pieces and city/street films. I do love L.A. and N.Y. And, If I had to have made one movie, then died - - it would have been 'Midnight Cowboy'."
DUCK, starring Philip Baker Hall as Arthur, opens with the closing of the last public park in Los Angeles. A cautionary tale set only very slightly in the future, "So that there's enough time to make a change or a difference," Nic begins, "but not too much so as to make its observations irrelevant (to those living for themselves in the now)."
"I'm not really interested in solely bitching about the present," she says, "without holding forth options, nor living in the past, or for the future... DUCK is something of a survival story about what it takes to want to survive. For each, it is different, but quite a strong will."
Arthur (Philip Baker Hall) is a retired history professor who has outlived his time and place, friends and family, resources and reasons to live. In the park where his son and wife are buried, Arthur contemplates putting an end to his own life, when he is confronted by an orphaned duckling who has just escaped death. Arthur names this duckling Joe. What follows is their search meaningful survival in a world where they don't matter. It's tough and not so sentimental. It's provocative, funny and charming, an off-kilter story of hope. "It's too mainstream..." an industry publicist taking a pass on the film recently told Nic. "Hysterical. That's the last thing I thought I'd hear."
"Once when I was a struggling writer, as I am still... someone (unmentioned) took the liberty to ask me what I was going to do when I was alone, homeless, and penniless on a bench. And, I asked - - could I have a dog? Because well, I love dogs... and that's something, no? Possibly everything." Arthur gets a duck.
Duck is not Nic's first film to feature homeless characters... "I've spent a lot of time downtown and @ MacArthur Park. I'd never before experienced anything like the open-air asylum downtown became at night. I worked at a homeless shelter as well as for Legal Aid taking evidence photos in their anti-slumlord suits. Whence Hollywood turned that world of mine into 'The Super', I was making documentaries - - still my first love. The tiny, ragged, first, non-sync-sound ode-to-misery I made while in grad school 'Warm Place Tonight' is now resurrected on YouTube (do not miss this - L). Go Internet! At its best, the 6 min. film aspires to a Tom Waits song, and I did love those guys who speak through the film about the death of their friend, heretofore unnoticed.
To learn more about DUCK go to the duckthemovie.com website
photos on this page by Mark Lampert