And now, after a decade of keeping it locked in a dark vault as if it were the mutant child of a royal family, Showtime is bringing back my first feature, “Cafe Society”. It will air this Sunday evening at ten pm. Is that time Eastern or Pacific? I don’t know. And which of the many Showtime channels will it air on? I’m not sure. If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around, does it make a noise? No. It doesn’t.
“Cafe Society” is the nifty true story of Mickey Jelke, heir to an oleomargerine fortune, who was arrested and convicted in 1952 on charges of heading Manhattan’s biggest call-girl ring–just for kicks, of course, since he had plenty of dough. The great Frank Whaley plays Jelke, the marvelous Peter Gallagher plays the undercover cop who stings him and the mysterious Lara Flynn Boyle plays Jelkes consort, Patricia Ward–a girl from the lower east side (back then the wrong side of the tracks–nowadays studio apartments are two million dollars) who becomes Mickey’s loveslave/whore. (Where is Lara Flynn Boyle these days, anyway? An excellent actress, a joy to work with and versatile–able to do the quirky young thing as well as the smoky noir thing. ) It’s a lurid, fun movie with lots of cigarettes, drinks, nasty dialogue and absolutely no redemptive message.
We shot it at the end of 1994, over the Christmas/New Years Holiday, in twenty-two days in an abandoned gentleman’s club in lower Manhattan. There was less than two million dollars to work with–though you’d never know it from the sets and costumes, which look excellent. Also in the cast is the late John Spencer–who wound up running the White House on ‘The West Wing’ before succumbing to a heart attack at the too young age of 59. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in Director’s Fortnight the following year–quite an experience for a twenty-nine year old filmmaker…but then Todd McCarthy gave it a middling review in Variety and the interested buyer (I believe it was Sony) suddenly vanished. It was sold to Showtime as a “Showtime Premiere” movie and a couple of years later I opened it theatrically (with my own money–which I probably should have invested in AOL) in Manhattan, at the now defunct “Screening Room”, a lovely bar/restaturant/cinema that was on Canal Street.
If you’d like to watch the film for free, click HERE.