A guided tour through the Hollywood Dream factory, where illusions are created and destroyed with equal skill, Where The Truth Lies may strike some as a departure for Atom Egoyan, the award-winning creator of such acclaimed films as Exotica, The Sweet hereafter, and Ararat.
However different on the surface, this latest film Is thematically of a piece with his entire body of work, a canon of ten feature films, all of which have dealt, in one way or another, with the treacherous nature of sexuality, the differences between appearance and reality, and the subjective nature of truth.
Egoyan describes his new film as "a story about the conflict between a public mythology and a private history," but this is a description that could easily be applied to any number of his most personal and identifiable works. Though he is partial to working from his own original screenplays, Egoyan's occasional adaptations of literary source material - he previously made films of Russell Banks' haunting The Sweet Hereafter and William Trevor's disturbing Felicia's Journey - have much in common with any story he has created directly for the screen. Like Where The Truth Lies, they have prismatic, fragmented structures, multiple time frames and points of view, complex and morally ambivalent characters, and dark secrets hidden behind a disarming, deceptive surface.
The presence of these qualities 'in abundance, convinced Egoyan to adapt Holmes's book, his maiden effort as a novelist. A successful and prolific singer/songwriter/music producer, Holmes displayed surprising versatility as the composer and librettist of the Tony-award winning musical, The mystery of Edwin Drood. This long-running Broadway hit, adapted from an obscure work by Charles Dickens, also displayed his affinity for the crime thriller genre, something he would mine again in Where the Truth lies. More importantly, the book mined Holmes's extensive knowledge of the inner workings of show business. "It's chronicled by Rupert," notes Egoyan, "who knows that world like the back of his hand, and he therefore gives a vivid account of the entertainment world in the 50s. It's full of detail, and it's essential to the success of the story that you feel it being told by someone who was there. I think one of the most attractive aspects of the novel is that you feel as though you have access to something that is otherwise very private. It is this privileged glimpse into the entertainment industry that makes Where the Truth Lies so dramatically rich."
Egoyan knows that show business is paradoxical by nature, at once highly visible yet highly insular, full of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. The irony is that audiences are attracted by this very duality; they flock to theaters to see seemingly perfect people on-screen. Then, they flock to magazine stands to read all about the horrible things these beautiful people do. This, in a nutshell, is what the character of Karen o' Connor is all about. She spends half of the film worshipping Lanny Morris, a man she has had a crush on for most of her life; she spends the other half trying to prove that he is a murderer. The fact is that Lanny is neither the myth nor the monster, but Karen would rather see him as either one of those two things, than accept the fact that he is merely a man.
"The thing that fascinates me about the entertainment industry," notes Egoyan, "is that it involves constructing a persona; that is, it involves representing something other than who you are. And, by doing that so well, people want to believe it. This is what's at the heart of the story: who are these people? Who are Lanny and Vince?" He Continues: "They've existed as popular icons, and they want to preserve that. In a way, Karen wants to clear their names and, in turn, the mystery around them, because she adores them so much. But, in doing so, she opens up this Pandora's box, and has to completely reassess who these people are. And, in the process, she has to reassess who she is."
Though it could coast along on its cleverly constructed, intricately designed plot, Where the Truth Lies comes to life on film because Egoyan is equally concerned with the psychological and emotional veracity of its characters. For this reason, Rupert Holmes was thrilled when he received Egoyan's request to option and adapt the novel.
"I love his work," says the author, "and I realized that he would bring something to this that very few directors would, that he would be very focused on the characters as well as on the mystery."
As an admirer of Egoyan's previous work, Holmes was open to changes the director felt his adaptation would require. "He understood that the book was something unto itself, and that the film had to be a reinvention" says Egoyan. A key change was made in how Lanny and Vince were characterized. Holmes' book was almost a 'roman a clef', with Collins and Morris patterned directly after an actual performing partnership whose famous, and mysterious, breakup looms large in Hollywood folklore. Egoyan wanted to distance his project from any lurid speculation, so his Lanny and Vince evolved into wholly fictitious, as opposed to barely fictionalized, characters. The nature of their act was also changed from the one described in the novel.
Much of this was accomplished by making Vince British instead of American, enabling Egoyan to use well-established stereotypes about the differences between
England and The United States as the basis for the comedy routines. "It seemed to me that it was possible to have this British guy trying to tame or control this impulsive and unpredictable American," recalls Egoyan. "I felt that there were enough examples of British actors like Peter Lawford, David Niven, Rex Harrison, Laurence Harvey or, before that Noel Coward, to illustrate how Britain would have had an influence on American culture at that time. "Lawford, in particular, as a founding member of the illustrious Brat Pack, is perhaps the most obvious antecedent for Colin Firth's Vince."
After completing the first draft of his screenplay, Egoyan presented it to his longtime producer, Robert Lantos, whose credits, apart from the Egoyan oeuvre, include Being Julia, Sunshine, and Black Robe.
About the script, Lantos recalls, "I loved it. I thought that it was the perfect next step for Atom and I to take on a Film Noir, which would open his work to a broader audience but which still carried his distinct signature." As to why he liked this particular film noir, Lantos says, "I was riveted and seduced by the screenplay's revelations, sensuality and suspense. It is a film about relationships and the deterioration of friendships. It is also about what happens when someone is secretly
In love with a celebrity and comes face to face with that person."
Describing the project in these terms, Lantos certainly identifies the elements that make it a more accessible, more commercial film than their previous collaborations. But, in describing its themes: "It's about the quest for truth - about peeling away layer upon layer of hypocrisy and lies; the process of getting right down to the kernel, right down to where the truth lies, he is identifying the elements that make it quintessentially, unmistakably Egoyan. My mission, was to preserve what is entirely original and unique to Atom's way of filmmaking, and to deploy it into a film that would be accessible for more mainstream audiences."
One way of achieving this mission was for Lantos to endow this project with a much larger budget and much stronger production values than the filmmaker had previously enjoyed. Filmed over a ten week period on location in Los Angeles and on extensive interior sets built in studios both in London and Toronto, Where the truth Lies is mounted on a scale commensurate to its old Hollywood subject matter, and its glamorous period, or rather, dual period-- setting. The script called for major set pieces in such diverse locations as a network television studio, a packed Metropolitan Nightclub, a lavish mob-run casino, and the presidential suite of a luxury hotel, all dressed for the mid-50's, and many crowded with perfectly clad and coiffed Crowds. For Egoyan and his production team's production designer Phillip Barker, Cinematographer Paul Sarossy, and costume designer Beth Pasternak, all of whom are frequent and long time collaborators-- the project was a massive undertaking. It was also a feast "one that allowed Egoyan to have his cinematic cake and eat it too, by making a Hollywoodstyle, Hollywood-scale film that, at its core, is more than a little critical of Hollywood.
To prepare for production, Egoyan watched numerous vintage films, both Classic and neo noir, for inspiration. He also studied films that employed voice-over narration, a Noir trademark, in order to decide how to employ that particular technique. (with its differing points of view, dueling narrators, and contradictory testimonies, the film is unusually reliant on voiceover as a device.) While he found this research useful, Egoyan maintains that, "you can look at all these films, and get excited, but your film is ultimately going to be something that is going to come from you."
Since so much of the film is about surfaces, and how different they are from what's behind them, Phillip Barker's contribution, designing sets from two distinct periods, was considerable. Barker drew inspiration from several sources including the work of Architect Morris Lapidus, who designed such 50s landmarks as Miami's Fountainbleu Hotel and the Eden Roc. At London's Shepperton Studios, Barker built the Extravagant Versailles presidential suite, where Vince and Lanny stay during the
Telethon, and where their fateful one night stand with a compliant but conniving beauty leads to catastrophe. This ultra-swank set is decorated in pristine beige- on- beige tones, which serve to intensify the sordid and unseemly nature of the events that will occur there. For this set, barker used a style known as 'mi-mo', or Miami modern, which Lapidus founded.
Barker observes that "Lapidus came out of window display and set design, and I thought his style would be appropriate for the film. He felt that he could take the average American and make them live like movie stars. It's a style that's all about facade, not substance. That's what the film is about too! The whole entertainment Industry and the fallacies we have about Hollywood." Describing the look of these scenes, Barker says, "It's flamboyant, it's over the top, it's playful. There's no symmetry, no straight lines, and it's the perfect sort of happy playground in which all these horrible things can occur."
Working with his cinematographer, Paul Sarossy, Egoyan looked at such glossy black and white classics as Gilda for reference. Both men were interested in the way in which diffusion was used in classic noir film, "which is typically recognized as a style that is very deep contrast, a look typified by detective films of the 40's. Yet there was something very soft, romantic, and glamorous to these images," says Sarossy. This lighting style is used in Where the truth Lies but, ironically, it is used in the more contemporary sequences set in the 70s. These scenes, after all, are the ones that contain the "private eye, whodunit plotline." As Sarossy explains it, he and Egoyan intentionally chose the anti-Hollywood route, reversing expectations by "using the visual Lexicon of the 70s in our 50s material, and using the darker contrast of the film noir for the 70s. In a way we've turned the standard vocabulary of these two periods on its Head."
Egoyan began pre-production on the film immediately after the premiere of his production of Die Walkure, the first part of the Canadian Opera Company's presentation of Richard Wagner's The Ring Cycle. "Music was very much on my mind as I was preparing for Where the Truth Lies. I was excited by Wagner's brilliant use of motifs in his orchestral score, and I wanted an expressive symphonic sound in this film."
Egoyan and his long-time composer Mychael Danna listened to the scores of Bernard Herrmann - himself clearly influenced by Wagner - as well as Elmer Bernstein's music for the sweet smell of success and Duke Ellington's Jazz tracks for Anatomy of a Murder. The rich score for Where the Truth Lies combines these lush orchestral strains with the early 1970s influences of such bands as Roxy music, Santana, Funkadelic and the Mahavishnu orchestra.
Down to its closing moments, Where the Truth Lies keeps its audience guessing as to what really happened-- both in the past and in the present-- and about who really did what to whom. In true Hollywood fashion, there is the climactic scene in which all of the many loose plot strands are tied together, and there is rapprochement between the bad/ good girl and the good/ bad guy. To top things off, Egoyan sets the climactic scene On a studio backlot. Whether making use of Hollywood conventions or making fun of them, whether scrutinizing the amorality of show business or satirizing it, Atom Egoyan skillfully shows us the mystery of life at the same time he skillfully puts life back into the mystery.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Atom Egoyan (Director, Writer) was raised in Victoria, BC, moving to Toronto at age 18 to study International Relations and classical guitar at the University of Toronto. It was there that he began to seriously explore the art and language of the cinema, and started making his own films which progressed to reflect his own, very personal thematic obsessions, delving into issues of intimacy, displacement and the impact of technology and media in modern life.
His debut feature, Next of Kin (1984) earned Egoyan a Genie nomination (Canadian
Academy Award) for Best Director, and went on to win Germany's Mannheim International Film Week Gold Ducat Award, receiving theatrical distribution around the world.
Family Viewing (1987) won the Locarno International Critics Prize, and was nominated for eight Genie Awards including Best Film. The film gained wide notoriety when Wim Wenders declined the jury prize at the Montreal Film Festival for his own film Wings of Desire, and handed it over to Egoyan, his Canadian colleague.
Next came Speaking Parts (1989), which marked his first Cannes premiere (Quinzaine des Realisateurs), and earned even more international acclaim and Genie Award nods.
The Adjuster (1991) premiered at Cannes in the Quinzaine des Realisateurs, and was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival.
It went on to capture the Toronto/CITY Award for Best Canadian Film at the Toronto
International Film Festival. 1993s Calendar, shot in Armenia, earned the C.I.C.A.E. prize for Best Film in the Forum of New Cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival, and once again landed Egoyan Genie nominations for Best Direction and Screenplay.
Egoyan achieved a wider audience with the darkly mysterious Exotica (1994). The first English Canadian film to be invited into Competition at the Cannes Film Festival in nearly a decade, Exotica was awarded International Critics Prize for Best Film.
Honoured by festival and critical associations around the world, Exotica received major worldwide release, including a 500-screen US release from Miramax Films. In
Canada, released by Alliance, Exotica played theatrically for over half a year. The film swept the Genies, earning eight awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The Sweet Hereafter (1997) had its world premiere in Official Selection in Competition at the 50th Cannes Film Festival where it became the most-honoured film of the Festival, winning The Grand Prize of the Jury as well as the International Critics Prize and the Ecumenical Award for Humanist filmmaking. The movie then opened the Toronto International Film Festival where it was doubly honoured with both the International Critics Award and the Toronto/CITY Award for Best Canadian Film. The Sweet Hereafter provided Egoyan a second sweep of the Genies by winning eight major awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Sold to virtually every possible worldwide market, The Sweet Hereafter was the subject of unprecedented critical response, named to more than 250 major top-ten lists for 1997. The Sweet Hereafter held the top position on more than two-dozen of those lists, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. Egoyan received Academy Award nominations for his Directing and for his Adapted Screenplay. This made him the first Canadian to be so honoured for work in a Canadian Film.
His next two films were Irish in origin. In 1999, Egoyan directed Felicia's Journey in
Ireland and England. Based on the novel by William Trevor, starring Bob Hoskins, Elaine Cassidy and Arsinee Khanjian, it premiered in competition at Cannes, before
opening the Toronto Film Festival and holding the prestigious closing night spot at the New York Film Festival. Produced by Icon Entertainment, this film earned another four Genie Awards. Krapp's Last Tape is an adaptation of Samuel Beckett's
stage-play, starring John Hurt. This has been seen internationally since premiering in 2000 at the Venice Film Festival.
Ararat, Egoyan's most recent feature, was distributed in over thirty countries, after its premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2002. It has won numerous awards, including Best Film at the 24th Durban Film Festival in South Africa, Best Film on Human Rights by the Political Film Society of Hollywood, the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review in New York, and the Genie award for Best Film from the Canadian Academy of Film and Television.
His other works include many short films and original programs for television as well as a number of art installations presented internationally (including the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, Venice Biennale, and, Le Fresnoy in France). Exploring his
long-standing interest in classical music, Egoyan made his debut as an opera director in 1996, with the Canadian Opera Company production of Salome. This production was subsequently presented in Houston and Vancouver before being remounted by the COC for a sold-out run in 2002. His original opera, Elsewhereless, composed by Rodney Sharman, written and directed by Egoyan premiered in Toronto in 1998, and was remounted in Vancouver. Later that year he directed the world premiere of Gavin Bryars' Dr. Ox's Experiment for English National Opera in London. His art and theatre projects include the installation Steenbeckett, for London's Artangel's 10th anniversary, and Hors D'usage, for Montreal's Le Musee d'art contemporain, which opened in the Fall of 2002.
Egoyan's film works have been presented in numerous important retrospectives in major centers throughout the world. He has earned many exceptional honours in his
Career There have been a number of books written about his work, and he co-edited a collection of essays, SUBTITLES on the foreignness of film, published by
MIT press in 2004. Egoyan was President of the Jury at the 2003 Berlin Film Festival, and has served on juries in Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto. He was knighted by the French Government with the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, and has received the Anahid Literary Award from the Armenian Center at Columbia University, and was inducted into the Order of Canada. He has received honorary doctorates from universities cross Canada.
Egoyan is currently working on the Canadian Opera Company's production of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, directing Die Walkure. The successful production will be remounted next summer.
Born in England and raised in the United States, Rupert Holmes is twice a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America coveted Edgar Award. He is also the first person in theatrical history to singly win Tony Awards for Best Broadway Musical, Best Music and Lyrics and Best Book for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In 2003, he additionally received a Best Play Tony Award nomination for his Broadway hit Say Goodnight, Gracie, which also won the 2004 Best Broadway Play on Tour Award from the League of Producers and Theatres. His current projects in theatre are in collaboration with such musical legends as Michel Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman (Yentl), John Kander (Chicago, Cabaret), and Charles Strouse (Annie). Holmes also created and wrote the criticallyacclaimed, Emmy Award-winning period dramedy series Remember WENN and was both a composer and lyricist for the Grammy award-winning score of the motion picture A Star is Born.
Where the Truth Lies, his first novel, was a 2004 Nero Wolfe Award nominee for Best American Mystery Novel and was named as one of Booklist's Top Ten Debut Crime Novels. As an international hit recording artist and songwriter, he performed in venues ranging from Tokyo's Buddokan (where he won the Yamaha World Popular Song Festival) to the rock and jazz clubs of New York and his pop songs have been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Britney Spears, and heard in such films as Shrek, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and American Splendor, and on TV shows like Will and Grace, Six Feet Under, The Simpsons, and The Shield. Newsweek calls him "A Renaissance man." The LA Times calls him "an American treasure."¨ And no matter what he does, it seems he will always be the guy who wrote and sang Escape (The Pina Colada Song).