It’s early morning in Paris. You’re walking home after a night on the town, and you see a handsome young man sprawled in the gutter. What do you do?
If you’re Claude, the main character in Todd Verow’s sexy and intriguing new film “Bad Boy Street”, you pick up the stranger and take him home like a good Samaritan.
If you’re Brad, the stranger, you’ll wake up the following morning and head downstairs to thank your host – who has gallantly slept on the couch – with a blowjob.
And there begins a frazzled romance across the generations between cynical Claude, who has had his dreams of love shattered before; and Brad, who seems willing to love but is holding something back.
It’s 1am in New York when I catch up with Todd Verow on the phone. Juggling the time difference between there and New Zealand has been a bit tricky, but thankfully Todd is a bit of a night owl.
He’s also a hero of mine, as a filmmaker. “Bad Boy Street” is his 35th film (he thinks, he’s actually lost count of exactly what number he’s up to). He’s prolific, experimental, and a button-pusher.
His films are all character-driven, and motivated by a desire to capture real life in all its rawness, rather than the “reality” that we have come to accept on TV through the bizarre genre of programme that is known by that name.
“We’re attuned to the hyper-realism of reality TV which is even more unreal than ‘realistic’ films,” he says. “You put a camera on me and all of a sudden I’m acting around, I’m playing myself, so in any situation there’s someone who’s playing themselves reacting to something rather than just being in the moment.”
Verow flew by the seat of his pants to capture “the moment” with “Bad Boy Street”. The 80-minute film had a script that ran to around thirty pages. It was shot in Paris over nine days, and his two leads were together in the same room only one day before shooting started.
“I have some things where it’s completely scripted, but the way I prefer to work is – come up with a story and work with the actors on creating the characters. The script is more of an outline of what is going to happen. We work together to discover what is actually going to happen.
“We shot everything in sequence and I just kept shooting. I said, this is what you’re doing, and I’m not going to tell you when I’m stopping. That was very important to me in capturing what it would be really like for these characters in these situations and how they would really act.”
At 45, Verow is closer in age to Claude than Brad, but identifies more with the younger character.
“I was very wild and crazy when I was a younger man, so I was always looking for someone to take care of me,” he says. “Not necessarily financially, but emotionally and physically. I think I identify with Brad more because that’s how I was when I was younger, but I’m not so much like that anymore.
“There are parts of Claude’s character that I really identified with too – his cynicism, how he’s given up on love, and his bleakness.”
Knowing that I’ve been guilty of this myself, I venture to ask Verow if he’s ever used his films as a form of therapy.
“That sounds awfully self-indulgent,” he laughs. “I do use my real life and my own experiences because there’s something there that I want to convey. I wouldn’t really say it’s therapy or, but I think it’s cathartic to get something out there and portray it in a way that’s true and real.”
As he’s gotten older, has he found himself role-reversing and being attracted to younger men?
“I’m still not very mature in myself, so I can’t really help or take care of somebody younger. I think a lot of younger guys looking for older guys want that kind of stability and maturity and I don’t have that.”
Having been in cross-generational relationships, what does he think some of the difficulties are?
“When you’re older than someone else, they haven’t gone through the same sort of cultural experiences you have, you can’t reminisce about things that happened twenty years ago because they have no idea.
There’s also the external judgments that get placed on older/younger relationships.
“It’s the same thing with straight people. There’s this idea that, oh this older person’s taking care of that person and or they’re going through a mid-life crisis so they’re with someone younger, which isn’t necessarily always the case. When you fall in love with someone you fall in love with someone, it really doesn’t make a difference. The love must come first.”
Despite its provocative title and erotic content, “Bad Boy Street” is definitely a film about love coming first, despite age or the constructed identities that we hide behind. While you’re a witness to a relationship developing, you’re not led down a garden path to easy answers. Verow likes ambiguity and open-endedness in films.
“Too often in films you’re told what to think and what to expect, and real life isn’t like that,” he says. “In real life you really don’t know what another person’s motivations are, and why they do something. They don’t even know why most of the time.
“I like to play with expectations and I like to make audiences a little bit uncomfortable and put them on edge. Not in a traditional kind of film suspense kind of way, more in a voyeuristic ‘should I really be watching this’ sense.”
For readers in Auckland, “Bad Boy Street” will screen next week at Rialto Cinemas Newmarket.