And Myles to Go Before He Sleeps
I've mentioned my friend Myles Berkowitz here occasionally over time. He's a terrific guy and unique. Among other things, he has a political philosophy that he likes to say is "libertarian," but he's wrong since it's like no libertarian known to mankind. It's a combination of liberal libertarian, conservative libertarian, liberal, and some positions that don't follow known-standards, along with on occasion even a little-discovered corner of conservative. I've never heard a similar political philosophy. I tell him he is a Mylesist, because that's the only way to describe it.
This isn't about politics, though. Among Myles' background, I should note is that he attended Wharton School of Management. And unlike Trump, a) got in on his grades, b) went there the full two years, c) didn't transfer in halfway through, and d) actually did very well. (Still, it's fun to annoy Myles when appropriate by saying, "Oh, like Trump?") I believe he was president of his class, but I've never quite understood a universe where this could happen. I do know that one of his professors there was William Kristol -- yes, that William Kristol. And to this day, it galls Myles that Kristol only gave him a B on a paper, and that's just because he went into the office to argue it up from a lower grade. (The story doesn't end there. Several years later, Myles was walking through New York when he saw the office building where he knew William Kristol's father worked -- Irving Kristol was the managing editor of Commentary magazine and is considered the "godfather" of neoconservatism. And Myles went to Irving Kristol's office. Why? To tell him about his son giving Myles a B on that paper, and complaining about it. No, really.)
I told you, he's unique. I don't lie to you folks.
But this isn't about college degrees. In recent years, Myles has been an entrepreneur and, among other things, was the co-founder of a "portion control" diet product, Lifesize, which I wrote about here. The company is still in its start-up stage, though it got a terrific article in the New York Times, which my piece links to, as well, for those interested in reading about such things.
But this isn't about Lifesize either. That's because before this -- in quite a few years back -- Myles had a career in movies and television. He stills dabbles in it when he has the time and inclination, but he began as an actor, and then morphed into a writer, and then director. In fact, he made an absolutely wonderful fake-documentary for Fox Searchlight in 1998 called 20 Dates. I don't call it a mockumentary, because those are films done in a documentary style, but you know they're fake. 20 Dates looks and feels like an actual documentary, and to this day most people who've seen it swear that it is one. And the odd thing is some actually is, but 92% is a structured story. There's no script, but an outline, so that part is ad-libbed, sort of like what Larry David later did with Curb Your Enthusiasm -- though that's clearly a work of fiction. As I said, 20 Dates looks like an actual documentary.
(The plot of the film is that a character named Myles Berkowitz has convinced a producer, Elie Samaha, that he should fund a movie documentary about Myles trying to find true love by going on 20 dates. And he'll film all of this for a movie. It's worth noting that Elie Samaha is the film's actual producer and was married at the time to actress Tia Carrere. The phone conversations you hear in the movie with Elie often yelling at Myles about the film and budget and casting are real. And so are a couple of the dates Myles goes on. And so too are the on-camera interviews with Myles' friends who are prompted to be honest about describing Myles -- and they're brutally and hilariously so. But all that takes up only about 8% of the movie. The rest of the film is fiction. Including the scenes with Elie's wife, Tia Carrere. And actress Julie McCullough playing herself. (From the series, Growing Pains, and most recently the Sharknado TV films.) That's why it's so difficult for people to grasp that the movie isn't a real documentary. It's that well-done, with everything blended together. Alas, for reasons unknown to man, Fox Searchlight has never put it on DVD. Though they did have a VHS release at the time. And even put out a soundtrack.)
Happily, though, the trailer for the movie is available. It's not much to have, but it's better than nothing. And it gives a pretty good sense of the movie. It includes a bunch of his efforts to meet women -- I won't tell you which ones are real and which are set up, they're that natural, and much of the fun is trying to figure it out. I will say, though, that the sequence of him trying to drive onto movie studio lots is real. (The trailer only has a short clip of that here.) He didn't tell the security guards it was for a movie until after the fact, when he needed them to sign a release. And the shot when the camera goes haywire -- that was real. (The cameraman following behind on a date walked into a fire hydrant. Myles left it in, since understandably it added to the sense of total believability.)
Here it is --
For goodness sake, Fox Searchlight -- put this out on DVD already!!
Oh, and by the way, this article here isn't about 20 Dates either. Well, not exactly, but tangentially. However, all this background is necessary to put the proper perspective on what it's all actually about. And in the end, it's also to show you that as brash, annoying and funny as Myles Berkowitz is, he's also incredibly thoughtful, warm and charming.
About a month ago, Myles got a letter from a guy who'd tracked him down. The fellow was about to celebrate his first anniversary, and his wife's very favorite movie in the world was...20 Dates. She and her sister would watch it relentlessly. (She had a VHS copy.) And the guy decided for their first anniversary he wanted to do something special related to his wife's most-favorite movie in the entire world.
And what that was is, after tracking down Myles, he asked if Myles would write something special to her -- on paper, since the first anniversary is paper. Now, mind you, the husband could have asked for a signed photograph. Or a signed poster. Both paper. But no, he asked the filmmaker to write something to his wife that would be meaningful for their first anniversary. Most filmmakers would probably answer, "That's very nice of you to ask, but I write for a living and get paid for it. But I'm happy to sign a 8x10 glossy for you." Or "Fine, you write something out for me, and I'll handwrite a copy and sign it." Or perhaps, "Get lost." But Myles being Myles said, "Okay."
I told you he was unique.
Myles said the guy was pretty unrelenting about it and sort of pushy. "But how could I turn him down? That's pretty much how I am, too, and the character in the movie." So, it just seemed too natural to him.
And here is what he wrote. It's awfully good. The couple's anniversary, by the way, was this past Sunday. Myles asked me to wait until after it passed before I posted this.
So, here you are --
Dear Melinda (not her real name),
Congratulations on your one-year anniversary. This being your paper anniversary, I did something I haven’t done in many years – I went to the Post Office and mailed a letter.
I’m just grateful this isn’t your 11th anniversary because it is almost impossible to write on steel, and I would have had to use a lot more stamps to mail that letter.
Your husband tells me that you and your sister Toni used to watch “20 Dates” over and over again when you were growing up. So I have one question for you ladies –
Why have you stopped?
Now while I don’t know if Toni learned anything from my movie, apparently you have. You seem to have found, dated and married a great guy.
Matt asked me to maybe give you some wisdom on your anniversary. The problem is…”20 Dates” is about dating, not marriage. And while I don’t know if it had a lot of good advice about dating, I know it was very inspirational to a lot of couples.
I don’t mean to brag, but I can’t tell you how many women have come up to me and thanked me for making the movie over the years because, they said, after watching me they realized that the guy they were with wasn’t so bad after all.
Actually, maybe you should be the one giving marriage advice because while I don’t know Matt for longer than a brief phone conversation, the fact that he knew you liked my movie, took the time to think about something clever to give you for your first anniversary, and then actually reached out to me speaks volume. Just to make sure you get it –
The man thinks about you without you knowing it, and tries to make you happy. Which perhaps is the secret of a joyous and long marriage right there.
I hope if you try to do something like this for his birthday that his favorite movie isn’t something like “Casablanca,” because, you know, they’re all dead by now so no one will be sending letters.
I also hope, and I want you to promise me, that on your 20th Anniversary you include me in your celebration then too. But I’m telling you right now, and to be very clear, I will be sending you some china…not sending you, and Matt and Matt Jr. to China.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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