Flick Fixation

Gary Davis' cinéma is so vérité, sometimes it brings the cops rushing to the set

Davis and his childhood sweetheart, Sonia, eat salads from folding tables as they talk about his movies. She's as gregarious as he is, and they constantly compete to finish their stories. "He won't comb his hair; he won't dress," she says pouting. "I asked him to dress up for my birthday, and he still hasn't done it."

They talk about the old neighborhood, where Davis progressed from "Sole Man" to "The Professor," because he was always so serious. "I never considered myself a nerd. I was a very unique individual," he explains. As he speaks, Davis switches from his perch on the very edge of the couch to kneeling, squatting, and standing up quickly to gesticulate wildly or to get some prop -- a photo, perhaps -- to illustrate a story.

The conversation changes to casting. "I used to think you could just go up to anyone and make them an actor. But now I know those aren't the people who will show up every time." He made a spy movie series a few years back and had trouble getting his volunteer actors to sign on for sequels.

Matt Pabon hopes the movie will make him a star.
Colby Katz
Matt Pabon hopes the movie will make him a star.
It's about the girls, filmmaker Gary Davis explains before the hot-tub scene.
Colby Katz
It's about the girls, filmmaker Gary Davis explains before the hot-tub scene.

Sonia says the reason they show up -- the pursuit of fame -- is simple. The mall where Pabon gets his actors is the epicenter of West Palm's poorest neighborhood. "Those people in that neighborhood," she says from experience, "are all looking for some way out."

After Sonia takes the folding tables away and Davis finishes his tea, he ducks back into the spare bedroom where he edits his movies. Props from his films sit stacked nearly to the ceiling in almost every inch of the place. An aisle dug out of the junk provides walking space to his workstation. He moves some prop swords from a chair so he can show off his editing software.

Davis plays the beginning of his masterpiece, Jade. It opens with panoramic views of an Orlando theme park called Splendid China. The place looks like a hilltop retreat in the Orient. Davis has overlaid classical piano on the opening scenes. "This is the best movie I've ever made. I've captured this movie." The plot is something of an unapproved prequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's the story of how Jade Fox, the witch-like character from the Ang Lee movie, became so damn evil. He doesn't have a date yet for the premiere of the movie, though he has discussed distribution rights with Maverick Entertainment, a straight-to-video distributor in Deerfield Beach that makes mainly blaxploitation flicks. Some of his fans have been pushing him to enter Jade in film festivals.

As the opening intro fades into a scene with a young samurai entering the shrine of his master, Davis leans back and crosses his arms. "If I give this to Maverick, they're going to want to replace the piano music with hip-hop." Would that be... selling out? Davis doesn't hesitate. "I could care less."

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