NEAR MYTH: OSKAR KNIGHT
Scott Fivelson chronicles the life and times of one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, or does he?
Interview by Richard Fish
Oskar Knight is so real, he really ought to be real. His entire career is a shining example of why Hollywood has always been the foremost place on the planet where reality, myth and legend don’t just meet, they dance. But (spoiler alert!) Oskar isn’t really real, except that he is now, since the movie came out. This delightfully crafted, engagingly funny mockumentary does for Tinsel Town what This is Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal: in the age of Alternative Facts, this is a perfect Alternative Biopic.
The pun-gently titled Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story was born in the brain of writer-director Scott Fivelson, whose wide-ranging creativity is all the more amazing because he doesn’t get to live here in Bloomington. I caught up with him at his home, somewhere in earthquake-prone, fire-ravaged, mudslide-covered, traffic-choked, rain-inundated, drought-stricken Southern California.
Ryder: This was obviously a labor of love, Scott, and when you come right down to it, it’s really a movie about Hollywood – about Oscar Night as well as Oskar Knight. You certainly understand how the movie industry works, even when it doesn’t! So, how did you manage to use that understanding to whack the Zeitgeist right between the eyes?
Scott: Ha! It’s true reality has been getting kind of blurred lately in the media, and it’s nice to discover we’ve made something that resonates in a timely way, but that wasn’t in my mind when we started. I just loved the stories of these great filmmakers so much that I wanted to have another one, so we could enjoy his story….and miss him. Oskar is a larger-than-life character, a bit like Charles Foster Kane – in fact, this picture is something of a tribute to Orson Welles.
Ryder: Who does appear, briefly, and Oskar’s right there with him of course. Do you think people need to be serious movie buffs to really “get” this movie?
Scott: Oh, no, not at all. I’ve had people tell me they really liked the picture, thought it was very funny – and then said they’d tried to find out more about Oskar and his movies online, and asked why a Google search only turned up references to this movie!
Ryder: They actually thought–?
Scott: Yeah, they did. Of course the more you know about movies, the more you’ll get out of it.
Ryder: Oh, yes! The detail is amazing, all the way through. All those pictures of Oskar with the great stars and in famous places, so perfectly chosen to evoke the era –
Scott: It’s up to the viewer to decide if we inserted Oskar, or just found those pictures in Hollywood archives.
Ryder: It’s great fun to spot all the stars as they flash on the screen, but you move right on because you’re into the story. It’s a great story.
Scott: All the best stories are about people, and that’s why it’s the arc of a life, a career, the triumphs and the struggles – Oskar lived a long life, you know, and he never gave up trying. If someone is around long enough, they have a story like this. And we do have some real stars to help tell it.
Ryder: What Lolly Poppins and Hedda Publicity used to call “Hollywood Insiders?”
Scott: Yes, we had great luck with the casting. We had some hot young up-and-coming actors and some well-established names – of course Lenny Von Dohlen has done a lot of things, from Miami Vice and Twin Peaks to The Orville, and David Suchet was brilliant as Hercule Poirot, and Margaret O’Brien goes back to the 1940s, starting as a child actress.
Ryder: She looked great, and I loved seeing Noel Neill and Jon Provost, from Superman and Lassie on TV –
Scott: Yes! We had so many wonderful experiences working on this project.
Ryder: And it’s very funny. Would you call this film a satire?
Scott: I’d call it a blend of satire, comedy, whimsy, nostalgia…
Ryder: …sort of a love letter to Hollywood.
Scott: Love…but in the real world. It can be poignant. There’s heartache and heartbreak, but there’s something really inspiring in Oskar’s story, too.
Ryder: And we’re getting to see the picture just as it’s coming out.
Scott: That’s true, and I’m delighted it’s going to be shown in Bloomington. It’s an independent project, you know, and the whole team that worked on the film – we’d like to believe we’ve made something kind of special. The Ryder Film Series is just the sort of program that can really add to the buzz, and Oskar always was a good time – that’s what his friends always said. I hope people will spread the word, especially online.
Ryder: Well, Bloomington people do tend to have a lot of connections. I sure enjoyed it. Thanks, Scott, for talking with us and giving us a movie that is an ideal prelude to the Academy Awards show on Sunday, March 4th. Got any predictions?
Scott: Just that nobody’s going to break Oskar Knight’s all-time record as the Director with the most nominations.