IndieWire asked Jeff Kaufman, the writer-producer-director of “Every Act of Life,” a documentary about Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally, to remember the writer of the books for musicals “Kiss of the Spider Woman - the Musical,” and “Ragtime,” as well as “Master Class” and two plays that he adapted into movies, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune,” which were directed by Joe Mantello and Garry Marshall, respectively. On Wednesday, McNally, who had been fighting lung cancer, succumbed at age 81 from complications of the Coronavirus.
When I first spoke to Terrence McNally about making a documentary on his life, he said something like, “Everything you need to know about me is in my work. What is there to say?” As everyone who has seen or read Terrence's plays, books for musicals, opera librettos, and screenplays knows, there is so much to discover and appreciate in the characters and worlds he created. However, the person Terrence willed himself to be — writer, activist, mentor, friend, husband — is equally full of inspiration.
Producer Marcia Ross and I met Terrence and his husband Tom Kirdahy while making our earlier documentary about the origins of the marriage equality movement. Terrence was a four-time Tony-winning playwright, and I was prepared for someone intimidating and full of himself. Instead, Terrence was disarmingly welcoming and open. As we filmed our interview, I was moved by how vulnerable Terrence let himself be when he talked about how much he loved Tom. He said, “Marriage is choosing to spend your life with someone and thinking of the two of you as 'us.’ Us becomes more important than me, and that includes everything. It is a very profound pledge, and it makes me feel safer, more protected, happier, calmer. … I'm not alone in the world.”
That made a big impression on Marcia and me. A few years later we followed their lead and got married.
When we later made our film about Terrence, we encountered countless people whose lives had been dramatically changed by his work and personal example. Terrence McNally was America's first major openly gay playwright, at a time — the early 1960s — when others feared that being out would kill their careers. He was equally a pioneer on stage. Producer Paul Libin said of Terrence's 1964 play “And Things That Go Bump in the Night,” “It's the first Broadway play with a positive, confident, openly gay character.”
Producer Marcia Ross, from left, playwright Terrence McNally, and director Jeff Kaufman attend a screening of “Every Act of Life” at the SVA Theatre during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival
Brent N Clarke/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
Terrence went on, through brutal reviews and the s of acclaim, to create the most wide-ranging playwriting legacy in the American theatre. Who else spent six decades challenging audiences and critics by moving from a radical gay sex farce; to a steamy heterosexual romance; to an epic American musical; to a poignant, timeless depiction of gay men facing AIDS and mortality; to an opera about a death row inmate? And that career summary barely captures the breadth and depth of his work.
This goes to the heart of one of the things I most admire about Terrence McNally: his deceptively quiet yet remarkably fierce courage. It takes a lot of guts to keep putting yourself on the line over and over again in new and risky ways. Terrence never played it safe.
Marin Mazzie, the wonderful actress and singer who tragically died in 2018, said of Terrence, “As an artist and a person, I learn from him every day.” I do, too.
Terrence died Wednesday at the age of 81. In an interview/conversation we had when he was 75, he said, “Someone told me that the average age expectancy now is 80. Half of our life is spent sleeping, or washing the dishes, or not noticing the person sitting next to us. But there are those times when life is electrifying and we’re really aware of what’s going on. How many moments do we live with that kind of intensity? I think art is trying to capture those moments, and say, 'It’s worth it.' I want more of those moments.”
That's what Terrence gave to me and countless others. I want more of Terrence McNally.
Netflix's next feature documentary will offer a deep dive into Los Angeles’ street art scene through a variety of well-known voices. “LA Originals” is scheduled to hit the streaming service later this month, and Netflix released the official trailer Wednesday morning, highlighting the featured talent of hip-hop A-listers and one iconic basketball star.
Per Netflix's synopsis, “LA Originals” is a documentary that will explore the culture and landmarks of the chicano and street art movement that cemented Mister Cartoon and Estevan Oriol's status as behind-the-scenes hip-hop legends. The 90-minute documentary will include interviews and other scenes with hip-hop legends and other high-profile entertainers, including Kobe Bryant, Eminem, Michelle Rodriguez, Danny Trejo, Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, Blink-182, Wilmer Valderrama, Terry Crews, George Lopez and more.
“LA Originals” is directed by Oriol and written by Brian Maya and Omar Quiroga. “Hip-hop was new,” Oriol said in the trailer about his career arc. “I'm on tour with the Beastie Boys, No Doubt, the Fujis, Limp Bizkit. And I'm the only one there with a camera.”
Oriol, a longtime photographer and music video director, has photographed celebrities ranging from Eminem and Kim Kardashian to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and has also prolifically documented Los Angeles' urban and gang cultures. As for Mister Cartoon, the veteran tattoo and graffiti artist has worked with celebrities such as Bryant and Beyoncé, and his work has also been used by the Los Angeles Clippers, the “Grand Theft Auto” video game series, and other high-profile brands.
The duo met several decades ago, manage the SA Studios Global marketing agency, and frequently collaborate on various projects.
“The more we hung out, the more we just started building on ideas of things we could do to make money that weren't illegal,” Mister Cartoon said in a scene from the documentary's trailer.
“LA Originals” will mark another addition in Netflix's growing unscripted slate. The streaming service recently turned plenty of heads with the docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” which centers on the life of Joe Exotic, an incarcerated criminal, prolific animal abuser, and 2016 presidential candidate.
Check out the trailer for “LA Originals” below. The film will hit Netflix Friday, April 10.