Colin Fitz Lives! is a true indie film – its original incarnation went from conception to locked film in just under six months – and cost less than a decent house. The story of the events of one night in the lives of two polar opposite security guards as they watch over the gravesite of a rock legend [the eponymous Colin Fitz] is, in effect, a mash-up of Spinal Tap and Clerks – Paul [Matt McGrath] and Grady’s [Andy Fowles] vigil is intercut with interviews with various fans of the rock & roller.
Over the space of two weeks [well, fifteen days] in 1997, Robert Bella and a cast of amazing actors created a film called Colin Fitz for less than the price of an average house [surely a feat worth mentioning twice!]. Bella went deeply into hock to finish post-production in eight weeks because the film had garnered an invitation to the Sundance Film Festival – where it got overwhelmingly positive reviews. Over the next while it went on to garner awards at half-a-dozen film festivals across the U.S. And then it disappeared.
Over the next fourteen years, Bella worked his way out of debt and made the deferred payments necessary to retain ownership of his film. In the meantime, he bought a digital camera, taught himself Final Cut Pro, and made some ultra-low budget films. Which led to his revisiting the film every so often to rework the film with his new knowledge. Finally, he finished the cut that has become available on video-on-demand.
The finished work, now entitled Colin Fitz Lives!, comes to us as a result of a conversation that went something like this, “Whatever happened to Colin Fitz?” “It’s in my closet. Wanna buy it?” “Sure!”
It’s a story that would make a terrific indie film even if Colin Fitz Lives! had been an awful film instead of this wondrously, darkly funny examination of slackers in the workplace and the American obsession with dead celebrities.
Colin Fitz Lives! has a cast of dozens, including [in no particular order]: Mary McCormack [In Plain Sight], John McGinley [Scrubs], William H. Macy [The Cooler, Thank You For Smoking], Julianne Phillips [Sisters], Martha Plimpton [The Goonies, How to Make It in America], Chris Bauer [The Wire, True Blood] and Will McCormack [Dirt, Brothers & Sisters], to name but a few.
Paul and Grady are hired to guard the grave of Colin Fitz – on the anniversary of his death, bizarre things happen there – by Fitz’s widow, Justice [Phillips], who has an ulterior motive that becomes focused on Paul. The slender Paul is a conscientious if timid worker, while the stocky Grady is boisterous to point of being obnoxious, and lazy. Over the course of their night at Fitz’s grave – on the fifth anniversary of his suicide [by eating bad clams – lots of bad clams], they have a series of encounters with a number of strange folks, ranging from a surprisingly wise groundskeeper [McGinley] with a possible connection to Grady, to a cute Colin Fitz fan [Plimpton] who connects with Paul.
Interview subjects range from a fan [Olivia Rosewood] who took toy piano lessons because Fitz wrote a song called Toy Piano Lessons, to an overweight fan [Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles] who lost his virginity to a beautiful girl because a Colin Fitz song came on the radio and she was so overwhelmed by its emotion.
Like Spinal Tap, the interview clips are dead serious in presentation, which makes their absurdity even funnier than if the actors seemed to be in on the joke. Like Clerks, the saga of Paul and Grady is unrelenting in its capturing of the kinds of moments that people in any workplace encounter [jealousy, competitiveness, irritation, boredom] – then combines those moments with the absurdities of the people who visit the grave overnight.
The events of the film unfold to the strains of Colin Fitz songs – songs that are as deliriously odd as his fans [one, called Sweaty Balls, or something to that effect, is an instant classic – right up there with Spinal Tap’s Break Like the Wind].
The result is a thought-provoking comedy that really does examine life, love and rock & roll – not to mention alternate history, love at first sight, the peculiar way that grief can affect someone and lots of other stuph [cool, or otherwise]. I’m definitely going to want to hear the director’s commentary on this one!
As a film, Colin Fitz Lives! is a true rock & roll survivor.
To find Colin Fitz Lives on video on demand:
Comcast: Channel 1 >> Same Day as in Theaters >> Sundance Selects
Cox: Channel 1 >> Movies on Demand >> Sundance Selects
Cablevision: Movies on Demand >> Independent Films >> Sundance Selects
Time Warner: Movies on Demand >> IFC in Theaters
Final Grade: A