Box of Moonlight (1997)

Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Lisa Blount, Rica Maartens, Annie Corley.
Festivals: Venice, Sundance, Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco.
US Distribution: Trimark.
Books: Notes From Overboard, film diary and screenplay.

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Box of Moonlight  TRAILER

Box of Moonlight was supposed to have been my 2nd film. The relative success of Living In Oblivion finally pushed one financier over the edge and one day in 1997 I found myself in Knoxville, Tennessee actually directing the film. It had been a point of the writing to get out of NYC, away from the Lower East Side rubble without a cause that had been the focus of so many films I’d worked on.

I actually spent a lot of time as a kid in small towns all across America. I wrote Box of Moonlight as an attempt to revisit that emotional landscape. There are some elements of my childhood in it (the flashcards), some aspects of my father (the flashcards) and some aspects of my belief that everyone should go through a healthy period of juvenile delinquency at some time in their lives.

I tried to maintain the family of actors and crew who had come together on Living In Oblivion as much as possible. I wrote the part of Floatie, the slightly dented phone-sex operator for Catherine Keener. Dermot Mulroney went pretty deep with the small town bully, Wick. Lisa Blount was new, though I’d been enormously impressed with her work in  An Officer and a Gentleman.

The core of the film though is the relationship between Al Fountain (John Turturro) and the Kid (Sam Rockwell). My respect for both actors is tremendous. Both could not have had more different acting styles. Sam had auditioned for me for Johnny Suede and I’d been so impressed with him I kept him in mind for this film. It was Turturro’s performance in Quizz Show that made me really push to get him into the film.

It was a tough shoot. In fact, it blew my mind that shooting scenes of such pastoral beauty could be accompanied by such trauma. The day before we shot a scene of Turturro swimming in an abandoned rock quarry we learned a swimmer had just drowned in it. The rescue diver who’d tried to retrieve the body from the depths was bitten by a water moccasin and also died. I did not tell Turturro this.

The film was accepted by the Venice Film Festival. During the screening the sold-out audience was completely silent. I was convinced it was a disaster. Then the lights came up and the entire audience rose in a lengthy ovation.

But, nothing affects me as much as hearing to this day how deeply this crazy film has touched people. The ones it does, it touches strongly. Some critics minimized the film as a “hippy fairytale.” Even a cursory glimpse of Sam Rockwell’s damaged and troubled Kid shows that nothing could be further from the truth.