Videomaker and musician Keith Dukavicius used to regale his coworkers at a downtown poster shop with his impersonations of James Mason, the British-born star of such films as Lolita and The Desert Fox. “I’d do it steadily for about a half an hour and drive them crazy,” he says. “One of my coworkers kind of jokingly said, ‘You’re going to turn into James Mason,'” who died of a heart attack in 1984. That’s when Dukavicius decided to make his 40-minute video, I Am James Mason, about a young man (played by Dukavicius) who wakes up as Mason one day and proceeds to alienate everyone around him. Near the end the Mason estate approaches him to demand that he cease and desist with his “impersonation.” The video nods to several of Mason’s films: Dukavicius’s character paints his girlfriend’s toenails a la Humbert Humbert in Lolita, watches East Side, West Side on TV, and mumbles dialogue from Odd Man Out.
Dukavicius has been a fan of the urbane actor since catching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth on TV as a preteen in the southwest suburbs. “You just couldn’t touch him, he had such a debonair personality,” says the 37-year-old, who’s also behind a one-man rock act called Swoon (formerly known as Keen). “He didn’t seem as fucked-up or as into the whole Hollywood system as some of the other stars. Yet those were still big Hollywood projects.”
Dukavicius, who earned a BFA from UIC and spent a year in the School of the Art Institute’s graduate program, shot the no-budget project in the winter of 2002 using an old Sony Hi-8 camera he bought from his brother for a hundred bucks. His girlfriend and coworkers served as the actors and crew, and most of the script was improvised. The production was so low-tech that it didn’t really count as guerrilla filmmaking, says Dukavicius. But he didn’t exactly ask for permission to set up his camera in the subway either.
“We could literally walk down Michigan Avenue, jump into a coffeehouse, and shoot a scene,” he explains. “Two people with a handheld camcorder wasn’t much of a threat.”
Most scenes were done in one or two takes. “If I didn’t like the first one, I’d rewind the tape, cue it up, and shoot it again,” he says. He shot the scenes in sequence and did all the editing in-camera. After he was done, he started sending it out to festivals. No one bit, but he was keeping himself busy with two other projects–an autobiographical video about his obsession with James Dean and another narrative called Daniel Wong, about a man searching for his Asian roots.
Then, this March, the manager of the British pop group Keane contacted him through his Web site about his musical endeavors–apparently the trademark he’d taken out on the name “Keen” also covered homonyms. “They wanted me to sign a live-and-let-live agreement,” he says, but he talked to a lawyer and a month and a half later settled with Keane for an undisclosed amount. Dukavicius switched to the stage name Swoon, bought a Mac G5 with an editing system, and threw himself into finishing Daniel Wong. He’s still using the same old camera–in April he took it to Hong Kong to shoot on location for five days.
He thinks his video projects have a better shot at reaching an audience than his music has so far. “If you’re doing it on your own, burning CDs and making the jackets, there are ten people you know who have it and that’s it,” he says. “It’s not very satisfying. With film people are watching and, hopefully, listening to it, too.”
I Am James Mason and Andy Hannon’s new short Confessions of a Ghost make their world premieres on Saturday, June 19, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. The screening starts at 8:15 and both directors will be present, as will some of the cast and crew. Tickets are $9; call 312-846-2800 or see the movie listings in Section Two.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.