Every now and then, a completely independent film makes it onto the national radar screen. And while Heart of the Beholder doesn’t yet have the momentum of last year’s What the Bleep?, at least it has a more palatable message.
Heart of the Beholder is a drama, based on a true story, about a video store owner who is harassed by extremist Christians. An early scene shows a woman denouncing Splash because it promotes bestiality (which you must admit is about mermaids and people falling in love).
The storm really hits, though, when Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is released on video. Local pressure from the extremists convinces most video stores not to stock it. Only one store in our Missouri town agrees to carry the video. The mob goes after the proprietor and his family with an unholy vengeance. They even resort to dirty tricks such as falsely reporting child abuse by the proprietor to Social Services. (I guess these Christians never made it to the ninth commandment.)
The Horse’s Mouth
Ordinarily, it would be easy to overlook a movie like Heart of the Beholder as a politically motivated niche film (which to a large degree it is). But what makes Beholder noteworthy is that it was written, produced, and directed by Ken Tipton, the video store owner who stood up for Last Temptation against the misguided crusaders. For more than ten years, Tipton made it his life’s work to get his story made into a movie.
“Long time comin’,” says Tipton in a video interview. “It started September 20th, 1993. A producer optioned the story and brought me to Hollywood.” Tipton said he thought it was a “done deal,” and that his story would be a movie of the week. But he found out the hard way how producers work: it turns out they were only there to pitch the story.
But Tipton stuck with it. He mentions three mentors who helped him along the way, including comedian John Candy and director Robert Wise. It was Wise’s advice that finally got Tipton moving. He recalls, “His advice was kind of unusual. He said I need to stop messin’ around with all this producer stuff and I need to write it and direct it myself. I’ve never written anything. I’ve never directed anything. But it made sense at that point, that if it was ever gonna get it done right it had to be done our way. And that’s when I started writing.”
Ten years and 245 drafts later, Heart of the Beholder was in the can, a Ken Tipton film. It includes a scene of revenge that Tipton must have dreamed about for years. In the movie, the video store owner finds himself on a paintball range with the members of the mob who attacked his store. He’s able to shoot them down without actually harming them, winning the satisfcation of revenge while maintaining the moral high ground.
Life Imitates Art Imitating Life
One of the project’s “angels” is executive producer Darlene Lieblich. She was moved by the story, and she got involved in a big way. She has stuck it out in spite of some very rough roads. In a video interview, she says that “People think religious terrorism is just something that comes from overseas. They don’t realize that it’s a homegrown product and it’s just as insidious here as it is anywhere else.”
You might think she is talking about events in the movie, but it becomes clear she is speaking from personal experience. She continues, “We have been undergoing harassment ever since the movie was announced. We get up to 70 computer viruses a day. Somebody at the California Franchise Tax Board is receiving reports of income I did not make and they are harassing me for back taxes I do not owe.”
Lieblich continues, “We get threatening phone calls. We get threatening e-mails. I’ve had my own life threatened: ‘Be careful where you cross the street; we know what you look like.’” (Oops, there goes the sixth commandment.) “This happens to us on a daily basis. Why are people so afraid of a movie? This I do not understand.”
You can find out for yourself. Heart of the Beholder is now available on DVD. It maybe harder to find than other out-of-the-blue indies such as What the Bleep? But it’s more likely to be worth the effort.