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First Person - Errol Morris' Television Series

     Too bad that literature's essential delusional obsessives, Dr. Frankenstein and Captain Ahab, aren't really real, because Cambridge filmmaker Errol Morris (Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred Leuchter) would have coaxed them on camera to expound about their fevered quests. Morris did the next best thing for his innovative, idiosyncratically entertaining Bravo television series, First Person (Wednesdays at 10:30 pm.) by uncovering modern-day equivalents.

     The March 15 program, the memorably entitled "I Disremember Mama," celebrated Saul Kent, a gentle Norman Bates type, who, shamelessly tampering with life, severed his beloved mother's head and froze it away for a better tomorrow, when she can be brought back with a young person's body. The April 5 "Eyeball to Eyeball" episode showcased Clyde Roper, a nicely kooky scientist who has spent much of his adult life seeking his own Moby Dick: a real-life giant squid, fifty feet in length, which he is certain crawls on the ocean floor by the millions. So far, no squid!

     Each half-hour program consists of one odd person in an intense Q&A probe with the equally odd Morris, the interview enhanced with kitsch "found footage" visuals and subtle, moody music from Caleb Sampson (written before his 1998 death) and John Kusiak. My favorite episodes to date are "Eyeball to Eyeball" above, the March 8 "The Killer Inside Me," a macabre program about Sondra London, serial-killer groupie, and the March 29, "The Parrot," a Morris live-cartoon classic about someone's Polly-in-residence which is the only witness to a murder.

     According to Morris, First Person has been picking up audience week after week, and probably will be renewed by Bravo. That's good news. In the meantime, you can still catch three programs on Bravo this Spring, two of which are prime stuff.

     "Mr. Debt," April 26- Is lawyer Andrew Capoccio the shyster-of-shysters, and someone should pull the plug on his 800 number? Or is he a crusading Ralph Nader, a David in the wilderness championing the interests of beleagured consumers who are being bilked by greedy capitalists? Correctly, Morris keeps all possibilites open, and the Fred Willard-like Capoccio is lots of fun to watch. Even if he's a total huckster, his attack on banks are important: for promiscuously issuing credit cards to the very people whom they refuse loans. If you are in deep-dung credit-card debt, Capoccio wants you! His sneaky specialty: countersuing the bank that is suing you!

     "Master of Disguise," April 24-This one starts out smartly, with Antonio Mendez, a CIA mole for 25 years, talking proudly of his first disguise, when he dolled up as a girl for a high-school prom. But as Mendez details his actual CIA adventures, Morris's program stumbles. The Laos tale is incoherent, the Iran one runs down, and Mendez's sagas of Moscow in the Cold War just aren't that interesting.

     "Crime Scene Cleaner," May 1-First Person is back on track with the confessions of Joan Dougherty, an amiable hairdresser who, after doing market research, reinvented herself with a more interesting profession: she's an official cleaner-upper after a deteriorating body has been found. When the police and ambulances have moved on, she'll come into an apartment, mop up the spilled blood, get rid of roaches and maggots. The place will sparkle like new, and she'll even hide from relatives the deceased's embarrassing porno.

(April, 2000)


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