The Pitfalls Of A Second Job
12:30 pm, December 12th | by Whitney Curry Wimbish
Before he made O.B.A.M. Nude, a film about the president’s dealings with the devil, before he founded the Hoboken International Film Festival, and before he was squeezed out of his position as a municipal judge for these activities, Ken Del Vecchio was a squat, baby-faced North Jersey lawyer who made B-movies on his off-hours. He was a figure in stories I wrote as a newspaper reporter and when he invited me to the set of his latest movie in 2003, I had to go.
“The Drum Beats Twice” told the story of a Vietnam War soldier left blind, mute and with no hands after an attack. The character “is brought back into the world of human communication by a determined young nun, whose guidance also marks the growth of this former war hero, as a man and musician,” said the press release.
“A shocking, unlikely ending, though, may change everything … or it may not.”
I called Ken at his office and commented that the press release was a cliffhanger.
“I can’t tell you the end. It’s shocking. It’s too big,” he said, adding that I would just have to stop by and see for myself. On the last afternoon of filming, I drove out to West Milford where Ken had borrowed a friend’s Victorian house to use as a set. An NYU student carrying a boom microphone met me at the door.
“Look,” he said, voice low, shoulders slumped. “Is this going to take a lot of time? Because we’re trying to get him to wrap this up. We’ve been doing this scene for a while.” The student gestured at Ken, who was in character as the Vietnam vet, sitting up in an adjustable hospital bed with a pink and white quilt resting below his gut. His navy pinstriped pajama top was rumpled and the sleeves were pushed up to accommodate Ace bandages wound around both fists and arms. His stubs were ten inches too long to look convincing and weirdly thick, since he’d put on oven mitts before being wrapped up. He wore two pirate costume eye patches, one for each eye, and the too-short elastic crisscrossed tightly over his brown hair.
“Who just came in? I told you, everybody needs to be on time. ON TIME! TIME IS MONEY, and in the movie business, MONEY is what MATTERS,” Ken yelled, emphasizing each word by pounding the mattress with his left stub. Was he joking? I couldn’t tell. I noticed his New Jersey accent was thicker than it was over the phone. Ken angrily pushed the eye patches off his face. They shot across the room.
“Oh, hey. Glad you could make it,” he said to me, tone neutral. Then he turned back to the cast and crew.
“Hey everybody,” he shouted. “You better be careful what you say on set today, OK? We have The Media here, so everything is on the record. If you don’t wanna see your name in lights, don’t say anything stupid.” I’d never been referred to as “The Media” before and I could feel my toes cringe into ten little toe fists of discomfort.
The nun, a blonde too serious to return my smile, dabbed Ken’s eyes with Visine. She retrieved he eye patches and stretched them across his head as he called out “Last scene!” Somewhere, someone cracked a clapboard.
Ken writhed around in the bed, arching his back and kicking his feet like a kid having a tantrum. He gnashed his teeth and moaned. The Visine leaked out from under the eye patches. The student holding the boom microphone snickered. The nun entered the scene and sat on the bed. She leaned over the wounded vet, letting her wimple brush his face as she rubbed his chest. She placed a set of bongos on his lap. Ken dry-heaved a few more sobs, turned his face towards the nun, then to the drums.
Thwap. Donk. He slowly beat the drums with each stub. Wap.
Emotionally and artistically spent, he leaned against the nun’s bosom and she stroked his head for several seconds.
“Ok, cut. That’s a wrap,” Ken yelled, pushing off the eye patches, this time more slowly. “Congratulations everybody, give yourselves a big round of applause.” He whacked his stubs together.
Ken was still wearing the bandages when I interviewed him later. “My fists are all balled up – I have no feeling in my hands. It kind of puts you in a bad mood,” he said. “This took lots of preparation. Just sitting back and trying as hard as possible.”
[Photo via IMDB]