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Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Jen­nifer Levin

Films by Mark Steven Shep­herd: Noth­ing but the Truth and Red Car­pet Burn

IN the 1980s, Mark Steven Shep­herd owned a pro­duc­tion com­pany in Bev­erly Hills. He’d al­ready built a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the New York film world, but he’d come home to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to try his luck on the op­po­site coast. “It was a wild time,” he told

Pasatiempo. “So­cially, I came across O.J. Simp­son and Ni­cole Brown a few times. This was be­fore they were mar­ried. I saw the way he treated her. He broke her heart once in pub­lic and I wit­nessed it.”

Shep­herd, who moved to Santa Fe in 2015, de­scribed a scene at a lon­gago wed­ding in which Brown caught the bou­quet thrown by the bride. “Ev­ery­one was call­ing O.J.’s name to stand up and catch the garter, to com­mit to this beau­ti­ful young woman, but he was just be­ing the player. This is the best foot­ball ath­lete in the world, and when the groom flipped the garter at him, O.J. made the lamest at­tempt to catch it. He missed it. It fell to the floor. I looked at Ni­cole and her heart was just bro­ken.”

Though he be­lieves Simp­son is guilty of the mur­der of his ex-wife and her ac­quain­tance, Ron­ald Gold­man, a crime for which he was fa­mously and con­tro­ver­sially ac­quit­ted in 1995, Shep­herd said that when he be­gan his doc­u­men­tary about the civil trial against Simp­son, he didn’t go into it with a bi­ased at­ti­tude. “Or who cares if I did?” he said. “I’m no­body.” That hour­long doc­u­men­tary,

Noth­ing but the Truth, was com­pleted in 1998. It shows in a back-to-back screen­ing with a more re­cent doc­u­men­tary by Shep­herd, Red Car­pet

Burn, on Mon­day, Jan. 25, at the Jean Cocteau Cinema. The quirk­i­ness that char­ac­ter­izes Shep­herd’s films is bound to prompt many au­di­ence ques­tions. He will be on hand to an­swer them af­ter the clos­ing cred­its roll.

Red Car­pet Burn, com­pleted in 2014, was fea­tured at the 2015 Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val. Its sub­ject is the pub­lic fas­ci­na­tion — and some­times ob­ses­sion — with the red car­pet. Some want to clamor for celebrity at­ten­tion along its edges at awards shows, while oth­ers are des­per­ate to walk it and get dis­cov­ered. Shep­herd takes view­ers on a tour of A-list, B-list, and D-list red car­pets, from the plush crim­son of the Academy Awards car­pet to a hall­way run­ner bought at K-Mart for the pre­miere of a schlocky hor­ror movie. He trav­els to Toronto, where he de­vises his own im­promptu “Red Car­pet Fes­ti­val,” and to Cannes, where he suc­cess­fully sneaks a young woman wear­ing an eye-catch­ing gown onto the red car­pet and in front of in­ter­na­tional me­dia. But the real meat of Red Car­pet Burn is its de­pic­tion of a cer­tain kind of Hol­ly­wood ex­pe­ri­ence, em­bod­ied in the faces of Bo­tox-en­hanced as­pir­ing star­lets and pant­ing, diehard celebrity wor­ship­pers.

It can be dif­fi­cult to tell whether Shep­herd is pok­ing fun at his sub­jects or tak­ing them se­ri­ously, and his sin­gu­lar sense of hu­mor in­fil­trates many mo­ments in the film. There are play­ful and ironic pro­duc­tion val­ues, in­clud­ing ac­tion-fig­ure pa­parazzi and a Robin Leach-style Bri­tish voice-over nar­rat­ing some of the events. Shep­herd also visu­ally equates Woody Allen with the def­i­ni­tion of celebrity and soon af­ter, he jok­ingly asks Ro­man Polan­ski whether he prefers walk­ing the red car­pet to en­gag­ing in sex with mi­nors. It’s a stylis­tic choice that also col­ors

Noth­ing but the Truth. Whether this is suc­cess­ful, dis­taste­ful, or merely dis­tract­ing is prob­a­bly in the eye of the be­holder, and one’s opin­ion could change with re­peated view­ings. “I want to take peo­ple to a place they’ve never been be­fore. I see the hu­mor in sub­cul­tures and the des­per­a­tion of peo­ple who have il­lu­sions,” Shep­herd said.

He grew up near Venice Beach in the throes of the 1960s coun­ter­cul­ture. He was a surfer with no artis­tic bent, but one day, when he was eigh­teen, he said he met a woman on a three­speed bi­cy­cle who told him she was rid­ing to Big Sur and that she’d had a dream about him the night be­fore and thought he should travel with her. She was a revo­lu­tion­ary-minded artist from France. “I took her home to meet my mother,” he re­called. They went to Big Sur for a month, and she gave him the use of a movie cam­era. When they re­turned, he started film­ing lo­cal protests against the Viet­nam War, which proved a use­ful train­ing ground for his later work as a free­lance cam­era­man for E! and CNN. He was hired by CNN in 1995 to shoot Simp­son’s crim­i­nal trial, which was held in down­town Los An­ge­les.

The civil trial, Shep­herd said, took place in his back­yard in Santa Mon­ica. “I lived a block from the court­house. The he­li­copters would fly over my house.” There was a me­dia gag or­der on the pro­ceed­ings, with no cam­eras al­lowed in­side, but he de­cided to get in on the ac­tion any­way. Noth­ing but the Truth is the re­sult, a doc­u­men­tary not about the facts of the civil trial, but about the hoopla out­side: me­dia, avid Simp­son sup­port­ers, and those there to pro­claim his guilt to any­one who would lis­ten. The film has been used in col­lege cour­ses and at psy­cho­log­i­cal con­ven­tions, and was fea­tured by the PBS In­de­pen­dent Lens se­ries.

Though the crowd was much smaller at the civil trial than at the crim­i­nal trial a year ear­lier, the cir­cus at­mos­phere pre­vailed, and the most fa­nat­i­cal mem­bers of pro and con camps re­mained. Among them was “Mel­rose” Larry Green, an ob­nox­ious, out­spo­kenly racist ra­dio host and me­dia per­son­al­ity most fa­mous as a mem­ber of Howard Stern’s “Wack Pack” — a con­tin­gent of Stern’s ra­dio guests who were val­ued and mocked for their in­abil­ity to un­der­stand why other peo­ple laughed at them. In the film, Green vo­cif­er­ously main­tains Simp­son’s guilt while shout­ing at Simp­son sup­port­ers who are African-Amer­i­can. He of­ten goes up against Big Money, a young

black man with a pub­lic dis­play of ev­i­dence he col­lected to prove a po­lice con­spir­acy, who re­veals tremen­dous pa­tience and hu­mor when deal­ing with Green. There is ca­cophonous shout­ing among the madding crowd, but once in a while a voice of rea­son can be heard. An un­named African-Amer­i­can man in a 1996 Olympics sweat­suit en­gages Shep­herd in a sub­stan­tial con­ver­sa­tion about race and pub­lic per­cep­tion, and a mid­dleaged white woman calmly ex­plains a plau­si­ble-sound­ing the­ory about Brown’s con­nec­tion to the Mafia that could ex­on­er­ate Simp­son in the court of pub­lic opin­ion.

Shep­herd high­lights the racial di­vide over the tri­als in Los An­ge­les, a sub­ject with re­newed rel­e­vance in light of the #Black­Lives­Mat­ter move­ment and cor­rup­tion in the le­gal sys­tem as por­trayed in re­cent doc­u­men­taries like

Mak­ing a Mur­derer. The FX Net­work is re­vis­it­ing the events in the up­com­ing star-stud­ded minis­eries, The Peo­ple vs. O.J. Simp­son: Amer­i­can Crime Story. Now more than 20 years ago, the Simp­son tri­als took place just a few years af­ter the protests that oc­curred in re­sponse to the ac­quit­tal of po­lice of­fi­cers who were video­taped beat­ing Rod­ney King, and many peo­ple in Los An­ge­les were afraid that if Simp­son was con­victed, the city would once again erupt.

Noth­ing but the Truth, a time cap­sule of pub­lic out­rage caught on film, is a fas­ci­nat­ing op­por­tu­nity to look back on his­tory with fresh eyes.

Mark Steven Shep­herd

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