A warehouse loft on Metropolitan Avenue throbs till 7 a.m. on a Friday night in early May. A succession of nymphs prance across the space in various states of undress. A tall, extremely blonde stud says, “Tonight must be good, because I never leave Manhattan.” Suddenly someone clad in only an anatomical mask bursts across the room, his frantically slapping manhood openly on display.
Just another Boho evening in the new Soho, your average Friday night party turned Saturday morning orgy? No, tonight there’s an artist at work, and his name is Joe Maggio
Maggio has just wrapped his much-anticipated second film, Milk & Honey. Prior to embarking on the whirlwind shooting, Maggio was last spotted by international audiences at the Independent Spirit Awards this past March, looking extremely sharp in his midnight blue Hugo Boss suit with a chocolate Gucci tie. For his critically acclaimed first feature, Virgil Bliss, Maggio was nominated for the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award. Of the winners, Mark and Michael Polish (for Jackpot), Maggio says, “haven’t seen their picture, but they sure do dress like a couple of slobs.”
On this night, Maggio is all business yet very casual, as he sports the requisite film director’s baseball cap, appropriately with a Sundance Channel logo; and, naturally, he works through the evening in Carhardt carpenter jeans. Thoroughly attending to matters at hand, Maggio for once even lets his Calvin Klein T-shirt fall over his belt. Unshaven he may be, but his ever-expanding sideburns do look flawless. On a Joe Maggio set, no one doubts who is really the leading man.
Maggio likens himself to a young Fellini, with every film an “intensely personal statement” that also captures his generation’s “subconscious desires.” In Virgil Bliss, a scrawny ex-con (Clint Jordan, of Fidelity Investments and Compac fame) seeks redemption via a tawdry hooker (Kristen Russell). Milk & Honey now tacks a bourgeois couple (Jordan and Russell, reunited) in crisis, with both trying to reclaim their more adventurous youth. Will Milk win over audiences and be viewed as yet another installment in our collective autobiography? Perhaps, but Maggio, for one, would never, ever let himself be tied down.
Throughout the course of the evening, there was some grumbling among the “background actors,” whom the layperson still calls “extras.” Most of it stemmed from Maggio’s reputation as an heir to Cassavetes’s improvisational style, which now seemed to be contradicted by the stop-and-start nature of the action itself—“kind of like bad sex,” one backgrounder noted. Indeed, one doubts that Cassavetes ever choreographed a party, or had his underlings keep telling people to be “quiet on the set” just when the booze and gab start flowing. But “spontaneity has limits,” Maggio muttered dismissively, as he chewed his index finger and barked orders into his headset.
In general, Maggio refuses to let fools make his films suffer. “Prima-fuckin-donnas,” he says of all of his actors, leading or background. “They need to understand that the rest of the world needs democracy, not me.” Less bluster than simply a matter of cinematic fact, the statement shows that Maggio is a bona fide auteur, and ready for the Hollywood limelight. Don’t be surprised if one day soon you see him strutting across the stage to take home his Oscar—the only real shock will be if he isn’t wearing tails.
Josh Franklin is a writer living in Williamsburg.