Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birth Of An Angelo: The de Vries Side Of Me

I write films that are violent, romantic, and rooted in my fascination with sex and cinema. I think it’s ridiculous to ascribe artistic traits with an ethnicity, yet I cannot deny that I link being Italian with the passions that shape my work.

"Ik ben Angelo".

“Angelo de Vries” is the the name I use as a screenwriter. It is the purest side of myself, the constant essence of who I am, and it is only visible to people through my writing. I don’t want to suggest that I “created” Angelo to take some share of the load in a semi-schizophrenic, Stephen King’s The Dark Half kind of a way. It has more to do with presenting the sides of myself that won’t immediately come off to people unless they meet me through my work.

I first conceived of the idea for a new name after a humiliating experience that I had brought upon myself while living in Miami. After allowing myself to become romantically attached to someone whom I barely knew at all, someone who disappeared from my life with lots of my money and all of my self-respect, I felt like a different person. So different, in fact, that I wanted to separate myself from my lifelong identity by giving birth to a new one.

I created "Angelo de Vries" in Miami in August 2008. My birth name never felt like my own to begin with, but rather a gift which I inherited as the grandson of Robert Emerson Jeffrey. My father’s father was a fine man whose passing in 1976 left a gaping hole in my father’s family, one that I certainly could never fill. I’ve always felt a very literal closeness with my grandfather, whom I consider to be a guiding light in my life, but I’ve always felt a great insecurity about the fact that my name is really his name. I think that that must be part of why I have always felt such a need to be perfect—by “perfect”, I mean always able to make people feel happy, regardless of who they are or where they come from or how I feel around them. Robert Emerson Jeffrey is who I am, but it’s also a sort of post-modern riff on what I assume my expectations are. Coming up with a new name felt natural because I felt that there was a name out there which could describe "the real me"—I just had to find it.

When I was a child in the 80s, we spent summers on Cape Cod and frequented a grocery store that many will fondly recall: “Angelo’s”. Best known for their baked goods, I knew Angelo’s for their video section. That was the wonderful era when video stores thrived so much that supermarkets got in on the action. I still recall the now-classic films I could once only fantasize about as a child wandering down the 'Horror' aisle: The Company of Wolves, Demons, A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2, Creepshow, Piranha, Eaten Alive. But above all other videos, I most vividly remember the Media VHS for Creepers, an infamous New Line Cinema re-edit of Dario Argento’s Phenomena. The cover art, of a beautiful girl with half of her face taken off by flying insects, stuck out to me at every video store I frequented in my youth. But those images stood out most within the wholesome, brightly-lit, air-conditioned little universe of Angelo's Supermarket.

My childhood introduction to my future favorite filmmaker in the horror aisle of Angelo’s Grocery Store was half the reason I decided upon "my other first name". The other half was based on a lifelong insecurity about my ethnic identity.  My ancestry is predominantly Irish-Scotch and Italian. My inherited face speaks to the former. But nothing about me physically speaks to the latter. So I chose the name “Angelo,  because it is a distinctly Italian word for “angel”. I believe in angels, I’m a huge Buffy/Angel fan, and writing “Angelo” flows more naturally than my own name does. What I did not realize at the time was that the full name of my father's maternal grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was Angelo Callandrella. I had unconsciously gone from being named after my grandfather to naming myself after his father-in-law.

My paternal grandfather, after whom I was named, and my paternal grandmother, 
whose father was also an 'Angelo'.

Sadly, there is no Dutch blood running through my veins, but the affinity I feel with The Netherlands and Dutch people goes much deeper than the flesh anyway. What I most connect with in the Dutch is the love of freedom, of tolerance, of embracing humanity and learning to flow with it, not against it.  As such, I adopted “de Vries”, an extremely common Dutch surname, which translates to “the free”. I also chose this name after Xaviera de Vries (aka Xaviera Hollander), one of my heroes and author of one of my favorite books of all time, The Happy Hooker.

Madame Xaviera: AGELESS! 

On April 12th, 2010, my favorite Dutchman of all almost literally Christened my creation at my favorite movie theater in the world. I attended a Q&A/screening at The Brattle Theater when my second favorite filmmaker, Paul Verhoeven, brilliantly paired a discussion of his book Jesus of Nazareth with one of the many Christian parables that define his film career: Robocop. I bought a copy of his book after a fascinating discussion and I asked him to sign it to “Angelo”.  It was the first time I publicly identified as Angelo and the first time that name had been written in relation to me—and in a book about Jesus, no less! This photo, taken by my friend Danielle, captures how truly delighted I was that Paul Verhoeven got to meet "Angelo de Vries".

4/12/10: When I met Mr. Verhoeven, I wore my "Marilyn Chambers For President" 
button in memory of a most beloved icon, one year after her passing.

Paul Verhoeven is a magnificent artist and a beautiful human being who has been a huge influence on my creative development since I was ten years old. But he is “my second favorite filmmaker" because I can only have one favorite. That person, my idol and my “artistic father”, is Dario Argento.

I should note that my pride in being Italian and my connection to Italian cinema is very Dario-centric. All of my favorite Italian filmmakers worked in either Argento’s giallo oeuvre or some other subgenre of Italian horror. And I can’t say I loved any of their works until high school, when I gained a truly life-changing appreciation of Argento. My desire to appeal to an Italian audience is largely a tribute to the auteur from whom I have learned the most. Thus, when I read that Dario Argento would be at the 2010 Weekend of Horrors in Los Angeles, I flew across the country to meet him. I stayed in LA for months, trying to launch a writing career, before going home disillusioned and broke in the grand tradition of failed East Coast transplants. But all the time and money were worth it to meet the man of my cinematic dreams.

5/23/10: From left to right, it's my sister, my idol, 
my muse, and me! :)

My sister Jennifer joined me in meeting Dario. She generously had him sign my copy of Opera, the film that most influenced my writing, “To Robert”. I am forever grateful to Jen for that, for it gave me the opportunity to have my copy of Phenomena, aka Creepers, signed from Argento “To Angelo”. That signature insures that I--as in Robert AND Angelo--will die with a smile on my face.

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