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In Features, Issues

WRITER'S HOLIDAY

By Peter Bowen

Hilton Als and Daryl Turner. Photo by Valda Zalga

THE SPARK FOR Don’t Explain, the brainchild of writer Hilton Als and videomaker Daryl Turner, was singer Billie Holiday’s comments, in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, about meeting Orson Welles in Hollywood: "He was perhaps the finest cat I ever knew." Following that observation to its imaginative conclusion, Als and Turner have created a story that we will never see exploited on E! Entertainment Television’s "Mysteries & Scandals" – a short-lived romance between two renegade geniuses at the height of their creative powers. The film is being produced by Killer Films and will be co-directed by Turner and Als.

Although this is their feature-directing debut, Als and Turner are not novices to either independent film or the world of celebrity. Als, a staff writer at The New Yorker, co-wrote Tom Kalin’s Swoon, and Turner, who teaches at the School of Visual Arts, also shoots fashion layouts for Elle magazine.

For Als, the film diverges from traditional biopics by interrogating the characters’ backstories: "There are lots of essayistic diversions – Holliday’s relations with her mother; a kind of identification that Welles felt for Negroes, and going out with Eartha Kitt and Rita Hayworth. He should have gone for the blonde beauty, but he didn’t."

Describing his collaboration with Als, Turner says, "We would talk things out from a structural point of view and then crank each other, asking what kind of characters they would be. Then I would go off and write, and Hilton would respond. It was like [the surrealist game] Exquisite Corpse, each of us working off what the last one contributed."

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