JACK MONTALVO, RIP
By Tom Soter
I first met Jack Montalvo the way a lot of people met him – on the internet.
He wrote me a cheerful e-mail about ten years ago, in which he introduced himself in an easy-going manner that I later learned disguised an obsessive intensity about things that interested him. He told me that he had attended St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s high school in the early 1970s at the time I was there, adding that I wouldn’t know him because he was four years younger than me. Then he got to the point: he said he was a big fan of Apar Films.
I read that part again.
Now being “a big fan” of Apar Films would give anyone pause. Outside of my immediate family and a few friends, who would remember Apar, let alone be a “big fan”? Apar was the name of the “company” that produced 25 Super-8 movies in which I appeared with Tom Sinclair, Alan Saly, and Evan Jones, and which were directed by Christian Doherty. We had made them between 1970 and 1974, and they were primarily screened for family and friends. They were action films, each featuring a chase, a fight, and sometimes a girl.
But how could this guy Montalvo know about Apar?
He explained that he had seen them when we screened some of them at the school bazaar (admission: 25 cents). They apparently made a big impression on him. “I was blown away,” he said once. “They were so cool.” He watched them whenever we had screenings, and as the years went by, he never forgot them. In 2005, he took a shot in the dark and e-mailed me, asking if the films were still around and if he could see them. We had transferred most of them to DVD by this point (and they are now on YouTube), so he was in luck.
Jack’s obsessive love of those films was mind-boggling. He remembered details that most anyone else would have long since forgotten. In one of the many enthusiastic e-mails he sent me before we actually met, he asked me if we had ever made Flowers Are for Funerals. Now this shows the obsession of a true fan. At the end of Don’t Live for Tomorrow, our James Bond-influenced spy film (featuring our James Bond-like spy Henry Sorelli), a title card appeared announcing our next Sorelli movie, called Flowers Are for Funerals. The card appeared for maybe 15 seconds at the very end of the film. Fifteen seconds. And yet nearly 40 years later, Jack remembered it.
Jack was a detail man. He once wrote me about a continuity error he noticed in Don’t Live for Tomorrow. “Henry Sorrelli chases after the No. 4 bus which has a billboard on the side of it; advertising one of New York City’s AM radio news stations,” he recalled. “The bus gets away from him, so he appropriates someone’s bicycle to continue the chase with. When he catches up to the bus, the billboard is gone. In fact, there is no billboard on that side of the bus, at all!” (I’m surprised he found only one error!)
When we finally met, Jack was full of praise for us, gushing about what a thrill it was to meet the stars of Apar. I felt a little embarrassed by Jack’s hero worship of us. I certainly didn’t feel we merited it. But Jack was always e-mailing or calling us, asking us to share memories of the movies with him. When I put a documentary together about the films, called A Chase, a Gun, and Sometimes a Girl, I interviewed Jack for a segment. In the outtakes from that interview (seen in the short film, Fan), there is a moment when, off-camera, I am about to photograph Jack and I ask, “Ready?” “Born ready,” he says with the cocky self-assurance that I often felt masked a deep insecurity.
But that’s just an impression. I have to admit, I didn’t really know Jack, except through the Apar connection. I didn’t know much about his family or friends (though, if Facebook is any indicator, he seemed to have a lot of the latter). He once confessed to me in an e-mail: “During my party-animal days (mid-1980s) I used to sit in with bands and sing lead vocals on R&B and rock & roll songs and the people in the club used to like it.” I know he had a job working with a disabled man, that he had dreams of one day buying into the apartment building in which he grew up, that his political beliefs were naive and objectionable, and that he was a terrible driver.
On that last point, I remember riding with him and Christian Doherty when we were driving out to a location in New Jersey in 2010 to film a new version of Christian’s 1972 movie, The Place. Jack said he was “nervous” about driving in New Jersey, saying he’d gotten lost there in the past. But, really, the only ones who should have been nervous were the other drivers – and Christian and me. I never felt as close to death as I did in that harrowing car ride, which Christian later referred to as “playing bumper cars with Jack Montalvo.” Going out was a trip that could have been part of The Road Warrior, with Jack weaving in and out of traffic with reckless abandon, at one point jumping across two lanes, amid blaring horns and swerving cars, to make an exit. Coming back at night, Jack complained about his back hurting and suggested I drive; then he jumped a curb and landed us on a lane divider. As high-speed traffic whizzed by us on the right and left, I wondered if we would ever get home in one piece. We escaped with our lives – and what got us through that experience was primarily Jack’s “gee whiz” excitement about everything he encountered (and, of course, a little luck).
Jack was like that: passionate about so much, so earnest – almost naive – in his enthusiasm. He admitted to us that he had always wanted to be a filmmaker. “I wanted to be the next Alfred Hitchcock. I was always reading about making movies and while I’ve never really made a film, myself, I did work behind the scenes and as an actor, years later for student films made by a guy I knew who majored in film. But during my St. Hilda’s days, my life seemed to revolve around doo-wop music, George Carlin, Star Trek, Cheech and Chong, the Marx Brothers, James Bond, and horror movies. I was forever using an open microphone to tape record entire soundtracks of horror movies that were shown on Channels 5, 7, 9 and 11. One of my favorites was the 1958 version of The Blob. While Steve McQueen (one of my favorite actors) always hated this film, I liked it so much that I can still recite all of the dialog in it from start to finish if I watch it today! And I plan to eventually produce my own feature-length movie version of The Blob but with a Pulp Fiction approach to it! Maybe my version of The Blob can become an upcoming Apar Production!”
Jack always wanted to make a film. He once told us an idea for a movie revolving around a pop song he loved. We told him to write an outline. I don’t know if he ever did. The one time he submitted ideas was when Tom Sinclair and I were preparing a script for the Apar Film Quandary in 2012. Jack gave Doherty, Sinclair, Saly, and me audiocassettes of Jack describing his ideas for the movie. None of us could take it seriously – who records notes for a movie? Otto Preminger maybe. And who still has a cassette player? We didn’t treat Jack too well then – Alan was the only one who listened to the one-hour tape (and then just part of it). We weren’t trying to be cruel – though Jack must have been hurt by our behavior – it was simply that we couldn’t take ourselves as seriously as Jack did. And if we couldn’t take his love of Apar Films seriously, it became harder to take him seriously.
After Quandary, in which Jack had a small role, I didn’t see him for a long time. Just recently, however, I had a brief conversation with him, and he asked me (as he always did) when were we going to make another film? I joked that Alan Saly wanted a million dollars to do another one, but then added, more seriously, “Christian and I were talking about shooting a short film soon.” I could sense his excitement over the phone, as he blurted out, “Let me know! I’ll be there!”
Alas, it was never to be. On Wednesday, September 30, I got a call from Saly, who offered me the grim news that Montalvo was dead. Once again, it was hard to take seriously – but this time for a different reason. It was hard to picture that vivacious, enthusiastic “big kid” of a guy dead, only in his mid-fifties, felled by a heart attack.
I’d rather remember Jack as he was in 2009, when he wrote me a long e-mail offering his thoughts about Apar, fandom, and why he was an actor “almost as good as Marlon Brando.” “You guys have dubbed me your number-one fan and I like wearing that hat but I’d prefer to trade it in for a different one,” he said. “I’d like to be the first official member of the Apar Productions team for the new century (I gather that no one else has beat me to it yet). And rather than make cameo appearances in the films, I’d like to try out for ‘meatier’ parts. I think I’d make a good villain in a Henry Sorrelli film. I’m a good actor; almost as good as Marlon Brando and, when I want to, I can be funnier than W.C. Fields. I am good at facial expressions, body language, and voice work! I’ve got a voice like a rubberband! I can twist it around so many different ways and I can do various accents, as well. So, if you guys are still interested in making films where actors’ voices are dubbed in with those belonging to others, you want me on your team!”
You’re on the team, big guy. You’re alright, Jack.
October 3, 2015