A surprising, suspenseful whodunit that explores and explodes Hollywood’s mythmaking machine, Atom Egoyan's WHERE THE TRUTH LIES stars Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth as a legendary show business team of the 1950's whose sudden brush with scandal leads to their breakup.
Fifteen years later, a tell-all book revealing secrets about their split is about to be written, and threatens to destroy what remains of their tarnished reputations. The book also promises to launch the career of its sexy young author, played by Alison Lohman, who uses her brains and beauty on both men in order to unearth their long-buried story.
Pitting two characters determined to hide the truth at all costs against one who is equally determined to expose it, Egoyan has created a many-sided mystery in which no one and nothing is quite what it seems, and in which the very nature of truth, and our ability to ever know it, is cast into doubt.
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Rupert Holmes, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES is an entertainment full of twists and turns that happens to be about the twists and turns of the entertainment industry. At its center is a trio of attractive, ambitious, and ambiguous characters: Vince Collins (Firth) and Lanny Morris (Bacon), are a wildly successful comedy duo of the sort that was a staple in the ‘50’s. A study in contrasts, Vince is the tall, debonair straight man, always seen with a whiskey in one hand and a woman in the other. Lanny is the gawky, goofy sidekick who says and does anything for a laugh. Together, they star in one hit movie after another, while selling out club engagements everywhere from L.A. and Las Vegas, to Miami and Manhattan.
They even own the new medium of television, serving as annual hosts of a polio telethon. Of all the rewards that come with stardom, Vince and Lanny particularly enjoy their unlimited access to adoring, available female fans that is, until one of those fans is found dead and disrobed in their hotel bathtub. Neither man ends up accused of any wrongdoing, but the bond between them is irretrievably broken. Years pass without their ever speaking to one another or anyone else about the girl’s mysterious death.
Rounding out the trio of leading characters is Karen O’Connor (Lohman), an up-and-coming reporter who has just landed the plum assignment of writing the “true” story behind the Collins/Morris breakup. It is now the early 70’s, and all the glamour and glory of Hollywood’s heyday have vanished.
Also vanished is the unwritten code of silence and discretion that has historically protected both the stars and their fans from too much truth. In these new tabloid times, inquiring minds need to know more about their idols than ever before, and nothing is sacred when covering the private lives of celebrities. One of the best and brightest of this brave new journalistic breed, Karen must turn a cold case about two fallen stars from the ‘50’s into a hot story.
As a young girl, Karen had been a huge Collins/Morris admirer, so once she meets them, her objectivity becomes increasingly clouded. When she develops feelings for them, her methods become increasingly questionable, and sexual entanglements ensue. Ultimately, for every shocking discovery that Karen makes about Vince and Lanny, she makes an equally shocking one about herself.
A guided tour through the Hollywood dream factory, where illusions are created and destroyed with equal skill, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES may strike some as a departure for Egoyan, the award-winning creator of such acclaimed films as EXOTICA, THE SWEET HEREAFTER, and ARARAT.
However different on the surface, this latest film is thematically of a piece with his entire body of work, a canon of ten feature films, all of which have dealt, in one way or another, with the treacherous nature of sexuality, the differences between appearance and reality, and the subjective nature of truth. Egoyan describes his new film as “a story about the conflict between a public mythology and a private history,” but this is a description that could easily be applied to any number of his most personal and identifiable works.
Though he is partial to working from his own original screenplays, Egoyan’s occasional adaptations of literary source material he previously made films of Russell Banks’ haunting THE SWEET HEREAFTER and William Trevor’s disturbing FELICIA’S JOURNEY have much in common with any story he has created directly for the screen.
Like WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, they have prismatic, fragmented structures, multiple time frames and points of view, complex and morally ambivalent characters, and dark secrets hidden behind a disarming, deceptive surface. The presence of these qualities in abundance convinced Egoyan to adapt Holmes’ book, his maiden effort as a novelist. A successful and prolific singer/songwriter/music producer, Holmes displayed surprising versatility as the composer and librettist of the Tony-award winning musical, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. This long-running Broadway hit, adapted from an obscure work by Charles Dickens, also displayed his affinity for the crime thriller genre, something he would mine again in WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. More importantly, the book mined Holmes’ extensive knowledge of the inner workings of show business.
“It’s chronicled by Rupert,” notes Egoyan, “who knows that world like the back of his hand, and he therefore gives a vivid account of the entertainment world in the 50’s. It’s full of detail, and it’s essential to the success of the story that you feel it being told by someone who was there. I think one of the most attractive aspects of the novel is that you feel as though you have access to something that is otherwise very private.”
It is this privileged glimpse into the entertainment industry that makes WHERE THE TRUTH LIES so dramatically rich. Egoyan knows that show business is paradoxical by nature, at once highly visible yet highly insular, full of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. The irony is that audiences are attracted by this very duality; they flock to theaters to see seemingly perfect people on-screen. Then, they flock to magazine stands to read all about the horrible things these beautiful people do.
This, in a nutshell, is what the character of Karen O’Connor is all about. She spends half of the film worshipping Lanny Morris, a man she has had a crush on for most of her life; she spends the other half trying to prove that he is a murderer. The fact is that Lanny is neither the myth nor the monster, but Karen would rather see him as either one of those two things, than accept the fact that he is merely a man.
“The thing that fascinates me about the entertainment industry,” notes Egoyan, “is that it involves constructing a persona; that is, it involves representing something other than who you are. And, by doing that so well, people want to believe it. This is what’s at the heart of the story: who are these people? Who are Lanny and Vince?”
He continues: “They’ve existed as popular icons, and they want to preserve that. In a way, Karen wants to clear their names and, in turn, the mystery around them, because she adores them so much. But, in doing so, she opens up this Pandora’s Box, and has to completely reassess who these people are. And, in the process, she has to reassess who she is.” Though it could coast along on its cleverly constructed, intricately designed plot, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES comes to life on film because Egoyan is equally concerned with the psychological and emotional veracity of its characters. For this reason, Rupert Holmes was thrilled when he received Egoyan’s request to option and adapt the novel.
“I love his work,” says the author, “and I realized that he would bring something to this that very few directors would that he would be very focused on the characters as well as on the mystery.” As an admirer of Egoyan’s previous work, Holmes was open to changes the director felt his adaptation would require.
“He understood that the book was something unto itself, and that the film had to be a reinvention”, says Egoyan. A key change was made in how Lanny and Vince were characterized. Holmes’ book was almost a “roman à clef,” with Collins and Morris patterned directly after an actual performing partnership whose famous, and mysterious, breakup looms large in Hollywood folklore. Egoyan wanted to distance his project from any lurid speculation, so his Lanny and Vince evolved into wholly fictitious, as opposed to barely fictionalized, characters. The nature of their act was also changed from the one described in the novel.
Much of this was accomplished by making Vince British instead of American, enabling Egoyan to use well-established stereotypes about the differences between England and the United States as the basis for the comedy routines. ”It seemed to me that it was possible to have this British guy trying to tame or control this impulsive and unpredictable American,” recalls Egoyan. “I felt that there were enough examples of British actors like Peter Lawford, David Niven, Rex Harrison, Laurence Harvey or, before that Noel Coward, to illustrate how Britain would have had an influence on American culture at that time.”
Lawford, in particular, as a founding member of the illustrious “Rat Pack,” is perhaps the most obvious antecedent for Colin Firth’s Vince, who plays “ego” to the Kevin Bacon/ Lanny Morris “id.”
After completing the first draft of his screenplay, Egoyan presented it to his longtime producer, Robert Lantos, whose credits, apart from the Egoyan oeuvre, include BEING JULIA, SUNSHINE, and BLACK ROBE. About the script, Lantos recalls, “I loved it. I thought that it was the perfect next step for Atom and I to takea film noirwhich would open his work to a broader audience but which still carried his distinct signature.” As to why he liked this particular film noir, Lantos says, “ I was riveted and seduced by the screenplay’s revelations, sensuality and suspense. It is a film about relationships and the deterioration of friendships.
It is also about what happens when someone is secretly in love with a celebrity and comes face to face with that person.” Describing the project in these terms, Lantos certainly identifies the elements that make it a more accessible, more commercial film than their previous collaborations.
But, in describing its themes “it’s about the quest for truth-- about peeling away layer upon layer of hypocrisy and lies; the process of getting right down to the kernel, right down to where the truth lies” he is identifying the elements that make it quintessentially, unmistakably Egoyan.
“My mission,” Lantos concludes, “was to preserve what is entirely original and unique to Atom’s way of filmmaking, and to deploy it into a film that would be accessible for more mainstream audiences.” One way of achieving this mission was for Lantos to endow this project with a much larger budget and much stronger production values than the filmmaker had previously enjoyed. Filmed over a ten week period on location in Los Angeles and on extensive interior sets built in studios both in London and Toronto, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES is mounted on a scale commensurate to its Old Hollywood subject matter, and its glamorous period or, rather, dual period setting.
The script called for major set pieces in such diverse locations as a network television studio, a packed metropolitan nightclub, a lavish mob-run casino, and the presidential suite of a luxury hotel, all dressed for the mid-50’s, and many crowded with perfectly clad and coiffed crowds. For Egoyan and his production team production designer Phillip Barker, cinematographer Paul Sarossy, and costume designer Beth Pasternak, all of whom are frequent and long time collaborators the project was a massive undertaking. It was also a feast one that allowed Egoyan to have his cinematic cake and eat it too, by making a Hollywood-style, Hollywood-scale film that, at its core, is more than a little critical of Hollywood.
To prepare for production, Egoyan watched numerous vintage films, both classic and “neo” noir, for inspiration. He also studied films that employed voice-over narration a noir trademark in order to decide how to employ that particular technique. (With its differing points of view, dueling narrators, and contradictory testimonies, the film is unusually reliant on voiceover as a device.) While he found this research useful, Egoyan maintains that, “you can look at all these films, and get excited, but YOUR film is ultimately going to be something that is going to come from you.”
Since so much of the film is about surfaces, and how different they are from what’s behind them, Phillip Barker’s contribution, designing sets from two distinct periods, was considerable. Barker drew inspiration from several sources including the work of architect Morris Lapidus, who designed such 50’s landmarks as Miami’s Fountainbleu Hotel and the Eden Roc. At London’s Shepperton Studios, Barker built the extravagant Versailles Presidential Suite, where Vince and Lanny stay during the telethon, and where their fateful one night stand with a compliant but conniving beauty leads to catastrophe.
This ultra-swank set is decorated in pristine beige- on- beige tones, which serve to intensify the sordid and unseemly nature of the events that will occur there. For this set, Barker used a style known as “Mi-Mo” or Miami Modern, which Lapidus founded. Barker observes that “Lapidus came out of window display and set design, and I thought his style would be appropriate for the film. He felt that he could take the average American and make them live like movie stars. It’s a style that’s all about façade, not substance. That’s what the film is about too the whole entertainment industry and the fallacies we have about Hollywood.” Describing the look of these scenes, Barker says, “it’s flamboyant, it’s over the top, it’s playful.
There’s no symmetry, no straight lines, and it’s the perfect sort of happy playground in which all these horrible things can occur.” Working with his cinematographer, Paul Sarossy, Egoyan looked at such glossy black and white classics as GILDA for reference. Both men were interested in the way in which “diffusion was used in classic noir film, which is typically recognized as a style that is very deep contrast, a look typified by detective films of the 40’s.
Yet there was something very soft, romantic, and glamorous to these images,” says Sarossy. This lighting style is used in WHERE THE TRUTH LIES but, ironically, it is used in the more contemporary sequences set in the 70’s. These scenes, after all, are the ones that contain the “private eye,” whodunit plotline. As Sarossy explains it, he and Egoyan intentionally chose the anti-Hollywood route, reversing expectations by ”using the visual lexicon of the 70’s in our 50’s material, and using the darker contrast of the film noir for the 70’s. In a way we’ve turned the standard vocabulary of these two periods on its head.” Egoyan began pre-production on the film immediately after the premiere of his production of DIE WALKÜRE, the first part of The Canadian Opera Company’s presentation of Richard Wagner’s THE RING CYCLE. “Music was very much on my mind as I was preparing for WHERE THE TRUTH LIES.
I was excited by Wagner’s brilliant use of motifs in his orchestral score, and I wanted an expressive symphonic sound in this film”. Egoyan and his long-time composer Mychael Danna listened to the scores of Bernard Herrmann himself clearly influenced by Wagner as well as Elmer Bernstein’s music for THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and Duke Ellington’s jazz tracks for ANATOMY OF A MURDER. The rich score for WHERE THE TRUTH LIES combines these lush orchestral strains with the early 1970’s influences of such bands as ROXY MUSIC, SANTANA, FUNKADELIC and THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA.
Down to its closing moments, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES keeps its audience guessing as to what really happened-- both in the past and in the present-- and about who really did what to whom. In true Hollywood fashion, there is the climactic scene in which all of the many loose plot strands are tied together, and there is rapprochement between the bad/ good girl and the good/ bad guy.
To top things off, Egoyan sets the climactic scene on a studio backlot. Whether making use of Hollywood conventions or making fun of them, whether scrutinizing the amorality of show business or satirizing it, Atom Egoyan skillfully shows us the mystery of life at the same time he skillfully puts life back into the mystery.
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