Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Dito Montiel has his fingers in many pies

The first-time director has enjoyed a hat trick of success — a band, a book and a movie — and he's modest too

By David Carr  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

“This is where they filmed that scene in Goodfellas where they shot the guy in the clubhouse,” he said, indicating a building partway up the slope. “One of my friends stole the lighting truck and smashed it up.”

Decades later, Montiel used the same street to film a scene in which Antonio, a friend of Dito's who is a giant walking grenade, is set upon by his abusive father.

“We didn't really have to recreate anything,” he said, gesturing toward the neighborhood. “The rest of New York has changed, but the feeling is still very much here. I wanted it to seem like what it is, which is sort of a small town in the big city.”

That ‘sorta’ guy‘

Montiel walks the streets as someone who knows them, but does not own them. He can still get jazzed about the Sicilian pizza at Rose & Joe's.

“It's been here for eternity,” Montiel said. “It goes up a nickel a year, but it's still just as good.”

Montiel and pals were parented by these streets, which may feature Greek restaurants but reflect the polyglot life of the borough. The son of a Nicaraguan father and an Irish mother, he pulled capers for the Greek and Italian gangsters in the neighborhood and then stopped by the Church of the Immaculate Conception to plead guilty to a few select misdemeanors. His later life as a downtown scenester appears nowhere in the film. Instead, Downey unwinds formative teenage history as Dito returns to visit an ailing father. A mix of no-name — there was an open audition on Craigslist — and big-name young actors serves as the posse the movie pivots around.

“I used the book as a bank of emotions and people to draw from, less than trying to put the same story on film,” he said. A small parade of cars goes by, Italian flags waving in rhythm to the honking of World Cup fans.

We duck into Bohemian Hall and into the giant back patio, which is a world away in terms of temperature. Sitting in the suddenly cool afternoon air, Montiel said the book was true, in its own way, and the movie was another kind of truth, but neither was intended as a strict recollection of what happened.

“There are composites, and there are events that did not really take place,” he said.

“In a way, you make cartoons out of people to make a movie, but you sort of have to,” he added, taking a bite of a sausage the joint is famous for.

He was not short on local advice while making the movie. “Kenny Coyle, a guy from the neighborhood, watched this scene where Antonio jumped a guy and said that the ‘real’ Antonio would have picked the guy up and thrown him out on the curb and spit on him. We got a lot of that while we were making the movie.”

Montiel's lack of mastery over the moviemaking process caused a bit of trepidation among the pros on the set at the start of filming. One of the movie's pivotal scenes centered on the volatile character of Antonio, played by Channing Tatum. Montiel, who was used to the improvisation that goes into making a record, encouraged Tatum to follow the character's anger wherever it went. Without getting into spoilers, Wiest ended the scene with feet cut by broken glass and the crew shaking their heads about what they had gotten themselves into.

“They were all yelling at Channing, and Chazz Palminteri, who plays Dito's father, told them to back up and leave him alone,” he said. “There was magic in that, them forming a partnership. It is the kind of thing that would never happen on a big-budget movie with an experienced director, but you should be lucky enough so that those things should happen all the time.”

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