Tuesday, December 12, 2006

An Open Letter to Murali K. Thalluri

Dear Murali,

I noticed your blog entry entitled Tall Poppy? lasted about three days before it was taken down (click here for a reprint of Thalluri's original blog entry). I'm uncertain if this is because you retracted your reply or if it was lost in some technical glitch. It's been about a week since it disappeared, with no sign of it returning. Either way, I think enough time has passed to warrant a reply.

I was amused how you framed your response: for instance, you brand your critics with accusations of tall poppy syndrome, as if this would somehow invalidate their claims against you. In reality, this is an ad hominem attack, a classic fallacy. Even if your opponents were jealous of you, it might explain why they have the position they do, but it would have no bearing whatsoever on whether that position was true or not.

Likewise, you ask rhetorically "does the fact that [Daniel Krige] has a film about suicide called 'West' coming out next year mean anything? Hmmm?"

Again, this is a fallacious argument, specifically a circumstantial ad hominem attack. Krige may have indeed said things that serve his own interests, but it does not automatically follow that his claims must be false.

To demonstrate this, consider the same argument with the name changed: "does the fact Thalluri has a film about suicide called 2:37 coming out next year on DVD mean anything? Hmm?"

Another amusing aspect of your response was this insistence that answering questions was "unnecessary", and your chiding of people "who won't let sleeping dogs lie".

This would imply the controversy had actually been settled. But just a few days ago (December 7th), an article from the AAP was published on news.com.au, stating:
Thalluri said [2:37] was inspired by a video suicide note sent to him from an Adelaide friend, known only as Kelly, before she took her life.

Media and industry have criticised Thalluri, accusing him of fabricating the note and saying no suicides occurred in Adelaide on the day of the alleged incident.

Thalluri has maintained he simply did not want to reveal the victim's identity in order protect her family.

Critics have also said the film is too similar to American director Gus Van Sant's movie
Though you may wish it was, the controversy surrounding you and your movie has been far from resolved.

Grave doubts persist over your honesty and integrity.

I would now like to address some of your responses to my questions:

On that 17 minute standing ovation:

Make no mistake, a standing ovation at Cannes is a wonderful thing, and nobody disputes that you are entitled to feel proud of it. But to exaggerate its length would be a horribly conceited act indeed.

In your response to me, you are emphatic that the first standing ovation at Cannes went for "17 minutes, if not longer". Yet you then rush to add a disclaimer that it doesn't matter if the standing ovation was "10-14-15 or 17 minutes".

You were evidently hedging your bets.

The standing ovation video you released shows the credits for 2:37, which last 6 minutes, still rolling after 15 minutes of applause have supposedly elapsed. You claim that this is not due to deceptive but rushed editing. How much time do you think you saved? 5 minutes? 15 minutes?

As evidence of your claims, you suggest I just "ask ANYONE who was in the room, and who doesn't have some sort of axe to grind".

But I've looked for impartial third party accounts, from the media, reviewers or bloggers who were there. Even the most positive reviews from the time don't mention a standing ovation of the length you assert. In contrast, the 15-20 minute standing ovations at Cannes for Fahrenheit 9/11 and Don't Come Knocking were reported widely. Even Kevin Smith's 8 minute standing ovation for Clerks II was widely reported.

I am also somewhat puzzled why the first standing ovation was 2-3 times longer than the second one that day.

Yes, perhaps I could find somebody who was there and ask them to guess how long they thought it was, 6 months later.

But why bother?

Why should we rely on imperfect human memory when you have a tape documenting the event? Nobody could possibly argue against 17+ unblinking minutes of applause caught on camera. It would finally silence your critics on this issue and give you a boost in credibility.

Why not release the raw footage?

On Paul Fabbro:

I am glad you at least tried to address this question, as it is more or less consistent with what I have learned. I asked it mainly to put this ghostwriter rumour to rest.

However, one might criticise your answer for what it omitted: are you and Paul still such good friends now? Wasn't Paul's discontent for the way he was treated expressed to you via his lawyer in the form of a threat of legal action? Is it also worth mentioning that Fabbro is gagged by a non-disclosure agreement, and thus is prevented from commenting directly on the matter?

On "Kelly's" suicide tape:

You claim that you don't know when your friend "Kelly" made her suicide note, and therefore don't know how long before her alleged suicide it took place.

This does seem to be back-pedalling from the language that suggests immediacy you used earlier: eg. "watching someone scream, cry, shout and beg as they prepare to carry through with the act of taking their own life", "she knew as soon as she pressed that stop button she knew she was going to take her own life".

But more significantly, since the note is on DV format, you should know when it was recorded. Along with the timecode, every frame of DV footage has the date and time of recording embedded in it. With any digital video camera, you usually press a button in playback mode (date/time) and this information is superimposed over the picture. VoilĂ , date of creation. But why am I the one telling you this?

It's also interesting that you also claim you don't know who delivered this suicide note to you. You suggest the possibility a friend of "Kelly" delivered it to you.

If so, this raises a bunch of questions.

For one, it contradicts what you said in your interview with Richard Fidler:
Fidler: Going back to your friend Kelly, why did she send you the note, did she send it to other people?

Thalluri: Oh, no, we were very close friends, so... (trails off)
Since you now think that a friend could have received the tape and forwarded it on to you, one wonders, if these were indeed her last words in a desperate state, why the friend didn't try to warn "Kelly's" family? Have you spoken to any of "Kelly's" friends? At the funeral or otherwise?

On Daniel Krige's claims:

You have disputed Krige's claim that he heard Nick Matthews declare in Sydney that the suicide story of "Kelly" and yourself was fabricated for publicity. You offer two arguments for this:
1) You claim Matthews is a good friend and would never say such a thing because he knows your story is true.

2) You claim Matthews has not spent any length of time in Sydney for a year, and so could not have possibly been overheard by Krige.

Without any further evidence to substantiate these points other than your say-so, one must assume they are true to accept them. But this is an act of circular logic, as the whole point of the exercise is to work out if you are telling the truth or not.

There is no definitive evidence to show whether you are telling the truth or not.

Instead, let us examine Krige's story. Though you claim there are three different locations where this encounter supposedly took place, I have to date only seen one account, which is consistent with the story printed in The Australian.

But for fun, let's assume Krige is lying. He did not overhear Matthews in a Sydney bar and has never met Thalluri or his family. His story is nothing but a unsubstantiated jealous barb concocted to hurt a rival production company. "Kelly" really existed, and Krige doesn't know anything about her. Thalluri and Matthews, with the truth on their side, hold all the cards.

Krige is thus incredibly lucky he has when he starts to spread this nasty rumour. Though Thalluri and Matthews retain expensive lawyers, they don't slap him with a defamation suit in an open and shut case, despite knowing he's behind it. (I should point out, Murali, that you have not hesitated in the past to threaten litigation at the merest whiff of a potential defamation action).

Krige is luckier still when, for reasons he didn't anticipate, Thalluri and Matthews refuse to prove his story bogus by simply naming "Kelly". The fear of humiliation from being exposed for the lie it is must have been awful for Krige.

But Krige's luck hasn't stopped yet. Reporters look for obituaries and funeral notices matching Thalluri's description and find nothing. They interview his teachers who have never heard of "Kelly". They interview Thalluri's mother and get evasive answers.

Daniel Krige, if he made the whole thing up, has had a miraculous run and should buy a lottery ticket immediately.

Unsurprisingly, I find that story of compounding, improbable good luck rather unbelievable. I am completely perplexed that no legal action has been taken against him. Given it would be strongly in Thalluri's interest to dispel this story, the simplest explanation I can think of is that Krige's claims bear some truth. Cue the angry denials...

In conclusion:

Murali, you claim everything else you have to say is in the film. I interpret this to mean you want the film to speak for itself.

But judging from the past, this cannot be true. Why would you (or, if you insist, "your team") seed the IMDb boards with fake reviews before the movie even came out? Why would you post reviews and news articles about the film there and on your website? Why would you quarrel with people who make the obvious connection with 2:37 and Elephant, or arrogantly (and ignorantly) dismiss decades of research into media inspired imitative suicide? Why would you promote this film with vivid personal tales that began to crumble on closer inspection?

As pointed out above, this controversy continues to haunt you, and this sort of publicity cannot be good for one's career. I am aware 60 Minutes were filming a positive piece about you that had to be scrapped once the controversy hit the papers. Perhaps there were others?

Any "message" you may claim to have as a filmmaker can only be sapped and diminished by these gnawing issues that refuse to go away.

If you do want to shake this monkey off your back, you ought to deliver compelling, unambiguous evidence for your past claims. The piecemeal approach appealing to emotion, followed by long tracts of silence will get you nowhere.



Murali K. Thalluri's original post on his now-defunct blog, to which the above letter is a response:

Tall Poppy?

I have kept silent on the controversy surrounding 2:37, but I feel the need to answer a few lingering questions by certain individuals who won’t let sleeping dogs lie. Here are some questions that have been asked on the internet.

1) How long was your standing ovation at Cannes, really? Surely you could release the full, unedited tape of it on Google Video to quell the nay-sayers?

The standing ovation was 17 minutes, the tape was edited quickly because we wanted it to be available asap on the internet. There were two standing ovations on that day, one of them went for about 5-7 minutes (it wasn’t filmed) that was our second screening, however the first one went for 17 minutes, if not longer, all you have to do is ask ANYONE who was in the room, and doesn’t have some sort of axe to grind. However, regardless of whether it was 10-14-15 or 17 minutes, the reaction in Cannes was nothing short of amazing, and like I said, that day will forever go down in my mind as the day my dreams came true. I

2) Who is Paul Fabbro?

Paul Fabbro was a script editor on the film, and a good friend of mine, he was also my year 8 english teacher. In the making of 2:37, everyone (myself included) got paid minimal amounts, that is how we got the film made. Paul felt his work as a script editor far outweighed the payment he received, he let that be known to us, and over a series of negotiations we came to a figure that he felt reflected the amount of time he had put in the film. He never asserted that he wrote the script, nor would he. I wrote the script, and it was edited with the help of about 7 or 8 script editors. Everyone from Rolf De Heer, to my own cousins, read the script and gave me comments on it.

3) How in the name of Harry Houdini did your friend "Kelly" manage to post you that tape if she killed herself "as soon as she pressed the stop button" (your words).

I have no idea, I was not a fly on the wall, I was not there watching my friend ‘Kelly’. I just know that after she had passed on (a couple of days later) I received the video tape in the mail. I’d imagine she sent it before she did it, or gave it to a friend to send, I honestly cannot say, as I don’t know. I can’t answer that. In my interviews where I say, it was terrifying knowing that she was going to kill herself once she pressed the stop button, I meant that it was scary knowing that she made the tape knowing she was going to kill herself after making the tape, whether it was one hour after, or 3 days after I don’t know.

Re: the whole Daniel Krige issue, he said that he overheard Nick Matthews in three different places, saying that I made the entire thing up. a) Nick would never say this, because as one of my best friends, he knows it is all true. b) Krige initially said that Nick said this in a Sydney bar, when the last time Nick had been in Sydney (barring a stop off on our way to Cannes which was no more than an hour), was in December 2005, when we went over to screen the film to the Cannes selectors, and I was with him that entire night, but Krige said he heard Nick, weeks before the Melbourne Film Festival. All that doesn’t add up. Regardless, Krige didn’t approach me (i have never met him) he sent an e-mail out to every media outlet, film organization etc in the country. Does the fact that he has a film about suicide called ‘West’ coming out next year mean anything? Hmmm?

Now that is the first, and last time I am going to answer questions to faceless people on the internet. No more, I am working on my next project, and don’t want to keep answering unnecessary questions. Everything else I have to say is in the film.

My message to all those people ‘Clayfoot’, Michael Griffin etc, who dedicate so much time to trying to bring me down, I advise you live your own life. I wish you’d spend the amount of time you spend analyzing everything I do, on doing something productive.

I am a film maker, regardless of whether you like or hate my film, I am not hear to prove myself to anyone, I am here to make movies, and that is what I will continue to do. Stop trying to vilify me.

Tall Poppy? I think so...


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