It was 11 years ago in January. My bosses here at Crain Communications asked me to move from Advertising Age, where I was the media editor, to take over the reins at Electronic Media, the company’s publication about—and for—the TV industry. [That publication eventually was renamed TVWeek.]
At that time EM, as the publication was known to everyone, was based in Chicago. As I showed up on my first day there was even bigger news than a new editor in the house—we were moving the publication to Los Angeles. THAT really got everyone’s attention.
As I was introduced to the staff, one of the last people I met that morning was a tall, lanky lad with really bushy hair. He was our editorial assistant. During our introduction I was told that this young guy was the most fun person in the office.
And he was. If first impressions count, I was immediately taken with his boyish charm—as were millions of others who met him for the first time on Sunday’s Oscarcast when he stepped up to the microphone and said, with typical aplomb, “I should’ve gotten a haircut.”
His name is Luke Matheny and he won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
When I met him, Matheny was in Chicago because he had gone to Northwestern’s School of Journalism.
When we moved the magazine to L.A. four months later, Luke didn’t come with us.
He told me that his plans were to go to Paris with some friends of his and make a movie. He did just that. Biten by the film bug, he eventually moved to New York and became a film student at NYU.
The film for which he won his Oscar is a charming comedy called “God of Love.” Luke wrote, directed and starred in it. The movie is also his thesis film project at NYU. I guess if you get an Academy Award with that film it means you’ve passed the class.
His second-year project was a movie called “Earano.” As a headline in New York Magazine said about it, “Filmmaker Luke Matheny Turns ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ on its Ear” with the film. They also said about "Earano," “The style is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, with a hint of David Lynch thrown in, but—this being Cyrano—it’s also quite romantic.”
Luke’s Oscar winner, “God of Love,” is wonderful. Luke has a superb comic screen presence. It’s about a dart-throwing entertainer who has a crush on a woman who, in turn, has a crush on the entertainer’s best friend. You can get it on iTunes, as Luke mentioned in his acceptance speech, and it’s just shy of 20 minutes.
New York Magazine is not wrong to compare Luke to Anderson and Lynch—heady company indeed.
More accurately, Luke is Luke. He’s one of those people who you know is an original the moment you meet him.
Years ago, in Hollywood, Ernst Lubitsch had a reputation for making comedies of a certain type. Of the quality of those films it was said that they had “the Lubitsch touch.” Filmmaker Billy Wilder, no slouch himself, was said to have had a sign in his office that reminded him, “How would Lubitsch do it?”
Two of Lubitsch’s best movies, in my opinion, are “To Be or Not To Be,” (the original 1942 version) the best movie Jack Benny was ever in, and the particularly quirky “Cluny Brown,’ (1946) which was Lubitsch’s last movie and recently had a short revival at the Film Forum in New York City.
I see Luke being someone who also develops a deft touch for which he’ll be known.
Of course it’s not fair of me to saddle a new young moviemaker such as Luke with a comparison to a film great like Lubitsch, but it’s really an aspiration for Luke, not a comparison.
And winning an Academy Award for your short student movie isn’t a bad start …