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Catherine di Napoli
Catherine di Napoli


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Catherine di Napoli


She's no Bartleby at moviemaking
An Interview with Catherine di Napoli

July 5, 2002
by Dan Lybarger
appeared in the Kansas City Star.

Growing up in Independence, Mo., Catherine Naples already knew what the future held for her.

"I've wanted to make movies since I was 12 or 13," she said in a phone conversation from her office in San Francisco. "When my family first got a video camera, I started making little films and music videos. That's what I've always wanted to do."

"Bartleby," her latest effort as a producer, opens today at the Tivoli Manor Square. It's a modernized version of the Herman Melville tale about an office clerk who gradually withdraws, rejecting all work with the comment, "I would prefer not to."

After graduating from Fort Osage High School in 1994, Naples attended Loyola Marymount University and changed her surname to di Napoli. Her short student film "Lorelei" won the Silver Bear at the German National Film Festival. She received similar acclaim locally when the film won a major award at the 1998 Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee.

"I was kind of inspired by (Italian director Michelangelo) Antonioni at the time," she said. "It was my first real film project. `Lorelei' was about a girl growing up during the plague. She dies, and her soul watches her own funeral as her ashes are scattered in the ocean. A lot of people thought it was about twins, so maybe it wasn't so obvious that it was set during the plague."

For "Bartleby" di Napoli served as co-producer and collaborated on the script with the movie's producer/director, Jonathan Parker.

"Jonathan realized that he had worked in that office, basically," she said. "Melville's story was almost autobiographical for him. He (Parker) hired me to help write the project.

"Jonathan had recently gone to the local city planning department, and he saw that the old furniture was from the '70s, so we borrowed some of the equipment for the film set. We figured that office wouldn't have changed in a long time. That's the reason for the retro look that's almost coming back into style."

While Parker's experiences are evident in "Bartleby," so are di Napoli's.

"I read the story in high school; re-reading it I found it really humorous. I had met a lot of Bartlebys before, people who reminded me of the character. They chose not to participate. I had a friend like that who was diagnosed as schizophrenic."

Di Napoli and Parker were both careful to follow Melville's example and avoid revealing the reason for Bartleby's extreme form of passive resistance.

"People have been speculating for years, which is why I believe this story has stood the test of time. I don't think there's any definitive answer, and it would have been presumptuous for us to try to explain it."

In fact, the story and the film are less about Bartleby than about the reaction of his boss, played in the movie by David Paymer.

"I think maybe that's part of the reason some viewers did not get the film -- they were looking for an explanation. I know that some people who saw it a second time and weren't looking for an explanation enjoyed the film much more."

Parker and di Napoli are teaming up again for a project they've dubbed "The Californians" -- a loose reworking of Henry James' The Bostonians. She's also working on her own project, "Love and the Mortuary," that will be in the same quirky vein as "Bartleby."

"I'd met these two morticians at a local bar. They just seemed like really hip people and had such great stories. They actually lived in the mortuary. I shot a bunch of embalmings, and I was going to make a documentary about it, then decided it could be more interesting as a feature film."

When asked to describe how she writes for these unusual projects, di Napoli coyly replied: "I would prefer not to."

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