Stanton Kaye: Father of Reinvention 

Could tracking technology save the Hollywood dreams of a former golden boy?

Wednesday, Mar 5 2008

Stretching out between the 101 freeway and the glittering Pacific Ocean are the green fields of the Oxnard Plain, America's strawberry capital and home to Dutch families who have ruled the region's cut-flower industry for generations. Driving down Hueneme Road, near the Port Hueneme Navy base and the Point Mugu weapons-test center, we pass the Missile Bar's derelict shell, a steel rocket frozen in priapic launch above its parking lot.

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"It was a military hangout with a lot of prostitutes," says my passenger, Stanton Kaye. "They shut it down because the septic tank backed up into the ditches all of the time."

Kaye, 64, is a huge, bearded figure who casts an Old Testament shadow. His pool-hall-philosopher voice tends to make even his smallest observations sound elegiac and a little mysterious. When he steps out of my Jetta, his side of the car springs up a few inches.

Turning onto Raytheon Road, we approach a Ventura County economic fault line, where an agrarian idyll meets the hard-wiring of tomorrow. Here, on 26 acres of a former Raytheon missile-research site, newly planted lemon groves reach toward sensible, mid-20th-century office and research buildings that have been relandscaped with exotic plants and tropical trees. It's ghost-town quiet here, except when sea breezes stir a large set of steel wind chimes into clanging rhythms resembling a chant. This is the headquarters of Infratab, an obscure tech startup owned by Kaye and his wife, Terry Myers, who with a small team of scientists have been pioneering the technology of radio-frequency identification tags.

RFIDs are the tiny transponders that have been increasingly appearing in passports, at toll-road checkpoints or in consumer items sold by such retail giants as Wal-Mart and Target. The tags, which can be smaller than a grain of rice, consist of a chip that stores information, and an antenna that transmits data to an electronic reader. Moviegoers got a glimpse of RFID potential in the futuristic Minority Report, when Tom Cruise's character walks into a shopping mall and is followed by an electronic wave of personalized ads offering him sale suggestions based on his purchasing history. While many in industry see RFIDs as a godsend, others view them as harbingers of a benign police state. (See sidebar, "Tag, We're It!") A pair of maverick tech heads, Kaye and Myers do seem unlikely enablers of the latter scenario.

Two decades ago, the couple ran Quarterdeck Corp., a Santa Monica DOS utilities-based software company that, before the advent of Windows, marketed an early multitasking platform called DESQ. In 1994, following fractious corporate infighting, Kaye and Myers fortuitously agreed to be bought out by their own company just before Microsoft took over the world. With some of their buyout money, the couple built Bouquet Multimedia, a digital film-editing/audio-recording facility in Pacific Palisades. They encouraged cash-strapped independent filmmakers to bring their work to Bouquet, where they could load their footage into the facility's Avid hard drives and edit off-site.

In 1996 Kaye and Myers reportedly spent $5 million to build a satellite Bouquet studio with sound stages on the old Raytheon site in Oxnard. In 2004 I began talking to Kaye for a profile on Bouquet. I quickly found that even the most routine phone call to him elicits long narratives of elliptical histories of Los Angeles, Hollywood and New York.

Listening to Kaye makes me feel like a passenger in a time machine whose brakes have given out. He seems to have known everyone and been everywhere. He played hangman with Ed Kienholz at Barney's Beanery, was an extra in Roger Corman movies, partied in Topanga Canyon with Jack before Nicholson was Nicholson and palled around with Kenneth Anger. One moment Kaye will tell you how the brother of Soviet film director Vsevolod Pudovkin ended up a butcher near the Venice library, then mention how he struck up a friendship with photographer Robert Frank after they met in a thrift shop. Then there was the time he directed the last videotaping of philosopher Herbert Marcuse, whose work Kaye revered but who kept a hurtful, frosty distance between himself and his young admirer.

One day, in the middle of one of his hypnotic talks, I suddenly realize Kaye is speaking of Bouquet studios in the past tense. When I ask him if it's still operating, he says no — he'd closed Bouquet because not enough filmmakers wanted to bring their work to Pacific Palisades. There is, however, a much bigger story than Bouquet, Kaye then tells me, in his and Myers' work on RFID tags. Unlike other RFID technologies, their tags are based on time-temperature physics and can measure and record the temperature of perishable products (blood, food, film, flowers) and readjust their predicted shelf lives for up to 10 years every time a pallet moves from one point in the "cold chain" to the next.

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