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At other times, though, the film seems very conventional and commercial in its cutting — we're suddenly a long way from the experimental horizons of Kaye's early work. Kaye says that the more he re-edited under AFI pressure, the more he tried to please the institute with a mainstream product. Perhaps it's no accident that in Treasure, Kaye seems most at home in Utah's wide-open, arid spaces, whose silences speak for themselves. The very fact that Treasure looks like a "real movie" from 1970 suggests that Kaye, had he succeeded with his film, would've stood at an artistic crossroads: Remain true to the insular and narcissist temperament of Georg and Brandy, or embrace Hollywood? As it turned out, he would never have to face such a decision.
In Pursuit of Treasure would be AFI's first and last attempt to produce its own full-length feature films. Today, besides showering established movie personalities with awards, the institute is primarily known as a curatorial center and as the custodian of a number of copyrighted "best ever" lists. (AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies, AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes, AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Stars, etc.)
"Stanton played no small role in the downfall of the AFI," Schrader says today. "All of its resources and hopes had gone into his film."
French sees the consequences of Kaye's failure differently: "I believe it destroyed his life as a filmmaker."
After his AFI nightmare, Kaye bounced between Venice and the Bay Area, where Tom Luddy got him a dishwasher job at Alice Waters' Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. Eventually Kaye returned to film, joining San Francisco's guerrilla documentary collective group TVTV, then he was hired as a writer for Coppola's Zoetrope. In 1980 he wrote and directed a full-length film for PBS's Visions series called He Wants Her Back. The story concerns an idealistic architect who has to deal with a neurotic girlfriend and the spineless administrator of a new architectural institute who buckles under political and financial pressures, betraying the young master builder.
He Wants Her Back received good notices, although critics and viewers alike probably didn't know that the made-for-TV movie was Kaye's cinema a clef that was both a sequel to Brandy in the Wilderness and a savage excoriation of the AFI and George Stevens Jr. A better title might have been He Wants Payback, as Kaye's architect alter ego in the story lands a prestigious assignment to build a monument to the American Indian on the Capitol Mall, only to have the project sabotaged by forces beyond his control. The film is no veiled indictment of AFI, but a naked assault on the institute and its head: The actor playing the director of the "American Architectural Institute" is a dead ringer for George Stevens Jr. circa 1970.
Yet even as he made tentative forays back into filmmaking, Kaye returned to an earlier love, science, and began collaborating with research partners to patent time-temperature-recording devices. Today he owns or co-owns five patents dating back to the '70s.
"I was working in a small lab on 17th Street in Santa Monica," Kaye says, "right next to where Judy Chicago had her place."
Kaye joined Quarterdeck shortly after it had been founded by Terry Myers and Gary Pope in 1981. He entered as a "marketing guy" and immediately found his calling. Marketing, after all, is just a Madison Avenue word for hustling, and Kaye had lost none of his touch for that fine art.
"It's all about making yourself heard in a sea of noise," he says, noting that at one RFID trade show he raised $6.5 million in four days for Quarterdeck. Kaye would become Quarterdeck's president and marry CEO Myers, whom he had known for years. Within a decade, the couple left the software business to become pioneers on the RFID frontier.
There is some poetic irony in the possibility that Kaye will ultimately be validated by the work he and Myers have poured into a technology that is being attacked by some as an Orwellian threat to personal freedom. Kaye did, after all, begin his peripatetic career in the rebellious 1960s, and his films reflect that ethos, Treasure a milestone among them.
Kaye tells me that when Infratab really breaks out, he hopes to help finance young directors. Behind his declaration, though, he sounds like a man eager to make movies himself.
"The wild dream of being a filmmaker has never left him," says French.
If Orson Welles had the misfortune of making movies before Hollywood could appreciate his vision, Kaye's curse was to have been hailed as the next Orson Welles before he'd left film school. Yet, as Kaye says, in the dark a lot of things happen, and during his years of obscurity he wandered onto the frontier of a new technology.
"It's a tragedy I didn't stay in filmmaking," Kaye says. "The history of film is the history of invention. Preston Sturges' films are filled with inventors — Sturges invented a lipstick that didn't smear. Howard Hughes invented the wired bra for The Outlaw."
His most successful creation won't be time-temperature RFID tags, however, but the reinvention of Stanton Kaye.
I ask him if In Pursuit of Treasure would remain an unfinished curio if Infratab were to hit the RFID jackpot.