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"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.
"I'll do something with it," says Kaye, his voice suddenly adrift with possibility. For a moment there is silence, then, outside, a sea breeze sweeps in and the steel chimes begin their chant.
RFID: TAG, WE'RE IT!AS THE TECHNOLOGY SPREADS, WHO WILL PROTECT US FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION?
EVER SINCE BAR CODES REPLACED packing slips, inventory science has been thinking small — so small that radio-frequency identification tags are barely noticed by consumers who purchase the T-shirts or aspirin bottles to which they're sometimes attached in department-store pilot programs. RFID tags fall into three categories. There are passive tags, whose data can be received and transmitted only when they're powered by an electronic impulse that's generated by a reading device such as a handheld scanner. This impulse travels through the tag's antenna and activates the chip. Data from passive tags usually can only be read anywhere between 9 inches and 30 feet from the tag. Active tags, which are the largest and most expensive, have their own tiny power sources (often paper batteries that utilize special inks) and can be read from greater distances (60 to 300 feet) — including, theoretically, by satellites. Semipassive tags (the kind made by Infratab) also have batteries, but only to power the tags' chips — data is retrieved in the same way as with passive tags. Unlike simple bar codes, RFID tags do not need to be individually scanned and the information they gather can be instantaneously transmitted to remote computers and accessed through the Internet. And, thanks to their use of airwaves, RFID tags don't require a human to be present to operate a reader.