Glitz can't gloss over grittiness of `The Corner'

Film: The limos and tuxes and swank gowns that are the hallmarks of movie premieres were in stark contrast to what the stars and their guests saw last night on the screen of the Senator Theatre.

April 13, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Real and pretend inhabitants of a soon-to-be-infamous Baltimore street corner came together at the Senator Theatre last night for the premiere of HBO's "The Corner."

There was glamour aplenty at the venerable Senator -- and, perhaps, a note of irony -- as stars in stretch limos pulled up to the camera-wielding crowd.

The crisp tuxedos and designer gowns were in sharp contrast to the look of "The Corner," a grimly realistic view of a drug-infested West Baltimore neighborhood, and how the people there live from day to day.

Among the stars to work their way through the crowd for the 7 p.m. premiere were Khandi Alexander and Tasha Smith, both of whom said they walked away from the project with a newfound understanding of what drug addicts and their families go through.

"You can't do something like this without being affected," said Alexander, who grew up in Queens, an area she says was not all that different from Baltimore. "You realize how good things are for yourself, and you want to give something back."

She wore a low-cut, sequined black dress to the premiere. In the film, she was bedraggled and hollow-eyed as Fran Boyd, one of the series' three central characters.

Talk about rags to riches.

Smith, who played Veronica Boice, a resident of the corner, came out of the experience of making the film counting her blessings.

"It gave me a lot more compassion for the people that we portrayed," she said. "It really showed people what can happen to you if you allow drugs into your life, how bad and demonic heroin is."

Still, not everyone came prepared to embrace the film.

Among those waiting to see the film were 23-year-old Della Burks and 19-year-old Trina McCullough, who said they were cousins of DeAndre McCullough, the charismatic 15-year-old drug dealer portrayed in the film by actor Sean Nelson.

Although anxious to get inside the theater, the women said they weren't always happy with the at-times grim portrayal of their relatives, which is based on a non-fiction book by former Sun reporter David Simon and former city police detective Edward Burns.

"Some of it was true, but some of it was lies," said Burks. "Most of it was lies."

Simon, who spent the hour or so preceding the premiere greeting both people who worked on the film and those whose lives are portrayed in it, said he understood the women's feelings, but stood by what he and Burns wrote.

"We treated Gary and his life with a lot of respect," Simon said. "I don't know how to tell [the story] in a way that would be less painful."

As the crowd was leaving the theater, the director, Baltimore native Charles S. Dutton, said he was overwhelmed by the "enormous" reaction.

"I think there were a lot of guilt feelings, as well as a lot of interest," he said.

Filmed in Baltimore over a three-month period last year, the six-part, six-hour miniseries debuts on HBO Sunday night with episode one, "Gary's Blues."

The remaining episodes air on successive Sundays through May 21.

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