If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you hope to have along for entertainment/bodhisattva enlightenment?

Well, assuming you’d arranged to wash up with one or more of your digital devices intact, let me suggest a film, Michael Maren’s sparkling, funny, wistful family drama, A Short History of Decay. It has a cast headed by such seasoned performers as Linda Lavin and Harris Yulin, and includes a remarkable cluster of younger actors like Ben Greenberg, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Benjamin King. Like many films that don’t enjoy a budget of several million dollars to produce and promote, it had only a limited run in theatres, but is eminently downloadable through Amazon, YouTube or Vudo, take your pick.

What do critics think? “I love this movie,” says David Edelstein, critic for New York Magazine. And another reviewer describes it thus: “A quietly elegant little movie (because it refuses to push anything) about family and the finale of the older generation, A SHORT HISTORY OF DECAY, written and directed by first-timer Michael Maren, is a beautifully rendered piece of Americana as it exists today, mid economic (and most every other kind of) decline. And yet this movie is not actually depressing. Oddly enough, it is simply too plain and too real for that. It accepts what is and must be (even if its characters have some difficulty doing so) and therefore liberates us, the audience, to look upon reality and understand it.”

If you’d like to see a trailer, some interesting outtakes (Yes!), or just want more info, go to or

In the interests of full disclosure, let me confess that I know Michael Maren, who was part of that wonderfully creative bunch of people I met three years ago at a writers’ conference in Positano, Italy called Sirenland. Ex-war correspondent Michael, who’s also a photographer, videographer, scriptwriter and – now – director, is married to the novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro, who taught at Sirenland.

Because I live in New York City and know Michael, I was privileged to attend the theatrical opening of the movie in mid-May and to meet cast members Yulin and King, as well as to renew my acquaintance with several fellow-Sirenlanders. It was all quite thrilling. But never mind. I think you’ll be thrilled by the movie.

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