Poor Phil's Murphy to be in smoking ban documentary

'Devil's Weed' contends that bans cut into civil liberties

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By DREW CARTER

To those who know him, Poor Phil's owner Dennis Murphy has always been larger than life.

But his likeness will literally be larger than life when it's projected onto the silver screen next fall.

A documentary film crew was in town last Thursday to capture Murphy's thoughts on smoking bans, the subject of the upcoming film Devil's Weed and an Oak Park issue expected to be addressed again by the village board in February.

Devil's Weed, produced by Curt Johnson and directed by Maura Flynn (who together produced Michael Moore Hates America in 2004), is reportedly "about the loss of civil liberties from the smoking ban in Minneapolis."

The filmmakers are interviewing everyone from the U.S. Surgeon General to owners and regulars of Minneapolis bars.

"We're talking to both sides and letting the audience decide," Johnson said.

Johnson's film company, Indie Genius, reportedly has secured $30 million in financing for Weed and other projects.

Director Flynn, a self-described "Little-L libertarian" ("I'm not totally crazy," she said) thought little of the ban imposed while she was living in Los Angeles, but when other cities started following, she "got alarmed ... because I think there's a trend of suburbanization or Disney-fication of American cities."

Smoking bans enable governments to act "in loco parentis" for its citizens, Flynn said. "That's not the role of government."

Editing of the film will begin in January, and it's expected to premiere at the Toronto Film Fest in September 2006.

In his on-screen interview, Murphy, donning dark shades, straw hat, and a bright print red shirt, exuded personality. He said much of the same things he has told Wednesday Journal about why he opposes an Oak Park smoking ban, including that businesses like his would lose customers to Forest Park bars.

He gave a history of his restaurant ownership in Oak Park, and the previous effort to pass a clean indoor air act here that was defeated by a 5-2 vote in March.

"We all knew it wasn't going to go away," Murphy said. "This is the new religion."

Murphy described his thought process for making Poor Phil's smoke-free. Lines used to form for the non-smoking section indoors, and when the outdoor patio seating opened last spring in separate smoking and non-smoking sections, the non-smoking section always filled up fast.

"I thought, 'Boy, are they telling me something? They're telling me something,'" Murphy said.

He added that his afternoon bar business and late-night bar business have significantly dropped off since the outdoor section was closed in the fall.

Johnson also addressed the civil liberties issues, and questioned whether restaurant employees who get lung cancer is a matter of "sequence or consequence."

Although Johnson claimed the film won't take a hard line against smoking bans, Flynn did ask some leading questions, such as, "Who are the creeps who want this ban?" and "Is there something elitist about these bans?"

To the latter, Murphy agreed. "Sure, they know much better than you and me. We don't know what's good for us."

The crew also filmed Murphy behind the bar talking to customers, and took shots of the curio-covered walls.

Johnson described the crew's schedule as being akin to a rock band's, traveling all over the country to interview experts (legal, medical, etc.) for and against smoking bans. With so many interviews, will Murphy's footage just end up on the cutting-room floor?

"It's in there, please," Johnson said. "I can guarantee that one."

"Oh, he's in," Flynn agreed. "That was a great interview," adding that she found it interesting that Murphy banned smoking at Poor Phil's last May at customers' request.

"The government didn't have to do that," Flynn said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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