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This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.

Many know the origin story of Vin Diesel, how he broke into Hollywood by not only showing true acting talent but also writing and directing his way onto the scene with both a short film and a feature. How the former went to Cannes and (eventually) was seen by none other than Steven Spielberg, who cast the struggling 30-year-old, who was getting by working as a bouncer, for a breakthrough ensemble role in Saving Private Ryan. And how he’s been mostly racing cars and fighting alien creatures on the big screen ever since.

But the Riddick star was around for a while before his short start, which is titled Multi-Facial. And not just as an extra in the 1990 Best Picture nominee Awakenings (see those three seconds of fame here). He’d been acting on the stage since a kid and in his teens had begun rapping and breakdancing. His rhyming skills can be heard and seen in two separate songs in Multi-Facial, one on the soundtrack titled “Middleman” and another on screen performance during an audition scene.

As for his moves, they were thankfully recorded seemingly only for future embarrassment purposes in 1984. Still going by his given name of Mark Vincent at the time, the 17-year-old appeared in the Sony VHS release Breakin’ in the USA: Break Dancing and Electric Boogie Taught by the Pros. The instructional video was 50 minutes long, but the most that we can view online is the five-minute montage of Diesel’s bits edited (and added to) by someone named Jordy Bogguss. Watch the excerpt below.

From there it would only be ten years and some serious hair cropping until Multi-Facial, which is a surprisingly great short film. You need to give it a minute or so to realize that Diesel doesn’t actually give his worst performance ever in the 20-minute effort. In one of the best fake-out openings ever, we first meet the actor in medium close up as he’s telling an offensive, homophobic anecdote with a terrible Italian-New Yorker accent. It turns out this is just a monologue being badly performed by Diesel’s character, also a struggling actor.

I mean, it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s easy to see what Spielberg saw in the guy. His work behind the camera is merely sufficient, though the clearly personal script is pretty decent. On screen, though, Diesel is pretty good. It’s easy to forget that behind his dumber movie choices is someone who can act with true passion. Multi-Facial’s story also addresses its creator likely could only make it in the broad action business. For “real” characters, his mixed-race looks didn’t fit well with what casting directors were looking for. Never mind that the character here, Mike, isn’t that great an actor, as seen with his awful “guido” and Pacino-in-Scarface Latino accents.

The ending doesn’t quite do it for me, as he sits in a diner and overhears an average-looking white blonde woman talk of her own similar difficultly fitting into types. That would have been okay, but the coffee thing is too much.

Multi-Facial was shot in three days with Diesel’s own $3k as financing and had its first premiere at NYC’s Anthology Film Archives before heading to Cannes in 1995. Watch it in full here:

 


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