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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Hill and trail: on Walter Hill's Broken Trail

Robert Abele in LA Weekly visits with the undersung, overly talented Walter Hill before the preem of his new pic on… AMC? “Slugfests, chases, standoffs and shootouts in Walter Hill’s walterhillportraitq34571.jpgfilms are the equivalent of dialogue scenes in other directors’ work. From his street-fighting debut, Hard Times with Charles Bronson, through the megahit 48 HRS. and his myth-cracking Western Wild Bill, the action sequences in a Hill movie tell us all about his testosterone-case protagonists, how they negotiate their environment. But Hill’s fall from favor as a studio director—one too many box-office misses, no matter the flashes of brilliance in his [nineties] films Geronimo, Trespass and Wild Bill—is one of genre moviemaking’s big losses… [T]he 64-year-old filmmaker imbues [the protagonists of Broken Trail‘s] perilous and transcendent journey with a poetic grasp of beings traversing land that’s as reassuringly steady as a well-tended campfire. There are killings too, and while this isn’t what Hill terms one of his usual “blood and thunder” sagas, there’s no small amount of emotional brutality… As this bearish-looking, graceful conversationalist reminded me during a recent interview at the Polo Lounge, “Wuthering Heights is one of the most violent stories anybody has ever cooked up.” Among the quotables from the rarely interviewed master: “I’m the world’s oldest rookie. I’d done ‘Tales From the Crypt’ and ‘Deadwood’ for HBO… Here, I got a chance to do another Western. I’m not ready to quit yet… I tried to shoot it big. You know, TV screens are getting a lot bigger these days… Let’s invent a term here: the decisive moment. We’re gonna make a story and put it on film. Is the decisive moment when I wrote the script, made sketches at my desk? That’s Hitchcock. Or is the decisive moment “We’re going to go out there and work something out on location”? Well, that’s Ford and Hawks and Huston. Or is it “We’ve got this location, we’re going to stage the actors, we’ve got rehearsal, we’ll shoot from over here and over there, and nobody is so smart that they’re going to figure out how everything fits together, but we’ll have lots of choices and put it together as artistically coherent in the editing room”? For a director like Kurosawa or Peckinpah, it was in the editing room. What you learn is, it’s getting comfortable with yourself. The truest thing that’s ever been said about any of this is, the hardest thing to direct is yourself. It’s not the camera, the actors, not even the horses. It’s “What do I want?”… Good, solid work is often not particularly highly valued. John Ford was a director for 15, maybe 20 years before he did anything that is generally perceived to be of huge artistic merit… Raoul Walsh is an example of a great kind of American storytelling principle, where every shot advances the story. I’ve never been able to live up to that. I’m always digressing. Broken_Trail0-28.jpgPictorial beauty is the devil… I remember having lunch with Jacques Demy once around the time of Heaven’s Gate — wonderful man, sweet and gentle — and he said he thought that Americans were losing contact with one of their greatest artistic discoveries in filmmaking: that the perfect playing time for a motion picture was 90 minutes. It’s the right amount of time you could sit and not get uncomfortable, that you could go without food, drink and going to the bathroom if you were in reasonable health. [Laughs.] I’ve never forgotten that.” [An older roundtable interview is here, in which he avers, “I don’t much like looking back. I’ll talk about these things, but it’s just, you know, you only get so much time and I’m much more interested in what I’m going to be doing next year than in something I did ten years ago. Also, I really have this, as soon as you’re explaining your intentions…So many movies are reviewed off their intentions, and noble intentions are fine, but I think that’s an easy version. think criticism is not without the overtones of what we now call political correctness. But I think in the end that’s, it’s probably irritating for the moment, but at the same time, I don’t think it has any lasting impact. Somebody once said, you have to wait twenty years before you can tell if a movie’s any good or not so that’s probably true.”

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“With every table in the dining room occupied and me, the only waiter, neglecting the needs of a good fifty patrons, I approached Roth. Holding out Balls as a numbness set into the muscles of my face, I spoke. “Sir, I’ve heard you say that you don’t read fiction anymore, but I’ve just had my first novel published and I’d like to give you a copy.”

“His eyes lifting from his iPhone, he took the book from my hands. He congratulated me. Then, staring at the cover, he said, “Great title. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself.”

“These words worked on me like a hit of morphine. Like two hits. It felt as if I was no longer the occupant of my own body. The legs had gone weak, the ears warmed, the eyes watered, the heart rate increased rapidly. Barely able to keep myself upright, I told him, “Thank you.”

“Then Roth, who, the world would learn sixteen days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity, “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”

“I managed, “It’s too late, sir. There’s no turning back. I’m in.”

“Nodding slowly, he said to me, “Well then, good luck.”

“After which I went back to work.”
~ Julian Tepper

“Any form of physical or sexual assault is a very serious matter, potentially a legal matter. But I’m also wondering, what about having some kind of “extreme asshole” clause? I know lots of people who have been abused verbally and psychologically. That’s traumatizing, too. What do we do with that?  It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility. You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.”
~ Steven Soderbergh