One: Before The Movie Shoots
Last Thursday Walter Hill phones. A call my agent had promised
me would come but didn't know when. I'd hung on for four long
He was calling,
I knew, already, to discuss my gong to work for him on a go picture
in active pre production at Paramount called 48 Hours.
There are few directors
in Hollywood as intelligent and worth working for as Walter. There are
even few go pictures, percentage wise, and still fewer in this depressed
economy, jobs at all. So on three simultaneous accounts I'm crazed
about getting the cell...
"I don't know
what you've heard...I've been working this fella and while I like em
I know it's not gonna work out...."
That's Walter referring
to my predecessor on the project Steve De Souza.
"I been reading
a few things...the script needs some things you do well I always think
do less well. I gotta bunch of people standing my
office wanting know whether to make the police cars red or blue...It's
brushwork on the script that's needed...basically this things a pounder...
a shaggy dog story. Defiant Ones plus chuckles...I'll be
honest with ya...with four weeks till we shoot you probably won't get
screenwriting credit...basically all you got time for is to do what
I tell ya...are ya interested?"
I say I am, while choking on my throat.
is you'll get a shot at seeing one of these things actually gets done."
I call my agent. We can put off the thing at Warner Brothers that
I'm supposed to hand in, for six or seven weeks no problem. I
say I'll still be able to come in for meetings if anyone likes.
"No you won't" Jane says, "You'll be in San Francisco."
Now I have been
waiting four days for a script, Walter told me I'd get on Tuesday, two
My nerves go way
APRIL 19, 1982
No script arrives, so no work still (inching toward it.) Fear
Fear of actually
going to work.
What will happen?
What does happen?
extraordinary procedures in War and Peace: The moves in
scale in the story alter or conceal the problem of the sudden shifts
in point of view narrating the action. One level of "shock"
displaces the more normal difficult shock of losing involvement with
characters you aren't familiar with and haven't as yet gotten involved
with. And don't forget that every historical-military "real"
name of generals and diplomats that Tolstoy mentions has immediate resonance
for his readership because of their part of his audience's national
mythology...so that the story of the particulars of the unfolding events
stands out against this background of knowledge. Kudtozov is as
well known to the Russian reader as Tolstoy is to us.
APRIL 23, 1982
In Hardy's novels, in Tolstoy's, and in Hollywood movies it is a "necessity"
that the great popular calamities of war, nature, and personal desire
come along to make the intricate and more subtle problems of self-knowledge
something that can avoided, postponed or realized, as the self looks
away from itself onto the screen of pressing external problems as "tests."
Hollywood is reviving
in my life. Contracts about to be signed. Money in the bank,
etc. Who would refuse it? Who wouldn't be glad? There
is as yet no way for me to make careful and persistent scrutiny of the
world of artistic practice beyond Hollywood.
The conceptual parameter, the positive belief with all its ambiguity
in something beyond narrative fictional commercial cinema is still remote
So I'm in this situation:
I hate the imprisonment in despair that is my commercial life but I
can't think beyond it. "Faith" in a dogma of some radical
formalism, or some vaguely poetic notion of "personal"
Writing has about
it the charm of its own ideological coherence and evading the compromised
nihilism of ordinary cultural products. But the problem is how
do you account for the powerlessness of all the truth that supersedes
the compromises of the word? How do you come to accept that so
little of human life seems to follow the most interesting programs for
life? That the more interesting work, is the less popular.
Well, not true, finally, of course. Vanguard ideas are disseminated
at last, people catch up with the genius, they are also partly responsible
for creating, yet this lag say that there is something nonexistent about
Wednesday I call Walter and he tells me that casting travels to New
York have made it necessary for him to postpone sending the script of
Forty Eight Hours to me till the weekend. It is now the
weekend and nothing has happened.
He does say that
I'm to go over the script of Extreme Prejudice. This is
a secret. Something he's pursuing and putting me up for, he says,
with Warner Brothers. This is or is not going to screw up or get
complicatedly by the other Warner Brothers situation that has been going
on for Dan Blatt and Bob Singer with Mark Rosenberg.
Walter goes back to location scouting and casting. No word from
him. When there is no word I constantly imagine that something
that will reduce his commitment to working with me has arisen.
This anxiety will
go on until work starts.
Garnett's office at Warners...arranged by his D-girl, old pal,
Amy Pascal. Tony's a Brit. I've already gleaned from
Walter that he has a surprising number of close British friends
from when he was over there working with Huston on The Mackintosh
Man. He's vaguely aware of Garnett...
Tony about Walter:
"Walter and me are like chalk and cheese...everything Walter's
done has been an avoidance of the more vulnerable sensitive side of
After the meeting
walking along with Amy. She's asking me about the writer and producer
type friends of mine I introduced her to, Nick Kazan, Marjorie David, and Elliott Lewitt,
Henry Bean and Leora Barish, Richard, that whole group started when Richard Kletter
and his wife Sara Pillsbury introduced me, to Nick, Henry and
Leora, while I introduced all of them to Elliot and Marjorie.
She said, "It's
so nice that there is no competition and jealously among you."
I wonder to myself, "Isn't there?" There isn't to the
degree that we all feel like we're all living the same life, the enemy
we share in common, the studios, unifies us, and none of us so far is
so inside with the benefits of The System to such a huge degree that
we feel it alienating our relation to the others...none of us has succeeded
or failed enough to no longer be able to relate to any of the others.
So the thing that would generate competitive jealous anger hasn't happened.
Sometimes I feel
like we're just all guys in a platoon in a war film. We're so
scared of getting killed in the battle against The Opposition, we're
so eager that someone plant the flag on enemy territory, fight through
the obstacle course and get a half way decent movie Made, that
it kills off whatever personal hostility might arise among us.
We all hope at least one of us gets something to happen. Because
if one of us does it means any of us could.
Like I said, for now we're all living the same life.
APRIL 30, 1982
Yesterday, an hour or so of talking the script with N. Nolte.
For years I have
been admiring his performances, here I was stunned to find qualities
of personality far from the roles he plays, yet totally commensurate
with power of the performances. Grace, gentleness and sweetness--great
humility before the task at hand, total reluctance to be narcissistic...refers
warmly to the cops he talked to, a phrase running around in his head
about cops "guardians of the gate protectors of the innocent..."
so "fucking charismatic"
These cops he said
"Hundred times more cool than actors who are supposed to be."
He's talking about prepping from the role: "I've worked from the
inside out before..." talking about working from literary creations
like Hicks in Who'll Stop the Rain, like Doc in Steinbeck's Cannery
"And I said
never do it this way, from the outside in but I see there's a way to
do this...y'see, I gotta get excited or else I get lethargic..."
The room he's staying
in is lined with books, all hardcovers--"I stole ‘em from
strongly enough the great gentleness.
"I used to
be narcissistic as an actor. I mean I did a lot of work, some
of it good, but one day one guy came up to me and he said 'Nick, how
comes everything you do is the same' ...he was talking about a lotta
scenery chewing and all that."
I asked him about
he got into Phil Elliot, the wide-receiver in North Dallas Forty, a
performance of his I really liked.
"I was talking
to Freddie Biletnikoff cause I modeled Phil Elliot partly on him, partly
on Caspar. I asked about Caspar and he said ah he's just a rich
kid with a lot raw talent but he doesn't really care...also Freddie
was sayin' how he married a woman he knew he wouldn't get along with
well, just so he'd have it for on the field." He goes on
about how his character has a technique for work but can't apply it
in his life, can't get the two things gong together.
He talked about
how rigid he used to be about preparing, he used the example of working
on the role of Hicks: "I was at my ranch locked up pacing,
getting more and more isolated in that Zen thing that was Hicks in Who'll Stop The Rain, and
then this friend of mine stops around and I say Jesse I gotta kept myself
I'm trying to figure and all he said to me was, 'Gee Nick, if you're
not him who is?"
He goes and gets
a large glass coffee mug and fills it with orange juice and vodka every
ten minutes, but you barely notice it.
Suggests a man who
has had roaring insane demons in total possession of his soul at certain
times and his lived past that...Although Nolte's voice is low, soft,
folksy, there is also a quiet persistent drive to his conversation.
He is leading himself on, pushing himself quietly at every moment.
MAY 1, 1982
Today for the first time, I show Walter pages.
This after breakfast.
In the headlines and radio, and t.v. in his office, the Falkland Islands
From there a detailed
conversation about John Ford's The Searchers...Walter agrees with his
pal Lindsay Anderson that it's overrated, that isn't a genuine Ford
film. I take the standard position that was this the one time
Ford seriously confronted the racism implicit in westerns, and that
gave it an anguish and power supreme in all his work.
"I read where
somebody said it was an allegory of the Brown versus Board of Education
desegregation...to me Jack was a bit lost on this one. I think
basically it was a case of a guy whose basically a fairly simple person
dealing with a piece of material he doesn't totally understand...there
are so many contradictions in the way its handled, he makes all these
kind of weird camera moves that are just totally untypical."
John Wayne in The Searchers
Then the subject
turned to Wayne, with me offering the typical opinion that Ethan Edwards
is Wayne's finest performance.
"I hung around
Wayne a few times" Walter said..."An uncouth rough bastard,
all the things left wing types fear about right wing people in this
case were true..." I said I had the impression Wayne was
smart. "Well he could be charming, but basically he was a bully.
I meant, he was
smart like he is in the films.
"He knew a lot about filmmaking.
He ought to have...He made about seven thousand or however many...he
knew about the technical of making but that's basically not very hard
We went to Walter's
Including a collected Samuel Johnson!
Walter for all his
neo-populist rhetoric, none of which is wholly insincere, is also
quietly, a bookish, highly literate anglophile.
In the rest of the
place, wonderful rugs from Thailand, a subdued brown/blue color scheme,
and a generally Spanish quality to the décor. I had asked him
why he'd spent a lot of time in Mexico and he said, "because I
couldn't afford to go to Europe."
Also a beautiful
European poster for The Warriors -- actually not a poster but a painting
inspired by it.
We go over six pages
of mine, same as always. He has likes, dislikes. Isn't totally
sure that what I'm giving him is an improvement.
MAY 2, 1982
Walter's always moving to watch. Why? Because Walter is always
in the grip of the problem of being Walter. And really his deepest
simplicity is his deepest depth and it comes downs to this conflict:
that he knows more than "they" do, whoever they are -- the
studio, critics, other filmmakers. At the same time he's determined
to be modest, lucid and even ironic about his own knowledge. He
would like to find procedures that he could make clear and intelligible
to everyone who disagrees with him.
He's subtly respectful
of those he disagrees with.
I watch Walter:
I am torn up in the grip of the problem of being with a million vagrant
ambitions. Here in the crucible where directness is the only virtue.
MAY 16, 1982
before shooting starts - Modesto, CA location)
The machine of a
movie is a diffuse garrulous FIST -- but gigantic. No one does not
feel sucked in.
The drama of a movie
as the tangible immediate visibility of money being spent measured against
the always tangible elements involved in even the vulgarest movie. In
other words, the goal of the money spent in filmmaking are never as
tangible as the goal of making a shoe or building a car.
between money being spent and its purpose is intransigently mysterious.
This mystery glorifies
tedious, monotonous and cruel aspects of the activity. At the
same time, the tedious monotonous and cruel aspects are themselves simply
seen in a new light.
We are making a
movie so everything bad about it is worth it, as opposed to working
in an office for faceless unnamable corporate interests...or simply
selling goods and services. At least we're MAKING something.
Many times, most
times, when I think about it and feel it, I feel lost in this process
though I am grateful to it, for being bigger than me, more than me.
Being composed of what I want from life but also being disappointing
in some way at the same time. Yet the disappointment is still
a fall from such a great height and fall is not too great so that the
experience perhaps like war is disillusioning but also inspiring.
Productive of the necessity of hope, that this power could all be better
more subtly directed, thought process reveals why this will not be so.
Selfish desires and needs and exhaustion will never quit. Still
the whole magnitude of the machinery undeniably connected to the brute
fact of the quantity of dollars which always semi prevents it, but which
something back the thing that is being perverted possible in a unique
way at the same time.
Movies, really making
them, grants you a glimpse of the utopia where money is spent on art
not, where it's simply about the procuring of more money. That's
the addictive part of it. The object between the money--and the
making of more money is a real object. Movies are an interruption
in the continuum that they are never the less a product of.
While you watch
a real film gear up to happen you begin dreaming a different dream:
What is wanted that can never be is the dream film, the dream film language,
spoken in a pure cinema world, a cinema city that permits the whole
fabric of the medium to speak.
What is sought after
in this enigmatic dream is a completely unprecedented freedom of expression,
where somehow the relationship of two in a film completely exceeds the
known possibilities involved in simply "telling a story."
This would be some magical release from the known laws of intelligibility.
But of course real films like this one face a tough enough time simply
delivering a competent skillful rendering of the intelligible. So while
all of us bid farewell to this dream film, we continue to live in these
films that have been sacrificed, the "something" of purer
vision that we cannot even begin to specify.
We start to shoot
Walter's first A.D., remarked, sitting in the back of a station wagon
we took to see farm work machines to be used in the chain gang sequence,
tomorrow: "I'm so glad we're getting out of preproduction
and into production."
This morning went
with Walter and production designer John Vallone to look for
the exterior of the hotel from which Ganz will escape...in LA.
This will be complicated by the fact that Rosalie, the little girl that
Ganz, the bad guy, will use to blackmail Luther with will be snatched
on screen much earlier in the film. Walter and I commiserate about
now re-extending the girls part. One of the producers dearly wanted
to fuck the actress who has been cast.
Walter and I noted
that she has weary readiness to go along with whatever sexual horrors
and favor giving would have to be visited on her on the way to having
a career...Walter, that afternoon, did grudgingly confide his conviction
that at the end of the day most actresses are whores. I can honestly
say he said it somewhat sadly, as if he'd hoped or wished it hadn't
been true, but that every actress he'd suspected it not to be true of
had wound up disappointing him. What he reiterates about actors, male
and female, is their ability to make things work in movies is indispensable
and ultimately mysterious.
about movie stars, is that they know something about how to be a movie
star, but what that thing is, nobody, including them, really knows."
Lunch with Joel,
Walter, Ric Waite the Director of Photography at a goyishe yacht
We talk about who we hate, and who others hate. Joel recalls
Gene Kelly, the legend who he worked with on Xanadu, the
colossal flop he worked on with his current boss/partner Larry Gordon
that Gordon always likes to bring up when he wants to tease or pick
a fight with Joel.
According to Joel,
Gene Kelly hated just about everyone, but especially Frank Sinatra...first
because Sinatra was so wealthy but especially because Sinatra got to
be in Guys and Dolls, and losing the part of Sky Masterson a
part Goldwyn had promised Kelly, was the great grief of Kelly's life.
Joel has a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of Olde Hollywood, via his
NYU film history professor William K. Everson. "Kelly"
says Joel "was the bitterest man in the world."
Later, Joel ruminates
about Matt Lattanzi, a model-actor, who's now quite publicly
with Olivia Newton John, who'd been the star of Xanadu,
fresh from her heat from Grease. "How do you think
he fucks her?," Joel wondered out loud. He threatened us with
speculation on the gruesome details, but then relented.
Walter in the middle of the conversation:
"An artist is first of all observant...second of all practical,
wouldn't you agree Gross?"
"Practical," I replied, "like a scavenger, you mean."
Walking out of the yacht club, Hill goes on a sudden diatribe against
New York, and keeps monotonously but humorously referring to how much
pussy there is and will be floating free on the streets of San Francisco.
He starts to reminisce about his days there as a second unit A.D. on
Bullit. Apparently in those days --we're talking '67,'68,
he made out well in the girl department in San Fransisco.
We start to work
on a new scene with Rosalie, Ganz, Billy, and Luther to compensate for
the fact that Eddie Murphy may be late in getting to San Francisco
because of some snafu involving his Saturday Night Live schedule.
Suddenly we're facing
a problem of not having enough to shoot in our first few days... a scheduling
fuck up that has Joel giggling with embarrassment and panic. What
he's legitimately concerned about is us looking like we've handed the
Paramount production bean counters the wrong information about our budget.
This is the first time that Joel has his name above the title as producer
on a movie and the one thing he cannot let happen is for the impression
he's not in control of the spending of money.
Joel has visions
of an unemployed crew spending seventy five thousand dollars a day in
San Francisco. "Just shoot me now if that's what the studio
sees on the production reports" Joel says, half laughing but totally
We spend an anxious
hour explaining the new scenes to Sosna and the production manager Gene
Struggling we are
to figure out how to do the San Francisco locations sensibly.
In a conversation
with Walter, I offered a definition of an improper inference.
Using several things one notices, to weave together a conclusion too
rapidly. He says this is no error. This is precisely how
the mind of a filmmaker must work...fastening available materials and
perceptions, and making a coherent something out of them, even when
they're insufficient, concealing the insufficiency of the elements by
Walter likes to
tease me. He implies he's decisive, and I'm sort of over intellectual
and therefore a bit paralyzed.
He points to himself
and me..."What a pair we make, standing side by side, hate and
self-hate." And then he says, "I despise
self hatred." What he means is, he refuses to doubt himself.
Walter has made other generalizations about the meaning of life:
"If politics were an animal, I'd kill it."
So now for the first
time in my life I am in the center of this as far as affecting the work
others on a day of production will do...affecting how money is to be
spent, having access to how this machine, this fist... lives.
I am right in the
middle of action as far as there can be action.
The problem, if
it is a problem, is the whole nature and structure of this procedure.
How simply at the level of scale it is bigger than all the individuals
that comprise it. Therefore, everything is by its intrinsic character
- Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously... Published May 22, 2008