Philosophical In San Francisco
SF @ Night
Watching San Francisco unreel and unfold, my fourth day here, I get a pervasive sense of nobody in this city "meaning it" in the sense that Erik Erikson uses that phrase in his book about Luther. People in LA vehemently, blissed out or dead-souled in their money lust, but peculiarly they mean it. They've come there to throw their whole purpose behind something even if that thing happens to be slick, trivial or dumb. People in LA are unironically, even savagely acquisitive of the things they want. San Franciscans on the other hand seem to live saturated in an evasion of the darker elements of appetite. It's sort of dishonest. All the benign aspects of appetite, and all the benign objects of it, art, food movies, are given prominent display and shown much concern, but the but the will to "go for it" that aspect of appetite is thinned out. Some stones just cannot be lifted here.
Larry Gordon continues ribbing Joel Silver.
"With Joel, I feel like I'm Hitler's father. I have a son and he grows up to be Adolf Hitler."
Walter and I get into one of our polite disagreements about movie aesthetics that we have less time for now that he's actually shooting. In these quarrels, he invents a distinction in our positions that doesn't actually exist. I tolerate this rhetorical device, for the simple pleasure of hearing state his case though the lucidity with which he states it is always truistic. He says things no one could possibly disagree with.
"What you and your pathetic European intellectual friends who make films don't realize," he was saying today, "is that you have to put motion into these movies."
"These Europeans you disdain, or who you, in fact, are only pretending to disdain for the purposes of this conversation, know this," I reply. "There's tons of motion in the frame in say, an Antonioni movies."
"Antonioni makes dull movies."
"Not his good ones" I respond.
"I do remember being impressed with the soundtrack on that one where they went to the island. That one shot I remember of the helicopter landing, he made that sound just awesome."
"Antonioni’s good movies, like the one you just mentioned, L'avventura, are just like yours," I started to say, “Minimal and architectural , not relying on dialogue...” But then I kept my mouth shut... I didn't want to get theoretical.... this opinion would stun Walter when I offered it and I knew why it sunned him. He operates purely from his conscious ambitions, and think they were vastly opposed to his European peers. He was not wrong to say he's different. The fact that some of their tactics and effects do, in fact, coincide is not, of course, disproved by this, though I can wholly understanding his finding that fact being pointed out or proven to him to be distasteful. To him it would mean being tarred with the unwanted brush of being uncommercial...and the truth is that whatever else Walter is or is not, he is not uncommercial..
Yesterday day spent on the thugs, Jimmy and Sonny driving up to the Walden Hotel on Hyde Street. Then Nick and the two cops who will by in the in the interior of the hotel, which we will shoot in L.A. six weeks hence. Then we make shots of the thugs escaping the shootout. Then the cops streaming in.
In the first scene we invent lines for Rosalie, who I and Walter have determined must now be in this scene since the scene of her being snatched by Jimmy and Sunny is going to happen fore they enter the hotel.
In Front Of The Hotel, Before The Shooting Starts
Other additions. Nicke and two good actors playing cops add lines and they're pretty good.
I wasn't there for the cops driving up. I was back the hotel making revisions.
Walter came back from the day's work resolutely proud of the streaming around to entrance of the hotel moments after Ganz and Billy and Rosalie depart.
Walter holding a beer gives his head a proud shake.
"That was something. Talk about ER." On this movie Walter's use of the acronym ER, refers to Exaggerated Realism...the way things look in real life, but then a little more, a little over the top. "I'm not entirely happy with that crane move we made for Nick. We had to do it, but I don't like unmotivated moves. Especially I hate casing figures through an unstable visual field. I prefer movement in the frame, moving the actors and working through composition.”
This evening we cut and paste script pages in Walter's hotel room. Walter calls Hildy his girl back in LA and has a teasing quarrel with her.
We find ourselves talking the subjective versus the element in the style of the film. Roughly, this refers to seeing the movie from the point of view of the characters or seeing it from some more omniscient point of view. I said, for instance, should we go back and forth with scenes between Sonny and Remar in counterpoint to the early scenes with Nick and Eddie.
"Once we get subjective, we can't back to the objective?" is my question. Walter asks himself that question in another way referring to camera style.
"Does that mean we should reciprocate with the camera style when get go to the Nick and Eddie show part of the movie.
I said I thought that the subjective style, a style of greater intimacy, should creep in to the later sections of the movie. I know I'm not sure what I mean by that nor do I have any way of knowing if it really resonates with Walter in any useful way. It just sounded right. It's weird how Walter being, relatively speaking, the most lucid, most clear creative mind I've ever run into during all of our "discourse" still rides on hunch, approximation, guess, suggestion. And that I suppose is where all the anxiety of making a movie comes from, a bunch of grown adults running around trying to put a semblance of intentional rationality around or "over" a process that must be forever inchoate and at least somewhat mysterious.
"We should keep to the long lens method for all the action scenes, the Bart Train sequence, all the stuff with Luther...that depicts this urban jungle..." Walter is answering his own question. kl.
Later That Night
A surprising opportunity to take a break from movie concerns was provided by my cousin Joseph, who lives nearby in Berkeley.
It was the occasion of his graduating from law school with honors. My uncle Milt, perhaps my favorite relative, had flown from the east coast to be present at the ceremony and all my cousins and even my elder cousins' mother who had divorced my uncle when I was a child were to be at a celebratory dinner. Also my graduating cousin's second wife and the mother of his children, who I'd never met. So some of these were relatives I hadn't seen for years, and some were relatives I d never met at all.
These strange recurrent lost causes in women you run into or across, you want in a minute to have, to love, to have a whole life experience with...this woman in a red sports car with RIMBAUD printed in bright yellow letters on her license plate, driving across the Bay Bridge. Frisco to Berkley and Oakland, I call out to her in her wind-tossed-blonde-haired-fine-feature-make-something-happen sunglasses, I cry out that I love her license plate, but who can care? Who can arrest the motion of surging traffic pulling us in separate directions, the light dying at the end of the day?
My cousin who I haven't seen in thirteen years, is thirty-six, thin, bearded, a calm person after the wild eyed radical he had been many years ago.. He's just finished law-school and is this complete family man. His oldest daughter, my second cousin, is named Jeannette is eleven. She's killer cute. She was born at my quintessential moment of horror and doubt, insecurity and hope, l970, the year of the Fall of America I mistakenly thought but no one in those days was more convinced of it than my cousin Joey, but look at him now prepared to completely embed himself in the straight world as a lawyer. How life keeps changing and moving completely incomprehensibly.
Everyone among my relatives is moderately or very curious about Hollywood stars.
"What's Nick Nolte really like," etc. I feel embarrassed like I'm stealing Joe's thunder. He shrugs and smiles ands says "We're just like everybody else, we're star struck"
I have a moment alone with my Cousin Tony where I admit to her that I can't necessarily make much more time while I'm working on San Francisco to see her...in fact I feel guilty taking these hours away from middle of the night thoughts that Walter might want me to go to work on...Tony responds by saying I should "assert myself" to my employers.
She speaks as if her failing to have a career is a brave, deliberate act of will opposed to the cowardice of types like me who always take order and follow routines etc. Obviously she's not all wrong, just mostly. She describes her life as fundamentally about her relationship to her Cello.
"I'm trying to coordinate the body and music," she says. I'm tempted to say, that's a tall order but... all this celebration and memory, approximately a million miles from the movie.
Gordon and Silver on the set with matching congruent phones.
Gordon is barking, "Women, I hate ‘em, I gotta tell ‘em, I ain’t happy ‘less I'm back in my office on the lot in Los Angeles, the whole rest of this business is a failure to me. I'm all through with women. Thy have never given me one day of happiness in the thirty one thirty two years I've been interest in ‘em, not one single day of happiness... never... women... I hate the ground they work on, every one of ‘em."
I say that I've heard that he's married to quite an extraordinary woman.
"I am," he says...
"Probably one of the days you were with her you were happy"
He shakes his head and denies it.
Silver is trying to raise his friend, the studio head of production overseeing the project, Don Simpson. Simpson was supposed to give notes on the script throughout the three or four weeks we were all still in LA and about ten meetings were scheduled but somehow a meeting never took place. We were sent tons of pages of mimeographed notes that Walter just mainly shredded. There seems no doubt that there is some reason for Simpson's hesitation to actually physically make himself present for a meeting and Walter has taken it as an opportunity to simply treat the studio like it isn't there.
All sorts of rumors that Eisner is going to get rid of Simpson, etcetera... Larry Gordon knows all the stuff about this but doesn't actually say all that he knows. He's got his ear to the ground constantly though as does Joel.
"They're terrible...women" Gordon continues. "Get me back to my office where I can at least be happy at least."
I can't quite figure out how his office is the antithetical term to the problems posed by women. I guess he can be reclusive when working on his office where as when he comes on location to a city like San Francisco he feels under some pressure to go out.
Eddie Murphy, the costar of the movie, shows up with his manager, a short Jewish guy like the manager types I used to see at the Improv all the time, named Bob Wachs. Met Murphy briefly back on the lot in LA but barely got a sense of him....the truth is I've never seen a minute of him on Saturday Night Live, though when I tell others we're working with him they rave about what they've seen him do there and insists he's going to be a huge star. Fine with me.
Ebony & Ivory
We get back to the office, and Eddie isquite amusing when watching some bad comic on t.v. He is preoccupied with finding a toothbrush and deodorant. Larry snaps at Joel to make sure every single person in the hotel is pressed into service on this. The idea of giving a movie star everything he wants is very dear to Larry's heart...it comes under the heading of his basic responsibilities. Murphy takes a moment to praise a bit he did on his show, the previous night, Saturday Night Live. He said "I don't praise my own work much but this piece was awesome"...it was him as Stevie Wonder, and another member of the cast, Joe Piscopo, as Frank Sinatra, and they sang together.
I suddenly realize as Eddie quietly finds a way to praise his own work that this guy is twenty or so at most. He's very, very young.
A frivolous writer views sex or money or war or the environment as the tangible topic of his work. Therefore a real resolution of the issues raised in what he writes can be achieved. But to be really accurate about a topic for writing is to view it as the appropriate means of embodying the floating indefiniteness of all the things and situations in the world. For a serious writer everything is symbolic.
Sex, for example, is enormously important to Tolstoy in Anna Karenina in order that he illustrate something about how people insist on remaining ignorant of the general forces that control them, part of that ignorance is granting sex too much or the wrong too-literal kind of importance. Tolstoy favors activities whose structures hinges on the boundary of total meaningless. Sex and violence are, in Tolstoy, situations of extreme sense-exertion which summon up a proximate option or possibility of oblivion.
The sense of more conventional everyday writing is someone like John Fowles, who in a book like The French Lieutenants Woman really sees sexual situations as the source of away to literal ethical judgments. The disappointments Fowles characters suffer and that he writes about are only the consequences of the intellectual falsity of the premises he starts from.
The topics of this movie, 48 Hrs. Friendship, greed, violence and madness, should be emblems of a deeper poetic madness, a floating perpetual motion machine of the city depicted coming unhinged, unglued. This city is not our full topic of interest, however. It is itself, simply a location from the world. Walter's not interested in the background much.
At dailies, Walter asks, or rather tells me, to start thinking about what kind of movie our footage that we're seeing, reveals to us that we're making.
I have an answer prompted in part by something noted by our hysterical Paramount executive boss, Simpson...
Simpson called to say "I see what Walter's doing -- I see the comedy"
So my answer to Walter's question is "We're making a black comedy...the film is a black comedy."
Second I say "It's sort of a surreal city film, sort of a less stylized continuation of The Warriors in a way...transposed on to a more apparently traditional genre film..."
But there are rapid shifts in tone, and one disconnected inchoate set piece grafted on to another.
Walter changes the subject abruptly to Annette's character Elaine.
"I don't see the girl, fitting into that" Walter says frowning.
I want to protect "the girl" of course because I've had a large hand in reshaping and expanding her scenes. My first line to Walter had been the key to the mood and the relationship of these two men, Nick and Eddie is that neither of them is getting laid regularly and that has a lot to do with the tone of their interaction.
I tried to gently disagree with Walter that Elaine was irrelevant.
"Not in the way you've shot her so far" I said..."the way she looks, she is an icon, an inspirer or ideal, distance from is sort of like the condition of and the thing to be, overcome. She's Helen of Troy.
(A part of me wonders as I spoke if I were just trying to hustle Walter and would I have any luck.)
To try to clinch this argument I kept on babbling "The presence of the girl is essential Walter. If the element of the girl had been stronger in The Driver the film would have worked with audiences better. The erotic element in this weird surrealistic world is important."
My watch was stolen this morning. I'm convinced it happened while I was in the shower. Ruins the whole morning for me.
Following The Money
We shoot driving stuff all over the city. Nick and Eddie trailing Luther played by David Patrick Kelly. Luther has picked up only stolen money that is the macguffin of this movie. Nick driving the beat blue Cadillac follows. David drives the dusty Grey Porsche that Eddy's character lives to recover. He snakes in and out of traffic. Long difficult to set up and make shots. None of the suspense and diversion of watching acting.
"This is movies" says Walter. "It's boring to do but it works like hell up on the screen."
Walter going up and up in the air on the huge Chapman crane.
"This is the whole point of the job" he says with his best tone of suppressed glee.
What Walter has in common with many remarkably gifted people is a simple instinctive capacity to take pleasure in things. This capacity seems childlike but its intensity and consistency and variety is a true definition of a person's power. Walter's got it.
Reminiscences about actors with Nick and Walter. They mention Strother Martin who Peckinpah used a lot.
"When he was good he was very good, but he could be just awful,” Walter says, a little perplexed in remembering it. He had used him in his first, and to some extents still best reviewed film, Hard Times. "I said to him once, ‘Divide it in half, Strother,’ and he said ‘In half,’ and I answered, 'That's if you want it to be in the movie.’"
At the end of the day exhausted.
Walter says "Some days I wish I could just press a button and be finished and have it be good. But ya can't."
Making a film is painfully hard work even if you're content to do a bad job. If upon its base difficulty you superimpose the will to be good, you have set yourself an immense task. Actually the second ambition helps reduce some of the difficulty of the first part.
Idealism on the director's part about making the film actually be good filters down to the crew...at least it does in Walter's case...they are less petty and less selfish, I believe than they would be under other circumstances. You can hear the habit of it, and watch them suppress the impulse to be selfish and petty largely because they know overall they have a good deal being with Walter they'd all in all be nuts to kick against.
I do think that bad directors are harder to work for because nothing they exude or express includes that some lightening, filling up of urgent personal need. It's easier to work for a man who really wants things, who is pushing his own brain, rather than simply fulfilling his contractual obligations, demanding things of you simply because that's the schema of the professional situation.
Walter's particular logistical skill and clarity in conveying the nature of the problems posed by a given shot, wets the crew's appetite to speedily meet the challenge. This is one of those situations, so often the case in matters of art, where crude practical energy and subtle imaginative energy are both distinct from each other and the same time subtly interconnected and hard to tell apart. Immediate energy about taking care of tasks veers into the taste for doing it well in a subtler more thoughtful, more conceptual sense.
Still, the element of ordeal, just pure physical ordeal is huge and can barely be overstated.
The simplest of shots requires a coordination of physical and mental intelligence.
This weird period of weeks of celibacy continues. I don't' know how to say to some woman "I'm tired and worn out, would you just please take care of me tonight please? I can't say it, in a way that makes it sound any prettier: Just put me to bed.
Sometime today swept over by some strange unaccountable depression.
Sometimes I feel like it should all go up in smoke.
"I'm not connected to enough" I say to myself. Of course, no one to say it to. That's the problem, huh? I don't know whether I really mean it or not. Perhaps this going along with the juggernaut of the movie is enough for me, for anyone, and I don't even want to tell myself I don't want more. Perhaps the notion of being "more connected" is entirely mythical. As I read this, I suspect it simply has been a bit of homesickness. Adjusting to being away from familiar spots and places.
I think of being connected still in terms of some adolescent reaching after unpossessable things. The certainty about something unspecific -- this "unspecific" is like the ideal that brightens everything. The heat arriving a cold room…
Meanwhile the powerful, inarguable weight of the specifics that surround me and make demands of me and the others each and every minute of every day: the camera, the actors, the money, the vulnerable egos of everyone, all this displaces my typical way of reacting to things. I am less important in this busy and abundant if sometimes mechanical universe... and I enjoy my lesser importance most of the time or at least I enjoy watching this Thing, the movie.
Here's the fear:
When I think of how gladly I accept this role in the making of the movie, it seems like I unwittingly illuminate something in myself that wants to be half dead, that wants the inhuman pursuance of money and fame and blind ambition rather than the more modest, ironic, temperate ambiguity of some more real more intelligent human appetite. The movie is a drug and I'm too ready and willing to give my soul up to this drug.
Of course what I'm calling the half-dead aspect of me is still more alive in its effectiveness than any other part of my so-called creative life.
I can't take much distance from it and notice anything else that I'm ready to be part of or accomplish. I know that the sentimental wish to express "humane feelings" in art generally result in the production of rubbish.
Perhaps I regret the loss of something I should not regret the loss of, but I'm right to want to correct what is wrong with this condition.
What is wrong is my powerlessness, finally, being a cog in a wheel. So the solution to the machine is to become a bigger machine oneself. That's Joel and Larry's solution to some degree. They may have it right. It's certainly a way of being at war for the rest of your life, but maybe nothing valid is accomplished any other way.
It's complicated in that the solution can't just be reduced to literal power.
Walter, for example, has to defer to many circumstances. He, more powerfully than anyone I have ever observed, has internalized a sense of what he cannot do, as a constitutive element of what he must do.
A dialectical sense of power and powerlessness is everywhere displayed in the mysterious relationship between movies and life, perhaps everywhere in life, though movies particularly seem somehow the medium of this fact of life, this structure of life, which is even fundamentally the most privileged of facts. As if the relationship of film to life was somehow precisely what life is, not merely a medium for dramatizing life alone, but the substance and the form of the drama of living itself.
Excuse me, but one loses the sense of the hold these mysteries have of them uniquely easily in making films -- but that too seems part of the point, part of the significance, the absolute difficulty, the absolute unlikelihood of maintaining a hold of the meaning.
A sacred key is only sacred precisely if it opens the way to many trivial bubble filled rooms, compelling ones, as well as the rooms packed with austere sacred truths. It's easy to get bemused by the dross the job dredges up so easily and it would be equally wrong to think that being sunk up to your neck in it is all a waste of time. Meaningless digressions have a point too.
I found my watch n a corner of my hotel room. No one's being entering while I've been taking showers after all.
The company has now gone to shooting nights, shooting the chase of the bad guys by Edie and Nick in the BART station, interrupting the villains as they're trying to make a money drop. This is physically the most complicated thing probably in the whole movie. There is a shooting and tons of screaming and running by hundreds of extras. This is a formidable technical problem to shoot and Sosna the AD has his hands full orchestrating the background.
- Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously... Published June 6, 2008