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Other Voices

By Other Voices

Part One: Before The Movie Shoots

Walter Hill

APRIL 18, 1982

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 days.

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.

“What’s good 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.”

“I will?”

“For sure”


Now I have been waiting four days for a script, Walter told me I’d get on Tuesday, two days away.

My nerves go way up.
APRIL 19, 1982

No script arrives, so no work still (inching toward it.)  Fear of work.

Fear of actually going to work.

What will happen?  What does happen?

Following Tolstoy’s 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 tome.

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” … “lyrical.”

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 future existence.

APRIL 24, 1982

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.

APRIL 26, 1982

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.

Visited Tony 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 his nature.”

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 Kletterand 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.

Nick Nolte

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 Row…

“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 libraries.

Can’t emphasize 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 crisis.

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 to learn.”

We went to Walter’s house.

Fabulous Library.  Including a collectedSamuel 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 (Day 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.

The interaction 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 tomorrow.

David Sosna, 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.

“The thing 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.”

Joel Silver

Lunch with Joel, Walter, Ric Waite the Director of Photography at a goyishe yacht club.
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 withOlivia 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 serious.

We spend an anxious hour explaining the new scenes to Sosna and the production manager Gene Levy.

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 elegance.

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 a compromise.

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published May 22, 2008

The 48 Hr Journal Archives
Pt 1 – Before The Movie Shoots
Pt 2 – The First 120 Hrs of Production
Pt 3 – Philosophical in San Francisco
Pt 4 – Subway Shooting
Pt 5 – Because It’s Hard
Pt 6 – July 8, 2008
Pt 7 – July 11, 2008
Pt 8 – July 18, 2008
Pt 9 – July 25, 2008 Pt 10 – August 1, 2008
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon