MCN Columnists
Other Voices

By Other Voices

Part Nine: Real Men Love Smoke

July 17, 1982

Today, we’re seeing strung together footage of almost what should play as at least half an hour of the movie.  Probably more.

The big problem is when does the movie begin…what should Annette’s role be…

Some scenes that I classified as “mine” especially scenes between Annette and Nick are gone.

(Gross Notes: One Long Take Dialogue Scene Was Reinstated For The T.V. Version When We Had To Make So Many Cuts Because Of Bad Language.)

So my presence in the film is more diffused, in glints, hints, nudges, the aura of it, I’m present but not present.  I’m freed of my some of my sense of  responsibility for the movie, while having a hand in some of its good stuff.  My accomplishment is pleasanter but more trivial.

When you want to want success a great deal…it’s not fair or appropriate to want what success will “get you” more.

…the real things you want.

Reading Nathaniel West’s unbelievably great “Miss Lonelyhearts” …

“He stood greatly against a wall, trying not to see or hear.  Then he remembered Betty.  She had often made him feel that when she straightened his tie, she had straightened much more.

Her world was not the world and could never include the readers of his column.  Her sureness was based on the power to limit experience arbitrarily.  Moreover, his confusion was significant, while her order was not.”

Our lives.  Us losing our soul.  The loss of it.  Giving our souls up.  Losing.  Submitting to Fascism.  Submitting to terror.  Everything given up.  Flying from our hands unreachable.

Going wrong.


Our lives.  The trashing and twisting of the nice things. The nice things don’t seem as durable or as survival oriented as the shitty things that bend and mutate to meet the onset of crap.  Are nice people intrinsically weaker than shitty people?  If so, how to live?

Relentless noise and light. Our city straight streets interesting with movies of our city streets.

Devilish development.

July 19, 1982

Sozna gets to boss one hundred peole working as background at the music club, Vroman’s…he’s in heaven.

An awful orange stickum pertains to the afternoon.  Sunset, formerly the province of elegiac feelings and utterance, is nothing other than the descent of this shit.  The eyes go filmy.  Citizens, guys, people-in-cars, seem to move in a soggy slow motion.

At Vroman’s, we have five days of filming, a blackrock group singing over and over again, a song called “The Boys are Back in Town.”  Eddie has dialogue with a number of people on this set.  And he dances.

Walter is happy here.

They pump endless amounts of that b-smoke that makes the set more interesting to photograph.  Extras complain about how it makes it hard to breathe.

Sozna replies through his bullhorn, “Call your congressmen folks, real men love smoke.”

July 20, 1982

Sozna organizing dancing in Vroman’s.

“Jokes are great, but when I’m not permitted to hear them, I know they’re hot.”

Walter Hill expressing interest in a book I brought him, Blue City.

Hill blistering me for taking a long lunch.

Much dancing.

Walter does his own country-shuffling-dancing feet number.  “I used to win dance contests,” he says with some pride, “I got ribbons to prove it.”

The montage possibilities for this swirl of colors and bodies is quite wonderful.

All of us white guys tap our feet on the key bits.  The cliché term “infectious” applies.

Performances and details, whether they survive in the film, follow the aegis of a tonal determinant, intuited by the director.  Those choices are what filmmaking is.

Directorial personality is the cohesion of this thematic authority, this dominance of a distinctive tone, and whatever complexity it can achieve.  That which governs choices in art works must some combine variety and complexity, unity and force.

Authorization by tonal dominance has been purchased at times by narrowness in Walter’s case, in the past.  He has won authority, unity, and cohesion, but lost on palpable multiplicity of content, therefore the excellence of his films as made objects has run the risk of irrelevance.

Sometimes the films seem to have been about little other than his skill in making them.  It’s possible that I’ve had some part in enriching the nature of the dominant themes in this particular film, but the will to accept or use that contribution, is a choices that is all his. And finally, Walter is like anyone else in that personality ultimately has the will to be itself.

July 21, 1982

Walter says he’s going to date GB

“Who?,” Joel asks perking up, turning from his entertainment page of the LA Herald Examiner.

“Don’t tell Joel, he’ll twist, burn and fry up.” says Walter laughing.

“Who? Tell me,” Joel says.

Walter walks away.

I smile and say nothing.

“Tell me who.  Tell me who it is” Joel says repeating, “Tell me who.”.  thirty times.  “You want to tease old Joel, huh?  You like to tease old Joel.  You’ll never work in Hollywood again, I’ll tell ya.”

“It’s no one, Joel,” I say, “just someone Walter’s someone going to dinner with.”

I have been annoyed at Joel for days for no particular reason, just a general feeling of being slighted, which he is always good for inspiring if you like feeling it.

“You don’t understand,” he insists, “I wanna know ESPECIALLY if it’s unimportant. ”

Walter drifts back.

We watch the crew push lights around.

“It’s nothing Joel.”

Joel is giggling now.

“So you wanna tease old Joel.  You awaken a sleeping giant at your peril.  Don’t wake a sleeping giant.”

Later he refers to the DWTSGC — Don’t Wake The Sleeping Giant Concept.  He says that this follows my not having understood STBP, See The Big Picture.

Walter on the phone while they set up an insert remarks to me “You do it, direct the shot.”

He means I get to call action and cut.

I do it.   Rick Neff, the operator, kids me later for not looking through the lens.

Kim, the Busboys manager, (The Busboys Are The Group Performing The Musical Number At Vromans), my tongue is on the floor for her.

I say to Joel, “Will you take me to N.Y. on the publicity for the film if I tell you who the girl Walter’s dating is?”

‘You got it,” he says.

“In that case you should tell him,” Walter says.

Oh boy what a deal.

Today my friend Henry Bean’s novel “False Match” is reviewed in California Magazine. By Greil Marcus. A rave review.  Stark shot of jealousy cuts through me.  I have not the discipline Henry had to nurse his obsession.  So whether I remotely have the talent doesn’t even arise as a question or a possibility.  I feel poised in the middle-mediocrity–between whoring and artistry.  Not committed to a single identity supporting an extreme.  The appetite to transcend a tag is part of greatness but so is coalescing into that mold.  Settling.  Settling as the imprimatur of discipline and form, it is of course the imprimatur of tragedy and failure–reduction.

July 22, 1982

Nick and Eddie and Olivia in the sweating crowds at Vroman’s.  One of Eddie’s very very best improvisation moments.  “Lack of pussy make you brave!”

Extremely difficult for Walter and Sozna to match backgrounds.

Gary Franklin comes to cover the movie for CBS T.V.

Walter pretty unreceptive today.  When I praise the bedroom sequence we cut out between Annette and Nick, he claims it was a bunch of crap.

I awake with a headache, I think a cold.  Ugh.  A summer cold is an ugly animal.

Walter makes a demand of  a member of the camera crew, “Get me a still of the club as seen from the stage…”

Then he sits back and gives a very interesting account of why he’s enjoying this location,

“Smoke and backlight are friends of the director.  In addition, stairwells, corridors, trains, mirrors, staging things in these places you are hard put to put the camera in a bad place.  Remember always to stage in depth.  Foreground pieces and tight overs are preferable to closeups  for this reason.  They always involve composing shots in depth.”

This place gets very warm.

Later lunch at Martoni’s in Hollywood.  So New York in décor that my heart did contractions of nostalgia and remorse. The people who entered seemed to have souls and bodies changed the moment they entered the joint.  Remade instantly into New Yorkers.

July 23, 1982

Wrap up Vromans.

They have to reshoot the shot I suggested because of poor lighting.

“Everything in life for power, isn’t it Joel?,” I say to him, appropos of something.

Joel stares, a little puzzled. “Of course” he says quietly as if he couldn’t quite understand why I asked the question, or rather curious as to how it could be that I didn’t know the answer without having asked.

We have to overcome the vanity of our separateness, to do this takes the maximum presence of the will we generally associate with vanity. It takes special strong and terrible will to give up the cheap gains which they can grant.

The creative terror a man finds when he descends into himself is not a terrfic tool for taking with him. When he beats a man up in a negotiation…it is not like the literal terrors of poverty, war or jil–but it isn’t deforming or terrifying terror either–the terror you create binds death to life and leaves you free to relate to entirely fresh and unpredictable combinations of meaning that arise truly in life.

Vicious powerful men, hardened on actual cruelties done to them and done by them, have it over imaginative men in many situations.  But mentally they are muscle-bound, locked in what they know, forced to force everything in to their narrow box of suffering and victimization and aggression.  There are grim times when life is nothing but that box, and the most ruined of those men, with a grain of imagination do function very effectively in those times.  Whenever life reduces freedom, those used to being unfree feel comfortable with it, fare better.  But of course the minute some freedom comes back, that limited perspective goes back to being a diminution of life.

Actually everyone has been brutalized once and has an instinct for returning to the scene of the trauma and submitting everything to its map or rules of order.  The people who  have really been fucked over feel the compulsion to impose this order on others.  The artist has the same will to impose as the victimized cruel man, but weirdly what he wants to impose is exaclty opposite–he wants to instill the subversion of orders and the recovery of the sense of ongoing complete unpredictability.  He wants an order that is a release from order, a form that routs form.  An artist takes a left turn from the labyrinthe of cruelty he must be second to no one in taking orders from.

July 24, 1982

I can only impress other fakes like myself.

The impossibility of loving an artist, the drama of trying to love an artist.

I see you failing me:  How am I going to get you to take me seriously, even the whole institution of being taken seriously is no longer serious.

Things you’re not supposed to know crowd up around you and abolish the whole school of certainties you’d been lead to.

The things you don’t know about me…

The ways I disappoint myself…

A whole life crowds around a point of pressure, usually revealed to have been absent.

The light, paler in the back of the room, here bleeding up to brighter.

I can’t describe the moves light except from more to less, from there to here, duller to brighter, further away to closer.

Walter Hill said, “We’ve gotta turn this kid into a famous writer.”

Fame is nothing, fame is lies.

You have to know what you mean and who your responsibility belongs to.

Everybody belongs to someone.

The eyes break.  The window break in sympathy with the eyes that can suddenly not see through them.  The light changes into a strange language.  Stay here and be deceived.  Be estranged and blinded as you actually are.  Listen to the way mistakes are made and then systematized into real life.

Life is erosion–all you are doing is fighting to make Something life conspires to unmake.

This right now might be confused ambivalent moment where I see it clearly for the firs time.

I might have the nerve to see everything as it really is with all divergent trips of intelligence in play at each other’s throats, competing for life, producing life, screwing it up making it possible it might be right now I might be at the height of my powers.

I can remember how at the beginning of filming, all the moves Nick and Annette made in their scenes and how some of them were right, but ultimately it didn’t make a bit of difference.

I could be seeing everything as it really is.

Now, for the first time, the world might be coming into view.  As some arty queer might say, “The whole mad whirl. ”  Maybe I’m supposed to be that arty queer in this or another life.  The ghosts of earlier periods of fragmentation absorbed magnanimously:

We want the whirl and we want it now.

Some us have made a whole livelihood out of disappointment.

You think grimly of what you haven’t had.  But was what you sacrificed that which you feel bad about having missed.  If you hadn’t given up what you did, wouldn’t you still feel that you’d missed something essential?

July 27, 1982

Sometimes it seems like you have to consent to becoming inhuman, insensitive, in order to survive.

Certainly you have to be interested in cruelty if you want to say something true to the nature of this world.

The feeling more and more powerless

Fifth and Broadway, downtown LA at Night. In front of Torchy’s. The generic name of every rough Walter Hill bar.  There was a Torchy’s in The Driver, and there will be more Torchy’s if Walter gets to make any more urban thrillers.  When we first met, his first expressed regret at Hollywood was that they weren’t making westerns any more.  But now he’s decided, he’s said, that he can put all the things he liked in western’s into urban thrillers.

We’re not quite in the pits of skid row, but close.  And it’s the middle of the summer, so crowds of bored, sad street people stand glued to us and our somewhat awkward work.

People go to bars to do what people go to bars to do.

Overheard on the set, “Even though she’s right she’s wrong.”

Sozna sits next to Gene Levy.  I ask him what’s gong wrong and he says it’s too technical to explain.

Then he adds, “The only way to make this film was if we could start with more weeks prep (I protest that I understand this) so we couldn’t come here and prepare this street and be all set to deal with it.”

Eddie sitting waiting.  Tells me he fucked five girls this weekend.

“Pussy is pussy” he says, “except for one girlfriend.”  He pauses and thinks back nostalgically to the weekend, “She’s got a special sorta pussy.”

“Do all these girls feel bad about not being our only girl?” I ask.

“They don’t know,” he says.  “Five of em,” he adds.  He’s impressed himself. “Hope I don’t get no diseases.”

A rough night on the street. Sozna and the sound guy are elsewhere.

People start talking to me so naturally I start lying to them. It’s spontaneous. I don’t’ see why I can’t step boldly from lies to intimacy.

July 28, 1982

Extraordinary flash of neon sign arrangement on an alley between Spring and Broadway.

Earlier, Eddie had to throw his gun away in disgust after Nick removes the clip.  Craig Raiche: Propman’s job is to catch the gun when Eddie tosses it, so it won’t break and have to be replaced when it hits the ground.  Guns are costly.  Craig wears a baseball mitt to do it and we all cheer when he catches it.

Bruce Feirstein, Friend of Joel’s, a writer, author of the bestselling humor book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche…appears on the set as Joel’s guest.  Big admirer of Walter.

Usual comic quarrel between Joel and Walter.

Walter claims Joel is responsible for the commercial disaster that was Xanadu.

Joel points out that Walter’s last movies have been commercial failures.  “Bomba-bomba-bomba” he chants mockingly.

The debate that is also going on now is how hard is Katzenberg trying to squeeze us, on budget issues…he’s been president of  production for about a month now and he seems to be getting pissed at our bookkeeping tactic   of asking for money than what’s in the budget and calling that “negotiated overages.”

“AO” is Joel’s other phrase, “Approved overages.”  Which is a brilliant piece of paradoxical or oxymoronic language, I guess, you know like a married bachelor or a legal crime, or a truthful lie, or I don’t know…

The controversy such as there is, deals with how much trouble this form of tampering with the budget is going to get our film into.

“You don’t know.  You don’t understand,” Joel nearly shrieks at Walter.  “This kid is crazy.”  The kid being Katzenberg.  “Michael loves him.  He’d love to shut us down.  He’d love to prove how tough he his.”

What we have known from day one is that the boss of the studio Barry Diller spends a minute of every day eyeballing budget reports and insisting that movies have to and can be done cheaper here, and that enraged demand gets passed along to Eisner who passes it along to Katzenberg.  Larry has warned us of this.

“He’s not going to shut us down,” says Walter, “We’ll refuse to promote the movie.

“Just now, he says no to a band at Torchy’s and that’s it…” Joel is listing his latest triumphant battle, “I got him to give us back a band, but he says twenty five hundred bucks is all you’ve got.”

Joel’s unique ability to find a source of drama in any detail of his life.  There’s always some arena of intrigue in anything he puts his attention to.

Watching Bruce McBroom, the production photographer, set up his camera so that he can press the button on the shot from a safe  distance.

Walter describes this procedure as “Discretion before dishonor.”

July 30, 1982

Walter about his own ambitions to innovate:  “I thought I invented some shots on The Driver but it turns out the camera man tells me, they’ve been doin’ ’em since 1915…it’s awful hard to invent something…I always thought you could have a tremendous impact on showing a fight by a lateral movement of the camera to the side of the action, joined with a zoom in…you need very large objects in the foreground or background for that to work.”

“Maybe it’s real hard to invent things,” I remarked back, “all you can do is make original combinations of old things.”

July 31, 1982

Many guests on the set, last night.  Mysteriously, a more relaxed and festive mood starting to appear.  Maybe as a movie comes closer to completion people get more sentimental about each other.  Also, mysteriously, the studio’s opinion of our film has started to rise.

Walter’s completing the fight in the alley between Nick and Eddie.

I met a publicist from New York, who has gone to work with Spielberg, named Peggy Siegel.

Joel is suddenly under a lot of pressure from the music department of Paramount, a man oddly namedJoel Sill.  He’s being hit about overages on the money spent to get certain “Busboy” tapes.

Roger Spottiswood, who edited Walter’s first film and co-wrote the first draft of this film, visits with his girlfriend, Holly Palance, who it seems has a part in the next film he’s making.

“What,” says Walter, “Is Roger casting with his cock?”

“Of course,” someone says.

“That’s one thing I never do,” Walter says.

Joel bursts into peals of ironical “oh no?”‘s… I have to join.

Walter blushes and says, “Fuck you guys. I can’t forgive you two for getting me on that..”

“There was Frizzy,” I point out.

“She was perfect for the part.”

I offered my opinion.

“When you nail the lead actress it’s cause you’re crazy for her, when it’s bits, that’s what casting with your cock is.”

It’s bad when the girls at the bar can’t get the words to R-E-S-P-E-C-T right.

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published August 25, 2008

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


Quote Unquotesee all »

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