Edgar Wright co-wrote and directed the film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film that made less money in its entire American theatrical run than Paul Blart: Mall Cop made in its opening weekend, which means that the latter is a way better film than the former, and Mr. Wright should be ashamed of himself for wasting his time on adapting Bryan Lee O'Malley's work when he really should've been working on cool ways to film Kevin James falling down. But at least Mr. Wright is trying to atone for his obvious cinematic sin, by hosting another two-week run of cool movies at the New Beverly Cinema -- The Wright Stuff II -- and I went to see a double-bill of The Driver and Duel. In attendance was the director of the first film, Walter Hill, along with two of the actors, Bruce Dern and Ronee Blakley, and producer Frank Marshall. They would give a Q&A and tell stories between films.
So yeah, I noticed a dude in line wearing flip-flops and shorts on what felt like a crisp night and it just made me want to
Walter Hill is a great fuckin' filmmaker because he tells two-fisted, double-barreled stories about Men doing Man shit and the best part is that his tongue is not anywhere near his cheek as he does so. Sure, these things take place in fantasy worlds, as Hill himself admitted during the Q&A, but he goes with the fuckin' fantasy, he doesn't stand back and play off some Yeah, I Know This Is Bullshit kinda vibe. His second film, The Driver, takes place in a downtown Los Angeles where apparently the population is like, 27 people or something, and the people in the movie are always wearing the same fuckin' clothes. Marc Heuck brought that up during the Q&A about the clothes being like the characters' uniforms, and Hill was like Fuckin'-A They're Uniforms and I don't know about Marc, but if I had been the one to bring that up and get that response from a fuckin' filmmaking god like Hill, well, that shit would've made my fuckin' month.
But yeah, in this movie people have on their uniforms and they don't have names, they have descriptions. The main character is called The Driver, and he's played by Ryan O'Neal, who unfortunately is now best known as the motherfucker who says OH GOD OH MAN OH GOD OH MAN in Tough Guys Don't Dance. A lot of these young punks, they go on the YouTube and they watch that shit and laugh their asses off, never knowing that this guy was a fuckin' badass in at least one movie. They don't know that there are two sides to his nature -- the enforcer and the maniac -- and they never met the maniac. But you know, back in the 70's, O'Neal probably had to deal with that kind of shit for different reasons. He was known for playing pretty boy pansies in pretty boy pansy movies, and I guess he wanted a shot at playing Hard Motherfuckers, and along came Walter Hill's script for The Driver.
Bruce Dern plays The Detective, an awesome motherfucker with a shit-eating grin (probably because he knows how awesome he is) and a hard-on for catching The Driver. Hill said later during the Q&A something about Dern's character hating on The Driver for this kinda pure Zen lifestyle he's got going; The Driver gets paid big bucks for being the wheelman on heists, yet doesn't appear to spend it on much. The fuckin' guy stays in cheap motels (not even paying the extra $1 for a television set) and doesn't appear to own any belongings. You never see him reading a book or doing a fuckin' crossword puzzle. He certainly doesn't need to own a car, he'll boost one if he needs a ride somewhere. All he has is that suit and a tape player with the same fuckin' song playing from it. So it leaves a motherfucker wondering -- what does The Driver get out of this life, enjoyment? Fuck no, this guy wears one of those Perpetual Blank Faces that Alain Delon probably gets royalties from every time a motherfucker in the movies puts one on. Is it a rush for him? I really doubt that, I never see anything resembling emotion coming from him before/during/after the job. It's just what he does.
The Detective sees this as a game, one that he Just Fucking Knows he's going to win. It's pretty awesome how he looks down at his fellow detectives, calling them losers and I bet he sees himself as being pretty fuckin' generous when he tells one of them that he's going to teach him how to be a winner -- then manages to keep that shit-eating grin while downing an old-school glass-bottled Coke. Fuckin' ace, man, fuckin' ace. He also likes referring to The Driver as a cowboy, which is funny because I don't think Driver likes being called that. I mean, I would guess that "cowboy" is synonymous with reckless assholes who fuck it up for everybody else, and if anything gets him out of his Perpetual Blank Face, it's dealing with cowboys.
This guy, Mr. Driver, he'll pick you up from the robbery you just committed and bail you out from certain capture by the cops, but because you took your sweet time and fucked up the timetable, he'll never work with you again. "You were late" he tells a couple cowboys, and that's all he really has to say. Later on, you see that he has a real dislike for one potential client, eventually knocking him the fuck out for trying to scare him into doing the job. But just in case the audience didn't get that you're not supposed to like Potential Client ("Teeth" is his given moniker), they cast raza in the role, so all the Harolds and Sylvias watching can go "Of course he shouldn't trust him, he's a filthy Hispanic". I kid, this movie is full of equal-opportunity criminals, but I'm sure some people watching did probably go Mmm-hmm and nod regarding Teeth's scumbaggery in connection with the ethnicity of the actor portraying him.
The Driver is one of my all-time favorite movies; the old-school car chases are super-fuckin-tense and I'm always reminded that these movies back then, they didn't need fuckin' Cuisinart editing to get the fuckin' point across. Most car chases nowadays don't do shit for me, the last car chase I remember really getting into was Tarantino's Death Proof and that's because he knows what the fuck is up, he doesn't roll Michael Bay-style. The main character is one of those awesome Men Of Few Words; Wright brought up how the guy never has any witty comebacks or shit like that, he'll just look at you for a bit and then just walk away. In the rejoinder department, he's not James Bond -- he's Golgo 13.
The main chicks in this movie don't wear skirts, they wear pants. I think this a way for the filmmaker to get across that even the women in this movie have balls. Isabelle Adjani (her character: "The Player") is smoking hot in this (she's still smoking hot if you like plastic surgery), and in a way her uniform is kinda like the female version of The Driver's; she and O'Neal look badass together and in the cinema of my mind, there's a sequel to this movie about their continuing adventures and it's even better than this damn-near-perfect film. It's the stripped-down simplicity that does it for me, I think. The mise-en-scene manages to be basic yet stylish-as-fuck, the settings and locations are underpopulated, and the dialogue is minimal (O'Neal hardly talks in the fuckin' thing; line-wise, this movie shoulda been called The Detective).
Hill mentioned how lots of actors turned down the film (Robert Mitchum met with Hill for six hours, sharing a bottle of frozen vodka while discussing possibly playing The Detective), probably due to its "experimental" nature and Wright brought up the European feel of this movie (later he referred to it as the French feel). Hill insists it wasn't intentional; while he's a fan of guys like Jean-Pierre Melville, films like Le Samourai are totally influenced by American movies, and Hill, he was tapping that shit at the source, so to speak. Hill thinks that casting a French actress like Adjani probably added to the European feel of the film. By the way, forgive me for using "mise-en-scene" earlier, I just noticed that right now and feel like an even bigger ass than usual. I don't even know what that fucking means!
The Q&A, what else happened during the Q&A? Oh, OK, Bruce Dern did most of the talking while Hill took most of the time talking, because one talked much faster than the other. Dern is one of my favorite character actors and he should be one of yours too, and he's a very funny dude too. He had a couple nights devoted to him at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles California on Planet Earth (or something like that, it's a long name) and I'm totally kicking myself right now (figuratively) for not going because I bet that guy had some great fuckin' stories. He's the kind of awesome guy who will give a name to his particular kind of ad-libs -- "Dernsies" -- and not come off like a douche for doing so. He's the real fuckin' deal, people. Look at his resume and check out the motherfuckers this guy's worked with. Stories, motherfuckers, the stories this guy must have. I've read other interviews with the dude and he doesn't mince words, and the fact that he speaks nothing but praise for Walter Hill just proves, that, well, you know, that Walter Hill is just that fucking awesome.
I loved it whenever he got worked up about something and his voice would get louder and he would work gesticulations into it; favorite moment was when he talked about how there's a scene in The Driver where someone gets killed in a pretty sudden/brutal manner, Dern said that only Walter Hill would let the scene continue after the death. I can't do justice to how worked up he got at this point, but the gist of it was basically ONLY WALTER FUCKING HILL WOULD HAVE THE FUCKING BALLS AND UNDILUTED MANHOOD AND OVERALL I-DON'T-GIVE-A-FUCK HARDNESS TO NOT CUT AWAY FROM THE SCENE. ALL OTHER DIRECTORS ARE FUCKING PUSSIES COMPARED TO THE MANGOD THAT IS WALTER HILL. Fuckin'-A, Bruce Dern, fuckin'-A. I'm not a sports fan like you, but still, we gotta hang out some time, Bruce Dern -- and introduce me to your daughter, while you're at it.
A guy like Dern, you need to give him the spotlight and let him talk for as long as he needs to; as it was, he was sharing the stage with others, so the rest of the Q&A basically went like this: Edgar Wright asked a question, Walter Hill slowly/thoughtfully/carefully answered, then Bruce Dern interjected with a Walter Hill anecdote that always ended in effusive praise for the man. Occasionally, Frank Marshall would say something about the production and Ronee Blakley would try to chime in but a Soft & Sweet voice will always lose to Fast & Loud and Slow & Booming every fucking time.
Blakley did manage to get one story out, though; she had decided that her character in The Driver (her character's name: "The Connection") should carry a gun at all times. Hill disagreed, and she decided to carry a prop gun anyway because it would really help her performance, only she would hide it and wouldn't let the director know. No one would see the gun, only she would know that she was carrying -- The Connection would never want anyone to know she was strapped -- so it's not like it would fuck up the movie if no one could see it. Well, in between camera set-ups she started doing some calisthenics and sure enough, the fuckin' gun comes falling out and Hill was all like What The Fuck, Lady?
We found out that Walter Hill doesn't like to rehearse the actors, he treats the first take as a rehearsal and only shoots about 2 or 3 takes before moving on. Also, according to Dern, Walter Hill is a funnier guy than Eddie Murphy -- while Murphy would crack wise at a mile-a-minute, Hill's humor is apparently more of a quality-over-quantity approach. Dern and Hill haven't seen each other in a while, but they appear to be very much friends (eventually Hill started warming up more during the Q&A and would occasionally make a joke at Dern's expense), and Hill said he would've used Dern more in his movies if he wasn't so busy on other projects.
They also talked about about how the car chases were meticulously planned out, everything was written down and diagrammed and every precaution was taken -- Bruce Dern compared Hill's way of working with a football play called "organized mayhem" or "organized chaos" or something like that -- but in the end, someone died during the making of the movie anyway, but it wasn't from a stunt, it was an unfortunate crew member who died from a high fall while setting up a light. I wonder how a filmmaker deals with that, losing someone on the set; I guess most just move on because there's millions of dollars at stake. But does it get to any of them afterwards, or is it just considered an unfortunate accident? I thought I read somewhere that Richard Lester pretty much retired because an actor died on the set of one of his movies. I'm too lazy to Wiki that shit, you do it.
So, that was it for the Q&A. People went up to talk to guests and Wright, and I saw one guy carrying what appeared to be his entire fuckin' DVD collection (and a couple posters) to be signed. I'm one to talk -- I had my DVD of The Stunt Man signed at a New Bev screening -- but I don't think I have it in me to bring every goddamn movie the actors on-stage happened to be in.
Before the next movie, the European theatrical print of Duel, Mr. Wright read an e-mail from the director, some unknown fringe filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. The e-mail detailed the 11-day shoot (I think it was 11) and how they got so much done in so little time (they shot with 5 cameras) and then Wright joked about giving out Spielberg's e-mail address, saying how funny would it be if it was actually firstname.lastname@example.org.
The trailers that followed were for similar vehicular horror flicks; The Car, starring the big-screen version of Pee-Wee Herman, Christine (I got a kick out of the Coming Soon card being in the John Carpenter font), and a trailer for Maximum Overdrive, which consisted of footage from the movie intercut with Stephen King going on about how he directed this film himself because it was the only way to get a Stephen King story on film done the right way. He looks really scary here, probably because he was a cokehead at the time, and also because standing in front of that Green Goblin truck, you realize that he very much resembles said Goblin.
It's also funny, because he keeps going on about how he's going to scare the shit out of you with this movie. I miss that kind of showmanship, that whole "If This One Doesn't Scare You, You're Already Dead" kinda deal. More movies should straight out declare that they're gonna fuck you up from how scary they are. I think the next step is to warn the audience that they will literally shit themselves from fright, but that kind of sell has to be done with the utmost sincerity, you can't be winking at the audience talking that kinda shit.
I first watched Duel on television when I was 4 or 5 and according to my parents, afterwards I wouldn't refer to trucks as trucks, I'd call them "duel". We'd be on a road trip and I'd see a passing truck and I'd get all excited and shout "Mom, Dad! Look, it's Duel!" Once I found that Duel was available on VHS, it became one of those movies I made my folks rent every time we went to the video store. I would re-enact Duel scenes using my toy cars. I'm telling you, man, I loved me some fuckin' Duel. The last time I watched that film, I would guess I was probably 10 years old. Man, I wished the little kid version of me was at the New Beverly last night, rather than the current jaded douchebag adult version, because....damn. I hate to fuckin' say this, but...fuck. I, uh, I didn't like it nearly as much as I did back in the day. I know! What the fuck, right? I still dug it, though. I'm just saying.
The first 20 minutes or so are fucking fantastic, with fuckin' McCloud on the road, dealing with this asshole trucker hogging up the road. He passes him, which I guess makes the trucker play the I Have A Bigger Dick Than You card and he passes McCloud in return. McCloud doesn't have time for this shit, he's got things to do, so he passes him once again and I guess that offends the trucker, who now demands satisfaction and the titular Duel is fuckin' on. This mainly consists of Asshole Trucker speeding up right behind McCloud and scaring the shit out of him and maybe trying to do a little more than just that.
In his e-mail, Spielberg praised McCloud's "game face" throughout the fast-paced production; me, I want to praise his performance. I'm watching this guy McCloud, and I can't think of anyone else who could play that part, because McCloud is very convincing as this business-type dude who straddles the line between non-confrontational and total pussy. There's a scene earlier where he's talking to his wife on the phone and I guess they had an argument the night before about how a co-worker of his was getting a little too touchy-feely with homeboy's wife at a party. She thinks he should've done something about it, and I agree.
That's your fuckin' woman, chief -- I'm not saying deck the guy, but step in and be all good-natured while telling him that's enough. I bet you this fuckin' McCloud, he didn't have the stones to take care of business but he sure as fuck raised his voice with his wife afterwards, when she was giving him shit for it. So in a way, this whole truck duel deal can be a way for him to prove his manhood or something. I mean, the motherfucker's name is Mann, the least he could do is try to act a little bit like one (albeit spelled with one less "N").
But for the majority of the movie, McCloud's getting more and more freaked out and the sweat stains on his corporate shirt are getting bigger and bigger and that fuckin' Asshole Trucker isn't going away. Kinda like how Black Swan puts you in the increasingly fragile mindset of poor, sweet Natalie Portman, this fuckin' movie (when it isn't boring the shit out of you) is putting you in the increasingly frazzled mindset of McCloud's character. At one point, I swear the motherfucker is actually squealing from fright and all I could think is There But For The Grace Of God And My Giant Testicles, Go I.
I don't know, maybe it was because it was following The Driver or maybe I'm not as easily amused by shots of trucks driving down roads, or maybe (most likely) I'm just an asshole, but whatever the reason, Duel did not hold up for me as much as it did back when my life was simple and happy. Which is not to say that I thought it was a bad movie, far from it, I just wasn't as into it as I was back then. It's still worth watching because it's Spielberg's first film and it's a trip to watch a fuckin' master doing his thing back during a time in his life when it was probably harder for him to get laid.
The guy had something like 11-16 days (depending on where you get your info) to shoot the fuckin' thing and the fuckin' thing is definitely well-made. This was made-for-TV but looks like it was made for the big-screen, and you can tell Spielberg was giving his all making the motherfucker; there's one of those long take deals where McCloud's character walks into a restaurant, goes into a restroom, washes up, has one of those internal monologues, dries off, walks out the restroom, through the restaurant and then looks out the window. I doubt some old pro television director would've even bothered doing it that way.
After the movie, Mr. Wright thanked everyone for coming out (while they were turning their backs to him and walking away) and thanked his guests for being cool enough to do a Q&A (while they were probably already at home, fast asleep). As my buddy and I walked down the sidewalk, I looked over at the residential street and how narrow it was, made even narrower with the parked cars taking up both sides. A car going down one direction would have to practically make contact with one of the parked cars just so the car coming down from the opposite direction could get through. Jesus Christ. I'm not from this city, and I don't live here. How do you people fuckin' do it? Every fucking day, you deal with this shit? Should I be surprised that you're not all Asshole Truckers as a result? Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?