GARY YOUNG ON 'HARRY BROWN'


Gary Young is the Newcastle-based screenwriter behind such films as SHOOTERS (2002), SPIVS (2004), THE LAST DROP (2005) and THE TOURNAMENT (2009). He also directed the short film HENRY (2012), and wrote the graphic novel series MADAM SAMURAI (2010-11). I spoke to him about the writing and making of his most well-known project, the controversial 'British DEATH WISH', HARRY BROWN (2009), which featured Michael Caine.  

How did you come to write HARRY BROWN?
I had been working on a lot of other people's material and hadn't written a spec script for a very long time. I'd had a miserable experience on a previous film. I met the producer Keith Bell in Newcastle, where we are both from, in January 2008. We wanted to see if we could do a project together that had a quick turnaround and could be done for a million or under. Keith had produced a movie I worked on called THE TOURNAMENT (2009), as well as a couple of Neil Marshall films, DOG SOLDIERS (2002) and THE DESCENT (2005). We discussed various ideas, but one of the things that had been running in the back of my mind was to do a British DEATH WISH (1974). My late grandfather had been a Royal Marine in the Second World War, fighting in the Pacific, and I found myself telling Keith that the lead character should be ''an old man''. I imagined a similar character but who had lost his wife, his child and best friend. What would such a guy think of the way society was going? I'm attracted to 'What if...?' stories and the news was full of violent stories about modern youth. There seemed to be this undertow of anger about the state of things amongst people. 


I basically told Keith the whole story of the movie there and then. We had met on a Tuesday and by Thursday or Friday I had written the first twenty pages, up to the death of Len. Keith read it on the weekend and liked it. He told me to go and finish it. By March I had a first draft that was pretty much what we shot. I knew immediately that this was the best thing I had ever written. Sometimes the movie gods are upon you. It was the quickest turnaround of a script I have ever had in my career. Sometimes it can take up to twelve drafts. Paul Schrader said that writing TAXI DRIVER (1976) was like an animal escaping him, and that's how it felt writing HARRY BROWN. Once in a while scripts just come to you. My first movie, SHOOTERS (2002), took eight years to get made. HARRY BROWN was in UK theatres by November 2009. 


Were there any particular experiences or events that informed the script?
The riot at the end of the film was based on the Meadowell riot in Newcastle in September 1991. It lasted four or five days. I was a student at the time, and was there visiting a friend. We watched the riot police and cars on fire from his window. The character of the gun dealer Stretch, played by Sean Harris, is slightly based on a guy I saw casually inject heroin in his calf at a dodgy party I went to in Newcastle. He was a much bigger guy than Sean, but he had all the scars. Funnily enough, a few years after HARRY BROWN, I saw the guy in Asda supermarket one day and he came over to talk to me. The underpass is based on the Metro subway station near where I live in Newcastle. It's always full of these feral kids.   


Apart from DEATH WISH, what were some other influences upon your script?
That was the biggest influence. The franchise became a parody of itself very quickly but the first film is one of the best things Michael Winner ever did. The book by Brian Garfield is great and was on my mind because I read it again before I wrote the script. My favourite Caine film is THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), and I named Harry Brown after Harry Palmer. The police operation in HARRY BROWN is named Operation Bluejay, which is the codename of the villain in that film. Caine actually picked up on it and mentioned it to me! Other influences included TAXI DRIVER (1976), which is one of my favourite movies, FALLING DOWN (1993), Neil Jordan's debut ANGEL (1982), and the work of Abel Ferrara, such as BAD LIEUTENANT (1992). Keith and I also discussed Alan Clarke films like MADE IN BRITAIN (1982) and THE FIRM (1989). Although we decided that Clarke would probably make the kids the heroes and Harry the villain!


Which screenwriters have inspired you over the years? 
That's a long list! Richard Price is brilliant, particularly his dialogue. William Goldman is still The Master. Paul Schrader has a voice that just comes through in his scripts. There's a very literary quality to them. TAXI DRIVER was one of the first scripts I ever read. I also admire Harold Pinter and John Logan. Tony Gilroy is great. I was blown away by his script for THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997), particularly his visual descriptions. From that script I learned that it was okay to write visually and that it wasn't just the domain of the director.     


How did Michael Caine come to play the title role?
Once I had finished the first draft in March, Keith got it to Marv Films, which is Matthew Vaughn's production company. Keith knew a development guy there, Charlie Mitchell, who liked my writing. Charlie thought it was great and passed it on to Kris Thykier, who instantly saw like me that it would be a great Michael Caine vehicle. I remember I was there in the Marv office when the script got picked up by a bicycle courier to go to Caine. On the train ride back to Newcastle I got really depressed. I thought Caine would take months to read the script and then he would say no anyway. I turned my cellphone off for the weekend and when I turned it back on Monday morning there was a message from Keith saying ''Caine's in.'' We had to start shooting soon because Caine had to go off and do his scenes for INCEPTION (2010). The plan was to start before Christmas, but because of availability and other issues, we actually started in January 2009. 



With his company producing, was Matthew Vaughn ever in the frame to direct?
No, that was never the idea, and Matthew was off doing KICK-ASS (2010) anyway. We got Daniel Barber through Kris. Kris had produced THE DEBT (2010), and Daniel was one of the directors they looked at. He didn't end up directing the film because they needed someone more established but Kris had been very impressed with his short film THE TONTO WOMAN (2008), a Western that had been nominated for an Oscar. He handed him the HARRY BROWN script and told him to think of Michael Caine. Daniel liked the script and Caine got on well with him, and really liked his short film. Caine loves his Westerns. We did the deal for the movie at Cannes in May. Apart from those who were unavailable, we got every actor we wanted. Everybody wanted to work with Caine.   


Did you and Barber differ in any way in your approach to the material?
Daniel saw it as as a Western and tried to make it like UNFORGIVEN (1992), and he's right.We were both also after that cold, dark, gritty, noir-ish thriller that the British do so well and is ingrained us. The gangster film or the spy film is like our version of the Western. Daniel always maintained that Harry dies at the end, and so when he walks into the subway at the end he made everything white and took out all the cars and the people with CGI. Daniel deleted a shot where  Harry walked into the light. In my script I signified that Harry gets lost in the light, but we decided to make it more open-ended because of the possibility of a sequel. I didn't get pages of notes on this movie. Everyone seemed to just go with it.  


What did you end up removing from the script?
There were a couple of scenes that got cut because of costs. We had a character called Mrs. Singh, who ran a corner shop that Harry went to. Harry saves her from a mugging by killing the mugger, and she doesn't say anything about Harry to the police. The shootout in the underpass was initially a bit more elaborate, with Harry firebombing the kids, but we simplified it. Daniel came up with the idea of the rope around the kid's neck. There were some snips with dialogue. My favourite lost line was Harry saying ''All these kids today, they know their rights but none of them want to take responsibility.''  


Was the original script set in London or Newcastle?
There was no reference to any city. HARRY BROWN wouldn't have happened without GET CARTER (1971), but if we had made it in Newcastle, people would've thought we were just doing 'Get Carter 2'. It became London when Caine said yes. It was sheer coincidence that we filmed on the Highgate estate, around the corner from where Caine grew up. Had Caine turned us down, the next name on the list was Albert Finney, so that would've been Manchester. I told Caine about this at the wrap party and he said ''Alby would've done something interesting.'' Next on the list was Brian Cox, so that would've been Glasgow. 


How did the locals feel about Caine filming there?
There's a shot where Caine walks out of the pub and is followed by Joey Gilligan. If you'd have panned to the left you would've seen a huge mural someone had painted of Caine as Carter, staring down the barrel of a shotgun. I was on set at that time and I remember all the Indian women, young and old, in their saris asking him for an autograph or a picture. I don't think he ever refused. Pretty soon all the tough neighborhood kids turned up and all they wanted to know was ''How did you get out of here?''  


Did you have many opportunities to talk with Caine about the film?
When I first met him he asked me where the story came from. I explained what I had seen growing up and living in Newcastle. He laughed and said ''I had a bit of bother last time I was there!'', referring to GET CARTER. He asked me questions about my grandfather and told me I had gotten the world of the criminals right because he knew the kinds of people in the story. The script just struck a chord with him it seemed.  


Was there anything that particularly surprised you about Caine?
Film sets are the dullest places on Earth so I usually only go for a couple of days. Plus nobody really wants the writer there. and it's just better to let them get on with it. I was there when they were filming the scene of Harry and Len playing chess in the pub. Len asks Harry ''Have you ever killed anyone?'' and Harry responds with ''You can't ask me that.'' Well, Caine would do all these subtle variations of his tone of voice, phrasing or gestures in the takes. He was giving the director all these different choices. He's technically brilliant, and has such command of his craft. He always knew where the camera was. Keith told me that every day Caine would tell a story that seemed innocuous but was helping put him in the right emotional place. When they were filming Harry visiting Len in the hospital, Caine talked to everyone about visiting his mother in hospital. I was surprised at how accessible his emotions are to him. He is very good at sense memory.
 

How did you feel when Clint Eastwood's GRAN TORINO (2008) beat your film to the theatres?
I grew up watching Clint's movies and am a big fan. I think the film both helped and hindered us. They have surface similarities but they are different movies. Clint had a very different take on his character and the story follows a different path. It's an odd thing, though. Sometimes I hear about people getting asked ''Are you a GRAN TORINO or HARRY BROWN guy?''   


What is your feeling about the divided reaction to the movie?
The movie deliberately sets out to show violence as dark and upsetting because that's how it really is. Caine summed it up well when he said ''HARRY BROWN is about violence''. It's also about the effects violence has on people. Nobody comes out of this movie well. Harry's actions cause a lot of mayhem that just mushroom and he gains nothing in the end. He's on a suicide mission because he has lost everything. Harry even asks the bartender (Liam Cunningham) to kill him because he realises he has gotten the police officer (Emily Mortimer) killed. In the tradition of noir thrillers, HARRY BROWN is a cautionary tale. 


The movie divides people right down the middle. They either like it or are offended by it. I set out to make a violent thriller not a piece of social commentary. That came later as I realised I was touching on things happening in society. The world of the movie is not alien to me. It's outside my window. We could have heightened the violence and gone the Guy Ritchie way, which would've been fine, but that wasn't what we wanted to do and I don't think Caine would've been interested in making that kind of movie. 

Do you feel writers should accept the responsibility of trying to offer solutions if they tackle social issues?
If I genuinely thought I had a solution I would have offered one. I wanted to hold up a mirror to society. I do know there's a huge disenfranchised generation in the UK.  When the film came out I did a couple of Q and A's. At one of them there was a group of kids straight out of the film staring at me throughout from the back row. They later asked me how I knew about their world. They couldn't believe a middle-aged guy from Newcastle could capture their world. They thought their experiences were only valid to them.  


Would you ever consider writing a sequel to HARRY BROWN?
I actually wrote a treatment for a sequel. The first film was about revenge, street violence and youth gangs. The second film was going to be about redemption, vice and pornography. The premise was that an old, dying soldier friend of Harry's turns up on his doorstep from Scotland and wants him to find his teenage granddaughter, who has run away from home and has disappeared into the vice world. The man saved Harry's life in the War and is calling his debt. Harry goes looking and uncovers a conspiracy. At the end of the first film, Harry arguably loses his soul. This was about him gaining it back. Caine was very keen to do it but there were certain financial issues that prevented it from being made. 


How happy are you with the finished film?
Daniel shot my script, which is like music to a screenwriter's ears. I liked the simple style he used. Of all the films I've done, it is the one that I can say looks as I imagined it. I couldn't be any happier with it.  


Have you seen any kind of legacy that the film has left behind?
When the riots happened in London a few years after HARRY BROWN, I was in the city. I got sent a Twitter message that said ''HARRY BROWN - Prediction Not Fiction.'' I also got told that someone had left graffiti on a wall that said ''Harry Brown, where are you when we need you?''   

I spoke to Gary by telephone on 23rd October 2013 and would like to thank him for his time. 
 
Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2013. All rights reserved.

GAHAN WILSON - BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD - A Review

PictureDirected by Steven-Charles Jaffe. 85 minutes.

As Randy Newman sings in his infectious end titles song, ''He's different/ And he don't care who knows it.'' The idiosyncratic style of cartoonist Gahan Wilson is not easily forgotten. His darkly humorous cartoons are alternately surreal and fantastical, horrific and scary, and are often ready to explode out of the frame. The bizarre characters and monsters that populate the self-contained universe Wilson has created represent his child-like delight at lifting under the veil of what we take for granted or think we know about 'civilised' society. (His world is pretty much what the world of John Carpenter's THEY LIVE looks like if you don't wear the special sunglasses!) Provocative, disturbing, but always very funny, his work carries the weight of truth. Belying their status as cartoons never to be looked at, his cartoons are genuine works of art. His life's work, at least partly fuelled by his ongoing attempt to conquer his personal demons, paint a thought-provoking, deeply ambivalent historical picture of America in the last fifty years - ecological destruction and the debacle of the Vietnam War were examples of issues that came under his satirical, outrageous eye.


Like most great artists, Wilson remains an enigma. An enigma that his filmmaker friend, the veteran producer Steven-Charles Jaffe (GHOST, THE WIND AND THE LION, WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN, NEAR DARK) was determined to get to the core of in a documentary that became a seven-year labour of love.

GAHAN WILSON: BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD is an intimate portrait; a low-key, engaging intimate portrait of a fascinating man. It looks at both how Wilson himself was inspired to be a cartoonist and what continues to inspire him, and how his work has inspired a diverse group of cartoonists (including Mike Mignola, Stan Lee and Neil Gaiman, the latter expressing his love of Wilson's 'Nuts' strip), filmmakers (Guillermo Del Toro talks of discovering Wilson via Playboy and Nicolas Meyer offers his theory of why Wilson uses monsters in his work), novelists (Peter Straub) and comedians (Bill Maher and others), whose stories are warm, funny, personal and moving. There are also interviews with previous and current colleagues, friends and family members. Wilson himself is very much present in the film, on hand to let us know his thoughts on his birth (where he was 'born dead'), childhood (with alcoholic parents - a mentally ill mother and an inventor father), his career, his inspirations, mortality, ecology, religion and his battle against alcoholism (which he talks about in a frank fashion). Jaffe also follows him on his weekly meeting at the New Yorker where he shows what work he has to sell. We also get to see him work at home and follow his daily routine, and visit the home where he grew up.  


Jaffe often had to jump on a plane and be ready at a moment's notice to film his interviews. This immediacy translates to the screen where self-conscious artistry is traded for captured conversations and moments. Jaffe himself credits the film as 'A Steven-Charles Jaffe Rough'. Subjects are allowed to express themselves freely and the film does not feel manipulative or forced. It's quite clearly an attempt to try and understand the personality and talent of a brilliant man more deeply using the medium of film. Jaffe's love and admiration for the man is palpable.

The film makes a completely persuasive case for Wilson's great importance and unique talent as an artist, despite the fact that he is not as well-known as he should be. It's also a testament to the power of the imagination and it's ability to inspire others and make them reflect upon their daily lives and the world around them. Wilson's cartoons are unique in that they can be appreciated, enjoyed and understood by people both young and old, and BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD fittingly has the same quality. It's historically interesting, and a fascinating look at a unique man, a true subversive and humanitarian who at the age of 83 is still publishing his cartoons monthly in Playboy and every other week in the New Yorker. Most importantly though, it works superbly as an introduction of the man's work (hence its Best Documentary win at Comic-Con) for the uninitiated, helped immeasurably by frequent examples of his brilliant work. If the film doesn't leave you scurrying to buy up books of his art, then one's taste must seriously be put into question! 

Gahan Wilson's official site.

Official site for the movie.

My interview with Steven-Charles Jaffe.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.

AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN-CHARLES JAFFE

Steven-Charles Jaffe is the director of the acclaimed documentary GAHAN WILSON: BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD (2013), but he has also been producing important and commercially successful films since the '70s, including THE WIND AND THE LION (1975), DEMON SEED (1978), WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN (1978), THE FLY II (1989) and GHOST (1990). He has also enjoyed fruitful collaborations with directors Nicolas Meyer (including TIME AFTER TIME, 1979 and STAR TREK VI - THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, 1991) and Kathryn Bigelow (including NEAR DARK, 1987 and STRANGE DAYS, 1995). I spoke to Steven about some of the highlights of his remarkable career, and his fascinating new documentary.

How did you get involved in the film industry? Since your father was involved in the film industry, was it always something you wanted to do?
Originally, I didn't want to be in the movie business. When I was a child growing up in the '50s, my father had a very successful literary agency in New York. He represented some very impressive clients: Mario Puzo (THE GODFATHER, 1972), Irwin Shaw, Reginald Rose (TWELVE ANGRY MEN, 1957), Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK, 1976; THE HOSPITAL, 1971), Margaret Bourke-White (Life Magazine’s first woman photo-journalist), Martha Gellhorn. I wanted to be a writer or a novelist. When I was very young I wrote a very short story about fear at night, which got some attention that served to encourage me. As I got older I wanted to be an architect, but that didn't work out because I couldn't do drafting to save my life. The irony is that since that time I've befriended architects and they've told me that most good architects cannot draft either! I wish they had told me back then as I agonized over it for years!

My father didn't enter the film industry until I was in high school. He became a motion picture executive with United Artists after selling his literary agency to what was to become ICM. But even then I was more interested in linguistics and that's what I majored in. That said, I was really interested in foreign films by Truffaut, Buñuel, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Polanski. Later, when I got into the film business, I realized there were so many great American filmmakers that I had to study.

How did you get the job making a behind-the-scenes documentary for John Huston's FAT CITY (1972)?
The producer, Ray Stark had established a scholarship in the name of his son at USC, and my father suggested I contact Stark and see if he had any job openings for film students.

How was the experience?
I had a terrible communication problem with Ray Stark, and he fired and re-hired me about six times! This taught me at an early age that there is no job security in Hollywood! Ray wanted me to produce a promotional film for FAT CITY, but the idea was to intersperse behind the scenes footage with footage of real boxers. So there were two agendas a promo film and a boxing documentary. Unfortunately there was an intermediary who kept insisting that I should just focus on the boxing part. I was young and naive and didn't know who to believe. Ray would get upset and keep telling me to go back and film behind the scenes material on FAT CITY.

I did get to watch John Huston directing and to listen to him talk about how to make documentaries. After he screened each day's dailies, John would show the amazing documentaries he made during World War II; films such as SAN PIETRO (1945) and LET THERE BE LIGHT (1946), which was the first film made about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The Army banned it because they thought it would scare the living daylights out of soldiers. It was the best film school on documentary filmmaking anyone could get. An extraordinary experience that was useful when I made my own documentary, GAHAN WILSON: BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD (2013) many years later.

What are your favourite anecdotes from working on FAT CITY?
My first day on location was at the Stockton Civic Center in California, which they had converted into a boxing ring/auditorium. This was the first film set I had ever been on. It was 10 in the morning, but nothing was happening. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Ray Stark introduced me to Huston, one of my first director heroes, who was sitting with the great cinematographer Conrad Hall. John told me "Kid, I want you to go to the Holiday Inn and get the new pages from Leonard Gardner. We've been waiting all morning. Go now, and bring them back." As I eagerly knocked on Gardner’s hotel room door, I was greeted by a less than enthusiastic ex-prize fighter turned novelist who was presently engaged in an extremely animated discussion with a group of boxers. Let’s just say that I was not important nor was my mission to get the "new pages." As I pondered my options, an insulting remark from Gardner to one of the boxers quickly escalated into a donnybrook, which allowed me to escape and return to the set empty handed. I tried my best to explain the situation to Huston, who simply puffed on his cigar, turned to Conrad Hall and said, "Well Connie, I guess we’ll just have to shoot the old pages…" That was my intro to Hollywood movies.

I also had an unusual and great introduction to the great cinematographer, James Wong Howe on the boxing side of the documentary. We had hired a news cameraman who had limited experience lighting, and found ourselves in this huge beautiful hall in downtown Los Angeles inside the Elks Club building. Every couple of months a boxing ring was set up inside and veteran boxers would tell young boxers the value of health insurance as many of them ended up 'punch drunk'. Hmm. Sounds relevant today. In any event, it was a great set and very dramatic, but we had three lights and very slow film. I had heard James Wong Howe speak at USC and had gotten his phone number from a friend. When our cameraman freaked out and said he couldn’t shoot anything, I called JWH, who surprised me by saying he would meet me nearby to have lunch and discuss my problem. Of course this was great but time was running out. I could barely contain my anxiety and excitement - here I am having lunch with one of the great cinema legends but I need to get back to the Elks building before everyone left. JWH sensed my nervousness and after we left the restaurant, we stopped in a drug store where he told me to buy several Styrofoam ice chests. When we arrived at the set, my cameraman nearly fainted when he met JWH. With no time to waste, JWH broke up the ice chests and strategically placed them around the ring and then bounced the three lights on them in a manner that miraculously did the job. JWH then thanked me for lunch and left!

How did you end up working with your father on THE WIND AND THE LION?
I was about to be drafted, and I had one semester of school before graduating. I bought the cheapest ticket to Amsterdam to have my last fling. There was also a movie job opening there on a movie with Klaus Kinski called LIFESPAN (1975) - no pay just great experience. I ended up being an assistant director. Fortunately, while I was in Amsterdam the draft ended and I was at the tail end of the lottery system. I stayed in Amsterdam for about a year and the director (Alexander Whitelaw) was friends with Polanski and Bertolucci, which might have led to possible job opportunities as their assistants. My father was radically opposed to anything resembling nepotism, so it's funny we ended up working together. He left United Artists and told me he was going to produce a film with John Milius, whose work I knew. When he asked me to join him and Milius, I replied "Absolutely not!'' I had done everything on my own, and I wished him all the best of luck with the picture. We had some very strained conversations for several months. Eventually, I realized that I had proved to him I was in the movie business. So I thought "What the hell. I've never been to Spain. Sean Connery is in the movie. This could be interesting."

What are your strongest memories of working on the film?
THE WIND AND THE LION has a special place in my heart. I love the movie and it was a real adventure to work on. Milius and I became friends. One thing we had in common was that we had both worked for John Huston. Milius had written THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (1972). Huston was hired as an actor in the film which was a nice reunion of sorts.

There were some very special people on the crew. We brought David Lean's script supervisor, Barbara Beale, out of retirement for the movie, and that was quite amazing. Her knowledge of filmmaking was astounding. On occasions, I'd hear her whispering in Milius's ear things like "John, if you don't mind me saying so, David would lay out a dolly shot like this...'' From then on I thought this was what all script supervisors did, but later I realized she was the exception!

I also met my wife on the film. She was the production co-ordinator. A difficult and often thankless job. We've been together for 38 years now, and we've worked together on several projects, including recently writing scripts together. I fell in love with a great woman and also a great country - Spain and it’s culture.

What did you learn from working with your father?
I learned that you find out a person's true colors once the director says "Action!" It was true back then, it's true now and it will always be true. People have a certain social gregariousness before the first day of shooting. Once you start shooting, you're in movieland battle mode and that's when you find out who will be honorable and function efficiently under pressure. People's agendas and ambitions come out and it can be a real mess.

My father had a reputation of being a man of honor and a gentleman. I learned the value of that, even though historically it looks like the people that really get ahead don't give a rat's ass about honor or integrity. The only question they ask themselves is "What can I do to further my career?" I think, in general, the world has become a much more selfish place. The people that are altruistic and actually help others are rare.

You worked with Karel Reisz on WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN.
It was a great experience. I thought we had a great cast in that movie - not only Nick Nolte but also Michael Moriarty and Tuesday Weld, who were amazing in the film. I was a huge fan of Karel's from MORGAN! (1966) (with the great David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave) and SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1960). I loved all the films of Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, Jack Clayton and Joseph Losey, who was actually one of my father's clients. Karel was interesting because he was really a kind of editor-director in the sense that he got more set-ups and more takes than just about anybody I ever worked with. I hadn't realized the editorial abundance of choices that he was giving himself by doing this. If you look at the movie, Karel broke so many editorial rules, jumping the axis 180 degrees, for example. He was a genius at cutting to another angle that another director would think wouldn't possibly match. At times Karel did drive the actors crazy. I remember one time we were in Cuernivaca in Mexico and it was 5 in the morning. Tuesday Weld was meant to finish this day. Karel had asked her to get in and out of this Land Rover about seventeen times until finally she told him "This is the last time I'm doing this, and then I'm leaving."

I remember after we made the film, I was walking around San Francisco and I found myself outside Francis Coppola's Zoetrope building. He happened to walk out through the door in front of me. i was so thrilled because I had never met him, although we were both friends with John Milius who had written APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). I told him all about WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN, how it was a Vietnam movie and how happy I was he was making APOCALYPSE NOW. He was very nice and friendly about it, but he must have thought "Who is this idiot talking to me about Vietnam movies?"

As the producer how did you feel about the last-minute title change?

No one was happy with it. We bought Robert Stone's award-winning novel 'Dog Soldiers' (1974), and that was the title until UA had a major administration shift and suddenly there were marketing people talking about changing the title. The list of alternate titles was atrocious and since we had several Creedence Clearwater songs on the soundtrack, we went for the best title - 'Who'll Stop the Rain'.

What do you admire the most about working with Nicolas Meyer?
He and I are really close. My two best friends in Hollywood are Nick and Kathryn Bigelow. I'd do anything for them and the feeling seems to be mutual. I made a number of projects with both of them, and I have so much fondness and love for the films we made together. I helped them early in their careers and the nice thing about our relationships is that they've both been incredibly supportive to me as I reinvent myself as a writer and a director.

Anything good about screen writing I learned from Nick. He is one of the smartest and most literate people anywhere, but certainly in Hollywood. I wish he'd keep writing novels because he's so good at it. Nick is like a laser beam in the way he can quickly assess what's wrong with a scene and what needs to be done. Sometimes it can just be a line of dialogue. He never imposes himself on material. There are a lot of 'script doctors' whose main concern is getting their name on the movie. Nick doesn't play those games. He's there to help the filmmaker. Sometimes he does his work so fast that when we were working together I used to tell him to sit on the script for a while because studios or producers would never believe his work was any good if he wrote it so quickly!

And how about Kathryn Bigelow?
I am amazed by Kathryn's absolute sense of vision when she decides she wants to do something. She only compromises when it's absolutely necessary. I admire her energy and her creativity. I've always known she was a special filmmaker and it's really nice that she's gotten the acclaim for THE HURT LOCKER (2008) and ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) she so deserves. I think the reason I made so many movies with Kathryn and Nick is that there was an equal respect under battle conditions, and we'd always listen to each other's ideas. Even if we disagree, there’s value in the ''loyal opposition.'' Early on in my career there were some directors who really didn't want to listen to what my opinion was. Producers invest their lives and money in their movies and it's nice when the people calling the shots at least consider your suggestions. I do think that making movies is like war. It brings out the best and worst in people. Kathryn, Nick and I have been battle tested. We know and trust each other, so well that if we're making a movie together we don't have to be looking over each other's shoulder all the time.

Did you ever have any inkling that GHOST (1990) was going to be such a blockbuster?
There are a lot of producers who would lie to you and say ''Of course I knew it was going to be that big." But I really didn't. The reason I signed on to do it was that I really loved the script and I thought it had commercial appeal. You can't ask for more than that. You may have the ingredients for a blockbuster but it's a falsehood that you know when something is going to hit big.



Why do you think it connected with audiences in such a phenomenal way?
I once asked cartoonist Gahan Wilson, the subject of my documentary BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD, "What do you think are the ingredients for success as an artist?” He replied that you’ve got to have all of those attributes but at the end of the day you'd better have luck and timing on your side. You can be the best artist in the world, like Van Gogh, but nobody's going to look at your work until you're dead if you don't have luck and timing. To some of the studio brass, we were not their big expected hit. That was Tony Scott's DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) - but we had luck and timing on our side, as well as a great movie.

The film was cancelled and re-started several times. A lot of the stars at the time turned it down. The fact it was many genres at once - a thriller, a drama, a comedy and a romance - scared off a lot of people. Studios think you can't mix genres. It has to be one or the other. I actually think the fact it crossed genres was one of the things that made it work so well. But the lynchpin was Whoopi Goldberg. Telling the story through her eyes made the film accessible - and of course, Jerry Zucker’s unpretentious, funny, and serious direction. Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Tony Goldwyn all did great jobs, but without Whoopi it would have been a totally different movie. I'm very proud to be associated with GHOST. It was a really enjoyable experience.

On the other hand, which commercial failures have hit you the hardest?
Well, talking about luck and timing, it didn't work for us on K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER (2002), a film I made with Kathryn Bigelow. It was a terrific film but it was put out by the studio a couple of weeks after 9/11 occurred, which I thought was a terrible mistake. The studio should have delayed the release, even though it would have been expensive to do so. We had a film where Russian submariners have to battle with the possibility of a nuclear disaster on their submarine. There were no American characters in the movie. At that time, audiences simply wanted to be distracted and have some laughs.

What led you to make the Gahan Wilson documentary BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD?
Seven years ago I made a career decision to take some time off from producing Hollywood movies, which I was becoming disenchanted with making, and get back to my filmmaking roots. I wanted to make a documentary about the cartoonist Gahan Wilson and I thought it would only take three to six months to make. I have a background in photography but I wanted to prove to myself that I could shoot and direct it. Once I had made a commitment to Gahan that I was going to do this, I had to go all the way. I had this huge responsibility and the line from APOCALYPSE NOW came to mind: 'It was inevitable that I would become the caretaker of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz's memory.' Now I was taking on the responsibility of telling Gahan’s story. I became obsessed with shining a spotlight on this extraordinary man and introducing his work to a new generation of fans. I turned down a lot of lucrative, award-winning projects to do the film. I had no idea it was going to take seven years to complete. I have no regrets, but I wish I had known what was going to be at stake for me personally and professionally. It's put me in a place that is extremely challenging.

Picture Were you influenced by any particular documentaries?
 
One of the things that pushed me over into making the film was seeing Terry Zwigoff's CRUMB (1994). I was never a big fan of Crumb's art, but I loved the personal story that came out of the film. I wanted to bring out something similar with my film. Zwigoff found something in Crumb's relationship with his brother that was extraordinary. Once I started interviewing Gahan I realized that although we'd been friends for twenty-three years I was really going to have to dig deep and peel under the layers of protection to find the demons - you really do learn a lot more about a person once you document their life, even if you were good friends before. It's been a long journey for the both of us, but I've learned so much from the man. I admire him more than I ever did before.

What attracts you to his work?
When I was ten years old it was his bizarre Charles Adams-on-steroids cartoons. As I got older I realized that the Gahan’s cartoons had a lot more to them than just jokes. He did political cartoons about nuclear proliferation in 1957 that are still astonishingly current today. He was doing ecological cartoons about the environment and global warming before Al Gore was ever doing his slideshows. The funny thing is that we sent Gore one of Gahan's more famous ecological cartoons and it's hanging in his office at home!

What was the idea behind getting some famous faces to talk about Wilson?
I knew I had to get important guest stars to help sell the film. I prepared a wish list and went on a fishing expedition to find out if these people were fans. I picked people who I thought had similar sensibilities. Luckily, almost all of them enthusiastically responded to my interview requests, which just floored me because these people are top political and artistic icons, people like Stephen Colbert, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, Stan Lee, Randy Newman, Lewis Black, and others. I was so moved by how Gahan had influenced their lives.

It must have been quite an experience winning Best Documentary at Comic Con.
It was such a thrill. I accepted the award in front of all these kids under 25 who had never heard of his work before but were now suddenly fans of his. They gave us a standing ovation. I was so moved I started crying. Crazy. I don't think anyone has ever cried at Comic Con before!

What have you learned from Wilson that you have applied to your own life?
I am in awe of his discipline and his productivity. Gahan is 83 years old now but he still does a cartoon every month for Playboy and almost every week for The New Yorker. There are not that many artists who have been doing extraordinary work for so long without stopping. He gets up at five every day and he comes up with a subject. He just works and works until he has a cartoon that pleases him and then he's done. That kind of work ethic really had an influence on me because I'm an independent filmmaker and I have a number of projects that I have to nurture and sell. Now, I too get up at five and I make my daily 'To Do' list of things that are important and I keep going until I get them done - or make a new list. My hero became more than a hero to me. He's an extraordinary human being.

I spoke to Steven by telephone on 27th August 2013. I would like to thank him for his time.



Check out the site for GAHAN WILSON: BORN DEAD, STILL WEIRD.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories and novels, and is planning his first short film.

FRUITVALE STATION - A Review by Guest Contributor Willy Romano-Pugh

Directed by Ryan Coogler. Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand. 85 minutes.

The world of hand-held technology has seeped its way into mainstream culture, granting ordinary people the ability to do with ease what many would have previously thought unfathomable. The rise of social media has created the possibility of international social conversation with the click of a button. With smartphones or digital cameras, people can provide video footage to millions of users with surprising simplicity. People doing a casual search on the internet for homemade videos will find a shortage on substance but not content. From muckraking to unfairly slanderous, from crude to brilliant; the difficult terrain of online media is daunting to explore. Professionals and amateurs are virtual bedfellows. Some content deifies the visceral thrill of violence, while also being cheaply shocking with depictions of cruelty that is crude both in its aesthetic value and its exploitative nature. However, the videos from various vantage points that dissect the sudden murder of Hayward, California resident, Oscar Grant at an Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station, contain no such footage. The effect is simpler, more direct and genuinely horrifying. When one watches the videos, the filmmaking capabilities or intentions of the jolted passengers who captured the traumatic event are not called into question. Rather one gets the feeling that they are a witness to an unfortunate incident of monumental historic importance.

On New Years Day of 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year old African American man and father, was riding home from a night of San Francisco revelries on a jam-packed BART train. He became involved in a heated verbal and physical dispute that resulted in the police detaining him and three of his friends. The situation eventually escalated to Oscar Grant’s execution by police officer Johannes Mehserle. There were condemnable accounts of Mehserle from multiple people on the train that were quick to utilize their smartphones and digital cameras. The incident was broadcasted nationally and instantly proclaimed as a hate crime by many, while the opposition strongly believed the chaotic event to be a frantic accident. The Grant family was vocally upset and the Mehserle family received death threats causing them to move multiple times. Backlash directed at the law enforcement zeroed in on the issues that painted the evening as a ruthless slaughter (Grant was handcuffed, unarmed and shot in the back.) Those in Mehserle’s defense cited immensely tense and terrifying moments suggesting the possibility that anybody could have made that mistake in the scenario - the police officers were said to have been vocally threatened by Grant and his friends, there were loud protests from the passengers on the adjacent train, the officers were said to have believed that Grant had been holding weapons and that Mehserle mistook his own gun for his Taser. With such radically divergent accounts and the following trial, which found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and given less than two years in jail, human nature inevitably and tragically took its course in the following months. What started out as peaceful protests and vigils in Oakland to commemorate Oscar Grant turned sour when police interference provoked a series of riots which included vandalism, looting and police brutality. The media packaged it as one of the most compelling examples of how anybody with a basic understanding of YouTube had the power to become active participants in social justice.


It is only natural that the video footage would be considered fodder for a movie that would be pure awards bait. Partial Producers and Oscar winning actors Forrest Whitaker and Octavia Spencer (who also soars as Grant’s mother, Wanda) gave Ryan Coogler, a 27-year old USC alumni and Richmond resident the directorial reins of handling the story of the hours leading up to Oscar Grant’s demise. There was the strong possibility that the effort would fall flat on its face in a misguided attempt to commemorate a recent (perhaps too recent) event while doing a half-hearted disservice to the source material. I’m elated to say that the film’s praise has been well-deserved.

FRUITVALE STATION avoids the conventional biopic format and instead joins the ranks of such day-in-the-life-of classics as Matthieu Kassovitz’ LA HAINE (1995) and Vittorio de Sica’s BICYCLE THIEVES (1948). Cinematographer Rachel Morrison and editors Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver yield a steady fly-on-the-wall but quietly empathetic gaze on the film’s protagonist over the course of New Year’s Eve. The oftentimes handheld camerawork follows Michael B. Jordan (incredibly precise, irresistibly compassionate and heart-wrenching in his best role to date) as Oscar with guerilla fluidity in moments that hint at a violent animalistic side. But there are also tender closeups and long takes to detail the soft, charming and resolute side of him and his family. Grant’s family possesses good will, pride and admirable acceptance that struggle is part of their daily routine. Shot on location throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, the film avoids the trappings of many studio dramas that deceptively market their product as socially relevant, but which in reality prey on audience’s innate cravings for a culture that’s been bred on the perversion of violence and easy answers. The authentic qualities of the film give no packaged resolutions or disposable shock value. The realistic, lived-in yet well-furnished and inviting houses makes one jealous that one couldn’t be sitting with the family during Wanda Grant’s birthday celebration. The cramped bedroom spaces brings the audience uncomfortably close to the tense situations such as when Oscar has to admit to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz - broadly comedic but also a powerful screen presence of unadulterated conscience) that he was fired from his low-level job at the local market or that he won’t cheat on her again. Coogler deftly handles the material and crafts his film into a breathtaking meditation on second chances, injustice and family and saves the violence for the end. When Oscar is shot and killed the movie justifiably earns its audience’s weighty emotional response and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

From crushing disappointments, to elation over resolving arguments and dissatisfaction, to the thrilling idea that hard work and focus will prevail and to the terror and frightened realization of imminent death, Coogler almost films from the perspective of Oscar’s close friend who wishes to reminisce on his moments of humanity but also tries to eagerly mine for indications of what could have gone wrong and what could have been done to stop the damage and the pain. Unexpectedly powerful moments come from such austere concepts as witnessing Grant drive in his car down the streets of Oakland and Hayward with thunderous rap music blasting from his car stereo system. It serves as commentary about the stereotypes society tacks onto an image such as that of an African-American youth. Our quick judgments never take into account that those who drive those cars and listen to that music, which some find disagreeable, are real human beings with conflicts of character and families and concerns just like everyday people. A foreboding incident right before the second act involves our hero’s witness of a death of a pit bull in which has proved to be one of the most controversial scenes. The scene’s supporters champion Coogler’s empathy towards outcasts of society that are misconstrued as malicious but whose deaths are undoubtedly regrettable. The scene’s critics (I actually place myself in this group in one of my only criticisms of the picture) dismiss it as a broad gesture, an effort for easy sympathy and a trick up the sleeve in an effort to garner some stock words of praise in haughty publications. When the story arrives at its difficult climax, the non-sensationalized approach that matter-of-factly presents the altercation and the eventual painful death chaotically and powerfully conveys the baffling nature of the scene of the crime itself. The restrained glimpses of Wanda clinging to her son’s late memory and refusal to accept his death complacently cement the film as an important piece of polemic cinema that has the capability of changing the world without becoming self-righteous or preachy.


Now, for the full disclosure: I am a former Hayward resident and was on that same BART train that Oscar Grant and his friends were detained from by Mehserle and cohorts. I was a witness of what appeared to be a preventable situation and participated in loud screams of protest against the officers who took control, or lack thereof of this nightmare. Seeing the shooting and subsequently learning that it was fatal, provoked a predictable sense of outrage but also confusion as to what could have possibly lead to such a cataclysmic event. But the weight of the event and the toll it seemed to take on the Bay Area community I felt was squandered by the riotous protests and lifeless mainstream media coverage.  "I saw the riots and the frustration and they didn’t have an effect. If I can get two hours of people’s time, I can affect them more than if I threw a trash can through a window" Coogler stated in an interview with Filmmaker magazine (requoted in the Summer 2013 issue) while in preproduction. It was this film that re-ignited the heated emotions that I felt immediately after the tragedy and had more of a visceral impact than the events that followed the shooting. People I’ve spoken to after having seen the film who actually knew Oscar Grant said that even with efforts to paint an unbiased portrait, the film still inevitably drifts toward idolizing its subject matter and that he was more often prone to the violent behavior that we only see glimpses of in the movie. I’ve also heard claims that the depiction of his last night alive was falsified and that he was believed to have been robbing people and my own research revealed the presence of alcohol and drugs in his system found in the autopsy. However, members of the Grant family have gone on record stating that the film captured the true essence of Oscar and that they would sometimes forget that it was an actor portraying him on the screen. The handling of such material in any shape, way or form is prone to inevitable backlash and protests and certainly in the hands of a lesser director could have devolved into maudlin melodrama.

Perhaps I am biased in the fact that I was a witness to the shooting, but did not know the man personally. Perhaps if I did have a more comprehensive understanding of what happened and knew some supposed truths about Oscar Grant’s character that were omitted from the film, I would not think of it so favorably. But Coogler did, in my eyes do the almost-impossible in presenting a biopic as a neorealist character study that was even-handed and sympathetic without being slanted. The controversy over whether or not the film is speculative is I believe, meaningless. The filmmaking crew was given unprecedented access to the Grant family and multiple outlets of research that ensured accuracy of attitudes and emotions but may have fallen short on accuracy of actual events. The fact that there are so many contradictory accounts of what had actually happened in the hours leading up to his death, makes it a given that the film would be speculative.

If a film as observational and nuanced yet devastating as FRUITVALE STATION can really make such an impact on audiences worldwide as it did to me, perhaps the film industry could take note that young filmmakers of this generation are interested in presenting original and captivating ideas for tackling well-worn subject matter. With films like these, a new wave of young independent filmmakers can perpetuate the idea that the 21st century can help the art form of filmmaking evolve rather than remain stunted.

Willy Romano-Pugh is an L.A.-based actor who has acted in short films as well as a number of productions at the Grand Guignol style theater group, Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. He has always been an avid fan of films, has ambitions to be a filmmaker and is passionate about film criticism.  

FRUITVALE STATION is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 14 January 2014.

POINT BLANK - DWAYNE EPSTEIN ON LEE MARVIN

Dwayne Epstein is an experienced journalist and film writer, responsible for young adult biographies on Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Hilary Swank and Denzel Washington amongst others. He has written for Filmfax magazine, Cahiers du Cinema and published articles on movies selected for reappraisal by Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola. Dwayne is an almost lifelong fan of Lee Marvin, and spent twenty years researching and writing the critically acclaimed biography 'Lee Marvin Point Blank' (2013). I spoke to him about Marvin and his own journey to writing the book.


How did you become a fan of Lee Marvin?
When I was a kid, if they were showing a film on TV and it was really long, they used to show them in two parts. Every time they showed THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), I would absolutely stay up late and watch it. I watched it so many times that I would remember where Part One would end and Part Two would start! I was fascinated by the way Marvin played his character and as I saw him more and more in other films, I become even more of a fan. I grew up a huge movie fan, and before the Internet and Wikipedia, I was always the guy who got called in the middle of the night to settle a bar bet or answer a question about a movie someone was watching. I had specific movie tastes and opinions. I had several favourite actors - people like Burt Lancaster, James Cagney and Steve McQueen. But of that whole post-WW2 generation of actors, Marvin was at the top of the list.

What was it about Marvin that attracted you the most?
There are some actors who come off phony, but I knew instinctively that Marvin wasn't like that. He shared a quality that McQueen had: you were never quite sure what they were going to do next in a scene. It kept you on edge and surprised you from moment to moment. Marvin always played fascinating characters who had led interesting lives.

What does Marvin represent to your generation?
Marvin had experienced the nightmares of WW2 firsthand, and had lived through the Depression, both of which I had not experienced myself. His experiences transferred to the screen. I spent about twenty years researching his life for the book, and I discovered that like many actors of his generation, in real life he was more like the characters he played than any of the actors from the studio system days, such as Clark Gable or Tyrone Power of the previous generation.


Do you think there is a thread running through all the characters he played?
In my book I put forward the thesis that there was always a theme of violence running in either the characters he played or in the films themselves. I was interested where this quality came from. The way I see it, Marlon Brando was the dividing line in popular culture between the old and new style film acting. In a similar way, Marvin was also a pioneer in the sense that he was the first modern American action hero. American action films prior to Marvin were dominated by John Wayne, and although the films Marvin was making were much more graphic, believable and realistic, and in the style of similar European and Asian films, his sensibilities were still very American. In interviews, Marvin was very straightforward about wanting to portray violence as realistically as possible. That commitment was real, and you could see it in every film he made.

What made you decide to write a biography of Marvin?
I had actually thought of writing a book on Steve McQueen, but when you're a writer you have to deal with market concerns as well as your own interests, and quite a few books had already been done on McQueen. Whilst talking to an author friend of mine we realised there hadn't been a good book about Marvin.

What do you think distinguishes your book from the other Marvin books?
During the two decades it took to finish the book and get it published, I was able to talk with over a hundred people connected to Marvin, many of them fascinating. My book has interviews with people who have never spoken before. Chief amongst them was Marvin's older brother Robert, who had never been interviewed before. It took a while to gain his confidence but he proved to be an amazing source and we really grew to like each other. Robert passed away in 1999. He really opened up about Marvin's experiences in WW2, and gave me access to all the letters Marvin wrote home during the War, which formed a weekly update of his experiences in wartime. I decided to let Marvin write that particular chapter of the book himself. I linked it together with a narrative but it's all his own words. He was often in a battle area when he wrote the letters and was also limited in what he was allowed to write about. Marvin also suffered from dyslexia, poor spelling and ADD, so it was like deciphering hieroglyphics for me! I found myself getting very emotionally affected by what he wrote, and it was all written in the moment as he was feeling it.

I also spoke to Meyer Mishkin, who was Marvin's agent from the day he arrived in Hollywood in 1950 to the day he died in 1987. Meyer has also passed away, but he also gave me great access. Much has been written about the famous palimony suit that Marvin was involved in, but the media have always told the story from Michele Triola, or her lawyer, Marvin Michelson's point of view. Nobody ever interviewed David Kagon, Marvin's lawyer! His firm, Goldman and Kagon, had represented Marvin since the '60s. They weren't just hired to cover Marvin's butt. They had known all the parties for quite some time.

One of the great interviews I got for the book was from Marvin's first wife, Betty. The cliche in Hollywood is that nobody knows you better than your first wife. Betty is in her eighties now and still going strong. She's life-loving, spunky and doesn't let tough times get her down. Betty very much believed in the project and put me in touch with her son with Marvin, Christopher, who has never gone on the record before. Sadly, Christopher succumbed to cancer in October 2013.

What are some examples of things you learned about Marvin?
After talking with Betty, Christopher and others, I discovered that Marvin suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am no expert but I would venture if there were ten symptoms he would have had eight of them.

He was a very naturally intelligent man. Marvin wasn't necessarily well-read because he didn't finish high school, but he had amazing instincts. He was a great BS detector and could tell a phony a mile away. It was a minor revelation to me that Marvin was a big fan of the blues and jazz. I even listened to a lot of blues whilst writing the book in order to think like him or something!

Those that knew him would tell you that yes, he was a tough Marine but he also had a sensitive, caring side. I didn't know he was such a close friend of the actor Keenan Wynn before I interviewed his two sons Ned and Tracy Keenan (the screenwriter of THE LONGEST YARD, 1974). Both of them had lots to say about their relationship which they had witnessed from their childhoods up until Keenan's death in 1986.

When it came to Marvin's drinking, were you scared of opening up a can of worms?

I want to tell you the truth: it took a while for some people to go on record and admit that Marvin was an alcoholic. Betty was the first to go on record. Marvin went through the rigours of Alcoholics Anonymous and he saw a psychiatrist but he never stopped drinking until the day he died. There were many anecdotes about his drinking that were fun to read at first because he was a bawdy drinker, but after a while the stories started to leave a bad taste in my mouth and I wanted to get away from them. They became depressing. Witnessing drunken escapades or hearing about them can be fun but they're not fun to the people who have to live with that person. Marvin had a built-in filter when it came to drinking and wouldn't go past a certain point. His parents were puritanical, and his press agent told me that oftentimes when he misbehaved with his drinking he would mumble 'Courtenay wouldn't like that.' Courtenay was his mother.

That said, he and his friends almost got arrested in Vegas when he was making THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) because it got out of control. Sometimes it was purely circumstantial that he didn't end up in jail.


Which Marvin films or performances are some of your personal favourites?
THE DIRTY DOZEN is my favourite, and I still find Marvin wonderful in that. MONTE WALSH (1970) is an underrated classic that is in dire need of rediscovery. If you want to see what Marvin would have been like in THE WILD BUNCH (1969), you should see THE PROFESSIONALS, which like the Peckinpah film is a thinking man's action film. POINT BLANK (1967), THE ICEMAN COMETH (1973), EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) and THE BIG RED ONE (1980) are all great. There are also the films he made when he was starting out: films such as THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) and SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955), which is a strange little movie with Keenan Wynn and Terry Moore. THE BIG HEAT (1953) is a classic and has a truly violent scene involving Marvin that still packs a punch. After that scene, Vincent Canby of The New York Times dubbed him 'The Merchant of Menace'!

What's your favourite overlooked Marvin film or performance?
There's a forgotten noir called VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955). It's filmed in lush colour, but even the director Richard Fleischer described it as a noir when I interviewed him. The film is a strange hybrid of PEYTON PLACE (1957) and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950). Marvin plays one of three bankrobbers who go into a small town to do a job and they become embroiled in a series of dramas that are going on with the local people. His character is very strange and constantly using his Benzedrine inhaler. There's a great, really weird scene where he explains how he got addicted to the drug. Another equally memorable scene earlier in the film starts off with Marvin walking along the street and being bumped into by a little kid, who knocks his inhaler into the street. When the kid goes to pick it up, Marvin takes his foot and mashes it into the kid's hand. He's smiling while he's doing it, which is hysterical.

Do you think there are any modern actors to compare with Marvin?
The short answer is no, but there are some actors who remind me of him. Tommy Lee Jones is the actor who reminds me the most of Marvin. He looks like him a little bit and has that dangerous stillness. When you watch him in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007). I think it's impossible not to think about Marvin. I don't believe the likes of Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, who are good actors, bring a level history or a sense of danger to their parts like Marvin did. It reminds me of why Marvin and Marlon Brando didn't eventually make DELIVERANCE (1972). Marvin loved the book and had actually introduced it to John Boorman. But as he told a reporter, actors like Brando and himself bring something to a part in the minds of the audiences before they open their mouths and that can help or hinder the film. They were also too old.


How has writing the book changed your life?
Well, I became a better writer working on it, and through watching Marvin's films again and again, I came to know what great acting actually is vs what I thought it was before. I interviewed Jeff Bridges for the book, who appeared with Marvin in THE ICEMAN COMETH. Jeff was a young actor at the time and was still on the fence about whether he wanted to be an actor or not. He was still considering being a professional surfer or musician. Jeff told me he was still learning and learned a lot on the movie from not only Marvin but also the likes of Robert Ryan, Fredric March and all the other wonderful character actors who were in the film. One of the unwritten rules in film acting is that when the camera is in close, you go small. Jeff told me Marvin did it really big in a close-up. He had never seen that done before and asked him why he had done it that way. Marvin told him "Kid, that's my style. When everybody does it the way they do it, I do it the way I think it should be done. I know how to go big when the camera is tight, but not everybody does." And it's true. Usually when you see Marvin in a close-up, you don't see that he is taking it so broad, and it's incredibly emotionally effective.

Marvin could be big and broad and in your face but not overwhelmingly so, but he could also be subtle and still, like he was in POINT BLANK, where his character was frightening in his stillness. You never knew when he was going to spring like a tiger. Marvin could run the spectrum of human emotions, and not only is it it is fascinating, it taught me what great acting is. It's about bringing the audience into what you're doing and getting them lost in the story. Even when his movies were occasionally cringe-inducing, Marvin was never ever boring.

In what ways do you feel Marvin didn't fulfill his potential?
He didn't fulfill his potential in that he wasn't given the chance to be as versatile as he showed he could be in his early career, particularly on TV. Marvin played characters that he would never play on film. For example, I saw a TV episode from the '50s where he played a Lenny Bruce-style stand-up comedian. The show itself was kind of stupid but Marvin was incredible. At the beginning and ending of the episode he did a full-on stand-up routine and he was really funny, with razor sharp timing. Marvin acted in quite a few classic movies, but had he made THE WILD BUNCH we would have had a true American classic with Marvin in the lead role. Ironically it was Marvin who had introduced the property to Sam Peckinpah. He never publicly said so, but I think his biggest professional regret was not doing the film. Marvin really wanted to do the film but circumstances prevented him from doing so. He always said he never regretted not doing the film and that he didn't like the film that much, but I think that was a case of sour grapes. As much as I love William Holden in the role of Pike, I cannot watch the film without wondering what Marvin would have done in the role. It's kind of sad.

Had he lived longer, how do you think Marvin's career would have played out?
I think had he lived he would have had no problem playing, for example, Clint Eastwood's character in MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) or better yet, UNFORGIVEN (1992). I can also see him playing Daniel Day Lewis's character in GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002). As Marvin got older he became a much more interesting screen persona because he brought a lot of baggage with him and he took chances.

I'm pretty sure he was one of the first actors of his generation to go on record and say that he wouldn't have a problem playing a homosexual character and that he also didn't have a problem with homosexuality at all. That might not seem like much of a statement now but you have to keep in mind that he was a WW2 veteran. Think for a moment if John Wayne had said something like that. There's a scene in the restored version of THE BIG RED ONE (1980). His character has been wounded and he is behind enemy lines in a German hospital. A male orderly kisses him on the mouth and Marvin grabs him and says "I don't mind you being horny but you've got bad breath", and then throws him downstairs. I don't think an actor like Robert Mitchum would have allowed a man to kiss him onscreen. That's the thing about Lee Marvin. He was always willing and able to surprise his audience.


I spoke to Dwayne by telephone on 23 August 2013, and would like to thank him for his time.

Lee Marvin Point Blank is available from Schaffner Press. Check out the website for the book.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. Paul is also a writer of so far unpublished short stories , screenplays and novels.