Hickenlooper in Quotes

It seems like a fair tribute to assemble some of the comments posted in this space by the late George Hickenlooper. I knew Hickenlooper well enough to hear some of his more pithy observations (he was a shrewd judge of character). Alas, none of these quotes are especially meditative or philosophical. Like all Hollywood Elsewhere commentary they’re about dispute. If anyone has found any further Hickenlooper quotes that would make this a more well-rounded portrait, please forward.

On the circumstances behind the photo of himself and Barack Obama, which happened in concert with the filming of Hicktown:

“It’s a funny picture. I’d just finished filming with Obama for all of the three minutes he had before speaking to 100,000 folks in Denver on October 26th. After I finished shooting a photographer was standing there and believe it or not Obama said, ‘Let’s get a picture.’ I wasn’t even about to ask. I was so damn starstruck. and believe me I’m never starstruck. After the picture my cousin John Hickenlooper [i.e., the current Democratic candidate for Colorado governor] shared a joke with Obama that was based on an earlier conversation I’d with with John, and then Obama mentioned the joke in his speech that night. It was really impressive. At that moment I realized, this guy isn’t your typical robot politician. He actually listens.”

On Francis Coppola’s Releasing Hearts of Darkness on DVD via Paramount Home Video in 2007 Without Mentioning It to Hickenlooper, Who Co-Directed, Much Less Asking or Allowing Him To Record a Commentary Track:

“This is a real slap in the face to me and to filmmakers in general,” Hickenlooper told the N.Y. Observer. “It’s very disillusioning because I worship Francis. He’s trying to portray himself as this icon of artistic integrity, and yet simultaneously he’s completely burying me and my [former directing] partner.”

On The True Authorship of Hearts of Darkness:

“I think the more appropriate way to look at it is that Hearts of Darkness is Eleanor Coppola’s story. It’s not her film. Hardly. It’s her story. But that’s because I decided to make it her story.

“When I got involved with this project 20 years ago, Showtime was going to make it a one-hour TV special called Apocalypse Now Revisited. It was going to be basically an hour-long special about how they did the war pyrotechnics. It was going to be dull and stupid.

“At the time I told Steve Hewitt and my partner Fax Bahr that “nobody cares about a making of movie, especially one that is 14 years old.” I argued that the film had to have an emotional component. At the time, no one was familiar with Eleanor’s diary ‘Notes.’ My father had purchased it for me on my 16th birthday. I ate it up.

“When I got involved with HoD, I advocated using her diary as the narrative thread. I got incredible resistance from Showtime, and I got initial resistance from Eleanor. Not much, but some.

“Once I was able to convince everyone that the film would best be told through her narrative voice, it was then and only then it became her story.

“Eleanor did shoot the footage in the Philippines back in 1976, but she only stepped twice into our cutting room on the back lot of Universal. Twice. For a total of eight hours. I was there for a year, 15 to 18 hours a day. So it’s not a film by Eleanor, but I guess it’s sexier from a marketing angle to make it look that way.”

On The Influence of Les Blank on Documentarians, and particularly in response to Hip-Hop Homey asking “who cares if Blank’s Burden of Dreams is streaming for free?”

“‘Who cares if it’s streaming for free?’ Who cares if someone breaks into your home and cleans out your refrigerator? Independent filmmakers rely on funds for our work so we can continue to make films. What planet are you on, Hip Hop? Give me a break.

“As far as Burden of Dreams it was the main inspiration for Hearts of Darkness. Without Blank’s film, HoD would have been nothing more than a behind-the-scene look at how Francis blew up Do Long Bridge. Blank is the most powerful and honest documentary filmmaker there is. He avoid navel-gazing at all costs and his work doesn’t have that Pottery Barn sheen which afflicts most filmmakers today.

“We actually licensed some footage from Les for Hearts of Darkness. The entire Napa sequence at Francis’ vineyard was shot by Les during the celebration of Coppola’s 40th birthday party. I’d tell you this and more if Lionsgate were interested in Fax Bahr and I doing a commentary for the new Bluray, but apparently they’re not.”

The Relationship Between Himself, Billy Bob Thornton and the two Sling Blades (i.e., Thornton’s feature plus Hickenlooper’s Some Call It A Sling Blade):

“I enjoyed Billy Bob’s Sling Blade. It was different than the feature Billy Bob and I had discussed making. The film I wanted to make would have been slightly darker in tone. The Karl character that Billy Bob portrayed in the feature was a little softer and more audience-friendly. Our original plan was to use the short as the first act of the feature and then once Karl leaves the sanitarium the film pays homage to The Wizard of Oz and slowly fades to color, only to return to black-and-white at the end.

“There is no question that Billy Bob is a great talent, and yet his abusive temperament made him very difficult to deal with. I ultimately walked away from the film and was not ‘passed over’, as the Harvey Weinstein spin machine tried to suggest. My contribution was primarily to the tone and many of the supporting characters in the short. Billy Bob and I developed the feature to some length. At the time Billy Bob’s idea was to have Karl released and then meet up with a woman who was a third-degree burn victim. I felt this was too heavy handed and suggested that Karl should develop a relationship with a young boy. After seeing the film it appears to me he used my suggestion.

“Billy Bob did a great job with the feature on his own and he deserves the career he has had. At the same time he has left a wake of very distraught folks who have had to deal with him intimately. He has a very sweet, charming side to him, but there clearly is some kind of disorder there that he is very aware of. That’s really all I have to say about it. I think the short is worth another look. Thanks, Jeff, for recognizing it.”

On The Late Simon Monjack:

“Simon Monjack had nothing to do with Factory Girl or the screenplay. He filed a frivolous lawsuit against us weeks before principal photography, making bogus claims that we had stolen his script. He held us literally hostage and we were forced to settle with him as he held our production over a barrel.

“I posted this information on IMDB two years ago in order to warn people because Monjack was using his Factory Girl ‘credit’ to solicit and then steal money from other investors. Then one night at three in the morning Brittany Murphy (who was a good friend and a girl I had come close to casting as Edie Sedgwick) called me in tears, begging me to take this posting down. It was going to ruin her husband. I told Brittany it was the truth and warned her, as many other did, about Monjack who had a criminal record and a long, long list of legal complaints against him. In the end I told Brittany I would do it for her and remove the post because I really cared for her as a friend.

“The last thing I told Brittany is ‘Do you know who this guy is? I mean, do you really know him. Do you know what you’re doing by marrying him?’ At this point Brittany became angry and told me she knew Monjack better than anyone and then hung up on me. A few months later I tried to call her to see if she was alright and Monjack would not let me speak to her. I so so feared something bad would happen. I thought he might take her for all her money. I’m sure the guy is in deep mourning in the wake of her death. But one can surely speculate that his clear lack of character and background couldn’t have led to the most healthy environment. I really feel bad for Brittany. She was a sweet angel and didn’t deserve anything bad to happen to her ever. May she rest in peace. I will miss her. We will all miss her.”

On The Passing of Maury Chaykin:

“I’m very saddened by the death of Maury. He truly was one of the most superb actors I have ever worked with. You could sense his greatness on the set. He has a few scenes in Casino Jack, and the entire cast and crew was in awe of his immense talent. And when I say talent there is only one way to underscore that, and that is by saying it was comparable to Brando’s. He was a Canadian Brando whose performances were so connected to his own inner life that every choice he made, even different, was pitch perfect. It was a great honor to work with him.”

On The Matter of “Instant Soul Reads”:

“Sorry, guys, I have no soul. I’ve tried to acquire one but I keep getting denied. Every time I reach for that the big brass ring, I keep finding myself in dogtown with all these low-lifes. Perhaps my life would be simpler if I were just a person unknown amongst all these folks who have hearts of darkness, but alas there’s no relief for any man from elysian fields or factory girl or mayor of the sunset strip. Perhaps I should try my luck at the casino, jack. And the bounty I took out three years ago ended up costing me only 40 dollars and the fellow’s head was shrunk and is now hanging from my rear view mirror. It’s very charming…thanks, guys. I really shouldn’t spend so much time on the internet.”

  • Edward

    Nicely done Jeffrey. I’m in shock, RIP.

  • George Prager

    Hickenlooper Author Profile Page says …

    I know John Lee Hancock. Our sons were on the same Pasadena T-Ball team. John is one of the great ignored and underrated Hollywood writer/directors. His films harken back to the golden age when movies were about telling stories and not narratives littered with characters being quirky and snarky to titillate the postmodern sensibilities of the effete New York literati. The polarity of tastes that has grown between the so called fly-over states and the two coasts is not the consequence of the dumbing down of the Midwest, but rather the infantilization of New York and Los Angeles. Where high art has become confused with the puerile masturbatory self examination of stone dead emotional detachment and characters who no longer mirror real life but are rather created to titillate the cynical sensibilities of critics who have seen too many movies and are no longer emotionally engaged with reality.

    Posted by Hickenlooper Author Profile Page at November 28, 2009 10:13 AM

  • HHH

    Of course, Wells leaves out the answer to GH that Hip Nop Homey wrote:

    @Hick: Doesn’t a commercial site like Hulu have to pay a fee to stream a film? my original point (probably not clear through my own fault) was to take aim at Wells’ suggestion that BURDEN wasn’t selling well, so that was why it was mad free. I just always assumed that when legit sites streamed media, there was some fees and/or royalties paid to those due them.”

    RIP, good sir. It was a pleasure to get to meet you and you were real class. Can’t say that about too many.

  • George Prager

    Hickenlooper says …

    I think the bigger question is when is not would an actress ever do that again, but when is Hollywood ever going to make a film like Shampoo again. Hashby’s naturalism, even in this short clip, and the way he plays out the humor so dryly in a completely unrestrained mis-en-scene is only a sad and painful reminder of how shamefully the mainstream American cinema has fallen. Anyway, shall we return to our conversations about who will make a better Superman or Batman or Iron Man. God help us.

    Posted by Hickenlooper at October 19, 2010 10:00 PM

  • DiscoNap

    That Ashby post Prager quotes was great, and I did get very stressed out thinking how it would be staged today. Wells I know this post makes it pretty explicit you weren’t all that close to him, but sorry for your loss.

  • mrksltsky

    Great tribute.

  • Absinth Quell Pro

    I’m glad I took a moment to thank him for “Hearts of Darkness,” a documentary that moved me at a really early age to appreciate film (and of course, documentary film making) in a way I hadn’t understood before. Loved his presence on this site.

    He will be missed.

  • SolarTheSign

    I always liked Hickenlooper’s comments because he grounded Jeff’s posts in the realpolitick of the business. There is a kind of bond between people who love film., not in a ‘who knows what’ trivial sense, but in the sacred awareness that films have the power to change the way we see the world. I felt that bond between Hickenlooper and the people on this site. I will miss his voice here. R.I.P. Hickenlooper…

  • George Prager

    Hickenlooper says …

    Jeff, it’s great you bring this up. It would be great if journalists/critics often took into account the loads of bullshit filmmakers have to endure to get anything close resembling their vision up on screen. Casting is always an issue. And what fascinates me (and somthing no one ever discusses) is the economic racism that goes on. For example, there have been a number of times I have wanted to cast African American actors in certain roles but I have been squelched because I’ve had executives tell me over and over that the overseas markets, especially in the Far East — “Asians don’t like black people except Will Smith,” particularly when it comes to interracial relationships. It’s nauseating and it’s one of the reasons you keep seeing the same milk toast white actors over and over and over and over again. Thank god for Slumdog Millionaire. GH

    Posted by Hickenlooper at December 30, 2008 2:45 PM

    Hickenlooper says …

    In my experience I have come to believe that the perceptions regarding what works in the market place and what doesn’t are almost completely illusory. Yes, there are known specific genres (action) that are easier to sell, but when it comes to details like casting it is my firm believe that audiences are driven by story and story alone. Consequently details like casting are never going to make or break a picture (regardless of race). These are just more excuses an executive can use to say know because it’s easy to blame it on the marketplace which is always fluid and never consistent. If I had tried to pitch Slumdog Millionaire to an executive in LA two years ago I would have been laughed out of the office because no one in the foreign markets wants to see a picture about impoverished Indians. Fortunately Danny Boyle had the balls and juice to get it made — fortunately for all of us (including the Asians). Anyway, Slumdog is a perfect example of William Goldman’s greatest comment that no one in the end know shit about anything. Which takes me back to story story story. All the other stuff is subjective bullshit.

    Posted by Hickenlooper at December 30, 2008 3:37 PM

  • Edward

    Prager, great posts, great words. Thank you George Hickenlooper. We can only hope Hollywood pays attention.

  • Admiral82

    Good quotes, Jeff. I like that Obama picture too.

    His absence will definitely be felt in these parts.

    It’s truly sad.

    Rest easy, George

  • taikwan

    Just returned from time away helping family –

    I’m just still trying to grasp that someone this young could go via heart attack.

    Never met him nor knew him but I knew I would really like him since admiration was already there.

    Why do only the good die young? And in this day, any departure before the 80’s is young.

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    Hickenlooper will be missed on this site. He brought an insider’s view and a sense of honesty that’s rare in Hollywood — or anywhere for that matter.

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