Two days ago I wrote about Paramount’s planned remake of Karel Reisz and James Toback‘s The Gambler (’74), and expressed curiosity about Paramount’s hiring of William Monahan (The Departed) to rewrite Toback’s jewel-perfect script. “Monahan is too good of a writer to just update or do touch-ups,” I noted, “so I’m wondering if Paramount wants to make The Gambler into a somewhat different thing?”
Leonardo DiCaprio, James Toback at a Revolutionary Road luncheon, thrown by Manhattan blue-chip party madame Peggy Siegal and Paramount Vantage in the Plaza’s Oak Room bar and restaurant — Wednesday, 12.3.08, 1:10 pm.
I called Toback about this right away and he didn’t pick up. I assumed, naturally, that he knew all about this Martin Scorsese project, especially as he’s friendly with Leonardo DiCaprio (who’s attached to play the James Caan part) and because Leo and Marty are longtime allies and why would Leo sign off on any kind of “fuck you Jim” move? I presumed this was understood all around and that Paramount had called Toback and talked it out with him, if for no other reason than courtesy.
No, reports Nikki Finke — Paramount didn’t call and talk it out with Toback. They didn’t even tell him through his agent. They’re not legally obligated to consult Toback, apparently, so they didn’t. Nice manners!
A few minutes ago Deadline‘s Nikki Finke posted an angry letter from Toback about this announcement. It expresses his justifable outrage. By all means read the entire Toback letter on Deadline — good stuff about the making of (and particularly the casting of) The Gambler.
Toback explains that Brett Ratner, for whom he’s writing a John Delorean screenplay that Reliance and Bob Evans are producing, told him Friday night about Mike Fleming’s story about the intended Scorsese remake. Here’s how he describes that moment:
“‘Not my Gambler!’ Toback said. ‘That’s not possible! No one said a word to me!
“‘Who owns it?’ Ratner asked.
“‘I guess they didn’t have to.’
“‘Legally, I guess you’re right,’ I said.
“‘Maybe that’s all anyone gives a fuck about: whether something is legal.’
“The film in question, The Gambler, was financed and distributed by Paramount in 1974 and directed by the late Karel Reisz,” Toback explains. “It was derived without a syllable of alteration from the final draft of my blatantly autobiographical original screenplay and starred James Caan as Axel Freed, a City College of NY literature lecturer whose addiction to gambling overrides every other aspect of his richly diverse life.
“It might seem odd that my initial response to the news of the purported remake would be something south of ‘flattered and honored,’ but the truth is that my main feeling was one of disbelief that I was learning of these plans at the same time and in the same fashion as any of the regular devoted readers of [Deadline Hollywood],” Toback continues.
“It struck me as particularly odd since I have been a friend and unlimited admirer of Leonardo’s since our initial encounter in 1994 when we were, in fact, all set to close a deal on his playing the lead in Harvard Man – a deal sabotaged only by Bob Shaye‘s overriding the greenlight which Mike DeLuca had conveyed to Jeff Berg and Jay Moloney.
“Equally odd was not hearing anything from Irwin Winkler who, I was soon to learn, is to be the producer on this projected new version as he was on the original.
“Perhaps my inability to view this ‘tribute’ as primarily flattering was additionally influenced by a recent and infinitely more felicitous experience which involved remarkably similar circumstances. My movie, Fingers, was remade as a Cesar prize-sweeping film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard, the great French filmmaker who called me from Paris and then flew to New York to discuss Fingers in great detail before redoing it, apparently not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal — notion that as long as they ‘own’ something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator.
“Of course, the French have always had an entirely different set of laws and values governing intellectual property based on the poignant notion that a writer’s work cannot be tampered with by anyone even including someone who paid money to take ownership of it. This current experience conjures up memories of a banker who owned Harvard Man and once said to me: ‘To you this is a movie. To me this is a pair of shoes. My pair of shoes. And I will do whatever I like with it.’
“Learning of the plan to ‘remake’ my movie at the same time and in the same fashion as any other devoted reader of this esteemed column, I suppose I should feel…what? That a tribute is being paid to a creation I left behind? I suppose. But one doesn’t always feel what one is supposed to feel.
“As the late, great Jackie Wilson sang:
‘Just a kiss
Just a smile
Call my name
Just once in a while
And I’ll be satisfied.’
“Rudeness, on the other hand, and disrespect yield their own unanticipated consequences.
“Footnote: Now that such an esteemed bunch of luminaries seems so inspired by The Gambler that they are contemplating the devotion of masses amounts of time, money and energy to redoing it, perhaps the home video crew at Paramount will consider making The Gambler available on DVD and Bluray which it presently isn’t. And perhaps by On-Demand as well — if it isn’t there already. They can look it up and find out if they have the time.”
Wells note: The Gambler may not be an active DVD title by Toback’s reckoning, but I ordered a new copy from Amazon two nights ago.”