Sunday, June 17, 2012

Alan Rudolph morning discussion hosted by Timo Malmi and Olaf Möller

The School (Kitisenrannan koulu), Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sunday, 17 June 2012.

A: Gone with the Wind in the 1940s in a big theatre in Hollywood. The whole family was dressed up. It was the most fantastic thing. The colour just got me.

A: We had a very good family life which paralleled the history of the movie business. In 1911 in the Midwest my grandmother was powerful, strong, determined to get involved in a new business. My father Oscar Rudolph was around as a child in silent movies such as Little Annie Rooney with Mary Pickford. His career paralleled that of the truly golden era of Hollywood, and he had some success, including work as Cecil B. DeMille's assistant director in The Story of Dr. Wassell and work at Paramount in Bing Crosby - Bob Hope movies. He became a director on television, and we moved to New York. He was always around at the dinner table. There was not always much money, but the mentality was "when you're broke, buy something". That kept us going. I didn't care about movies when I grew up. Hollywood movies were so bad, I could not connect with them.

In the 1960s my brother became a navy pilot on an aircraft carrier. There was a motorcycle and a 8 mm camera. About UCLA I don't remember a thing; I did not visit the film school. We went to school just to meet girls. My motto was: "have camera, will travel", and soon I was doing everybody's movies so they'd meet girls. A few were good. One was about old people, another about children.

A: Do you want me to lie down?

My mother is still around at 99 years.

Going to the film studio was the best part of the junior high school at 11-12. We were doing a children's movie, The Rocket Man, "Look out, captain... " with George "Foghorn" Winslow. He had a raygun. Dad: "Don't mess this up". Winslow was to stop the car with his raygun. I had no idea what a director does, and this was my first time in front of the camera. The car was parked close, and run backwards. It was like an acid trip, "they can do this with time". Lenny Bruce wrote the script. They ran the movie at my school, and I was in it for a minute - and I was a star. But somebody said: "That was a terrible movie".

A: I'm glad I lived through that period. I got to see television when it was invented. The most influential film when I was seven was the original The Invaders from Mars, which starred a boy. The story is fantastic. There are loving parents. From a window, we see a space ship. The father goes out, and when he comes back, he's mean, and has a mark on his back. Everybody gets this mark, and there is no one to trust. The army comes. Just when it looks like it's the end - it was a dream, and the boy goes back to sleep... but the spaceship lands again. Everyone I trusted - i wasn't sure anymore. The boy's perspective: that was me on the screen. I just bathed my life in fiction. We have to get this shot because Western civilization depends on it. It is cave drawing on a big screen. In the dark - big faces: that's cinema for me. Your most private, secret, emotional spot: you allow it to blossom. Film will survive the movie business. Film will be around when Hollywood crumbles.

A: I was born in Hollywood. Father one day came home. He had bought a home in the Valley among the orange groves. I loved the smell. Television we all just watched on Saturday afternoon. Laurel and Hardy I could not get enough. We'd play ball, play war, play cowboys. I was 6-7 years old. A ball hits a house one day, an older man appears in a cardigan sweater. I was shy, liked being alone. There was a big heavy maid dusting books. The man was Stan Laurel, living three doors down from us, very middle class.

I visited the biggest school, junior to junior high. It was a VA [Veterans' Affairs] hospital turned into a school. There were 5000 kids. That's where they had shot The Men. Terry Gilliam also went to that school. I met him many years later. There was the same group of misfit friends. In the college I never met anyone. I majored in accounting. I can't add. School and me did nothing.

A: This was a magic box. I got to see most of these movies. - There was cinema at least twice a week. Every Saturday, daytime, nighttime. - But to have this magic box in the home: Ed Sullivan Show was on Sunday night, live, past eight o'clock, with tango dancers and jugglers. Later I did look down on tv, and never really watched tv again.

A: My brother, all he wanted to do was fly a biplane, to barnstorm. Carrier pilots were more insane than anybody. Then something went wrong here, a war we were going to force, "this is going to be my last". He had done photo reconnaissance with the fastest jet. In San Diego he'd fly over the house, which is completely illegal. He was one and a half years older than I. Then he got shot down. That's the reason I never grew up, it was the largest event ever happened to our family. I dediced to do something. I owed that to him. When he died, I decided to make films.

My father used to ask: "What are you going to do?" I was 20.

I always liked to write. It was the worst American movie period. The studio system: the movies were really dreadful. Nepotism was rampant, and the sons were always kind of idiots. Mostly sons never amounted to anything. My dad knew many people... there was too much nepotism. Then there was a training program by the guilds. You had a number, your name didn't mean anything. Walter Hill was there, too. Assistant directors usually don't become directors.

I applied for this thing and I got chosen. I spent a certain amount of hours as a second assistant director. Easy Rider hadn't happened yet.

My dad did get me a job at the mailroom at Paramount. We were three guys in old blue bicycles. It was almost like a newspaper route. I always stopped at the sound stages. That lasted two years. There were directors at the end of their careers: Henry Hathaway, Otto Preminger. Everyone was afraid of doing things differently. The building was all white.

I sneaked into the projection room to watch dailies with executives. There was a movie called Seconds by John Frankenheimer. Rosemary's Baby by Roman Polanski was an independent production. Darling Lili had the biggest budget. 10.000 people doing nothing. When Polanski did not get to shoot on location, he built that New York apartment for real, and they couldn't take off the walls. The cameras were giant things. Polanski was different.

John Cassavetes, when the dust settles, is the real father of independent film, and the most appealing actor besides John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart. Ten cigarettes at once. I bicycled past, "am I following you?".

As an assistant director I learned everything, the nuts and bolts. European movies were made by masters, the interesting things in the US were small movies. Roger Corman, AIP - I wasn't interested. I wanted to be Cassavetes. I was given the order: "cut your hair", but I had this twinkle, and everything changed. I had seen Bergman and Fellini in the arthouses. That and Altman were my film school.

Robert Altman elevated everyone. I tried to please Bob. It was a family. There were no rules other than the work, and having a good time. He wanted me to do everything. The Long Goodbye. Who's idea is this? You do what he wants. But he doesn't say it. He was throwing things away.

I read the script religiously, thought that's what we are going to do. The words: most you couldn't hear. In dailies even less. Vilmos Zsigmond: Bob never stopped the camera, it was a part of the flow of time. Nothing is permanent.

Elliott Gould shuffling around, anachronistic, still honorable, with a moral code.

Leigh Brackett: I never met her. She wouldn't have appreciated what was going on, seven days a week just talking, smoking dope. But we never smoked, never drank during shooting.

On the last day in Mexico I asked: "do you always change the script so much"?

But he had the most careful writing. He knew everything in scripts and started with a larger sense of the action. Then he threw that all away.

He'd pick favourite actors off the street. How he got stars to do them? He had the best dialogue. Bob wouldn't do that film without Elliott. I joined the circus, the pirate ship.

His next movie was Thieves Like Us. No one said no to Altman but I did.

Then he was gonna make the movie California Split, a film about gambling, scenes on racetracks and casinos. On the magic board the soundtrack had 24 separate sounds. Separate, clean tracks, including loudspeakers and music.

The extras union cost a lot of money. Shooting in L.A. was not healthy. "The extras - your problem". We needed hundreds. There was a retreat for junkies, addicts, gamblers, a lot of street people, 500-600 people who had lost their lives to gambling. They were fantastic. We paid the institute.

Actors really like to watch themselves.

Nashville: the script was really good, by Joan Tewkesbury. There were 24 characters. He didn't want to read it. He wanted to cut out 30 pages. "She won't do it". I did a draft. Joan was good about it, not happy, and it became a 110 page script. She was nominated for an Oscar.

Casting was tough as the budget was low, under 2 million. The music was all live, the magic board was again in use. Geraldine was the narrator. Soon there was too much. I was shooting like crazy, more involved with that than with some of my own things.

In the first screening I saw Streisand talking to Richard Baskin but Altman threw her out. I quit after that again. Bob said: "It's time you make your own movie. Before that, I want you to write Buffalo Bill".

Arthur Kopit's play Indians was playing at a high school. It was great, it was poetry. And I was writing a Robert Altman movie after Nashville. Dino De Laurentiis produced. Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster were considered, and it was to be shot in Calgary, where there were Indian reserves.

Studio guys: I don't know how to talk to them. At United Artists when Altman explained it was nothing like the movie is like. The budget was to be six million dollars. "I'll make you a deal: for a couple of hundred thousand dollars more we make a second movie". "How much? Oh, sure." That's how I got Welcome to L.A. made, my first real movie.


There is a Columbia logo, but they had nothing to do with this.

A: I worked with Geraldine Chaplin often, four times with Nick Nolte, three times with Genevieve Bujold, always different, like peeling an onion. With Keith Carradine you can do anything. He is the nicest man alive, a total team player.

The Altman impulse was: actors are great, the true artists.Actors were paid a lot of money to react. They liked acting, not reacting. It is such an alchemy, acting: to make it believable, reach that secret point. An actor will do something - I would never have thought of that. You learn an awful lot.

What I did learn is to create the environment.

I had to write myself small films, heavy on characters.

Geraldine Chaplin is a genius. She broke down all walls of formality.

These are very messy, these movies, half the dialogue you can't hear.

Robert Altman: outside in. Alan Rudolph: inside out.

When I had an opportunity to do larger things, studio things - the advantage in independence is that nobody tells you what to do. That's the only real thing I know.

Casting, now a cliché, is 90% of the process. Movie stars are currency. There was no independent movie business. Big stars are like other actors. They want good roles. But the people around them don't want them to make little movies. Sometimes they don't get prime roles, they seem invented for types. A 35-year-old male actor star interested in other roles... Brad Pitt is a good actor. I believe in him.

A movie star used to be someone you can imitate. Now: the guy who fits the hero suit.

A: I have no musical ability. I assume I think like a musician. Music is invisible, emotional, the most powerful tool in a movie.

When I made Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle I visited the NYU. I've never been to film school. They hated me by definition. They wanted to do what I was doing. I pissed everyone off. I told them: 1) Go out and shoot anything you want. 2) Play it. Then play it with a piece of music. Then play it with an entirely different piece of music.

I asked them, how many of you want to do this, to have this education, so bad you can't sleep at night, how many of you can make that connection part of you, any connection? One guy raised his hand. I said to that guy: "Leave. This place can't teach you anything".


A: Children of Paradise [Les Enfants du paradis]

Recently I have been focusing on paintings. I can't have a job, so I have to do something.

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