Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my first night of reporting from the Hero Complex Festival put on by the LA Times’ Geoff Boucher. Last year I had a great time at the fest, seeing films like Star Trek IV with Nimoy in attendance, Insomnia and The Dark Knight with Christopher Nolan and Blade Runner and Alien with Ridley Scott.
This year’s Hero Complex kicked off with Warren Beatty showing a really nice HD transfer of Dick Tracy. I was a little disappointed not to get a 35mm screening, but I have to say the digital print was pretty gorgeous, although a lot of credit for that could go to the production design and cinematography.
I saw Dick Tracy when it came out back in 1990. Of course I did, I was 9 years old and a fiend for big screen comic adaptations after Tim Burton’s Batman. However I haven’t seen the movie since, save for one cable viewing in my teens. I liked it then and after watching it tonight I think I might just love this thing.
It’s nuts. Crazy wacko out of this world how-did-this-get-made nuts. Tim Burton’s Batman looked kind of like a gothic comic strip, but Dick Tracy flat out FEELS like a moving comic strip, down to the bright one-tone colors in the wardrobe, sets and lighting.
The basic action plot is simple… Hero cop tries to stop an evil mobster from taking over the city. The emotional drama hit home for me a lot more than it did for the kid-me… Ultimately Tracy is wrestling with the concept of settling down and starting a family. He’s got the perfect wife-to-be in Tess Trueheart (the ever adorable Glenne Headly) and is suddenly saddled with an orphaned kid, played by the go-to child actor in those days Charlie Korsmo, who did this film, Hook and What About Bob? all within a three year period.
Their dysfunctional little family unit, where bickering is replaced with a great noir-ish rapid-fire wit-battles, is threatened by the introduction of Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney is more femme fatale than I remembered, with some truly filthy double entendres. I mean, there’s literally one where Tracy thinks Tess is at the door and asks what kind of ice cream she got and when he opens the door there’s Madonna with a smile and a “Fresh peach… and it’s starting to drip.” No shit! That’s the filthiest thing I’ve ever heard! This is a kid’s movie!
Not to mention you clearly, CLEARLY see Madonna’s nipples the first time Tracy goes backstage at The Ritz. There’s even a medium shot and there they are, poking through the transparent mesh she’s wearing… clear as crystal.
So you have a resonating emotional subplot, an exciting action main plot, considerably adult dark humor, snuck in nudity and that’s not even getting to the flat out amazing cast. The sheer amount of stars and brilliant character actors in this thing is unbelievable. Al Pacino as the main bad guy, for starters, but then you have William Forsythe, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Charles Fleischer (aka Roger Rabbit), Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Marshall Bell, R.G. Armstrong, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, Colm Meaney (for a few seconds anyway), James Caan, Henry Silva, Cahterine O’Hara, Michael J. Pollard, Estelle Parsons, Mike Mazurki and Mary Woronov… All in one movie! And in some of their cases buried under a ton of prosthetics.
My favorite has to be Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles. That casting cracks me up so much… you take one of the most brilliant actors of our time, a man who was on the cusp of winning his Oscar for Rain Man, and give him a character who speaks in run-together gibberish for the entire runtime of the movie. He only has two lines in the whole movie that are at all coherent and I love that.
And God… Pacino sets the bar for scenery chewing here. The dude hams it up big time as Big Boy Caprice. But unlike something like Batman & Robin, the over-the-top tone is perfect for this universe, which is brought to life visually by the amazing cinematographer Vittorio Storaro with some help by the matte painting master Harrison Ellenshaw, who was also in attendance. I wish I could have cornered him. I’d so do an AICN Legends piece on this guy (He did the matte painting on Star Wars, Empire, Pete’s Dragon, The Black Hole and was the effects supervisor on the original Tron). Maybe I can make that happen.
I know I’ll probably get slammed with the “nostalgia” curse by some of you, but honestly nostalgia only goes so far. I don’t know how I could like it MORE now than I did as a kid and have that be a result of nostalgia.
The movie is goofy, but earnest, broad but with some nice sublte touches here and there… There’s an amazing ensemble cast that feels like they’re having a blast, some crazy (Oscar winning) make-up work and true sense of watching a moving comic strip. Not to mention a helluva score by Danny Elfman, fresh of his iconic Batman music.
Beatty came out after and ended up doing an hour and a half Q&A… sometimes responding only “I’m not going to answer that,” but I got the sense that he wanted to give everybody in the theater a chance to ask a question, despite his people trying to wrap things up for the last half hour or so.
I’m going to go over the bullet points below, the highlights of the very long talk.
- A Blu-Ray for Dick Tracy is in the works. “I don’t want to get out ahead of whatever they want to do,” so no more details.
- Any possible making of for Dick Tracy on a coming Blu-Ray? Beatty isn’t fond of them, doesn’t see the point. He wants to let the film speak for itself.
- Sequel? “I’m gonna make another one.” To applause. Then when pressed on information Beatty said, “I think it’s dumb talking about movies before you make them. I just don’t do it. It gives you the perfect excuse to avoid making them.”
- Have you started the sequel? “Define ‘start’?” “I take so long to get around to making a movie that I don’t know when it starts.”
- The conversation about the look of a sequel is still going “on and and on and on.” Beatty might have let something slip here because he said he talks with Ellenshaw and DP Vittorio Storaro about the look of the sequel (how much digital vs. practical, etc) about this stuff, which would indicate they’re involved. He also said that Ellenshaw’s matte paintings in Dick Tracy move him. God, I’d love to see a return of hand-painted mattes especially in a universe that can be as stylistic as Dick Tracy’s.
- Dick Tracy was the first comic strip Beatty got into as a kid.
- “This picture does make me laugh, I have to tell you. I’m disgusting because I really do like it a lot.”
- “I always think of making a movie like vomiting. I don’t like to vomit, but I get to a point sometimes where I think, ‘Okay, I better go ahead and do this and I’ll feel better.’ When I finally get around to making a movie, that is why. ‘I’ll feel better if I make this movie,’ rather than ‘Oh, God… every day I gotta do this!’”
- Pacino wasn’t the first choice for the main bad guy. Beatty was having trouble getting this actor and just happened to be having lunch in Burbank when he sees Pacino. He goes over, tells him his casting troubles and describes the part and asks who he’d cast. Pacino says he’ll think on it and calls the next day asking, “Are you serious about wanting me to play this part?” Beatty responded, “Well, I am now!”
- To convince Pacino to take the part, Beatty recalled that Pacino had done a play called Artuo Ui (by Bertolt Brecht) that hadn’t been well-attended. “I said, why don’t you just bring what you did for Artuo Ui and bring that to this character. You gotta admit, that was very cagey of me! And that’s what he did!”
- Beatty purposefully cast Hoffman and Pacino in the same movie because in their youth they would always get confused for each other. “In the cutting room for Dick Tracy we had a cartoon that was from The New Yorker and the caption on the cartoon was “If Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino are not the same person, how come I’ve never seen them in a movie together?”’
- Beatty kinda tricked Hoffman into playing the part of Mumbles because they had a habit of doing an imitation of a mutual friend and Beatty told Hoffman that he was going to hire Harry Dean Stanton to play Mumbles, but ask him to talk like this impersonation. Hoffman objected and took the part. (Hint: Beaks leaned over at this point and said that imitation was Bob Evans).
- The day they filmed the interrogation scene between Tracy and Mumbles Hoffman had a fever of 102 and it was the day after winning his Oscar.
- Dick Van Dyke did a fall in the movie (presumably when he was shot) where he hurt himself. Beatty sent him a stair-climber because he felt guilty.
- “Casting is writing to me. As soon as you cast somebody it is a rewrite even if you don’t change the words.”
- Color scheme inspired by comic strip coloring process. Primary colors were positioned in the strips by the artists including numbers. For instance, if Yellow was 1, the artist would put a 1 on a car and a 1 on the flowers to note that they would be yellow. Which is why you see solid reds, yellows, greens and whites in the movie, with very little overlap or mixed colors. That’s the way they were used in comic strips.
- Dick Tracy was a big financial success, costing “in the upper 30s” and did well over $100 million domestically in its day. Also made over $60 million on home video. Of which Beatty got a chunk. “I was very happy with my chunk,” he said with a grin.
- Elia Kazan said to Beatty when he was young and spoke blithely about actors, “You know, the older you get the more respect you’ll have for actors.”
- “Character is plot. Casting, particularly in movies, is character. So, in a way casting becomes plot.”
- Beatty doesn’t know if it’s really possible to direct and act at the same time. “It’s the job of an actor to be at least somewhat out of control. It’s the job of a director to be at least somewhat in control.” But “At least you know you always have one actor who sort of agrees with you!”
- Charlie Korsmo is now teaching law.
- Beatty has always had final cut on his directorial efforts.
- Jeffrey Katzenberg was extremely supportive during Dick Tracy and tried to get Beatty to do a sequel right afterwards. Beatty said he didn’t want to do a sequel, he was preparing Bugsy at the time.
- Beatty made a comment to Boucher complimenting his diplomacy in mentioning his parent company (The Tribune Company) who Beatty had been in a huge legal battle with for the rights to Dick Tracy. Beatty won.
- “I never talk about things that I passed on.” So don’t expect to hear him discuss Kill Bill.
- Beatty doesn’t like Dick Tracy being compared to Batman. He likes the movie, complimented Burton’s work and Nicholson’s work, but he feels that Tracy “has more sentiment” and isn’t really a fair comparison. Tracy doesn’t do the same kind of action, the film didn’t cost nearly the same as Batman, which he thinks should more be compared with Superman.
- Any issues with the ratings process? Didn’t have any trouble at the time, but Beatty had some thoughts on the current ratings system. He called it “archaic” in this day and age when every 10 year old has a laptop and is exposed to the internet, for good or ill.
- Recalled a story of sitting in a screening room with a Catholic church representative/censor and going over a shot of Faye Dunaway running down steps in Bonnie & Clyde. They ran it back maybe 16 times because the censor could swear he could see her breast when in fact it was just her blouse.
- Beatty supports the idea of a “variable ticket price.” He said, “I believe it’s nonsense that we charge the same price for every movie.” He doesn’t like exhibitors using 3-D to charge more, he thinks different movies should be more expensive. I, for one, completely disagree with this. I love that box office is the great equalizer and that you pay the same amount for your ticket to the movie that cost $10,000 to make that you to for the movie that cost $300,000,000. But Warren Beatty is way cooler than me, so what do I know?
- Then Beaks, the biggest Ishtar fan I know, got to throw a question out to Mr. Beatty. Beaks asked if his stance on not talking about a film before it was made had anything to do with the hatchet job done on Ishtar pre-release. Beatty loves Ishtar and that it had three of the most successful previews either he or Dustin Hoffman have ever had on a movie. They fully expected the LA press on the junket day to have the same reaction, but it played cold.
Turns out a producer named David Puttnam was put in charge of Columbia in the place of the guy who greenlighted the movie and it seems he and Dustin had some troubles in the past. The day before the LA press screening Puttnam did an interview in the LA Times (which Beatty said with a bit of emphasis, nodding to Boucher) where he “sliced and diced Hollywood… the prices of films, the salaries of stars, etc. It was really an attack. Ishtar he talked a lot about, said it had been so self-indulgently made.”
This interview was waiting for every one of these critics the morning of the press screening and as a result “everyone had read this attack on these self-indulgent, horrendous people and how much money they make.” The screening bombed.
- The overall critical reception to Ishtar was good and Beatty feels it’s kind of sad how it’s viewed today.
- Boucher suggested doing an “apology screening” of Ishtar with Beatty, Elaine May and Dustin Hoffman to make up for that nasty interview. Much applause.
- When pressed, Beatty said that early Disney animated movies spurned his love of cinema. Except for one in particular. “Fantasia scared the hell out of me!” But he loved Bambi as a small child. He also liked Laurel and Hardy.
And that was about it. Have to say, Beatty was incredibly charming and funny, genuinely engaging with audience members as they asked questions. I was very impressed with his Q&A here and I can’t wait to get Dick Tracy on Blu-Ray! This is something I don’t think I would have said yesterday, but after this refreshing viewing of the film I absolutely am on board for a resurgence of Dick Tracy love! Just don’t color over Madonna’s nipples.
Tomorrow brings a double feature of Wrath of Khan with director Nicholas Meyer in attendance and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindeloff on hand to talk about it.