Two words in a N.Y. Times, Michael Cieply-authored piece about Warren Beatty‘s still-untitled Howard Hughes film — “somewhat lighthearted” — have altered perceptions about what kind of film it might be. Or my perceptions, at least. I’m sorry but the word “light” scares me. I’m a much bigger fan of films that go for “dry” or “mildly subversive” or “even-toned” or “Antonioni-esque” or “haunted” or something along those lines.
In my mind “somewhat lighthearted” means a little bit swoony and gentile. It indicates a kind of audience-friendly attitude, one that it might even flirt with frothy from time to time. It suggests a film that doesn’t want to frown or brood, that doesn’t want to be cloudy or provocative or open any closets with skeletons.
That’s not to say that Beatty’s film will necessarily conform to these descriptions. I know nothing. It may be a whole ‘nother animal. But if I know Mr. Beatty’s tendencies as a scenarist (and I do) it’ll definitely deliver an emotional payoff during Act Three.
The film may be released this year but who knows? Cieply reports that while New Regency Pictures, which is producing the $30 million venture with Beatty, releases its films through 20th Century Fox or Fox Searchlight, “people briefed on the situation said decisions about the scope, timing and precise vehicle for the film can be answered only when the movie is finally seen.”
Beatty’s only quote in the Cieply piece: “I would appreciate if you would say Mr. Beatty good-naturedly declined to comment.” Totally typical.
Guesses about the nature of Beatty’s ultra-secretive Hughes film have been necessarily vague all along, but if you’ve read Peter Biskind‘s Beatty biography (“Star“) you’ve absorbed the idea that Beatty has long felt a certain spiritual kinship with Hughes, and that the film, which has long been understood to have something do with a relationship between the elderly tycoon and a young woman named Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), will be a form of self-portraiture.
Cieply’s analysis, which is based on comments from “one person briefed on the evolution of Mr. Beatty’s film,” agrees with the self-portraiture aspect but in an unexpected way. The parallels or similarities, the source says, are more between the arc of Collins’ Mabrey character and what Beatty went through in Hollywood during the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Cieply points out that like Beatty, Collins’ Marla was raised by Southern Baptists. Like Beatty, she arrived in Hollywood in 1958. “She is [then] put under contract by Hughes, by then a film mogul,” Cieply writes. Marla befriends Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), described by Cieply as “another young arrival from the heartland.” By the end of the film Marla has experienced, like Beatty, “the collapse of an old moral order and the rise of a new one in the early 1960s,” Cieply writes.
In short, Cieply’s source confides, the film “has changed considerably with the years, and is no longer entirely about Howard Hughes.”
Cieply reports that Beatty’s film shot a pick-up “last weekend,” but the Hughes pic finished principal on 6.8.14 after 74 days of filming, having begun on 2.24.14. Beatty has presumably been editing ever since, or over the last nine months. Beatty told me last week that the editing is in the final stages but no director ever really finishes cutting a film. They are always forced to stop cutting because a final DCP has to be assembled.
If at the end of this process Beatty’s film works and it has the right kind of goods, he’ll want to show it to Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer sometime after Cannes and put it into the Telluride Film Festival and bask in all that awards-blogger love. It’s the friendliest place for venerated directors in the world. Beatty will also want to send it to the Venice and Toronto festivals…right?
Beatty’s instincts have always been cautious and reluctant. He has a little man in his chest who’s always whispering “wait…wait a bit more…let’s digress…can you trust that person?…kick it around…wait some more…re-think, re-cut, talk things over, wait a bit more, hold back…rescramble the eggs.” He’ll always try to charm and deflect and to some extent micro-manage until a release date is upon him and there’s no more wiggle room.
And yet after an impromptu phone chat I had with Beatty in early November of 1981 (I had called the Reds editing room and spoken to his cousin, David McLeod, who hooked me up with Beatty) he very generously and graciously allowed me to see Reds all alone in a small Paramount screening room, ahead of most of the critical community. I didn’t expect this. We were talking about the limited, bordering-on-nonexistent marketing effort for Reds at the time, and I was explaining how Paramount wasn’t talking much. And then out of the blue Beatty said, “You wanna see the movie?”
I would be most honored and discreet if he would offer a similar invitation when the Hughes film is finished.
The Hughes project has the longest creative gestation period of any film in Hollywood history, having initially hatched (at least in verbal kick-around terms) in 1973, according to Biskind‘s “Star” (page 406).
Beatty is the director, star, producer and writer of the Hughes film. It costars Taissa Farmiga, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. The cinematography is by Caleb Deschanel.