Read Good Shit On Musings
It was 1972, and Lewis Rudin had a problem—specifically, a Johnny Carson problem. Rudin, a real estate developer and committed New Yorker, had founded the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), an organization dedicated to cleaning up the city’s image (and thus, its attractiveness to corporate clients) via aggressive campaigning and spit-shine marketing; the organization was, for example, instrumental in the development of the iconic I NY campaign.
But all the good work ABNY was doing, Rudin fumed to the organization’s executive director Mary Holloway, felt like pushing Sisyphus’ boulder when he switched on NBC late at night: “How can we change the image of New York when Johnny Carson’s opening monologue every night is about people getting mugged in Central Park?”
“Rope was an interesting technical experiment that I was lucky and happy to be a part of, but I don’t think it was one of Hitchcock’s better films.” So wrote Farley Granger, one of its two stars, in his memoir Include Me Out. The actor was in his early twenties when the Master of Suspense plucked him from Samuel Goldwyn’s roster. He’d star in the first production from the director’s new Transatlantic Pictures as Phillip Morgan, a pianist and co-conspirator in murder. John Dall would play his partner, homicidal mastermind Brandon Shaw. Granger had the stiff pout to Dall’s trembling smirk.
The “interesting technical experiment” was Hitchcock’s decision to shoot the film, adapted from a twenty-year-old English play, as a series of 10-minute shots stitched together into a simulated feature-length take. This allowed him to retain the stage’s spatial and temporal unities while guiding the audience with the camera’s eye. In the process, he’d embed a host of meta-textual and erotic nuances within the sinister mise-en-scène.
“Written by Joe Eszterhas” is a phrase that has not had much of a workout on US cinema screens in over twenty years—and it’s arguable whether the 1997, 19-screen nationwide release of certifiable shitshow Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Film exactly qualifies as “a workout.” But for those of us who had the parental training wheels come off our theatrical filmgoing in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, there were few individuals more central to our cinematic coming-of-age. And with perhaps the sole exception of Shane Black, a different animal in any case, none of the others—the Spielbergs, Camerons, Tarantinos—were exclusively screenwriters. For over a decade, the Hungarian-born, Hollywood-minted superstar writer of Basic Instinct bestrode the adult-oriented commercial screenwriting mainstream like a smirking colossus in a tight dress wearing no underwear. And given that Hollywood is primarily how the USA, the most loudly, proudly self-created of nations, expresses itself to itself and to the rest of the world, by the man’s own bombastic standards it’s only a slight exaggeration to suggest that America, between the years of 1985 and 1995, was written by Joe Eszterhas.