I just watched the DVD, and the restoration is really miraculous to behold.
Peter Fonda: Well, it all serendipitously came together. I was trying to find a print, and Frank said, “Well, there’s a guy who could do this,” and he had all the elements we needed. Bob O’Neil at Universal. And when I finally heard Pete Winter and Richard Portman’s sound design on a good surround sound system with the cottonwood leaves blowing over my head – I thought damn, that puts another facet into this film, it’s so great.

So this is a wonderful thing for all of us. We’re not making money on it; as far as I’m concerned, we’re allowing people to see extraordinary work that was done, not just for its moment, but that’s still extraordinary now. And it makes us, as the people who made the movie, feel…not quite validated, but it’s a completion.

It is sort of a vindication too, because The Hired Hand never really got its due at the time.

Fonda: (New Republic film critic) Stanley Kauffmann gave it a beautiful review when it came out in 1971. He gave it an even better review when we showed it at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and this year he was there to introduce the film. Yeah. And he’s like critic emeritus.

Verna Bloom: 88 years old, he was completely off the cuff, and it was beautiful. Really beautiful.

So how did this restoration project come about?

Frank Mazzola: After I did “Performance” with Donald Cammell, and it finally came out in 1970…we went out to the desert with Vilmos (Zsigmond), my brother and a bunch of friends and shot this ten-minute short film in Cinemascope called “The Argument.” And what happened was, over the years, it got lost. My family had a big old house in Hollywood…and eventually, thirty years later, I find this negative in the garage. It turns out to be in perfect shape. The soundtrack was gone, but the people who did the film were still in town, all the characters, including me. (Editor) Dede Allen and I got Warner Bros. to come in and do all the sound on the show, and everything was comped.

So I completed it, and had a screening one day. Hamish McAlpine shows up. He had been a friend of Donald Cammell’s, and was in town for one day. We watch the film, and he said, “Do you think if I got ‘Wild Side’ back,” the last film Donald made, with Chris Walken, Anne Heche, Joan Chen and Steven Bauer, “you could restore it to Donald’s original cut?” So I put that one back together, restored 32 minutes of footage, had the soundtrack re-scored…anyway, we had great success.

“Wild Side” is a terrific movie too, actually.

Mazzola: It is. We went all over the world with the film, and it got unbelievable reviews. Then Hamish came back to me and he said, “There’s this film I saw as a kid which I know you worked on. I sat through it twice and I’ve always loved it. Do you think there’s any chance you could get that one into restoration also?” It was The Hired Hand. Peter and I had tried earlier, but couldn’t get anywhere with it.

I called up the Universal vaults, because it takes $5,000 just to open the doors and see if there’s anything there. And ironically, the guy who picked up the phone was Bob O’Neil – the same guy who had done all the line-up work on The Hired Hand, all the original montages. Now he’s the man running the vaults there. He says, “Frank Mazzola? The Hired Hand? I loved that fuckin’ film, man! Let’s see what we got, let’s get it done!” So he opened the vault, pulled everything up and checked it all out.

Wow. What kind of condition was the material in?

Fonda: It was quite good, actually.

Bloom: You were lucky. We were lucky!

Mazzola: The soundtrack was mono, but we had all the elements. In the original negative, there was some streaking in the montage work, there was some embedded dirt that needed to be cleaned up. But overall, the stuff was in good shape, and Bob O’Neil gets the credit for that.

Fonda: Meanwhile, I went through the front door. I talked to Ron Meyer, the head of Universal – knowing I had my little espionage happening at the back door – because I had been invited to take this film, along with other films I had done, to various festivals…and there was no print. Ronnie said, “I can’t micromanage this place!” I said, “No kidding – just tell me who I talk to in business and legal.” He told me to call Nadia Bronson, and she said, “There’s no print? I can’t believe it!” She turns out to be a Hired Hand freak. So I tell her I have somebody in the vault checking our elements. About three days later, Frank tells me they have all the elements, that there’s a little work we have to do but it’s not nearly what we thought we’d have to do.

So Nadia was promoting this deal for us with Universal, which is not an easy thing to do, but she was sort of shuffled away as the Vivendi thing started…and she passed it in a smooth lateral move to Deborah Roth – also a Hired Hand freak! And they made this great deal for us, made it all possible. Then, by chance, we ran into some Sundance people at the Santa Fe Film Festival, they said they were interested, and then their interest became more…mo’ betta, because they were thrilled to get this as one of their first four theatrical releases. It’s a limited release, but we wanted it for the big-screen reviews, which we got.

And I’ve personally traveled around this country talking to the people who ship the video boxes from one place to another, the stock people who’ll see my product and say, “Oh yeah, that’s The Hired Hand – we met Peter, we met Frank.” We’ve talked to Ingram, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video…I mean, we did the work! We went one-on-one with the people who eventually do the actual racking and stacking. So you’ll walk into a Wal-Mart and there it’ll be, stacked and racked out front. This is what we worked for.

The interview continues in part three of PETER FONDA SHOWS HIS “HIRED HAND”>>>

Posted on November 4, 2003 in Interviews by


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