How did Martin Scorsese get involved? Was he just a longtime fan of the film?
Fonda: He was. I went to him while he was shooting “Bringing Out the Dead,” knowing I shouldn’t interrupt him, but not having any other time. So out there on the set on Long Island, Marty sees me. You know Marty talks like a machine gun – he couldn’t believe there wasn’t a print, and he said, “I’ll do everything I can to get the noise going about this, with the Film Preservation Society and everyone else!”
When we came back to Tribeca with the film, he introduced it for its first screening in the U.S. And you see him speaking on the DVD – only two minutes, but two minutes for Marty is like a half-hour. He does not slur his words. He’s a total film buff, just loves movies and loves the idea that they remain available to the public. And I agree totally! Also, the interesting thing about having a film library is you can go back and watch them again and compare films to your memory of them. Or if you just want to have that nice, incredible trip, you get to take it all the time, beautifully, thankfully, from Sundance and Showtime and all the people who made it possible.
So as of our premiere at the Egyptian, I will have finally finished producing the movie, with Frank, with Verna – my two new co-producers. It’ll be done. It’s so great, this many years later, to not be wondering: did we do well? Thirty-two years later, it’s done – on a little piece of plastic. The Collector’s Edition… don’t tell anyone, because there might not be many left on the shelves – it’ll be snapped right up, so get yours quick…
And ain’t DVD grand? Now the film is preserved for posterity, and looks better than it ever has.
Fonda: It looks so beautiful. It’s a beautiful package, they really did a great job on it. And we hope that even though it costs more, people buy this two-disc version because the added material is so interesting. Some of it is very funny, some of it is very straight for film buffs, for Zsigmond-heads, for people who admire Frank’s work, for Verna and myself, for Westerns. It’s been such a pleasure for me to be out on the road with Verna, with Jay (Cocks, her husband), who were kind of engaged…
Bloom: We were keeping company during the time of shooting The Hired Hand, and as a result of having the great good fortune to work on that extraordinary film – in one of the most beautiful places on God’s Earth – when we decided to get married, we got married in Santa Fe.
Mazzola: It was magical, you know. Everybody captured the spirit of that timeframe in the film. The way the film was shot, the way the montages condense time…it’s all part of the romanticism of the film. I think everybody involved tuned into the spirit and the land and the characters. That’s why the film plays in such a unique way. Every time I look at the performances on the screen, I realize it’s very rare that you see characters performed this way. It’s almost musical between the people, those kinds of subtleties, nuances, subtleties within the nuances.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever had in my life is, when we were looking to tighten the film early on, we started cutting a lot of those subtelties and nuances that we had built in. But when we ran that version of the film, the tightening actually made it play longer. It wasn’t working because you missed all those things. It went flat, because that’s where the life of the film was. So we made some other cuts and put all that good stuff back in – that was a great lesson.
The film is innovative in many ways, not just in the editing but in the photography, the musical score…
Fonda: If Universal hadn’t treated this, at the time, as just a little $1.25 million film – once they realized they weren’t going to get another “Easy Rider” out of it – I think they should have put it up for Oscar consideration in 1972. I don’t think there was another film that had cinematography as good as this one, editing as good as Frank’s, an incredible score – there’s three categories at least.
Bloom: It’s also the way Peter directed us. The fact that this was a first-time director is amazing. Amazing! It’s so wonderful that you had the guts to hold the camera on people’s faces. You did it with yourself, you did it with Oates and you did it with me. Because there’s all this stuff going on. You chose to let the takes run long, you didn’t say cut. Nobody does that anymore – everything in movies has to be fast. People don’t have patience anymore.
To go back to the genesis, how did you find the script? You had been out selling “Easy Rider” around the world…
Fonda: I was opening “Easy Rider” in London – after the censors finally let it go – in Sepetmber ’69, when a script is given to me by a model and designer, Sue Barton. So whoever had it, whatever consortium had paid Alan Sharp to write it, had it brought to me. The first time I read it, I read it three times. It was so well written, I was sensing everything about it. I was not after a film to direct, and I definitely wasn’t after a Western. I was looking for a script that me and my partner Bill Hayward would produce, and I would act in. I didn’t think I was quite ready to direct. I knew (Dennis) Hopper was right on target to direct “Easy Rider.” He had that passion, he knew form and substance and framing – he was the guy. But I was not quite sure of myself.
After reading the script five times, though, so much of it just came physically into my body that I thought, I’m gonna have a hell of a time trying to explain what I want to somebody else. Let me see if I can get to direct this, too. I understood that if I backed myself up with a great cameraman like Bill Ziggy – that’s what we used to call Vilmos – and good editing and all the rest…well, here were are, 34 years after I first read the script, talking about this wonderful film. For me, it’s an absolute joy. But it was all in the script, it was demanded by the script.
Now, for example, I could not give a complete reason why there’s this little dead girl in the river at the beginning… because I just couldn’t afford it. But it worked fine for me as an abstract moment, to say that if you try to recapture youth, it will fall apart in your hands. So innocence, in the character of Dan, played by Robert Pratt, dies first. Ambiguity, my character, carries wisdom into the plot, and wisdom – Warren Oates as Arch – ends up taking over. Like when Warren says to Harry, about his wife, “If I were you, I wouldn’t go puttin’ no questions to her. She may not take kindly to you settin’ up judgment on her.” Or what about when he says, “By your leave, ma’am, I’ll just finish my smoke”…far out! This is all written by Alan Sharp – and the guy’s a Scotsman! He speaks with a brogue. It’s great, man!
The dialogue does have a very authentic American ring to it.
Bloom: It just rolled off the tongue. I mean, Alan’s work is so good that it’s like he does half your job for you as an actor. Really. And the only person who talked about the writer was Stanley Kauffmann, at the Q & A in Tribeca. Nobody ever mentions the writer, and there wouldn’t be any movie if it weren’t for the writer! They get such short shrift, and this guy’s script was like a gift.
Fonda: I called Alan during the restoration, when we had something to show. I told him I’d love him to see it, that he’d be happy with what we’d done. Well, he couldn’t, he had to go to New Zealand, but finally he said, “Peter, you know what I really want? I just want to hear that music one more time.” Now my wife Becky, who I’ve been with for almost 29 years now, had never seen the film. She heard about it because she knew Warren Oates, and a friend of hers, Dan Gerber – of Gerber baby foods, so I guess he can get whatever he wants – had a tape of the soundtrack. I was in Key West shooting “92 in the Shade” while everyone sat around smoking pot at Tom McGuane’s house listening to the score for “The Hired Hand.” They were absolutely mesmerized and I thought, Far out – they haven’t even seen the film! So now my intentions are to finally put out a soundtrack CD as well, and for Bruce Langhorne, the composer, to get all the money for it.
The interview continues in part four of PETER FONDA SHOWS HIS “HIRED HAND”>>>
Posted on November 4, 2003 in Interviews by Tim Merrill
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