Monday, March 27, 2017

Desert Heat - from Don't Quit Your Day Job

Eddie Lomax and the bike

JUNE 2, Sunday 1974

We met May 1, 1974. June 2, a month later, was a beautiful day, according to Tom's Diary. 

We were up early, had breakfast, read the Times, walked through Central Park, watched the end of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Then we'd wandered up Madison Avenue around 85th street and bought some records and cookies. (Who would have ever thought that records would become obsolete? Cookies are apparently immune from ever disappearing.) We went to Tom's sublet apartment and drank some wine. Then because he'd talked about his writing, and I was interested, he showed me one of his screenplays. Diary entry - "Let her read part of my screenplay. That I think was a mistake" is what Tom, in a very tactful understatement, writes at the end of his June 2 entries. Fortunately, he was not in the least upset or influenced by my opinions. However, I continued to suffer from my own erroneous ideas, feelings and understanding of how the world works for many, many years after this event.

I actually remember that moment like it was yesterday. I remember the perfectly and professionally typed up scripts, nicely bound, one even in leather. I still have them. Was I impressed with all the work he'd done and with the scope of his imagination and vision? Was I proud? Was I amazed at the effort he'd put into these scripts, all on his own initiative? Was I awed by the time, energy, the thought, the heart, the intelligence he'd displayed? No. Not for a second. Indeed, quite the opposite. I was appalled, overwhelmed, dismayed. Here was another windmill to tilt, and I was actually furious.

What I did not remember correctly was how soon this big blowup occurred after we'd met. We had known each other just one month and one day, and there I was passing judgment on his talents and hopes and dreams, raining on his parade and crushing his ambitions. Who the heck was I? This was such a combination of breathtaking arrogance and ignorance that even now I am deeply ashamed to remember it.

How could I have been so stupid, so misguided? I was very much a child of the middle class ethos, and the very essence of that ethos is to be self-effacing. Never overtly calling attention to yourself or your achievements or taking yourself too seriously is the first commandment of being middle class. The second is 'pass the martinis'. However, being self-effacing will not get you anywhere in the arts. The lens lice, strutting popinjays, narcissists, and exhibitionist all have a head start in the artist game. Tom was none of those, of course. But still, my whole nature revolted at claiming the right to not only be an actor, but also trying to thrust yourself forward as a screenwriter. The effrontery!!

Of course to Tom, who was not hampered like I was by the excessive vanity of such overdone modesty, it seemed perfectly natural that an actor should write a screenplay.

On the High Desert in California to see the'Desert Heat' shooting.
Tom's dream come true.
And I made another miscalculation; I naively believed that before Tom should dare to write a screenplay, before he wasted more time and effort chasing another rainbow, he must earn the imprimatur of someone of theatrical authority. Then he would be justified in 'wasting' the time involved. I was firmly in the camp of its being everyone's moral imperative to work a nine to five job, unless you raised your hand nicely and teacher said you could be excused. Teacher, of course, being some recognized authority in the culture world.

In my view, he'd proved he had an acting talent by landing a great acting job first time out doing "Promises, Promises" for David Merrick, but writing? Who was he to pick up pencil and paper? What hubris!

I wasn't wholly ignorant about theater and movies. I was studying with Lee Strasberg, working at the Actor's Studio as house manager, auditing acting sessions there, watching all of their productions that I could, studying with Uta Hagen and had been for several years, and going to all the classical and contemporary theater that I could manage, and in New York City, there's always quite a lot of theater.

Though being blessed by those of high reputation in your field is a practical and financial benefit to your artistic ventures, for me, it went beyond practical. I looked up to those who'd achieved successes that I and the NY Times admired, and I revered and respected the opinions of those who seemed worthy. I felt they must have earned their place in the pantheon of greatness because they had demonstrated competence; you know, they passed the exam and their name was inscribed on a stone tablet somewhere so everyone would know they got an A. To me, they were founts of wisdom whose judgment was beyond question, certainly by the likes of me.

That may sound like becoming humility, but I think it was really just a way of avoiding putting myself on the line artistically, basically, cowardice on my part. Putting yourself on the line is tough for anybody. Your ego can end up taking quite a beating. There are creeps out there who live for doling out malicious criticism, merited or not. 

However, I did not fully grasp what was different about the arts until many, many years later. The difference is that working in the arts is not like the usual job. There are no objective standards against which to measure the integrity or perceptiveness of those who are at the top in their fields. Acting is not accounting or engineering or marketing or running a shoe factory. In those fields of work, it's perfectly obvious who is worthy, because there are measurable results. Plus, those who are unworthy usually go out of business.

But artistic professions are different. Lots of people in the arts can get wealthy without doing much of anything of any immediate or lasting value. For instance, there are Critic's Darlings, artists who some besotted critic has decided can do no wrong and who, as a result, go on to reap fortunes at the box office because of people like me who slavishly follow the critics; there are the trend following artists who hop on any bandwagon, 'you want vampires, I've got a vampire that will knock your socks off'; then there is stunting, a ploy which involves hiring celebrities of the moment like football players,(OJ), or politicians daughters, (Bristol, Chelsea) to get ratings, or one of Tom’s favorite Hollywood stunts, which he experienced firsthand, Smell-O-Vision, movies accompanied by evocative fragrance spayed into the theater, - however, the combination of odors drove the audience out, so it didn't last very long; and lastly, the very obvious and ubiquitous publicity hounds who decorate the tabloids every week, extolling themselves. Perhaps the most prevalent form of cheating is nepotism. As Moss Hart once said, "Nepotism runs like a giant river through show business." Those are a few of the types in show biz who are out there wasting everyone's time and money. This is not meant to disparage the study of art history or the practice of art criticism. But scholars look back and explain the brilliance of the past, not the present, and great contemporary critics are even rarer than great artists.

For instance, in Shakespeare's day, playwrights were supposed to adhere to the Greek classical standard of unity of time, place, and action. That Shakespeare did not attend university or follow the dramatic unities led to his being critically underrated by the intelligentsia of England for almost 100 years. Samuel Johnson was the first literary critic to look seriously at Shakespeare's work and accord him genius status.

So Tom was right and courageous in pursuing his dream and his vision. And I was just as wrong and misguided as a person can get. No one can actually say who is a great artist and who is not, who is worthy or who is a waste of time. Some great artists die broke, some hacks make millions. Some of the most popular artists of an era are entirely forgotten in ten years, some rejected works of art go on to everlasting greatness. You just have to do what you do and sail by your own lights. Tom always knew that. And he knew it because he was an inveterate moviegoer. I used to kid him that he'd seen every movie ever made, and I was not far wrong. There was hardly a movie that we ever heard about, American or foreign, that he hadn't seen and remembered distinctly and was able to discuss its best scenes, good points and failings. He loved movies.

He did finally have a movie made from one of his scripts, which is a rare honor in Hollywood. It's called Desert Heat starring Jean Claude Van Damme, and it has done very well. Tom was a fan of Jean Claude Van Damme and of all good action/adventure movies. Desert Heat is a quirky action picture with a lot of comedy and some interesting characters in a script Tom wrote during our frustrating days in Hollywood. He loved reading people's comments about the movie on Amazon. I share a couple of them here below:

Van Damme Like Never Before, April 20, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

With regular Jean-Claude Van Damme movies I expect a movie with no plot and pointless action, but Desert Heat was a hysterical action packed adventure of suicidal loner Eddie Lomax (Van Damme) on pursuit to reclaim his motorcycle from a gang of vicious outbackers. Meeting along the way unforgettable characters and of course killing those who got in his way. Van Damme actually does some good acting in this movie with punch lines that kept me laughing the whole time (ex."can't we all just get along") Those who expect regular Van Damme martial arts to used in this movie will be surprised because Van Damme uses character development and revenge as more of an approach to the key element in this movie (except for the end). I loved Desert Heat and recommend it to those who like funny action movies that are very entertaining!

Damme good movie., June 11, 2002
By Chris G, Willhoite - See all my reviews

This review is from: Desert Heat (DVD)

Based on the 1962 Samurai film, Yojimbo, Desert Heat captures the story well in a modern, desert setting starring none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. Eddie Lomax{Van Damme} tries to escape the horrors he faced in the war, in the form of nightmares, by riding out into the desert to end his life and is also trying to deliver a gift to an old war buddy who he saved in the war. The action heats up when his gift is stolen and thus frees a small town from two rival gangs using war games and acting like a one man army. Even near the end a character asks a person out to a movie called Yojimbo as kind of a humorous hint as to what the movie was based on. An action packed movie with comedy, a touch of romance, and a bit of Native American lore, Desert Heat is an awesome flick for any fan of action, comedy, and/or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The Sonic Motel set for Desert Heat with very good friend Randy Hall, stunt coordinator. Desert Heat was a very apt title. That day the temperature was about 108 F. the movie was also released as Inferno.

Thank God he didn't listen to me all those many years ago. He kept right on writing. Here's looking at you, Tom.

No comments:

Post a Comment