CA: First of all, were you happy with the DVD and what
they did with all the transferring of elements.
MH: Well, it was my first experience supervising a DVD.
I was very, very pleased with it. It's a chance to go in and get
the kind of color that we had originally on Technicolor, the original
dye transfer prints, which, as nice as Eastman color is, it's not
like the dye transfer.
CA: So you were able to use all the original elements?
MH: No. We were able to use a good Eastman color print,
but the whole process of DVD allows you to make the black's blacker
and just really get good rich color.
CA: That's great, so you got to deal a lot with the technical
aspects of the release. That must have been fun.
MH: It was.
CA: Most of the interviews and articles that have come out
in connection with TWO LANE BLACKTOP talked about the extreme pre-publicity
it got when it was first released, like the whole Esquire thing,
and then the lack of publicity whenever the film was actually physically
released. I got the feeling that you felt that the studio wasn't
exactly behind the film when it came out.
MH: It's kind of like ancient history now. The studio itself
was very behind it. The sales department, I think, booked the picture
in more theatres that any other film that they'd had up until then.
They had a tremendous hype on it. But I think that the executives,
who don't really pay much attention until the films are actually
made, particularly Mr. Wasserman, just didn't like the movie. I
can't say they should have liked it, but he didn't like it and he
just decided not to put any advertising money into it. The publicity
had already been generated and Beverly Walker was the publicist
and she did a sensational job. She was on location for the whole
picture. She was terrific. She was the one who actually got the
Esquire publication of the screenplay and a lot of other things.
It's just that that (Universal) was a one man studio at the time,
and I don't know if it was just that he didn't like the film or
if he just didn't want to continue making pictures like it. Because
they had a whole series of, I think five, five or six, I can't remember,
films that were under Ned Tannen's supervision that were a similar
mandate, which was to give filmmakers the freedom to make the films
they wanted to make. And I think he (Wasserman) just very discreetly
and quietly put a lid on that.
CA: You worked with Corman originally, and then you did
this. What's your philosophy of filmmaking? Would you like to be
working at a bigger studio like Universal or do you prefer to work
where the filmmaker and the director has more to do with the actual
product that comes out?
MH: :Well, oddly that was the most freedom I ever had. I
had no problems with the process. We literally had in our contract
"final cut." With one provision being that the picture be under
two hours. Well, my first cut was three and a-half-hours. Then I
brought it down to two and a half and then two and a quarter. Then
I got it under two hours and I liked the process of whittling away
so much, I brought it down another fifteen minutes. So I didn't
feel any restriction at all in the process of making the picture.
CA: Any chance of the director's cut of TWO LANE BLACKTOP
coming out at three and a-half-hours?
MH: No, no. The director's cut is at one and three quarter
CA: How do you feel about the cult status that the film
has taken on? People have been bootlegging tapes off of TV and now
it's playing at the Egyptian in Hollywood. I assume to a full house.
MH: Well I'm not sure it will be a full house. It has played
a lot lately. The Cinematheque (who does the Egyptian programing)
has played it before, and it's also out on DVD now, so that makes
a difference too. I must say that until now it's always filled the
house. It has been gratifying every time it has played. As far as
the cult thing, my feeling is that cult pictures come about because
they're not available. I'm not saying if that's good or bad. I'd
be very happy not to have it be a cult film, to have it be a film
that everybody's seen.
CA: When it died in the theatres did you ever expect it
to get resurrected like this again? Or did you just think it was
MH: I think when you're raised to make movies, you're taught
in kindergarten that it's a temporary thing. The product is disposable.
You generally are led to believe in three or six months it's forgotten.
So it is nice. I think that maybe it's a result of video and DVD.
Whatever the reason it's terrific that these films are available
and we can see them.
CA: Since I've had the DVD, I've been showing it to people
and most of them haven't heard of it, but since I'm a film buff
I tend to make people come over and watch stuff they've never heard
of. When I try to describe the plot, of which there is very little,
they don't think "oh, wow, let's watch that," but whenever they
do watch it, they're riveted. Why do you think that that such a
slow methodical story has so much appeal?
MH: Oh, God, I'm the wrong person to ask.
CA: Why do you say that?
MH: Well, I mean first of all, I like movies with a lot
of plot. And so this was kind of against my nature to do something
like this, but I think that what it is, I mean what attracted me
to the subject matter, before there was this wonderful Rudy Wurlitzer
script, was I think, gambling. I think I'm attracted to that theme.
I'm in the process now of trying to instigate the release on DVD
of some pictures that I like, putting them under my banner, and
kind of tauting them. Two out of the first group that I like, I
don't know if I'll get the rights to them, are movies about gambling.
CA: I read somewhere that you felt that TWO LANE BLACKTOP
was more of a gambling film than a road film.
MH: Well, I only like road films. I think all of my movies
are road films, but that's kind of like the generic background.
The subject matter is never the road, and in this case the subject
matter is gambling, but it's also more than that. Gambling is the
subject matter, but the theme is really "quest for perfection."
That's another thing that interests me.
CA: A lot's been written about your male leads, James Taylor
and Dennis Wilson, both of whom went on to notable careers in music.
But Warren Oats is just amazing in his portrayal of this man who
is just relentlessly searching for something.
MH: I think that Warren in particular, required the least
direction just because we'd worked together so much...I guess at
that point though, we hadn't really. We did all the work on the
first one. When we did THE SHOOTING we argued and we actually came
to lock horns on one occasion. He refused to do a scene, until we
compromised, and I said, "ok, we'll do it your way and we'll do
it my way and I'll decide later which one to use." And he got the
point, and after that we never really had to talk about it. We talked
about a lot of other things and we became lifelong friends. We just
got through it all on the first movie.
CA: Everything I've read about this film has talked about
the three male leads, as far as characters go. I didn't really see
much about "the girl." What was that character for you? I mean as
a woman watching the film I was interested in her because she seemed
to have the most interesting agenda, because there was almost a
non-agenda to her actions. The men all seem to think they have their
goals figured out.
MH: She's interesting as a character because I think that
she's one of the few female protagonists in my movies who doesn't
have a strong agenda. I think that for one reason or another, the
women in my films tend to be kind of involved in a quest of some
kind or involved in a statement, and they tend to be much, much
stronger women, and stronger antagonist truly. I mean in THE SHOOTING,
she really is the antagonist. In IGUANA, she's the antagonist. Here
she is more of a catalyst. She's more of a strong structural figure.
She causes everything else to happen.
CA: I love the scene when she leaves. When she decides to
leave her entire bag of belongings in order to just take off because
she's through with everything...
MH: I guess this may be forbidden territory for directors
to talk about, but I have to say that that's one of the things I
love about the process of making films. That was not scripted. We
discovered when it was time for her to get on the motorcycle, that
she couldn't take it with her.
That's excellent...that makes it even better actually.
MH: You know, that's what it is on
a day to day basis. Every scene is like that because there are discoveries
that you make. That was the great thing about shooting in sequence.
CA: Where did you find Laurie Bird
MH: She was a model in New York.
A teenage model, and someone had recommended her. Rudy and I met
with her and were really intrigued with her, I mean who she was.
And we did three hours of taped interviews with her, and this is
at the very beginning of the process. She was, in many ways, a prototype
for the character. Then I tried to find an actress to play the role.
We literally interviewed five hundred actresses from New York, LA,
and I made a trip to San Francisco, and couldn't find anybody. Somebody
had the brilliant idea, "let's test the original."
CA: Harry Dean Stanton, he probably
has one of the greatest cameo scenes in the world. How did he come
to be in the film?
MH: Well, he was part of my stock
company. He didn't know what the role was. In those days you could
just summon an actor who was also a friend and just say, "I want
you to do this role for me," and they would just come. And he came
to Oklahoma or wherever it was that we shot that. He read his scene
and was horrified. Literally he read it and wanted to get back on
the plane and go home. He said, "I'm not gonna play a homo." Well,
I calmed him down, and I think it's among his best work. Unfortunately,
you can't see it very well, but he cries real tears in that scene.
CA: Really? Well, it was a fabulous
scene, and it was probably one of the most touching scenes in the
film. It really evoked the loneliness of the situation. The whole
film has an air of loneliness and of trying to capture something
illusive. A lot of the reviewers have likened it to a vision of
the American Dream falling apart. It seemed more to me like a debunking
of the American Dream. Like maybe it doesn't exist and maybe we're
all just out there searching for nothing. How do you feel about
all of that and how it relates to the film? Did you think about
any of that while you were making it?
MH: Well, I certainly felt a lot
about loneliness. It's been a theme that has attracted me, even
before I started making movies. When I was doing theatre I directed
a production of OF MICE AND MEN, and that is so much a theme in
OF MICE AND MEN it becomes like a sonata that repeats throughout
the course of the play or the movie. Every character, at one point
or another, talks about their own loneliness. I think the other
thing that I thought about when I was preparing the film was SHOOT
THE PIANO PLAYER (Francois Truffaut, 1962). I think that the kind
of isolation of that character in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, I felt
related to the kind of isolation that I saw in these characters.
CA: Rudy Wurlitzer did the rewrite
on the original Will Corey script. How much of the script is yours.
It seems like you have a lot of input on it. Or did it just change
as you were directing?
MH: The script is Rudy's. He didn't
take a word from the Corey script. But the germ of the idea was
Will Corey's, so the idea of a cross-country race that's all that
remains. The characters are different; everything was different.
CA: Which script was it that Esquire
published, was it the Corey or the Wurlitzer?
MH: The Wurlitzer, but they published
the full Wurlitzer script, which is the three and a half hour movie.
So it's not the movie, it's the script. What is mine is really what's
So they missed the final editing process.
CA: I've watched a ton of films,
and I'm pretty jaded as far as techniques go, but I have to tell
you the ending of the film really got to me. I had to flip back
and watch it again to be sure of what had just happened. While I
was watching the movie, I was totally enjoying it, but I was wondering
where it was going to go. It would have been boring if they made
it to DC and somebody won the race, but the ending made it into
a perfect film for me. Not perfect in the concrete sense, but perfect
in the sense of possibility I was left with. Was that in the script,
or was that something you did.
MH: It was written, and it was an
idea that I asked Rudy to write. Rudy ended the picture with the
GTO driving into the sunset. The idea of burning the film was mine.
CA: I heard you were working on a
new project? The PAYOFF, possibly in Austin.
MH: I'm not sure yet were going to
shoot in Austin. There's some of it we're going to shoot in El Paso,
and we'll shoot most of the film around Austin or Dallas. We really
haven't really made the final choice yet. I would like to shoot
in Austin, I think it's a great place. It's really wherever we find
the locations we need. We have a script and we're in the process
of locking down the lead actors. Hopefully by next week we'll have
our two leads and we'll start casting the rest of the movie.
CA: And what's it about?
MH: It's kind of a...I don't know what
to tell you. It's a crime movie. You don't say film noir anymore,
because then that doesn't really describe this. It's a Western Noir
(laughs). It's in the tradition of, but nowhere the same movie,
but in the tradition of THE GETAWAY.