Ask the Dust (1/10)
by Tony Medley
screenwriter Robert Towne fell in love with the autobiographical novel
of the same name by John Fante. Towne was basically unknown when he
introduced himself to Fante in 1971. It was before Towne became a
household word with three consecutive Oscar nominations, and one win,
for “Chinatown.” So Fante was less than thrilled. In fact, he was
obnoxious and insulting. Towne says, “I knew I had met the real Arturo
Bandini,” the name of Fante’s protagonist and alter ego in the novel.
But Towne persisted and
obtained the rights to film the novel. That started years of waiting.
Several years ago he met Colin Farrell at a party at Towne’s house. It
was before Farrell became a star, but Towne felt that he was the perfect
person to play Bandini. “He walked through the kitchen and my wife’s
girl friend said, ‘I don’t know who or what he is, but you should sign
him up’. I watched and all the girls eyes lit up and followed him when
he walked by,” says Towne.
For Camilla, the Mexican
waitress Bandini falls for, he wanted Salma Hayak, but she was reluctant
because she said she had been fighting her whole career to avoid being
cast as a Mexican and had finally achieved stardom with her role in
“Frieda.” But Towne persisted and when it came time they both signed on.
Financing was a problem. One
of the best things about the movie, probably the only good thing, is the
recreation of the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, which was torn down
in the ‘60s. To accomplish this faithful rendition, the project was
filmed on two large soccer fields in South Africa where they rebuilt the
Third Street Tunnel that went under Bunker Hill. With the help of some
CGI, it looks exactly like Bunker Hill, and I remember it well. The film
came in at a $15 million budget, only because Farrell and Hayak worked
Bandini is a young writer who
has come from the Midwest to Los Angeles, down to his last nickel when
he finally sells a short story to publisher H.L Mencken, who takes a
shine to the unseen Bandini. The way Towne translates the story is
frustratingly uncompelling. His recreation of 1931 Los Angeles is
stunning. If the movie itself weren’t so boringly bad, the atmosphere
Towne gives would be worth the price of admission alone. But he makes
Bandini such an unlikeable jackass, cruel and brutal to everyone with
whom he comes in contact, it is impossible to understand why Camilla
would want to be with him, much less fall in love with him.
March 17, 2006