In the spring of 2010 I wrote a book proposal with the director George Hickenlooper. The book we were going to co-author (if we could find a publisher) was to be a bio of Hickenlooper with a lot of emphasis on his life as an indie director. I’d become friends with him in that abstract way you do via Facebook. He was the one who proposed doing a book about his life. He did so in a joking, self-deprecating way, saying that his mom and dad would buy it. I liked the idea. A book about a filmmaker who lived outside of the mainstream of Hollywood sounded good to me. Sadly, he died on October 29th unexpectedly at the age of 47. He was in Denver while on a promotional tour for his new film about the corrupt Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. The film is called CASINO JACK. It stars Kevin Spacey, who, Hickenlooper wrote to me, was cast through Facebook !!
At first I didn’t know him except through his films. I was a fan of two of his films without really connecting them or realizing they were by the same director. One is the moody drama called The Man from Elysian Fields. The other is a wonderful documentary about filmmaking. It’s called Hearts of Darkness. The name of the director on those films wasn’t what stood out — it was the intensity of the storytelling.
Some directors have such a distinct style that you will always recognize their films. Hickenlooper had themes that interested him and his style was in service of them. A number of his films were about the struggles of artists and various kinds of challenges they face. For example, Hearts of Darkness is about what Coppola went through while making Apocolypse Now (an amazing artistic journey with great risks and costs). The Man from Elysian Fields is about a writer (played by Andy Garcia) who is trying to support a family and turns to working as an escort for rich women to earn money… and then he ends up co-writing a book with the husband of one of the women he escorts. In the end, he pays a price for being an artist, but does achieve artistic success.
Hickenlooper directed major Hollywood films independently and it was a struggle. He stressed himself out and that’s part of why he died at 47. He made films about artists struggling and he lived that way himself.
He was always on the move — New York to meet his new distributor one day… meeting with new agents at CAA in Beverly Hills a few days later…. then to New Orleans to search for locations for his next film. Then to Denver to shoot ads for his cousin’s run for office as the governor of Colorado (he won and the ads helped)…. Then to a film festival in Toronto where he and Kevin Spacey promoted Casino Jack… and so on….
Life is life but we know there is an end point. Before that we have a finite amount of time.
How will we spend that time? What can we accomplish, learn, do, enjoy, see, feel, dream?
Master Zhuang said this: What if enjoying life is a delusion? What if it’s the case that in hating death I am like a child who was lost early in life and did not know the way home?
He said: Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.