Think Walter Hill and you likely think of his enormous hit 48 Hours or Brewster's Millions or Streets of Fire. Crowd pleasers for sure. But for me his more interesting work can be found in the more personal films he's done in the action genres. Southern Comfort, The Driver and Hard Times re a few of them. He's not always successful. I remember how disappointed I was sitting through Johnny Handsome. Most writers have had projects like that, where you just can't make the thing work the way you want it to. In the case of Johnny Handsome Hill resorted to heavy violence every time he seemed to run out of good ideas. Once in awhile the violence even got to be funny. Ellen Barkin and Lance Henriksen were SO tough they were parodies of tough. On the other hand Hill managed to take the Charles Bronson of Death Wish 9,10, 11 and 74 and turn him into an actual person. To me it's a small masterpiece, bitter, brutal but not without a certain elegaic quality as well, particularly in the closing scenes. All this said Hill is an extremely intelligent, articulate and engagingly modest guy. And this is one hell of a good interview.
From the interview:
Q I’m a big Anthony Mann fan, and there are a lot of parallels between your bodies of work. Mann said his movies were about “the use of violence by thoughtful men.”
H The kinds of stories I like to tell are part of a tradition—and I’m not comparing myself to, or placing myself as the equal of some of the great storytellers I’m going to mention; I’m artistically modest, as everyone ought to be—but it’s the tradition practiced by Robert Aldrich, Anthony Mann, Don Siegel, Howard Hawks, Sam Fuller.
I think there’s less room in the marketplace now for the kinds of stories I enjoy telling, and which I tend to think of as my strength; action movies today are more fantasy, exaggerated, comic book… That sounds pejorative… but tastes change. Audiences change. I think the older tradition was more intellectually rigorous, and the newer tradition is more pure sensation… and that’s not necessarily bad. It’s the old Apollonian vs. Dionysian controversy… Nietzsche might very well have liked the newer films more than the older ones… (laughs)
Q I was thinking about why things have changed. Do you think in the time of Ford, Hawks, Mann—when these kinds of films were being made regularly—the audience, the studio bosses, and those directors all shared a more common sense of morality?
H Sure. I talked to Lindsay Anderson about this once; he’d made the remark about what a lucky director John Ford was… that in addition to his great talent, his sensibility was by and large in step with that of the mass audience. An obvious contrary example would be Orson Welles, who did not come along at the perfect time to find an audience for his vision, an audience that would have made his work commercially sustainable.
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