Combustible Celluloid


by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fancher continues, this time talking about his new film "The Minus Man". He talks about how much he has grown up and how the temper tantrums don't happen as much anymore.

It's a growing up thing. I can blow it now. I blew it once on "The Minus Man". The white pants incident. And the crew turned against me. I thought I was the director. What I say goes. I never was dictatorial, but there was something about the pants incident, and I blew it. I wanted Owen, the character of Vann, to roll in the grass at one point, and all of a sudden, the costume woman said, 'we have to get the double pants, because what if he gets a grass stain?' I said, 'he's not going to get a grass stain--I've got 2 minutes to shoot this thing!' And then everybody sides with her, because it's a crew thing. My accomplices, my producer, my cameraman... They all teamed up against me.

I didn't want to make it into a film when I first read it. I just liked reading the book. That's why I got it. Anne Rice had written about it, and I was sorta curious. I read the first page in the bookstore, and it went [snaps] BOOM! 'Mother died today. Or was it yesterday?' It was one of those experiences. After I read it--five seconds after I read it--it was an epiphany for me. Because I'd been looking for something and not finding it. I'd been resuscitating old scripts, trying to write. 'Cause I didn't want to do the Hollywood number anymore. I thought I could do it for awhile, if I was doing something I could believe in and I could direct. So I thought this would be perfect.

I guess it's that he's got elliptical heroic elements, and yet, he's passive. I've always been intrigued with the idea of somebody doing something very bad who's very good. And I've always been intrigued by the idea of a narrative that seduced you through details rather than a plot. Those elements were all promising in my screenwriter's mind.

All this filmmaking business is about one thing. It's about producing. Because if you don't get it produced, there is no film. I've been trying to do this for 25 years, and I've had 25 producers. And 25 producers saying, 'oh God, you're a genius. This is incredible. This is the best film I've ever read. We're going to do this. We're going to do this in France, Australia, Africa, whatever.' And you're high. And then about five weeks later, they say, 'you know it just doesn't seem to work out, the financing.' So they go, and you get another one. And they say, 'I'm not like that.'

Who is Vann waving at in the first scene?

He's waving at you. (laughs) That was a much bigger scene. I cut 45 minutes out of the film. It's a more sinister thing--a Hitchcockian kind of thing. He's doing all these things and you never see his face, and there's this woman looking out the office of the motel watching him. And suddenly he turns. This guy doesn't know anyone's watching him; I've established that. And then he turns just before he gets in the car, and he waves at her. And it shocks her. He's a sensitive animal. In cutting it, I was looking for fat to cut out, and that was one possibility. And then I began to like the idea. He's waving at the audience. It's like an old airplane ad, 'come on board folks!'

How was it working with Owen Wilson?

I was so pleased. I wish I could just keep making that movie for the rest of my life. Janeane Garofalo said, 'Owen is the best actor of the generation.' I've never thought that, exactly. But I think about that now. He's really good. Now I think about the things he's done that were hard to do--impossible to do. As an actor, I couldn't have done it. You ever see "Anaconda"? He's got a moment where he's gotta get angry on board that boat. And it's a propos to nothing, almost. All of a sudden, BANG, he's doing it. Owen's a very cautious guy in a way, and he made that real. Dumb lines, dumb idea, and he got behind it. He can't lie. Even those other actors who you think of in terms of Jimmy Stewart or Hank (Henry) Fonda, or whatever. Those guys in their early stuff, they lied a lot. And you could see right through 'em. They got better at it. But Owen, right from "Bottle Rocket", was ingenuous. I thought maybe he was a one-trick pony. But he's not. Owen Wilson as a screenwriter ("Bottle Rocket", "Rushmore") kicked in as well. Owen's intelligence was prevailed.

The whole idea was the proximity of good to evil. I think that is a conundrum that is infinitely fascinating because we can never come up with a solution to that. The dark forces that invade and pervade the life of human beings. The history has never changed. We're still nailing cats against walls and laughing, and raping, and burning, and mauling, and bombing, and whatever. It's just unstoppable. So, I'm not going to make a film about that. But I can make a film about one person who is smoldering in one compartment of his persona, that's causing him to do terrible things, and who's a very fine person. I love innocence. We all do: kitties, whatever. Here's the power of innocence. He's got power--I don't mean that he rolls over things--but he evokes trust and love from people because of his innocence; which is totally genuine. There's nothing sinister, there's nothing conniving about him. He's true innocence, true goodness. He's an angel. But he also embodies a dark thing that he can't control. It controls him at times. I think that's the story of mankind. Not that "The Minus Man" is the story of mankind. (laughs) But I had that platform, that foundation--to trust him. And from that, whatever fact that we've arrived at in the film comes from that dichotomy, that is universal. Plus, if you look at the film closely, you see every character, even the cops in a way, have a willingness, a charity, a sympathy that's close to illuminating the situation. I think that's evidenced mostly in Mercedes Ruehl as Jane. That woman needs something badly, and she wants to give something badly, but it's hard to do. Because she's locked. I think we're all locked. Our best qualities are confined. His best qualities are not confined. He shines with that stuff. I've always liked that kind of "Billy Budd" existence.

They were all broken. I wrote notes, and I said, 'each one of you is like a tightly closed tent that no one can get under or get open, but there's a glow in each of these tents. And they're all trying to touch each other. And Vann comes in and can be touched, which is the scene with Janeane, when she kisses him and he gives her the stone. That's all he can give her is a rock. Because he doesn't know how to love. He sits there after she gets up and leaves. It's pathetic and touching to me. But I find us all pathetic and touching. I look in our eyes... you can do it with a baby, or a dog, but it's hard to get that down with people. There's too many forces and restrictions.

That's the end of the compulsion. He can't kill her. He goes crazy, and the only time he's truly vulnerable is right after that. Then he's desperate to kill, and he can't do it. His killing symbol, those two cops, say, 'see ya later--we don't like this anymore.' And he says, 'don't leave, I won't be complete.' He's not insane anymore. And he does this thing of redemption of taking Karen the photograph, and he saves her. It's got resolutions.

He's not going to kill anymore?

I think that the whole process was that. He's going to blow it. Somehow the angel is a bit stronger than the devil. The post office is the key. He faints. I got that from Dostoyevsky.

Being a bad actor in bad television shows is an education. It's a process of falling down enough so you learn how to walk.

Friday, August 27, 1999


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