Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | 4:36 p.m.
Almost every time a film bombs really badly, it vanishes! Nobody wants to ever see it again. But respected director Hal Ashby recut his flop Looking to Get Out and never told anybody. For more than 20 years, it remained lost -- and only two years ago did its star Jon Voight find it and now declares it a winning cinematographic feat!
The film was made back in 1982 on location here in Las Vegas and co-starred Ann-Margret and Burt Young. It also marked the acting debut of Jon’s 6-year-old daughter who became the mega movie star we know today as Angeline Jolie.
“We had a great director, but somebody else wound up editing it. It became a mess -- totally ruined,” Jon told me in a one-on-one conversation during the 11th Annual CineVegas Film Festival that screened the new version rediscovered in 2007.
Here’s the amazing story in Jon’s own words:
Robin Leach: A film that is lost and a film that is found--- that’s a miracle when it happens.
Jon Voight: Right, Robin, when this film first came out, it was rushed into theaters during a very difficult post-production time when there was a lot of drama, and finally it became so bad around the picture that Hal Ashby (the director of Coming Home and Being There), he walked away from the picture because it had been ruined. It had indeed been ruined; well, it had been damaged in the process. As you know, Robin, when you make a picture, it can be injured every step of the way. It can be injured if you don’t have the script right before you start. The lighting can injure it by bad cinematography, but we did everything right until the very end, in the editing process.
Hal Ashby was a great editor. He was an Academy Award-winning editor, but he was known in our circle as the best editor. He didn’t really put his hands on the film; he had given it to other people to edit it because he was doing two other pictures at the same time. So it was a very traumatizing event the first time out, and then in 1988, six years after this event, Hal Ashby passed on of pancreatic cancer. That was it, no information, and two years ago I get a phone call from a fellow named Nick Dawson, who is a young Scotsman, 26 years old, wants to write a book about Hal Ashby.
He comes and visits me to get an interview about Hal, which I was glad to do, and what happened was during that interview, he was looking to get out one of his favorite Hal Ashby films. I couldn’t quite believe it; I thought he was being kind to me. I asked how he had seen it, and he said he had seen the version he had left to UCLA in the archives there.
RL: It was the first you had known of it?
JV: It was the first I had known that this version existed.
RL: Why hadn’t UCLA told people that they had it?
JV: They probably didn’t know what they had. They probably thought it was just a version of one of his pictures.
RL: So it lay dormant?
JV: It laid dormant, but it was saved by the UCLA archives, and when we went down to see it, I said let’s grab Al Schwartz the writer, and let’s go down and take a look at it. And by the way there is another little part of the story that is extraordinary as any other. Nick had done all this research; he had found out that Hal had a daughter that he had never seen. He brought Lee Ashby down to me. Lee is a woman with several children, and she was indeed Hal Ashby’s daughter. You can tell physically that she looked like him, too. She had never seen her dad, and there’s a lot to that story because Hal had a trauma with his father when he was very young, 12 years old, and he never recovered. Fatherhood for him was very difficult, it brought back all sorts of demons, and he felt the girl might be better off without him. This is my interpretation.
And it’s exactly how it is in our film; I never knew that was his connection to our film, because that’s exactly what happens in our film. We have a story of a gambler who is a wild guy, quite entertaining, but kind of dangerous to his friends, and a troublemaker, and he finally realizes he’s irresponsible and couldn’t be the proper father, and he finds the girl at 5 years old, and she has a fellow in her life who has taken the responsibility of fatherhood and the mother is right under that situation, and he walks away at the end. It’s bittersweet; really, he does it for the girl. So I believe that it was the personal story of Hal Ashby and his daughter Lee.
RL: When you saw the movie for the first time, what was your reaction to the movie that was damaged?
JV: When I saw it, the first thing I asked Nick was, “How does it start?” He told me what he had remembered, and I told him it was the new version. I realized it’s a new version right away. Then I got Al Schwartz, and we went down there. I said put up a reel, and the guys at UCLA in the archives said this is one of our favorite films again. We put this up every once in awhile.
RL: Why wouldn’t they share it with anybody?
JV: Well, it’s because they didn’t know what it was, they thought it had already had it’s life. They didn’t know it was a different, new piece.
RL: Jon, you filmed part of this here in Vegas, right?
JV: A great percentage of the movie was filmed in Vegas. And I think the energy was quite similar to today. It doesn’t date at all, the film is not dated, except for the numbers of the money, there’s certain things. So, when Al and I were watching it, what had happened was that the piece was so cut up, that it had jumped around, it didn’t complete itself, and some of the takes weren’t the best takes. You know this is my perception. What had happened was Hal was working on Being There. He was working on a thing called Secondhand Hearts, with Bobby Blake and Barbara Harris, and then this one. So he was farming out some of the work on it to young editors. They didn’t understand the story, they hadn’t been with us, so it got choppy. Then the studio was, like, we have to get it out; it takes 15 minutes out of it, and it was just ruined. And Hal Ashby did this version; this was definitely Hal’s cut.
RL: So, it’s the original movie?
JV: Well, this is what we intended, this is what we wrote, and Hal wasn’t just a good editor, he was a great editor. And the editing now brings the piece whole, and the rest of the piece works.
RL: So now are you taking this as a personal cause, that now this movie has to be seen?
JV: Oh, yes, pretty much, but we all felt that way. I found out Warner Bros. owned the picture, and I knew the people at Warner Bros. Home Video are the best for caring for pieces, the classic pieces, like the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire pieces they put out, and the Superman series.
RL: So, you’re really saying that if Nick had not come to you, this movie would have never come to life?
JV: Yes, that’s right. If Nick hadn’t discovered this, I never would have known about it.
RL: It was Angelina’s first movie, right?
JV: It was Angelina’s first movie, and she’s quite brilliant in it, too. I should have known, I wasn’t paying attention, I wasn’t thinking of a future for her. She was a little girl who was going to help us out. I asked her if she wanted to do it, and she said yes. And now I see when I look at it, because she was distracted while she was waiting, we were all entertaining her, keeping her happy. And when the cameras started rolling, she was right on it.
RL:How old was she?
JV: : She was 6 or 7. You see the beginning of that take, and I’m down there and suffering with things, and you see her acting was real, she was told to feel sorry for the guy and ask him if he was OK, but her acting is real. It’s not her father, it’s real, and she’s acting that part right from the top.
Jon was presented with the highest award at CineVegas, the Marquee Award, for his contributions to the motion picture industry.
One-on-one with the Caan men
I also sat down with legendary actor James Caan and his son Scott, who is following in his father’s footsteps. Scott’s film Mercy was screened at CineVegas. He wrote it, stars in it -- and even hired his dad for it! Scott describes it as a tragic romance between a critic who pans the book of a writer who never fell in love. Somehow they fall deeply in love, but death intervenes!
Here’s my chat with the father-and-son stars:
Robin Leach: Shades of real life in this movie between you and Scott, yes?
James Caan: Not at all, exactly the opposite that made it so difficult. We have a great relationship.
RL: When somebody falls in love, and then it’s wrenched right from him or her -- the theme of mercy -- how do you draw that kind of gut reaction when you haven’t experienced it for yourself?
Scott Caan: I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I have experienced it myself. I mean, I know what it’s like to be really hurt over a woman.
RL: Those were the shades of real life I was referring to.
SC: I know what it feels like to not want to continue because you’re so broken up over a woman.
JC: He has yet to explain it to me, though.
SC: I think death is almost easier than a breakup. I think death has finality, and sometimes breaking up with a woman you don’t know if it’s right or wrong, is sometimes the most torturous thing in the world.
RL: How many times has that happened to you?
SC: Just once.
RL: That was enough for you -- was this movie cathartic?
SC: Oddly enough, I wrote this movie before it happened, but I always have a hard time with breakups. I think it’s a really sad thing.
JC: It’s sad, but the nice thing about him is that he’s very much a one-woman guy. But I think when he finds it, he’ll be very, very happy.
RL: It’s interesting that you wrote the movie before the real-life experience.
SC: Before the really, really heavy emotional roller-coaster I went through.
RL: Did writing the movie prepare you for what happened?
SC: No, I think it’s the worse thing in the world. I don’t think there’s anything more painful than that. But that’s what the movie is about, it’s about somebody who doesn’t want to take that chance and finally when he does, this is what happens, always a happy ending. And ultimately you learn more than you suffer, and you continue on and find someone else.
RL: So if you break up and you’re emotionally gutted, how long does the repair job take?
SC: I don’t think ever, if you get hurt that bad. I think you’re going to hurt forever.
RL: So if you get hurt that bad, then it was really love?
SC: I don’t know about that. I don’t have that answer.
RL: But this is different than just breaking up, Scott?
SC: I was using it as a metaphor; it was death. I was just using it to make a point; I think it’s comparable. The pain is comparable and ultimately death is probably almost easier to get over, for me, in my experience.
JC: I was an emotional wreck when I lost my sister, but in an odd way, I don’t think it’s as wrenching as a love forever, you know that kind of deep love. So sometimes it’s even worse. That’s what sent me down a spiral of drugs and drink for a while.
SC: Yeah, that’s what I meant.
RL:What was it like working with your dad and hiring him? And what was it like working for your son and working with him?
JC: He was very cheap!
SC: I’m the only guy who can get him for cheap! It was really, really difficult, and I’ll tell you why, for me, I think an actor is at their best when their own emotions can carry over into a scene. So for me to do a scene with him that is so different from how we are, it was really hard. And it was really hard to not let our real relationship shine through; it was almost impossible. You can’t fake how it is.
RL: Isn’t that what acting is?
SC: No, not for me.
JC: It’s a heightened reality, we always know. I mean there are rare moments that you forget you’re on camera, but you are pretty much aware of what you’re doing. I had a way of solving it for myself, because my feelings were exactly like his, so I had that connection, I was so bitter about it. I was more in love with love, I think I had the same feeling; I just went off the other side.
RL: How long did your healing take?
SC: I think it’s how I said it was. You never heal; it doesn’t go away.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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