I had my Hollywood moment recently, or at least what I shall continue to think of as my Hollywood moment until a better one comes along.
The Writers Guild screened “Rules Don’t Apply,” and Warren Beatty, who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film, actually came and spoke at length afterwards and took questions. He was smart and charming, much like his film.
But more about that in a moment.
Standing at the back of the room, waiting to come down the aisle, he looked very much his age – 80 on his next birthday – but vigorous and hip in a short leather jacket and jeans, and having probably had “a little work.” Beatty, of course, has cut a larger than life swath through this town for more than half a century, bursting on the scene in his film debut in 1961 in Elia Kazan’s "Splendor in the Grass." He never looked back.
In 1967, then only 29, he produced and starred in "Bonnie and Clyde," a film generally considered to be part of a handful of movies that changed the industry forever. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, with competition that year including "The Graduate," "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," "In the Heat of the Night" & "Camelot."
For decades, Beatty was also known as the man about town with the ladies. Many ladies, far more than the high-profile girlfriends he occasionally squired. He was even the reference for a Carly Simon verse in her hit single, “You’re So Vain.” It was therefore something of a surprise to the audience to hear that his movie about Howard Hughes had nothing to do with Hughes' similar reputation, but instead sprung from his thoughts on the curious “puritanical streak peculiar to America” that he’d wanted to write about for some time. Apparently, this film was 30 years in the making. It is a winning little film, nicely acted, amusing, heart-warming and funny in spots, beautifully shot by one of the real pros in this business, Caleb Deschanel.
And yet, you may have to hurry to see “Rules Don’t Apply” as it opened disastrously. This was the other half of my Hollywood experience. Watching the film, I knew it was going to be in trouble even before it opened. Forget that it’s not a genre film or a summer tentpole. Forget the terrible title. As an independent film, it’s worlds away from the cutting edge stuff that immediately creates Oscar buzz. “Think Manchester by the Sea,” “Moonlight,” or “Edge of Seventeen” this year.
"Rules Don't Apply" is a film for Beatty and those like him, a film for people who have a fond memory of Hollywood in the golden post-war '50s - when the world seemed to exist during the day in bleached out Technicolor...and at night, in the warm tones of continuous sunsets.
Perhaps only Beatty could raise $25 million for an indie like this – the names Bing, Burkle, Soros, Ratner, Semel, Milchan, and Mnuchin populate the Executive Producer credits. Hollywood accounting has always been beyond me, but perhaps they’ll recoup in the long run with foreign and ancillaries.
But that wasn’t on my mind as I made my way forward to the stage after the Q & A. I hadn’t gotten a chance to ask my question, so managed to jump the queue and engage him about Bo Goldman’s involvement (he gets co-story credit). This turned into a discussion that lasted a couple of minutes, with his body man keeping one sharp eye on me while the other scanned the crowd. We shook hands. He still has the grip of the football player who turned down college scholarships to go into acting.
Who knows if this will be his last movie. Only Beatty and Orson Wells have been nominated for writer, producer, director and actor; but this film may in fact be the end of a storied career. Even his deep-pocketed buddies are probably going to hold him to under $5 million next time, if there is a next time.
Meanwhile, I had my Hollywood moment, and frankly I don’t mind admitting that at arm’s length, Warren Beatty is still probably the best looking soon-to-be 80-year-old dude I’ve ever seen.