Tina Bexson critically investigates the growing recognition of one of the oldest arts . AS JP Morgan, First Billionaire said : “Millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do.”

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ASTROLOGY: Tina Bexson investigates the growing recognition of one of the oldest arts

Astrology has always lured the famous and influential from the likes of Princess Diana and numerous celebrities to ageing politicians such as Ronald Reagan and, most surprisingly, JP Morgan and Margaret Thatcher. The latter apparently turned to a Daily Express astrologer to stargaze for signs of future dangers after surviving the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton back in 1984. Its success in attracting such a diverse collection of people is legendary. Perhaps you’d think the rest of us more grounded souls wouldn’t have much time for such silly speculation.

You’d be very wrong. Over 60% of us not only fail to resist taking a daily peek at our horoscopes in our favourite newspaper, but increasing droves of us are seeking out personal one to one consultations, buying books and even taking up courses in an attempt to study it. In fact plans to make astrology a university subject are already well underway. Earlier this year a mystery benefactor donated half a million pounds to make astrology respectable. The Sophia Trust will be making the money available for an MA course. Astrology was thrown out of universities 300 years ago so if successful this first step of getting it academic recognition could have wide reaching consequences in astrology being taken seriously as a career.

Why? Because as with the dramatic embracing of alternative therapies, what has been labelled as the ‘new religion’ is also beginning to fulfil our need to find meaning and understanding in our lives beyond the material and mechanical interpretations we are surrounded with. Its rich symbolism encourages us to delve into our unconscious and feed our imagination. Unsurprisingly, musicians, poets, filmmakers and novelists have all been inspired by astrological themes in creating their art.

We are undoubtedly hungry for more, much more. But Roy Gillett, President of the Astrological Association of Great Britain says there’s a vast gap between the simplified Sun Sign stuff and ‘real’ astrology.  “There is a very powerful appetite with the general public for more knowledge of astrology. The problem is, the only way this can be easily satisfied is by reading the Sun Sign columns, and these are very superficial. It’s like comparing chopsticks to the world of music. But despite the lack of accessibility, the resistance from the media and scientists, those determined enough to find out more do. Perhaps there will be more opportunities in the future.”

In the meantime, the increased popularity and apparent respectability of professional astrologers of all persuasions, be they Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, or Financial, ensure they continue to make a living by offering us their pearls of wisdom.

HOW THEY WORK:

Indian (Vedic) Astrology

Vedic Astrology is taken very seriously in India – it’s akin to a way of life. More commonly known as Jyotish, the science of light, it is even used to pre-determine arranged marriages. The prospective couple’s charts are compared so the pluses and minuses can be learnt allowing the opportunity to improve the quality of the relationship. People rarely make an important decision without consulting their family Jyotishi (practitioner of Astrology). And India’s university grants division has invited its country’s universities to set up departments of Vedic Astrology leading to doctoral degrees next academic year.

Komilla Sutton, an ex Bombay film star who now lives in England is a professional Vedic astrologer who works with international clients over the internet. She says that Vedic Astrology is a path of self knowledge which harmonises our material and spiritual sides. Unlike Western Astrology, which emphasises the significance of the sun, in Indian Astrology, the moon is of prime importance.

“We use a solar zodiac (connected with the moon being in a sign for a month) and a lunar zodiac (moon being in a sign for a day), and we combine the two together. The waxing and waning phases of the moon represent the cycles of life and death, transformation and change, darkness and light. The Sun signifies the soul as well as life’s mission, our Karma of this life,” Komilla explains. In fact the whole concept of Indian philosophy is that people bring some karma into their lives when they are born as though it’s a kind of genetic code.

Komilla’s main diagnostic tool is Mahurata, the electing of auspicious times for various events. It is the moment on time when the conditions are as near perfect for the start of your venture. Marriage is the most important of the Mahurata’s to be elected. Election charts are also done regularly for start of businesses, moving homes, and travelling.

“Most people contact me because they are at a crossroads in life or are going through a tough time that they don’t feel will ever change. My job is not to tell them what to do but to give them a kind of weather report as the cycles of time touch your lives in their own unique way. The reading gives them the power to understand their lives and will make them aware of their positive energy so they can enhance their life. People often don’t look at their positive chart at all, they only exaggerate their negativity. But I can’t give them the answer to their lives, they have to find that themselves.”

For information on Vedic Astrology and on Komilla and the various books she has written, contact her website: www.komilla.com

Western Astrology

Many people visit astrologers so they can be told what to do with their lives or how to meet their perfect astrological man. It will do neither maintains Peta High, Chair of the Astrological Association and who is both an Astrologist, and humanistic therapist. ”Deterministic and fatalistic astrology which gives people the feeling that they have no power over their lives is now very old fashioned, its completely rubbish. You might get the odd power tripping astrologer who does that but professional astrologers try to empower people with the information from their birth chart, which provides a blueprint of their psyche. It’s like being in a card game, you are dealt a hand and you play them whichever way you want. “

Roy echoes this. “Your are born with a pattern of things of things to experience but knowing what they are provides you with the freedom to master and change them. So it teaches you about what you have to challenge.

However finding out exactly what that pattern or blue print is, is a complicated process. Along with the time, date and place of birth, Astrologers take the position of the sun, moon and the 8 planets at the time of birth, along with which way around the earth was.

“This provides them with a unique series of archetypal pictures,” Roy explains. “Each concept has a meaning which tells them about the persons basic nature. They can then look at the charts for any time in the future and relate these to the chart of the birth and work out at which times in their life they have the best opportunity to really exploit their potential and over come their difficulties. That’s how it works. It’s very much like cooking the most complicated meal you have cooked in your entire life.”

Contact: The Astrological Association of Great Britain: 0208 880 4848 / http://www.astrologer.com

Financial Astrology

Financial astrologers (sometimes called mundane astrologers) claim to make forecasts on the climate, the stock markets, and the fortunes of world leaders, national and multinational corporations.

Christeen Skinner specialises in the study of planet cycles and their relationship with economic, social and political affairs. she says that correlations can offer a clear cut picture. “For example when planet Mercury is retrograde (appearing to travel backwards in relation to the Earth) there are often problems with communication, travel, postal services, and so on. But the skill lies in considering the many different cycles that intersect at any moment in any place in order to understand their combined effect.”

Her clients include international bankers, publishers, retailers, stock traders and many others. The Body Shop’s founder Anita Roddick, for whom she did a blind report for the Channel 4 Witness programme, described her as “a marketing genius”

“When I work with individual organisations, like say Marks & Spencer, I take the complex planet cycles to determine when a wave of positive energy is available to benefit them or when energy is more likely to work against them. ”

Some companies retain business astrologers to help them identify the best dates for the launch of marketing campaigns. “This approach takes into account what is happening astrologically at a given time and compares that to the cycles that were operating when the company itself was formed. The company can then convey its own mission statement at the same time as promoting a particular idea or product.”

“Styles, colours words and images can also be identified form the planets aspects, giving creative material to the industry. For example: Venus, the planet associated with fashion, makes patterns with the other planets throughout the year. Study of this cycle shows how trends are likely to develop and when a public mood might radically alter.”

Tina Bexson

Tina Bexson interviews Daryl Hannah on why she appeared in ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, an improvised film about Los Angeles pole dancers and strippers

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The Making of ‘The Blue Iguana’: Interview with Daryl Hannah by Tina Bexson

In a strip club Deep in Los Angeles San Fernando Valley Daryl Hannah defies gravity as she gradually gyrates upside down around a tall pole, her long blonde hair cascading to the ground. A dreamy somewhat stoned smile escapes from her lips as Marianne Faithful’s “Angel” gathers momentum and she flips over onto her transparent platform shoes.

But hang on, what’s happening? Why have we cut to the dressing room? This isn’t sexy in the way we know it. It’s complete chaos. Pandemonium. There’s a saga about a missing g-string; a positive pregnancy test; and a dispute over where Nico, the visiting porn star, should sit.

This is ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’, a new film by Michael Radford, the filmmaker  who has managed to resist any form of categorisation. And this is no exception. It offers a sharp contrast to the fishing village of ‘Il Postino’, the group of decadent colonialists of ‘White Mischief’, or the Orwellian futuristic vision of ‘1984’.

Conceived entirely by improvisation, with both script and character emerging from the efforts of a cast (including Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sandra Oh) who were unafraid to delve into the contradictory darker sides of their psyches, ‘Dancing at the Blue Iguana’ is unique. Even Mike Leigh has never gone this far with his penchant for improvisation. But it offers a further deviation in its portrayal or rather probing of the unsettling world of strip tease for there’s the psychological exposure along with the physical.

“It’s not Striptease, the Demi Moore thing,” insists Hannah, (who plays Angel), as she takes an enormous bite out of a cream scone in the lounge of the Covent Garden Hotel, where I’m interviewing her this morning. “It’s amazing how the nudity becomes the background. That’s what the film was for, to find the people and not focus on the body parts.”

Though in all honesty it’s hard not to focus on them, they are in tiptop form, and this is undoubtedly a very sexy film. But every aspect was meticulously researched during the five months the actresses frequented Hollywood strip clubs to learn the lingo, the routines, the dances, the pole tricks, and the interaction with punters.

“ I had no choice but to do a lot of research because I had no idea what the world of an exotic dancer or stripper was apart from the clichés you get from cheesy movies”, reveals Hannah. So at 3pm everyday, after rehearsals, and when the strip clubs were closed for cleaning, she was taught the routines by the strippers she befriended. Some of them, mainly the stripper Nikki, feature in her documentary, ‘Strip Notes’, that she made during her time in the clubs.

“I was black and blue for two and a half months, I must have looked like I’d been brutally assaulted, but I got into incredible shape,” explains Hannah. You will no doubt recall her lithe athletic mermaid in ‘Splash’ or her acrobatic android in ‘Blade Runner’.

“Doing all those slow motion squats and presses mean you immediately get your thighs toned and it really builds up your upper body strength, your stomach muscles. Those girls don’t need to go to the gym because they’re in the ‘gym’ every night when they are working. The more experienced use it to do these miraculous things that look as though they are floating with no limbs attached, it’s sensuous, and very gymnastic.”

“I learned to do a dozen pole tricks upside down,” she continues, “you feel like a kid swinging around on the jungle gym, I really enjoyed it.” (So did Sheila Kelley, who played Stormy, in fact so much that she had a pole installed in her house after the film.)

Perfecting a suitably slinky, not to mention, stimulating routine is one thing but performing for real in front of a live audience is a real tester. Hannah did a few routines in a bikini bar but the girls in the clubs proper also threw her up on stage at the beginning of the night when the places were only littered with a few customers.

“Then they grabbed the front row seats and lined the stage with dollar bills. Most of my money was from them. All my nerves went because they were cheering me on and laughing with me, they kind of shielded me from knowing that there was anybody else there.”

One of these clubs had quite a high profile clientele: “I’d see a lot of people from my industry there. And even though I was in disguise and got away with it for a while, I didn’t want to push it too much because it was very important that my cover was maintained.” But in her documentary the club owner, Eddie, tells us that a punter told him that his stripper currently on stage “looked just like Daryl Hannah.”

The only time she really stripped in front of a big audience was in front of a bunch of extras in the film. “Here I wanted to show that Angel really knew what she was doing, that she’d been working for quite a long time, but I also wanted her to have a kind of ethereal dance routine, because it fitted in with her character, dreamy and flirty.”

“But I was kind of disappointed with myself. I was trying to emulate Nikki who you saw in the documentary, and who I got a lot of my characteristics and story ideas from. Most dancers have a really practised and studied hypnotic stare. Nikki was just the opposite, she would giggle and wave at people and carry on conversations. She’s silly and light and I really wanted to pull that off on stage as well. But I was so nervous when I was actually dancing that I couldn’t so I made another choice and decided to be the ‘stoned Nikki’ instead and just did my routine with my eyes closed. I wish I had been able to get over my nerves enough to be the way she is. “

Hannah says that she didn’t even think that those kind of characters existed in the world until she’d met some of the girls, and it was in the dressing room that she got an insight into their real desires and motivations, which she would then use later. Here it was mostly “bare naked ladies” who stripped off more than the physical layers as they laughed, swore, argued and occasionally punched.

“I was hearing all these funny stories in there. I’ve been in a lot of comedies (Hannah was in Roxanne with Steve Martin, Grumpy Old Men with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and the romantic comedy Too Much with Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas) but I’ve never got to play a comic role. I’m always the straight man to the comedian, and I thought, this is a chance for me to be funny. Also Jennifer (this is the fourth time Tilly and Hannah have worked together), who usually plays a brazenly comic character, wanted to play someone a little harder, so we decided to switch places.”

Hannah is indeed very funny. Things happen to Angel, who is an endearing and curious mix of vulnerability and jadedness, a child-woman that Hannah naturally tuned into. There’s a great scene with no cuts, when she gets arrested for grass (partly based on one of Nikki’s experiences) whilst asking an officer to take a photograph of her in front of a huge billboard featuring her in an ad for the show. All the dialogue was improvised; created on the spot from the recesses of the casts’ imaginations. The rather confused Angel comes out with absurd lines: “Officer, is this going to be on the news and everything?” and “But I didn’t inhale.”

A Russian hit man taking ‘time out’ visits the club and develops an obsession with Angel, further fuelling her fantasy world. There’s some languid scenes of her outside the club attempting to smoke movie star style, clad in a ludicrous long white fluffy coat whilst he spies down on her from a window above. “When I was doing my research I would see the girls go outside for a smoke and that was their only respite. So even girls who weren’t smokers became smokers, including myself for the time I was making the film, because its your only chance to get some fresh air, and look up at the stars and imagine being somewhere else or someone else.”

Hannah, herself, became so embroiled in the construction of her character that she would often imagine what Angel’s reactions would be for many months after the film was completed. “Where ever I’d be, I’d start giggling to myself, thinking about what Angel would be saying right now, I could hear her takes on things, it cracked me up. You could throw her into any environment, in any country, with anyone, and she would be as funny and sad and as ridiculous as she is. But I’d like to only work like this, to have time to research and be so involved in the character that no matter what situation you’re in, you are the character.”

Radford’s decision to improvise on film was only made after they had started shooting a script taken from the scenes they had improvised in rehearsal (he’d had these transcribed and made into a script). But he missed the freshness and threw the scripts away and got them to re-improvise the scenes with new dialogue. “It was a totally insane idea to take on”, says Hannah, “but he’s so brave and it’s so cool he had enough respect with actors to give them that trust.”

Still, it was a big gamble. There was no guarantee the film would be made so none of the cast would receive any payment. Then they were told they’d be no financing until the financiers had viewed what they had come up with. Not everyone Radford was initially interested in was prepared to take that risk. But he was very happy with who he got in the end and has said that he’d always wanted to work with Sandra Oh and Jennifer Tilly. He has also said that “the biggest surprise was Daryl – she literally forced herself on me. She’s so interesting to watch, so brilliant and profound.”

Hannah certainly has no regrets, apart from not taking more time to understand the male psyche perhaps. “I had so much to learn: getting my character, story, wardrobe, my look, my routine, dancing, that the one thing I really didn’t spend time doing was understanding the customer and the relationship I was supposed to have with them.”

“But I certainly learned how to move sensuously with confidence. I’d always felt kind of awkward and geeky before when I tried to act or move in a sexy way. But you can analyse it and break it down and learn a few little tricks. On the other hand it’s not a job I would ever want. Being in the clubs was fascinating whilst doing research and making a documentary, but it was hard, those environments are hard on the soul.”

So is Hollywood and at least Hannah built up close bonds with the dancers, some of which are still there today. “They really support each other which is something I haven’t experienced in my profession amongst other actresses or movie people,” she adds ruefully.“ But what I found most surprising was their sense of humour and irony. I’d often hear them say (she adopts a drawn out tired voice) ‘I cant believe this, its Friday night, I’m in Hollywood, and I’m crawling around on my hands and knees – I’m a stripper!’”

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Tina Bexson investigates the real life story behind William Friedkin’s, ‘The French Connnection’ for Hotdog Magazine and Spike.

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Real-life drug-busting narc Sonny Grosso was the inspiration for The French Connection, advised Coppola on The Godfather and cruised gay bars with Pacino in Cruising.

Story by Tina Bexson –

http://www.spikemagazine.com/the-french-connection-grosso-point-blank.php

A dozen or so shiny, black suits and their flashy women were enjoying the exotic floor show of Manhattan’s Copacabana nightclub, whilst the slick-haired man at the head of the table splashed the cash around. It was a sight that would change the lives of the two off-duty NYPD narcotics agents quietly sipping their drinks and surveying the scene from the terrace above.

The man with the dough was Pasquele “Patsy” Fuega, a major player in a Mafia-linked New York drugs ring. “I recognised a lot of the others as being dope pushers up in Harlem,” Detective Sonny Grosso recalls. “I told Egan and he wanted to put a tail of the Patsy at the end of the night.”

So Grosso and partner Eddie Egan tailed Patsy and his bouffant blonde as they drove off on a stop-start tour of the Lower East Side, before heading across the East River and drawing up in front of a Brooklyn diner at 5am. Suspicion was aroused and they set up round-the-clock surveillance and wiretaps. That was just the beginning. During the next four months they uncovered an operation that had 50kg of heroin being smuggled from France to New York every six weeks for a quarter of a century.

The investigation culminated in one of the biggest drug hauls in American history, worth a mega ¢32m, all thanks to a chance encounter in a nightclub in 1961.

Shoot forward ten years, and chance changes Sonny Grosso’s life again. Up-and-coming filmmaker Phil D’Antoni and maverick director William Friedkin decide to turn the case into a film, The French Connection, based on Robin Moore’s factual book of the same name, and starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as Egan and Grosso (renamed Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo). Once released it became a worldwide box-office hit, winning five Oscars and beating A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show for best film. It had it all: realistic locations, spontaneous camerawork, an unromantic portrayal of policing, and unbeatably pacey action. All of which proved ot be a major catalyst in the revival of the cop genre in the ‘70s, evident in movies such as Serpico and Dirty Harry.

The French Connection’s authenticity was down to advice from the experts. Friedkin immediately hired Egan (who died of cancer in 1995) and Grosso. Not only were they the film’s inspiration – both played small roles – but proved unbeatable technical advisors and location scouts. In fact, they were cinema’s first cop consultants, earning $150 each for working every day of the 60-day shoot as well as continuing 12-hour nightly shifts with the NYPD.

It wa the weeks in pre-production that helped dictate the raw undertones of Friedkin’s feature. Not only did Grosso and Egan grow up in East Harlem, it was also their beat, they knew the score. And in the weeks leading up to the shoot, Hackman, Scheider and Friedkin were taken on a journey they would never forget.

Grosso: “We let them run through the whole gambit with us: the investigations, arrests, even the paperwork and court appearances so they could see us testify. In the beginning they were all shocked by what they saw.

“The first time we hit a shooting gallery it was on 110th Street and 5th Avenue, that’s Harlem. There were about 20 people shooting p. One was a massive woman, about 260 pounds, with a tube around her arm and the needle still jabbed in a vein.

“They came with us when we hit the bars and interrogated people. No one knew they were actors and we let them question the dealers and addicts so they got to feel comfortable dealing with them as though they were policemen. That’s why the movie stands up so well, they’d done it for real.”

In one of two Harlem bar scenes, the extras were all cops posing as drug addicts and pushers. In the other, they were all off the street. “They were people Eddie and I had busted at one time or another. We went to see them at some centre where they were trying to re-habilitate themselves and when we asked if they wanted to be in the movie, they all jumped at the chance. It was that which gave it a real wild smell.”

There were a couple of gun-running scenes, so Grosso and Egan taught them exactly how to hold and fire the weapons during sessions at the police firing range. “They both used our guns in the film, too. Scheider also wore my watch and ring so he felt really comfortable. He wanted my shorts, but I wouldn’t let him have those.”

Scheider was, of course, an excellent choice to play Grosso – same build and colouration; and he hit the right note as the careful detective known for seeing the dark side to situations, hence the nickname “Cloudy” (given to him by Egan). Grosso was the perfect antidote to the flamboyant, risk-taking Egan who mastered disguises such as a hot dog vendor, a deaf mute and a priest. He was nicknamed “Popeye” for his constant “popeying” around Manhattan’s drinking holes. As Grosso says: “He was a real character, way out there, and a great cop.”

Egan’s idiosyncrasies are marked out early in the film. His bizarre method of confusing suspects during interrogation by asking them whether they “picked their feet in Poughkeepsie” is used in the scene when Hackman, dressed as Father Christmas, questions a young guy he and Scheider had chased through the streets. Grosso, having witnessed this so often during the ten years they worked together, hoped Friedkin wouldn’t use it. But he did. “Friedkin loved it. So did Hollywood. They lapped it up, so did the public,” he groans.

Hackman didn’t lap it up, however. Grosso: “Hackman got all disturbed the first time he saw us arrest and lock up a guy. He kept saying, ‘I’m not a copy, I shouldn’t be involved in this.’ Then, when we took the guy to court, he couldn’t wait to get him a hot dog when he was hungry, but Eddie was having none of it. I tried to explain that we had to arrest and bring to court 30 people a month, and bring in another 130 for questioning. If we bought everyone a hot dog, we’d be broke. About three weeks later, he saw the same guy in another shooting gallery. Then he started to get the idea.”

Hackman was far from ecstatic about portraying such an unconventional and sometimes prejudiced cop, and became increasingly irritated by Egan’s Irish “charm”, recalls Grosso: “Eddie was always teasing and chastising Gene. I think Gene had a bit of a problem with the character at the beginning. But as time went on I think he found that there were many similarities between them. When I saw the final cut I was amazed how much Hackman had become Eddie. It gives you the respect you have to have for actors who, with the proper research and direction, actually become the people they play, such as De Niro in Raging Bull.”

It was a great true-life story for the big screen, but the mechanics of filmmaking meant artistic licence was employed to ensure optimum visual effect. The famous scene where Hackman chases an L train was based on an actual chase in which Egan and Grosso tried to keep ahead of a subway train between Penn Station and Grand Central so they could catch the drug-dealing Frenchman as he got off. To make it more visual, D’Antoni and Friedkin got Hackman to chase an L train which ran above ground along an elevated railway line. A kamikaze stuntman drove the car, driving flat out whilst weaving through the traffic to keep up with the train. The inspired filmic version of this event makes a great action sequence and culminates with Hackman shooting the unarmed Frenchman in the back. Then there’s the ominous and frenzied climactic shoot-out, giving a suitably ambiguous ending to the complicated tale.

Godfather

Grosso’s new vocation as technical advisor didn’t end here. While Friedkin was completing the final shoot of The French Connection on Wards Island, Francis Ford Coppola was preparing to shoot the interior scenes for The Godfather nearby. Friedkin took Grosso over to meet Coppola. “Friedkin told Coppola that he couldn’t make a movie in New York without ‘Grosso and his gorillas’, so I was hired on the spot. I found locations, showed them how to search, hammered the crowds, drove cars and provided 75 cops as extras as well as members of my family for the wedding scene.”

Grosso made two small appearances in The Godfather as Phil, one of Captain McClusky’s (Sterling Hayden) cops. The first was outside the hospital when McCluskey orders him to lock up Michael (Pacino) and he says: “Give him a break Captain, he’s a war hero. He’s not mixed up with the mob.” They had to do about 18 takes. “I wanted to kill myself,” laughs Grosso. “Because I was acting with Pacino and Hayden, my voice went up in the air like a woman being chased in a dark alley. I learned how difficult it is to be an actor.”

“Phil” was also one of the four guys who shot Sonny Corleone (James Caan) in his car by the tollbooth out on Long Island. “I said to Coppola, ‘If four buys are shooting at him with machine guns each holding 45 slugs, not only would you not find Jimmy Caan, you wouldn’t find the car. They’d all be completely blown away.’

“The next day Coppola called me over, he was such a gentleman, and said: ‘I thought about what you said Sonny, but Jimmy Caan is bigger than life in this movie and we’ve got to kill him bigger than life.’ I still thought he was making a tremendous mistake, but I was dealing with reality and he was dealing with movies. Not only did I learn that he was right, but I also learned that that scene ended up being one of the most memorable in movie history.”

It was on Cruising (1980) that Grosso really came into his own as a technical expert. Reunited with Friedkin, he worked with Al Pacino tracing an undercover cop’s troubled journey into Manhattan’s S&M gay underworld to fish out a crazed killer. Grosso had spent over five years working undercover on all kinds of cases, including a community of deaf mutes (for which he had to learn sign language) and homosexual rings. “We took Pacino out to the gay clubs in Greenwich Village to show him how to operate in that world, so he could observe and get a feeling for how people act.”

But just as Hackman and Scheider would never know what it was really like to work as a narcotics agent, to live immersed in the overlapping worlds of the cop and the mobster, Pacino would never experience the reality of undercover work. He would never know what it took to actually get results, nor would he ever have to master the psychological tactics, or experience the fear.

“Apart from mastering your cover story, the biggest thing is to know how to get information without anyone realising; also, to know how to remember faces, times, locations so you can go back and complete a report. You’ve got to remember to adopt all the characteristics, too. It’s stupid, but I was once trying to buy marijuana in East Harlem. I wasn’t smoking because I don’t smoke, and a guy came over and asked if I wanted a cigarette… I almost said ‘no’.”

Then there’s the decision on whether to take protection. “You’re often afraid to wear a wire or carry a gun into the bars because women will pat you down or touch you in all different places when they hug you – they’re told to do that to check if you’re carrying. So you need to be really creative about where you’re gonna carry a pistol.

“I was once searched when I was carrying a gun in my crotch, they never pulled my pants down, but it got pretty hairy. I don’t konw what they would have done if they’d found it. Same goes with a wire. I’d wear it in a real strategic spot running down the lining in the back of my jacket. They won’t always pursue a search if you have a good line of crap, but you’ve got to have the bravado to call their bluff. I don’t want to make out this is 007, but it’s a dangerous job.”

Grosso went on to advise on many other movies as well as being story consultant on numerous television projects, including Kojak, The Rockford Files and Baretta. He formed his own production company, Grosso-Jacobson Communications Corp, in 1980. They’ve produced some of the most successful TV movies and action series sold worldwide, starring big names such as Martin Sheen and Paul Sorvino.

Still, doesn’t he miss the danger of being a cop and the thrill of the chase? At least that dry sense of humour is still evident in his reply: “What I do is I go once a month to a precinct and the cops let me slam the cell door a few times. Every cop says you get an orgasm when you hear it close.”

This article originally appeared in Hotdog magazine. Many thanks to Tina Bexson for permission to republish.

The Norowzian Redemption

Tina Bexson interviews Mehdi Norowzian, director of Leo which tells a tortured tale with two seemingly disparate but concurrent story lines, one of which has a killer of a twist. Best of all, it’s a dysfunctional ‘family’ drama without either excessive meandering, ‘drama’, or sentiment.

 

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Cutting Edge: The Making of Blade Runner by Tina Bexson

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Cutting Edge: The Making of Blade Runner

Reviled at the time of its release, and now considered a cinema classic, Blade Runner still attracts attention. Tina Bexson has an audience with the androids

“I’ve seen things that you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those… moments will be lost… in time. Like… tears… in rain. Time… to die”.

It’s the climactic speech of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, where Roy Batty, the dying replicant leader played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, enlightens ‘blade runner’ Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) of the more enriched lives, and physical and emotional superiority, of Nexus 6 replicants. And it’s proceeded by an act that eloquently depicts the ambiguous nature of what it is to be human and not human with Hauer’s ebbing replicant saving the life of his killer by pulling Deckard to safety. Most of all, the scene perfectly sums up the whole point of what has to be the most famous sci-fi film ever made.

Set in a decrepit 2019 Los Angeles, and based on Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner traces the attempts of cop Deckard to ‘retire’ four genetically-engineered androids who have escaped from an off-world colony to track down their creator and persuade him to expand their pre-determined four-year life span. Its cult status is of course legendary, for it’s a film that had it all, making its longevity quite unique. There’s the exceptional and eclectic mix of sets and special effects creating a Metropolis-style futuristic cityscape that includes the Trumbull-designed Tyrell building, a Mayan pyramid with Art Deco detail; Deckard’s spinner, a quasi-helicopter; and the existing 19th-century Bradbury building in LA where Deckard finally comes face to face with Batty. The visuals are accompanied by a suitably eerie score by Greek composer Vangelis to take us further into Scott’s ‘other world’.

Then there are the offerings of what defines us as human using not extra-terrestrials, but a set of man-made aliens, replicants, played by an unconventional cast. And, as both Hauer and Daryl Hannah (who plays Pris, the ‘pleasure model’ android and Batty’s lover) told me, Blade Runner offers something enigmatic, indecipherable, that makes it intriguing rather than unnecessarily confusing.

“When I read the script it was so great, so different from anything I had ever read before, and still it,” reveals Hannah who still maintains it is her favourite film. “It was almost hard to understand, it was almost like another language because it was so ahead of its time. Before Blade Runner, all futuristic films were quite stark and modern, you know what 50s idea of the future. This was really different, quite complex.”

“Movies where a man fights a robot have been around for many years”, observes Hauer. “Blade Runner’s special irony is that a man fights a robot which is more human than human.”

Hauer’s bleached blonde hair and Nordic looks, gave him an image of ‘perfection’ swiftly grabbing the attention of Scott and producer Michael Deeley, who said that, apart from The Italian Job, it was the best casting experience he has ever had on a picture. “It was wonderful because we had a completely blank page and we went for people who were not comic figures, but who were original looking.” K. Dick was also suitably enchanted: “Seeing Rutger Hauer as Batty just scared me to death because it was exactly as I had pictured Batty, but more so.”

Unsurprisingly Hauer is amongst those calling for a re-release: “The global publicity around Blade Runner has been going on for 20 years. I’m convinced a re-release would make perfect sense now. It would be lucrative. Thinking has changed.”

Thinking has indeed changed since 1982 when it failed quite dramatically at the box office taking only $17million though it cost $28million to make. This initial release (which is the second of Scott’s sci-fi trilogy commencing with Alien and culminating with Legend) included a pathetic voice over and taped on happy ending inserted after the screen tests proved disappointing with audiences baffled by the story line. The Director’s Cut 10 years later brought the film back to what Scott had originally envisioned and got rid of the voice over and silly ending enabling it to receive the critical success it deserved.

Hauer thinks its commercial failure was to do with it being “cold in sentiment and high in intelligence. Blade Runner raises intelligent questions. Some people don’t like questions”, he adds, when prompted to explain why the American public were so outraged by the film’s depiction of their beloved LA. But those who do like questions continue to take great pleasure in the searching for answers amongst its many layers of meaning. Especially those associated with who is an is not human.

Philip K. Dick, whose work incidentally is increasingly being filmed, what with his short stories Minority Report and Impostor made into feature films [and now The Adjustment Bureau], got the idea of the replicants by reading the diary of an SS officer who said that “the screams of children keep me awake at night”. Scott’s film though depicts replicants as being rather more human than SS officers are. It plays around with their differences and similarities resulting in the ultimate debate relentlessly fuelled by die hard fans on whether Deckard himself is a replicant, used to catch other replicants, and part of the original team of Nexus 6s having had his memories altered after capture. In hindsight and to the increasingly sophisticated cinemagoers, the answer seems pretty obvious. The ‘signs’ are there, they’ll hit you at sometime and in one way or another be it subliminally or smack in the face. The most obvious sign being found in the origami tin foil unicorn left by Gaff at Deckard’s apartment, though it meant nothing until The Director’s Cut when Scott edited in Deckard’s daydream or reverie of a unicorn (using footage from the rushes of Legend) in an earlier scene when Deckard is drunkenly striking keys on his piano. The fact that Gaff makes and leaves the origami unicorn means he must know about Deckard’s ‘daydreams’ and how else could he know unless those ‘dreams’ are memory implants? Perhaps he also wants Deckard to know his life is limited so he will attempt to join Rachel (played by a very restrained Sean Young) on the run. All the other characters, human or not, seem to know he is too – Bryant, Tyrell, and of course Rachel, who cryptically asks Deckard in his apartment: “have you ever taken that test yourself?” referring of course to the Voight-Kampff test which uncovers the emotional and empathic distinctions between replicant and human.

Scott finally settled the issue and confirmed Deckard was a replicant in a 2000 documentary, On the Edge of Blade Runner. It seems he meant it to be that way all along, though the intention could have come about by accident. One of the screenwriter’s (David Peoples) original ending had Deckard meditating on the meaning of humanity in a voice over, but his words were misinterpreted by Scott to mean Deckard was a replicant. Peoples: “The script read: ‘In my own modest way, I was a combat model. Roy Batty was my later brother.’ He was supposed to be realising that, on a human level, they weren’t so different. I think Ridley misinterpreted me, because he started announcing: ‘Deckard’s a replicant! What brilliance!’” Although Hauer said in the documentary that he didn’t perceive Deckard as a replicant, that the question of whether he was, was “kind of a joke”, he told me that he thinks Deckard was a bit of both. “What I understand and think I understand it very well is that Deckard is a human replicant. A man who’s lost his soul to some ‘killerbizz’ and who can easily be manipulated and blackmailed. A man who’s lost mind and matter of what makes him human and a real man.

“Ridley likes playing games with your head. Blade Runner raises questions but doesn’t answer them. I like it too. I think the whole piece is an intelligent mind-fuck.”

Understandably, Hauer quickly related to Ridley’s vision of the future. “Ridley’s vision, I got it, vacuum fit.” That vision is also especially known for its bleakness; it offered an image of dehumanised society as the consequence to technological progress, but Hauer, unlike those many Americans during its first run, seemed to find something almost visionary amongst the negativity.

“Dark is just a word for the black in black and white. To me darkness is what gives us light, and vice versa of course. I find Blade Runner’s visual and musical tones quite exotic, even romantic in a few ways as well as a kind of Miles Davis’ Blue… What I found genius is that by depicting the future as being in decay Ridley gives the future a past, and, therefore, a deeper sense of history and reality.”

It’s not surprising he is so thoughtful and fond of a film that clearly became a turning point in his career and made him the unexpected star over the more bankable Harrison Ford. Ford wasn’t a happy man and frequently fell out with the director and other cast members, most notably Sean Young, both on and off the set. But it seems everyone was falling out with each other. Scott in particular was in the firing line (quite literally at one point), and was constantly battling against an overworked crew and cast with Ford being the most vocal, accusing the director of worrying too much about the special effects rather than the actors’ performances. The moneymen were Scott’s biggest headache, with one of the funding companies jumping straight down his neck the moment he went over budget. The increased stresses and strains made Scott a ‘screamer’, a term he gave himself in hindsight.

Still, Hauer is sanguine, somehow managing to maintain a positive if slightly over-romantic take on the troubles that surrounded him at the time. “Tension, problems, they all helped create what ended up as my screen work. The distance between what is real and not, is very clear to me.”

In fact, he got on very well with Scott, as did Daryl Hannah whose suggestions Scott readily took on board. “Blade Runner and Dancing at the Blue Iguana are sandwich ends for me, because they are two films that I feel satisfied me as to what I always wanted to do as an actress”, she explains. “They are the only two roles that I got to use myself in the way I wanted to, the only ones where I got to disappear in to a role and be creatively involved. Blade Runner wasn’t an improvised film, but I really got to be involved in the creation of Pris.”

Naturally lithe and athletic, Hannah decided she could add something extra to Pris’ physical attributes. “The fight scene with Deckard originally took place in a gymnasium. Basically it was just me bashing around with weights and hanging from rings, kicking him and stuff, and dragging him into exercise machines. The idea of the cartwheels wasn’t in the script but I said to Ridley ‘I can do lot of gymnastics’, and then I did some in the office for him during my audition and I did it again for him during my screen test. He then took out the gymnasium but kept the gymnastics.

“And Pris was a wonderful character to play because I could get really lost in her, even just on the most superficial level. I’d go to work everyday and no one would even say hello to me because no-one would recognise me. Then I’d get into the costume and every one would go ‘good morning Daryl’ because I had transformed into someone else. And I loved that. That’s what I worked for. The fact that she wasn’t even a human being, it was really cool to play with that.”

Hauer’s input was of course slightly more cerebral. Shortly after Pris’ dramatic and horrific ‘death’ at the hands of Deckard, Batty returns to Sebastian’s apartment to be confronted by her dead body, tongue protruding from her mouth. Batty kisses the corpse and gently teases her tongue back into her mouth with his own. “By pushing Pris’ tongue into her mouth, Batty buries her,” explains Hauer who instigated the idea. “It’s a way to make her presentable. He waxes Pris up. Makes her look decent again.”

The subsequent fight scene between Batty and Deckard was storyboarded to a kind of Bruce Lee showdown. Hauer insisted that he wasn’t built like a martial artist and suggested they perform more of a chase, a bizarre dance that reflected the replicant’s final physical and mental state, but one that was over in a flash. “After having had four Nexus 6 replicants die in various big stunty ways of greatness, and it being the end of the film, I felt it better to go back to the truth of death. With batteries running out of steam, the ending would be short and simple.” But Hauer had a further and much more memorable input, and for this we need to go back to Batty’s famous last lines spoken on the rooftops of the Bradbury building. These were unexpectedly ad-libbed by Hauer on the day of shooting.

“The speech – as written – for the ‘end’ was thick and very high-tech. I kept the expressions that still had some space around them and added ‘All those moments…’

“I tend to digest the ‘character’, as far as that goes, and chew the lines, tasting them like some sort of food, see how they feel. In the process I drop unnecessary words. With fewer words they all become slightly more pregnant with possible meaning. But they travel the airwaves in good speed, just like special moments. They are not created. They pass through by accident. But it all depends on the director’s willingness to go there.”

Umm. It could be interesting to see whether actor and director ever work together again during their current lifetimes.

Futurefacts

Early drafts of the script were called Android, Mechanismo and Dangerous Days. The name Blade Runner came from a William Burroughs book, to which Scott bought the title rights for $5,000.
Another early draft ended with Deckard taking Rachel to safety out of the city – and then shooting her!
Dustin Hoffman at one stage wanted the role of Deckard.
The original budget was $5.5million – it ended up costing over five times that.
To make the industrial cityscape at the beginning of the film, metal cutouts of oil refineries were lit with seven miles of fibre-optics.
The Warner Bros New York street backlot, redressed for the exterior scenes, was nicknamed ‘Ridleyville’.
A UK newspaper interview with Scott, where he unfavourably compared American crews with British ones, did the rounds on the set, prompting the US crew to wear t-shirts saying ‘Yes guv’nor… MY ASS!’
Scott was actually fired at one point for going over-budget, but was still able to complete the film because nobody else was capable of doing it.
When he was told he had to record a voiceover for the original cut, Harrison Ford deliberately put no inflection into it, thinking this would make it unusable. He was wrong…
The tagged-on ending of the original cut came from Stanley Kubrick’s personal collection of outtakes from The Shining.