DI: Early in your career, you served as Dennis Hopper's editorial consultant on Easy Rider, a nice break for you. What did you learn on the film?
HJ: On Easy Rider I learned how to edit. Coming to it from having
made nothing more than a 5-hour long 8mm documentary shot in Israel
and the Occupied Territories in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, I was
given the exceptional opportunity by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson of
working alongside Jack Nicholson - in adjoining editing rooms, each with
an editor of our own - and discovering how to help give shape to Dennis
Hopper's brilliant and timely film. Under the ultimate supervision of
Schneider - Rafelson, Hopper, Nicholson and I crafted the final movie.
Its success gave me the opportunity to make my own film, A Safe Place,
for the same company and, despite being widely attacked for it at the time,
launched my directing career. I can't even imagine what my life might
have been like without this having happened.
DI: In your directorial debut, A Safe Place, you got the chance to direct
Orson Welles, who you became good friends with. What was it like working
HJ: It was frustrating working with Orson at first, because he tried to direct
me, my actors and even my crew, countering my instructions and generally
being a pain in the ass. Also, he insisted, at first, on endless - and I do mean
endless - retakes of every scene he was in, saying to me: "You're the one who
is going to decide which take to use at the end, so I want there to be at least
one decent take in case you should accidentally stumble over it. However,
when I took Orson aside and said to him: "Okay, I'll let you do as many takes
as you wish of every scene you're in on one condition, he looked at me wearily
and said: "What condition?" I told him that the deal would require him to not
direct my actors, not direct my crew and not in any way criticize me in front of
them. In short, not to direct my movie. He said: " Don't forget, Henry, that this
is your first movie." I said: "Don't forget Orson, 'Citizen Kane' was yours." He
was delighted and became a close advisor and ultimately a very, very close
friend and - by the way - he never asked for more than three or four takes on
any given scene after that.
DI: In 1976, you got a chance to direct Hopper in Tracks, who played a
soldier dealing with life after Vietnam. What was that experience like?
HJ: Not unlike the situation with Orson, Dennis seemed very difficult to deal
with at the beginning of the shoot, even though we were close friends and
knew each other quite well. But that quickly vanished as the filming
progressed and he came up with the most extraordinary creative ideas
and acting choices, including the very last speech he has at the "funeral"
of the American soldier coming home from Vietnam, during which he tore
up the grand speech I had written and instead improvised a magnificent
inarticulate rage much more suitable to the character. I was never certain
however whether the rage was directed at America for sending him to
Vietnam, as intended, or at me. But this largely gave birth to my career-long
addiction since then of letting actors throw out prepared dialogue in
exchange for heartfelt expressions of their own, especially if I have cast them
DI: There seems to be a lot of Fred Astaire and Edith Piaf recordings in
your movies. Are they just two of your favorite recording artists or is
there something more to it?
HJ: There is not a lot of Edith Piaf, but there is a lot of French songs,
many by Charles Trenet, and I certainly am addicted to Fred Astaire,
Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and all that. The Gershwins and Rodgers
and Hart , Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, you know, the songs of the 30's
and 40's - the so-called "Great American Song Book" - captures the
emotions that I try to deal with in my films more profoundly, and certainly
more romantically, than does most contemporary music.
DI: What advice do you have for aspiring film makers?
HJ: Trust yourself. Don't listen to anything anyone tells you that suggests
that you can't do something. You live in the very best time to be an
independent filmmaker thanks to widespread distribution and endlessly
expanding technology. Go for it with all your heart and don't believe anyone who tries to limit you in any way.
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