David Mamet

It’s amazing that certain events affect our memories, including music, theater, film.  I vividly remember ON THE WATERFRONT, THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET,  EASY RIDER, COLTRANE AND DOLPHY,  CHINATOWN, DVORAK’S CELLO CONCERTO, LENNIE TRISTANO,  MANITAS DE PLATA, A CHORUS LINE, ALIEN, BEJART, JOHNNY SHINES,  GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, JUE DE PAUME, EQUUS, DON GIOVANNI.  More.  Much more, but the point is that any of these experiences colors your persona with insight, opening creative doors, if you accept these gifts.

Near the top of my list is GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, the play, not the film.  I had never seen (heard) anything like this.  The dialogue was alike a Coltrane mantra, remarkably like a Coltrane/Dolphy concert, with the protagonists competing with each other with polyphonic dialogue.  Mamet was simply a genius.

I don’t remember how we met, but it was on the Paramount backlot when I was editing LET IT RIDE.  We bonded a little and shared stupid studio stories (title for a book?) and that was that,

LET IT RIDE was to be a scatological, disjointed, non linear look at the underbelly of horse racing.  That’s what attracted me to the material.  The script had the feel of the little-known film by Milos Foreman, THE FIREMAN’S BALL, a character driven mini masterpiece that has been totally forgotten by now.  It also had some elements of Saroyan’s THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE, which takes place in a bar filled with reprobates. After screening the director’s cut, the PC police began to chop away at the film, removing characters, important scenes because they made fun of subjects that were ‘important.’ A new regime had taken over the studio since this film was greenlit.

What’s this got to do with Mamet?  I’m getting there.

After all the chopping and screenings we had to film a few scenes to fill in the gaps with lost characters, etc. The original writer was long gone and we searched for a writer that understood the material.  I met with the production executives from the studio and they suggested David Mamet.

ME: Mamet?  He’s not funny.

EXECUTIVE: Yes he is.  He wrote WE’RE NO ANGELS for us.

ME: I read that script.  It’s not funny. You’re doing that movie?

EXECUTIVE: Yes. With Robert De Niro and Sean Penn.

ME: You’re doing that movie with those guys and that script?  Good luck.

The next thing I know, I’m on a plane to Boston to meet with Mamet and these executives.  Mamet has an ‘office’ above a store in Cambridge.  We go into a conference room with a huge table.  There is barely enough room to slide the chairs back to get to sit.  Mamet wears a baseball cap and dark, dark glasses.  You can’t see his eyes.  I sit at the end of the table and Mamet and the two guys position themselves opposite each other.  From my vantage point it looks like a tennis match with my head going left and right.

One of the executives has written a sheaf of pages, notes, and scenes and he places them on a stack in front of him.  They look like a script.  After a very brief chat (no participation from me) the executive slides his ‘notes’ toward Mamet.  Mamet slides them back.

I don’t have to read them.  I know what you need.

The executive stutters a bit and slides the notes back toward  Mamet.  Mamet slides them back, this time wagging his finger in the poor guy’s face saying again.

I know what you need.

Meeting over.

We have a coffee at the hotel.  We have hours to kill to catch our plane since the ‘meeting’ lasted minutes while we had planned for hours.

EXECUTIVE: How do you think the meeting went?

ME:  What meeting?

EXECUTIVE:  The meeting.

ME:  That wasn’t a meeting.  He just handed you your ass.

EXECUTIVE:  That’s not kind.

ME:  It’s observant.

Time goes by and the rewrite comes and it’s terrible and not sensitive at all to what needed to be done and I wonder why and I find out later that the studio owed Mamet money from a previous movie (I think it was THE UNTOUCHABLES) and I came in way under budget (a million) and it was a clean way to pay off the studio debt to David Mamet, and such are the ways of Hollywood.

A lot of this is true.