An evening with Robert Towne

Robert Town in Last Woman On EarthI sat in the 4th row on the left aisle, Robert Towne arrived at the appointed time and sat in 2nd row, 2nd seat in front of me and nuzzled against a young Asian woman, obviously a colleague.

Immediately, a film strip with scenes from a number of his films started playing:

  • The Last Detail
  • Chinatown
  • Godfather
  • Shampoo
  • Tequila Sunrise
  • Personal Best

ending with a digital clip from his new film Ask the Dust which will open March 17.

Mr. Towne, dressed in jeans with a non-descript sport coat and shirt and sporting flowing white hair, settled into one of those tall director chairs. He is soft-spoken and unfailingly polite and carries an air of accomplishment. He was introduced by the moderator who asked him to talk about Ask the Dusk. It’s set in 30’s LA, but filmed in Capetown, South Africa for two reasons:

1) money
2) NOTHING in LA is like it was in the 30’s.

They built a set on two football fields, and shot around the coastline and in the city. He loved Capetown.

What’s it about?

Conflict: love and duty, that’s what many films are about. A man’s profession is central to the telling of the tale. In the 30’s every man is labeled with his profession, be it fireman, cowboy, dockworker or stockbroker. A young Italian American aspiring writer meets a Mexican waitress in a diner. She looking to meet and marry a rich American. He sees a gorgeous blonde on his arm. Of course they fall in love. The scene screened describes them meeting for the first time.

Mr. Towne went on to field questions from the audience.

Some points:

The 70’s were a golden age of film in America because there was Viet Nam and Nixon going on, among other things; “,the innate hypocrisy of the established order fosters a passion to tell stories that reflect that,” (Chinatown, Godfather, etc).

Hollywood got caught up in the “opening weekend” trap with the opening of Jaws, this is not a good thing.

Towne was ready to release The Last Detail starring Jack Nicholson, but censors, due to the language, held it up. Neither would back down on the language. So Robert says to Jack, “There’s this film I”ve been wanting to make about LA water rights, you want to do it?” So while they were waiting, they made Chinatown.

That’s about what I remember.

There was a reception after, but we didn”t stay. It was after nine and neither Carol nor had eaten. A Mexican Restaurant up the street from the theater, Tres Agaves, was written up in the SF Chronicle Magazine for its architecture and I wanted to check it out. Food and architecture were very good.

Now I could have stayed and schmoozed with Robert Towne and had our picture taken together, and e-mailed it to Tom and Andy. I didn”t do that.

— mr.1.7.06   San Francisco

UPDATE: They opened a week early, March 10th, and it was well reviewed in the NY Times:

[D]irector Robert Towne…has turned Fante’s glorious howl into a requiem for a city and those who escape its gilded clutches…Ask the Dust feels like a compendium of desires — for a city, for a woman, for youth — that now warm rather than burn.


One thought on “An evening with Robert Towne

  1. Kelly and I went to see Ask The Dust yesterday at the LeFont Garden Theatre near downtown. It is a run down art theatre with broken down seats and a one-holer toilet. That becomes important as the crowd was mostly OLDER folks (over 70) for some reason…perhaps it was an outing or something. It was a rainly and cold Sunday 4pm matinee, and the basketball games had gotten boring by then. Regardless, the film was everything I had read and heard about it…a dusty, lusty, crusty love story between two beautiful people. Salma is drop dead, and Colin aint no slouch. Although their portrayals were good (Salma especially), somehow I had troubel beleiveing that tow gorgeous people like that would not have fortunes drop in thier lap in the city of dreams. Otherwise, it was a really interesting film, perhpas worthy of a second viewing when it comes out on DVD. A white pizza at Fellini’s (how appropriate for a film-themed afternoon out) completed the day. And OSU lost.


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