About a decade ago, for my original “Subterranean Cinema” site, I created an internet version of the classic Amos Vogel book, “Film as a Subversive Art”. Ive located a site online with a PDF version of my adaption! It is also available thru Bittorrent, but you can download it directly here.
Rolling Thunder (1977) is a cult classic, directed by John Flynn, and starring William Devane (Charles Rane) and Tommy Lee Jones (Johnny Vohden) as two POWs who return home after seven years of horrific captivity in a Vietnamese prison camp. When Rane’s wife and child are murdered by a group of thugs in a home invasion robbery (which also costs him one of his hands that he has replaced with a steel hook), he tracks them down and, with the help of Vohden, he goes on a murderous rampage of revenge against them in a seedy Mexican brothel.
The screenplay was originally written by Paul Schrader, with a violent ending obviously influenced by the final scenes of “Taxi Driver” (in fact, Travis Bickle makes a tongue-in-cheek cameo appearance in the script, watching a porno film at a drive in!) Intended as a “metaphor for the American racism in Vietnam”, the Schrader version was about (in the author’s words) “a Texas trash racist who had become a war hero without ever having fired a gun”, and it ended not only with Rane killing dozens of Mexicans (guilty and innocent), but also with Rane’s death. These elements were changed by the filmmakers and screenwriter Heywood Gould, without participation by Schrader, and he disapproved of the final film. Quentin Tarantino has said that “Rolling Thunder” is his alltime favorite movie, to the extent that he named a distribution company after it.
Should they have used Schrader’s version? Read this and decide for yourself.
This is a PDF version of the web adaption that I created for my original “Subterranean Cinema” website, with the complete text of the book + all images contained in it. I located this PDF on a very obscure Russian website, with a server so bad that it was barely downloadable. So, I am very glad to be making it easily available to everyone again!
Included at the end of it is my transcription of a 1970 Penthouse interview with Jodorowsky. His footnoted interpretations of the film are sprinkled throughout the narrative, and are in brackets and red print. Enjoy!
In the tragic history of maltreated cinema, I can think of no worse example than the 1994 film by Bill Forsyth, “Being Human”. The director of “Gregory’s Girl” and “Local Hero” wrote a fantastic screenplay about the gentle soul of a simple man’s journey thru the ages, seeking happiness, love, and peace. Unfortunately, the vapid suits at Warner Brothers (already infamous in my eyes for their quashing of George Romero’s “The Stand”, the screenplay of which is also available for viewing on this site) didn’t understand his vision, so they forced him to slash over 40 minutes from the film, and to add one of the worst narration tracks ever (by Theresa Russell) in a pathetic attempt to explain to the audience what they felt was necessary to keep them tuned in and “understanding” what was going on. This faux narration completely ruins the theatrical print of the film: it’s like having a mentally unbalanced woman sitting next to you in the theatre, talking happily back to the screen, until you want to take your popcorn box and shove it down her throat to shut her up. Forsyth rightly disowned the film, which got almost universally negative reviews, and with the exception of a “sequel” to “Gregory’s Girl” in 1999, he never made another film, because of his deep disillusionment.
Fortunately, the original screenplay still exists, and here it is.
This is a “fan edit” created by Stephen Dorian Kutos, which removes all of the terrible narration from the soundtrack, bringing the film much closer to Forsyth’s original vision, and it improves the film’s quality immeasurably.
This is one of the most infamous scripts in the history of Hollywood.
I think it is a very funny screenplay that would have been a good vehicle for Sam Kinison, who it was obviously adapted for (the numerous “Oh! Oh!” exclamations throughout being the most obvious indicator).
The script is infamous for supposedly being “cursed” and partly responsible for the deaths of several major comedic actors in the 1980s and 1990s. The “Atuk Curse” has become one of the better known “urban legends” in Hollywood. It’s first victim, supposedly, was John Belushi, who had read the script and was reportedly enthusiastic about taking on the role of Atuk in 1982. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead of a drug overdose.
Years later, the part was offered to comedian Sam Kinison, who accepted it in 1988. The version shown on this site is the final shooting script which was used on the first (and last) day of shooting on the film. Christopher Walken and Ben Affleck were also cast in it. Kinison filmed at least one scene for the film before he grew dissatisfied with the script, and he demanded that parts of it be re-written on the spot, halting production. He left the set in disgust and refused to return, and the production company filed a lawsuit against him which was a large part of what made him financially destitute when it was settled a couple of years later. Not long after that, while talks were underway for him to continue the project and finish the film, Kinison died in a car crash in the Nevada desert.
The curse supposedly struck again in 1994, when John Candy, who had been approached for the role of Atuk, was allegedly reading the script when he suddenly died of a heart attack on March 4th (the day before the 12th anniversary of Belushi’s death). It was around this point in the production’s history that the press began to speak of a “curse”. Some believe that the curse struck twice that year, since in November, Michael O’Donoghue died of a cerebral hemorrhage. O’Donoghue was a writer / comedian who was also a friend of Belushi and Kinison and, the story goes, had read the script (in some version of the tale they even worked on it together) before recommending it to both of them.
The final victim of the “Atuk curse”, to date, was said to be Chris Farley, who idolized John Belushi. Like his idol, he was up for the role of Atuk, and was allegedly about to accept it when, also like his idol, he died of a drug overdose in December of 1997. According to some versions, the curse would strike twice more, only six months later in May 1998, when Farley’s friend and former Saturday Night Live cast-mate, Phil Hartman, was murdered by his wife. Farley is said to have shown the “Atuk” script to Hartman, before his death, and was encouraging him to take a co-starring role (possibly that of McKuen).
Special thanks to my friend Julian DiLorenzo for tracking this classic bit of lost cinematic history down!
Hymns/Spheres is an album by American pianist Keith Jarrett released in 1976 by the ECM record label, recorded at the Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Germany. This solo album consists of improvisations on the massive Karl Joseph Riepp “Trinity” Baroque pipe organ.
The original double vinyl album was not reissued on compact disc until 2013. There is also a CD (Spheres, ECM 1302) with a selection of tracks: Spheres (1st, 4th, 7th, 9th Movement).
It was NOT included on the film’s official soundtrack, which was made up exclusively of Tangerine Dream tracks. However, it was probably the most memorable piece of music in the film. This is an edit that I created.
For the first time ever presented in a public forum, you can now read the infamous final screenplay of Don Novello and John Belushi, “Noble Rot”.
If you have ever read “Wired”, Bob Woodward’s compelling (and very controversial) biography of John Belushi, then you are no doubt aware of the final screenplay that Belushi was attempting to write with Don Novello (most famous for his Saturday Night Live portrayal of “Father Guido Sarducci”). I am a fan of that book, I have read it many times over the years and decades, and I have always wondered about the screenplay.
By early 1982, Belushi’s notorious drug habits had worsened significantly – to the point where, even in the era of carefree recreational usage, there was no denying he was out of control. Feeling his career had already peaked and there was nowhere to go but down, Belushi decided to take the creation of his next film into his own hands. Despite the fact that he was not a writer, he teamed up with Novello to reconfigure an existing movie script called “Sweet Deception” (written by Jay Sandrich) into “Noble Rot”, a comedy about winemaking. Together with Novello, Belushi spent nearly a year tweaking the plot and reduxing the entire script to fit him.
It was a romantic comedy/adventure about a young, unsophisticated guy named Johnny Glorioso, who takes an elite new California wine to a New York wine tasting contest (the wine has a much desired and very rare fungus named Botrytis or “noble rot” of the film’s title, that can either destroy an entire crop or turn it into a legendary smooth and sweet wine), falls in love with a very untrustworthy but sexually desirable young woman named Christine (who is responsible for the multiple thefts of his beloved few wine samples for the competition), becomes involved with a diamond smuggling ring, and maybe grows up a little and loses his naivete in the process, while getting the last laugh in the kind of final scene that audiences loved seeing Belushi have. Belushi considered it the role he was born to play, and he became obsessed with getting it produced.
However, Paramount Pictures (the studio behind producing a potential film of “Noble Rot”, headed at that time Michael Eisner) was very unimpressed with the script, and was instead pushing Belushi to star in a sophomoric comedy based on the popular book, “The Joy of Sex”, to be directed by Penny Marshall of “Laverne and Shirley” fame (a completely different version was created a few years after Belushi’s death by director Martha Coolidge). Belushi hated the script (written by John Hughes).
Meanwhile, Aykroyd had also intended for Belushi to star in the supernatural comedy, “Ghostbusters”, which he was co-scripting with Harold Ramis. By this time, Belushi was heavily into punk rock (especially the raw L.A. punk band FEAR, who’s members he was hanging around with at the time, and who had an infamously subversive Saturday Night Live appearance at Belushi’s belligerent insistence) – to the point of alienating friends who would not listen to it and didn’t appreciate his overbearing insistence that it was brilliant. Belushi moved out to Hollywood to continue writing the film with Novello, feeling it would restore his waning cinematic mojo.
Holed up in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel (located on the Sunset Strip), Belushi hit the L.A. party scene more intensely than ever before – which, not surprisingly, resulted in a frustrated Novello usually having to write and revise the script alone while John was MIA on a drug binge. At the same time, Paramount made it known that the “Noble Rot” drafts they were seeing were unacceptable to them. Feeling the pinch, Belushi put himself into overdrive and let go of the controls, diving into unrestrained excesses. During the nights spent scoring drugs and partying till dawn on the Sunset Strip at such clubs as the Roxy and the Rainbow, Belushi met a former backup singer (and girlfriend of Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot) named Cathy Smith. Smith, a sleazy junkie, introduced Belushi to the next step on the chemical ladder: heroin. Always afraid of needles and knowing that heroin was the point-of-no-return, Belushi still began experimenting with the dangerous opiate, combining it with cocaine into the ultra-rush “speedball”. With Aykroyd secretly planning a flight to the West Coast to bring his troubled friend back home, Belushi began a non-stop three-day binge.
On March 5, 1982, after Hollywood pals Robin Williams and Robert De Niro left his bungalow in the early morning hours, Smith administered the umpteenth speedball to Belushi. In the morning, allegedly seeing him still snoring and alive, she took his car and left to run errands. Later in the morning while she was gone, Belushi’s personal trainer, Bill Wallace, showed up to rouse his friend to do a work out; instead, he discovered that Belushi was not breathing. After frantically applying CPR and summoning medical help, Wallace knew it was too late for Aykroyd to help his doomed friend. John Belushi was dead, and Johnny Glorioso would never live on the screen.
Though it was definitely not finished by any means (and some parts of it are obviously rushed and confused), this is not nearly as bad as the reputation that has dogged this final project of Belushi for decades. Sure, Christine is completely unlikeably and unsympathetic, but she gets her just desserts in the end, along with her compatriots, and Johnny gets the last laugh. With some more re-writing, (this draft is dated two months before Belushi’s death and the team’s frantic last minute re-write attempts in the days leading up to Belushi’s death), this could have ended up as a rather witty and sophisticated light comedy, and Belushi’s improvisations during alot of the scenes would have surely made it much more than appears on the page (as is often the case with rough draft screenplays). Once again, this is a case of a script and a concept that never really got a fair shake from the producers, and this is largely what frustrated Belushi into doing that final, fatal binge.
Download the complete screenplay here in two pdf files.
A screenplay by Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda, about the venemous conflict between Andy and his brash alter ego, the uncouth Tony Clifton.
The screenplay also contains many of Andy’s classic stand-up routines, and several moments that will cause you to literally laugh out loud, which I did while transcribing the “Hunchback” premiere, the Jerry Lewis-inspired White House visit, and the mention of a statue of Tony pouring a glass of water on the head of …
There are also touching moments (Tony’s deep love for a hooker with a heart of gold, and Andy’s yearning for the little girl he had a crush on as a boy) … and then there is that chilling moment when film “reality” breaks and the camera pulls back to reveal Andy telling the audience that Clifton died of lung cancer at Cedar Sinai Hospital … exactly the scenario that would befall Andy a few short years later.
What a tragedy that this film wasn’t made (and that Heartbeeps was instead). It would be a true cult classic today.
Read the comic vision of Kaufman and Zmuda at last.