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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Director of the Week - Walter Hill

DIRECTOR OF THE WEEK: Walter Hill

1st off I want to thank my 2 regular visitors. I’ll try and get more content up for you.

Once a week (or so) I plan to spotlight a director that has inspired or is for whatever reason special to me. I’ve done most of my work in horror, so some of these may surprise you.

One of my all time favorite directors. From Hard Times and The Drive, to the knock out one two punch of Southern Comfort and the Long Riders, Hollywood hits such as 48hrs and Red Heat. Very few directors have depicted tough guy existentialism onscreen as well as Walter Hill.  Even his misfires are pretty good. Wesley Snipes give one of his better performances in Undisputed. James Spader is frigging awesome in Supernova. Jeff Bridges in Wild Bill! He’s inspired directors like John Woo and Tarantino and continues to put out quality work.

He wrote the screenplay for Sam Peckinpaw’s The Getaway in 1972. He followed up with his Directorial Debut Hard Times in 1975. It stared Charles Bronson in one of his very best roles as a down on his luck brawler in depression era New Orleans.

Right after that he directed The Driver in 1978 with Ryan O’neil and Bruce Dern. A very cool heist flick (from an era chalked full of cool heist flicks) in which none of the characters are named. They are only referred to by their jobs; The Driver, The Detective. Even with these early flicks Hill showed a master’s hand at working with actors, writing and staging action. There’s some really cool car and stunt work in it. Plus, Ryan O’neil plays one hellla tough guy.

Then in 1979, Hill directed The Warriors. Wow. This flick made a huge impact on me as a kid and sticks with me to this day. A major stepping-stone for Hill. It became a pop culture touchstone. “Warriors, come out and play!”
I don’t know any film geek that doesn’t treasure this movie.

Hill followed it up with what I feel are his two strongest pictures, The Long Riders and Southern Comfort. I could write a term paper on either of these films. I love them both. One thing that really started to become apparent at this point was Hill’s ability to pull together great ensembles. Southern Comfort featured Fred Ward, Keith Caradine, Powers Boothe, Peter Coyote. The Long Riders had David, Keith and Robert Caradine. James and Stacy Keach. Dennis and Randy Quaid. It was a movie about family and brothers. Starring brothers. It was really cool. His use of slow motion in The Long Riders is stunning.  * Southern Comfort features the coolest and most gruesome headshots (Peter Coyote getting shotgunned to the head) ever filmed.

Then in 1982 Hill made 48hrs. The movie that launched Eddie Murphy’s career and still stands as one of the best buddy action pics ever.  48 HRS is a perfect melding of action and comedy. * the sound of Nolte’s 44 still rings in my ears.

He followed up 48 Hrs with what had to be one of his weirdest pics, Streets of Fire. It’s almost a companion piece to the Warriors. Both present a surreal vision of “the streets.” But Streets of Fire feature Michael Pare!

Hill then proved his hand at Comedy with Brewster’s Millions. He then reunited with Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe for Extreme Prejudice. What a cool movie! If you haven’t seen it, shame on you! Get it now!

He went blockbuster again with Red Heat, starring James Belushi and ARNOLD! IT had it moments. The made another masterpiece with Johnny Handsome, featuring  (height of his popularity) Mickey Rourke. Ellen Barkin is smoking hot in this movie and Lance Henrickson has a great as usual turn as the heavy. It’s set in New Orleans too.

Then there’s Another 48hrs…Hey, a guy’s got to eat. 1992 he gave us Ice’s Cube and Tea in Trespass, which I really like. Great chemistry between Bills Paxton and Sadler has treasure hunters.

Geronimo, an American Legend and Wild Bill are both flawed to say the least but have some great sequences. I’ll kind of skip Last Man Standing (my least favorite Hill movie) Then there’s Supernova, which he walked off of. But you can’t help but notice his hand in the final product, especially in James Spader’s performance.

He most recently directed Undisputed. Not his finest work, but still pretty good and a reminder that we’re lucky to have him working. While he’s most noted for his action tough guy stuff, it’s the humanity he brings to these characters and their senses of honor that distinguishes his work.


*He’s also an awesome writer. His sparse descriptive prose was a major technical inspiration for my own work.
* He also was producer and writer on just about every movie in the Alien Franchise.

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