When Adrian Lyne fled from a screening of ‘9½ Weeks’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – British director Adrian Lyne, who turns 80 today, is known for his provocative films about sexuality but a preview audience for ‘9½ Weeks’ made him run for his life.

Like Ridley Scott, Alan Parker and others, Lyne had graduated from making TV commercials to feature films with ‘Foxes’, a coming-of-age tale starring Jodie Foster, and ‘Flashdance’, a ground-breaking pop musical starring Jennifer Beals (right) in 1983. It was a massive hit and In 1986 came ‘9½ Weeks’ starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger (above). It was based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Ingeborg Day published under a pseudonym, Elizabeth McNeill, about a woman who has an affair with a man named who abuses her sexually for mutual entertainment. 

‘In the novel,’ Lyne told me, ‘it was a relationship that was very much S&M oriented. The girl depended to a large extent on pain in terms of her sexual pleasure. It was a fascinating novel, very erotic, but I think it was unmakeable in any mainstream sense. You could have made a movie that would be seen at the Pussycat cinema on Sant Monica but I changed the basic concept to be about a woman who, like all of us, has an arbitrary set of rules by which she gets through the day and someone comes along who challenges those rules. I thought that was an interesting premise for a film.’ Unfortunately, others had different expectations: ‘It wasn’t the S&M movie the critics were expecting,’ Lyne said. ‘They expected a lot of black leather with chains and whips and while there are elements of that, it’s not the all-consuming thing that was in the novel. I think some critics have felt rather cheated out of that.’

Lyne said the film was headed for an X-certificate unless he cut a fairly explicit scene of the couple making love under pouring water in an alley: ‘The censors wanted two minutes cut out of it. They said they didn’t particularly have anything against the scene but the cumulative sexuality that led up to it made it more outrageous. I was amazed but one doesn’t really get a lot of chance to argue.’ He cut another scene from the North American release because it enraged preview audiences: ‘It was a scene where the man asks her to play at being a whore. He gets her to pick up money from the floor in her apartment, He says he can get excited only if she gets down on her hands and knees. Audiences started yelling at the screen and sometimes walked out. I was astonished at how vociferous audiences were in the previews. There were scenes in various cuts of this movie that aren’t in the movie now.

‘They were very strong and disturbing scenes, so disturbing to audiences apparently that on one occasion half the audience walked out. On another occasion – and I sat through a lot of previews – they were screaming en masse so loudly in the last two reels of the film that you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was bedlam. Another time, it was terrifying. The audience was almost like a lynch mob. I fled. There was no way I was going to be there at the end of the movie. It’s frustrating when the critics say you didn’t go far enough and the audience says you’ve gone too far. Where does your allegiance lie? To critics? To the movie audience? To yourself? I don’t think it’s to the critics in the end, I really don’t. If you start trying to please critics then God help you. But I do think to an extent you have an allegiance to the audience because you’ve got to keep them in the theatre haven’t you? I guess the bottom line would be that the studio wouldn’t have let me put out that movie where half of the audience walked out.’

The film did well in North America but even better in Europe where it was released without cuts. Lyne never shied away from controversy and subsequent films are all worth watching: ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987) with Michael Douglas, Glenn Close and Anne Archer; ‘Indecent Proposal’ (1993) with Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson; ‘Lolita’ (1997) with Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith and Frank Langella; and ‘Unfaithful’ (2002) with Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez. My favourite and most disturbing to me is the nightmarish ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ (1990) with Tim Robbins (left), Elizabeth Peña and Danny Aiello. Lyne quit movies for almost two decades but he returns with more provocative and deadly erotic games in ‘Deep Water’, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Starring Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas and Tracy Letts, it’s scheduled for release this August.

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When David Puttnam got tired of making movies

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Aside from being English, David Puttnam and I have two things in common. We are both devoted to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and we each obtained three O-level GCEs at school. He, of course, had an illustrious career as an Academy Award-winning producer of hit movies and became a fine politician working within the Labour Party to boost education and the British film industry as a member of the House of Lords. I did not. Continue reading

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Nick Nolte on learning to work sober

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Nick Nolte, who turns 80 today, warned me of the dangers that lurked in Los Angeles. The Iowa-born actor had an explosive impact playing rebellious fighter Tom Jordache in the hit 1976 TV miniseries ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’, based on Irwin Shaw’s terrific novel. He played rough-edged and rowdy characters in ‘The Deep’, ’48 Hrs’ and ‘Teachers’. He also made more thoughtful pictures including ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’, ‘Under Fire’, ‘Cannery Row’ and ‘Heart Beat’.

I met him first in Chicago on a junket for ‘Teachers’ and talked to him again in 1985 ahead of the release of a black comedy titled ‘Grace Quigley’ starring Katharine Hepburn in her last leading role as an elderly widow, lonely and suicidal, who hires a hitman (Nolte) to kill her. When I asked about his rambunctious image, he said, ‘It’s a fast pace. It’s not so bad when you’re working. Then, it’s justifable to be a little extreme. You know, actors are extremists. That’s what Katharine says. Hepburn. Quote her. I called her a natural. She said, “Oh, no. I’m an extremist.” It’s when you’re not working … if you carry on that behaviour when you’re not working, you’re not gonna survive.’ Continue reading

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Larry King on his lucky heart attack and love of smoking

Larry-King

By Ray Bennett

Longtime TV interviewer Larry King, who died today aged 87, almost didn’t make it to 60. He told me: “I got a lucky break. I had a heart attack.”

One dark February morning in 1987, King signed off his overnight national radio talk-show feeling uncommonly sluggish. Worried, he cancelled a date and drove home through the Washington, DC, snow. His doctor told him to take some Maalox and go to bed. Pain soon awakened him. Pain in his right arm and shoulder that fast became ferocious.

He went to the hospital where doctors told him that right then and there he was having a heart attack. King said,“I was lucky because it would have been unlucky not to have the pain because then you have no warning.”

In fact, he had plenty of warnings but he ignored them. He said: “I was 54. I ate what I wanted and I smoked heavily. I knew my father died of heart disease. I knew I had a heart problem. I just never thought I’d be going into an emergency room.” Continue reading

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Mel Gibson, great filmmaker, shame about the demons

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – I’ve spent time with Mel Gibson, who turns 65 today, and always found him to be genial, open and likeable even though he gave me a clue about his demons in an interview in 1984. It’s a shame they got the better of him as he is a good actor and a formidable filmmaker (‘Braveheart’, ‘Apocalypto’). Continue reading

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Jack Elam on westerns, auditing, acting … and that fly

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – With his blind left eye, American character actor Jack Elam, who was born 100 years ago today, made a perfect villain in hundreds of TV shows and feature films but he told me he was a better auditor than he was an actor.

He started out in the film business as a chartered accountant and worked as an auditor for Samuel Goldwyn Studios and General Services Studios: ‘I do believe that I was as good an auditor as there was when I was an auditor. I was as high a salaried auditor as there was so I knew my business. I felt a very great self-respect as an auditor, which as an actor is pretty hard to feel because you might like what I’m doing and the other fella doesn’t like it at all. You say, jeez, I thought you were great in such-and-such and he says he thought it was a terrible fucking thing and you were awful. There are no matters of opinion in audting. If the sonofabitch balances, you can shove it up your ass, your opinion. You can go fuck it, you know?’ Continue reading

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My chaotic encounter with composer Ennio Morricone

By Ray Bennett 

LONDON – The late Ennio Morricone was a giant in film music but the Italian composer could be a difficult man as I found out when I went to interview him in London.

He was in town for his 75th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004 and he also had a new album to promote. Titled ‘Focus’, it featured Morricone and the Portuguese Fado singer Dulce Pontes and so I was to interview the two of them. Continue reading

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Recalling Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac, an L.A. legend …

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Legendary Dan Tana’s barkeep Mike Gotovac died aged 76 on May 15 following complications caused by Covid-19. He was among the many rich characters I encountered in my time in Los Angeles and I recall clearly the first time we met.

The evening after the Los Angeles Herald Examiner folded in 1989, a group of us from the paper went to Dan Tana’s, the fabled West Hollywood restaurant for a meal. As we waited just inside the door, somebody recognized columnist Gordon Dillow from the photo on his column and Jimmy Cano, the city’s best maitre’d, asked if we were all from the HerEx. When we said we were, everyone in the place applauded and we weren’t allowed to pay for anything. Continue reading

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When Kenny Rogers welcomed me to Los Angeles

By Ray Bennett

We flew into LAX from Toronto, checked into the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the Valley, went directly to the then open-air Universal Amphitheater and were led to seats in the front row just as the biggest entertainer in the world strolled onto the stage: Kenny Rogers, who died today aged 81.

It was in early May 1978. TVGuide’s Canadian editions had just been purchased from the US parent company and art director Brian Moore and I were in Los Angeles to talk to freelance writers and photographers as we began to establish our own identity. Continue reading

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My wish list for the 2020 Oscars: ‘Little Women’

Best Picture

My favourite film of the year is Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ with its splendid filmmaking, intelligent update of the story and wonderful performances. The film I admire most is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ with its biting satire, great comedy, astute insight and rollicking surprises.. I enjoyed some other nominated films:  Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, James Mangold’s ‘Le Mans’66 (Ford vs Ferrari)’ Todd Phillips’s ‘Joker’ and Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’. Three I thought were awful … Quentin Tarantino’s ‘ Once Upon a Waste of Time in Hollywood’, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Geriatricfellas’ and Taika Waititi’s ‘Jojo Duck’.  I would have liked to see nominations for Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’, Josh and Benny Sadfie’s ‘Uncut Gems’, Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady On Fire’ and Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Clemency’. I also enjoyed Gavin Hood’s ‘Official Secrets’ and Todd Haynes’s ‘Dark Waters’ Continue reading

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