Friday, March 17, 2006

Towne on Fante (and Towne, too)

Towne's long-gestating adaptation of John Fante's Ask the Dust hits screens soon. Some choice gems from the interview:
AVC: Most writers say that even the most respected screenwriters have very little power in Hollywood. Have you found that to be true?

RT: Well, relative to the power that movie stars have, and producers and directors, I would say that's true.

AVC: Why do you think that is?

RT: Everybody recognizes "in the beginning is the word," and all that fucking lip service, but I don't think it's in the nature of the writer's profession to go after that power. Writers spend their time alone, hallucinating, writing, making these things up, while these other people are out schmoozing, making connections, meeting each other. They are trotting the corridors of power and making sure they've put their own imprints in it. And they're promoting themselves and their images, as they should. But writers, by temperament, by talent and by time, don't have the opportunity or the inclination. And even if they had the inclination, which some of them do, they don't have the opportunity, because they're too busy writing alone. They're not social creatures.


AVC: "Ask The Dust" deals a lot with race, and so does "Crash," the big buzzed-about movie of the moment. How much do you think racial attitudes have evolved or not evolved since the period Fante was writing about?

RT: The difference is that—with some exceptions, like the Matt Dillon character in "Crash," who was really at the outer limits—it's less out in the open today. I remember when the cop in the O.J. Simpson trial said racist, derogatory things even off the record, he lost his job, he lost everything. It has evolved to the extent that it is so politically incorrect that people are scandalized by it. But I think the same attitudes are just underneath the surface. Then, it was right out in the open, and there was something bracing about that, and even funny, like a Lenny Bruce routine. You see these two people wildly attracted to each other, and both of them are angry in that way that you can be angry about being attracted to someone, and you don't know if they'll be attracted to you, but you're dependent upon them. You see these people whose feelings are enslaving them in that they can't control their attraction to the last fucking person in the world they want to be attracted to. It's like Camilla says to Bandini late in the movie, "The truth of the matter is, you're too ashamed of being an Italian to want to marry a Mexican." She brings that up. You know, it's like, "Why can't you have a last name like White?" They both wanted to trade up for blondes and live the WASP life. It's a love story as well, because people have to overcome their respective prejudices.

AVC: It seems like the American dream is still to be a blue-eyed blonde, in spite of how multicultural the country has become.

RT: But it was more of an uncomplicated reaction [in the past]. The dream was more "If you can be similar in that way, you can be American and have equal opportunities." Whereas today it's, how can I put it? It's kind of Balkanized: Black pride. Gay pride. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant pride. All of these things, you know, they're more polarized, aren't they? The red and blue states. Christians, that's the most insidious aspect of it, giving into this great Christian image of America. That's the most frightening thing of all. Whereas [in the past] they're trying to find things that unite us, to minimize the differences. Whereas today there's this belief in empowerment and entitlement by maximizing differences. I'm not so sure that that's healthy. I don't mean that it's not healthy to want to hang onto your culture. But I think it's unhealthy to set it up against somebody else's and say "ours is better." Then there's the Christian Right saying that this is a Christian country when it's not. When I was a kid, when we pledged allegiance to the flag, there was no "under God." Tom Paine, Ben Franklin, they were Deists. This was not started as a Christian country.

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