"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

NATURAL BORN KILLERS addendum 1: Killer Instinct

 Killer Instinct: How Two Young Producers Took on Hollywood and Made the Most Controversial Film of the Decade by Jane Hamsher

I got alot of problems with this book, but I kinda recommend reading it if it’s a subject you’re interested in. It’s got some funny stories about Oliver Stone and the crazy antics of Hamsher’s partner Don Murphy, probly best known now as a producer on the TRANSFORMERSes, but I remember his name because of many belligerent message board posts and open letters he’s written over the years. Because I’ve read so many of those it’s hard for me to buy Hamsher’s portrayal of him as a lovable madman, but there are good stories about him that aren’t about him yelling at anybody. I dug the one where it’s the middle of the night after a long hard shoot and he manages to get Oliver Stone and the whole crew excited about staying later for a product placement shot of a truck so they can all get free cowboy boots.

The book tells an interesting story, depicting Hamsher and Murphy as these young fresh-out-of-film-school amateurs lucking upon this script by their unknown friend Quentin Tarantino and then riding it through Hell and back. She portrays herself as an underdog, a young person entering a grown up world, and sort of a voice of reason among lots of crazy people, so there’s a certain relatability to it.

But I think she has sort of an unintentional unreliable narrator thing going too. The way she tells it she has constant run-ins with all these idiots who work with Oliver Stone who have no idea what they’re doing and are jealous of her for no reason. But by the end of the book I started to wonder if maybe they just didn’t like her because they’ve been doing this for years and this film student keeps yelling at them that they’re idiots and they’re doing everything wrong. That could be part of why they don’t seem to adore her, maybe.

This 1997 LA Times article archived on Don Murphy’s websight seems to support that theory:

Stone says that Marshall and his agents advised him to pay out Hamsher and Murphy’s contract and not involve them in the film. “Instead, I made you as much a part of the process as I could. I cannot tell you the time and energy I spent dealing with the complaints of the department heads about your meddling in their affairs. . . . Any established director would long before have asked you to leave the set. I resisted that.”

Stone seems most upset by Hamsher’s dismissive account of his production team, saying, “When you’ve produced {as many} complex pictures as we have . . . then you might be able to pass judgment on others’ methods. Till then I would have the modesty to keep my mouth shut and my eyes open.”

I wonder if some of the facts might be off, too. There’s this story about the deleted “Hun brothers” scene that says that Tarantino wrote it for a pair of twin bodybuilders who were going to fund the movie so they could get their SAG cards. But of course the characters are obviously based on the Barbarian Brothers, who played them in the unused scene, and had been making movies since 1983. In fact, NBK was their last movie, not the one that got their foot in the door. Later in the book the scene is mentioned again in a letter from Murphy to Premiere. There he claims that Roger Avary “wrote the [unfilmed] bodybuilder scene in NBK,” which contradicts the reality that the scene exists as an extra on the DVDs and blu-rays of the movie. In my opinion it was filmed.

But overall it’s some funny anecdotes about what it’s like to work with Oliver Stone and to be a beginner movie producer and to hang out with Don Murphy. And it’s an interesting and not flattering perspective on young Tarantino. In Hamsher’s view, Tarantino is a backstabber who was very supportive of the project to her face but betrayed them when he had success with RESERVOIR DOGS and decided he didn’t want his other not as good script to get made. (Also she reprints a moronic “your leggs looked so sexy” note she says he handed her at a film festival. I believe it because it looks like his handwriting as seen on the Bride’s hit list in KILL BILL.)

I’m sure the portrayal is at least partly accurate, but you gotta take it with a grain of salt for about a hundred reasons, one being Hamsher’s obviously completely wrong assessments of Tarantino’s work. Even within this memoir she can’t keep it straight about his NBK script, at first writing about how much she believes in its brilliance and later seeming to think it was nothing until they totally rewrote it and abandoned its structure and many of its scenes in editing.

I got a kick out of her description of seeing RESERVOIR DOGS for the first time. She has to admit it’s good, but gives it the most underplayed review I’ve heard of this particular movie:

“The lights went down. The film went up on the screen and, to my mind, it was a pretty good little film. Having read the script, I don’t know what I was expecting; the performances were good, save Quentin’s… and although I thought the directing was working a bit hard to call attention to itself and was sometimes at odds with the performances, over all I thought it was a remarkably self-assured first directing effort.”

(“the directing was working a bit hard to call attention to itself”… does she know she’s writing a book about NATURAL BORN KILLERS? And she’s saying this about RESERVOIR DOGS?)

Later she tries to explain that his entire writing output at that point was flukes and rip-offs:

“So you’re Quentin Tarantino. You’ve been a big goof sitting on a sofa watching videos for most of your life. You don’t even have a car, but you get yourself a job in a video store with a bunch of other geeks like yourself, and you all sit around musing about the movies you’d make if you had the money. With your pal Roger Avary, you jerk off this 400-page mess called Open Road, and out of that you carve NBK, True Romance, and parts of Reservoir Dogs – the rest you rip off from Chinese action films.”

“And the only thing you’ve ever written by yourself is this lame vampire movie called From Dusk Till Dawn for some special-effects guy who pays you $1,500,” says Don.

“Right. So boom, Res Dogs comes out, and it’s a phenomenon. Boom, True Romance comes out; it could be better, but everyone’s calling you a genius. Suddenly the onus is on you to follow it up. And in your heart of hearts, you know that you’re a one-trick pony–you’ve got the same characters, the same scenes appearing over and over again in Res Dogs, NBK, and True Romance. You’ve never really written anything on your own, except for one weak script. What are you gonna do for a follow up? The last thing you want is for someone else to be doing your hyperviolent, digressive dialogue stuff and playing it out before you can do that yourself. How do you keep that from happening?… you buy a little time before anyone realizes you haven’t got an encore,” I said.

Well, setting aside the questionable (to put it charitably) description of those early scripts (I mean, who doesn’t at least kinda like FROM DUSK TILL DAWN?), I feel like PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL volumes 1 and 2, DEATH PROOF and INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS made a pretty good encore. Hamsher produced DOUBLE DRAGON, APT PUPIL, PERMANENT MIDNIGHT and FROM HELL before retiring to become a well-known Huffington Post political blogger. I’ll give Murphy credit for having his name on BULLY and for apparently not being creatively responsible for the TRANSFORMERSes. (Michael Bay once wrote on his blog: “I never spoke creatively with Don. I read his notes kind of trashing the script and making me and the writers feel like a big shit pile. But during production Don was nice to me, he knew I was not going to talk creative with him.)

And I guess SHOOT ‘EM UP, SPLICE and REAL STEEL are all semi-respectable. But I’m not giving him a pass on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. A movie so terrible that its director left the business, even though he’s the director of motherfuckin BLADE! And for good measure Murphy publicly trashes both the writer and artist of the comic book it was based on.

Honestly, I feel like Hamsher and Murphy kinda have good taste. They go after projects that are potentially interesting, even if some of them turn out to be horrible garbage in the end. But the number of movies Hamsher produced total is lower than the number of certified classics Tarantino has written and directed so far. So the grapes look even more sour in retrospect than they did at the time of publication.

One thing Tarantino definitely does better than Hamsher you might’ve noticed in that excerpt there. She’s terrible at writing dialogue. I know this is just a storytelling device, and that nobody can remember conversations from their life verbatim, so she probly doesn’t want us to believe they are the actual words that were spoken. But her idea of witty repartee is fuckin painful to read:

“What, are you suprised?” I said. “The people who pump millions out of a few cents of carbonated sugar water every year, who essentially have nothing but a trademark and an image of being all-American and wholesome, are concerned about our insinuation that their advertising dollars are financing the production of violent, exploitive, socially debilitating TV shows that care only about ratings at all costs? Gee, who would have thought.”

“Well, that’s not the only place in the movie where we used their stuff,” he said defensively. “Juliette’s also holding a can of diet Coke in her hand when she visits Woody in prison.”

“Yeah, and she’s giving him a hand job with the other one,” I said. “I don’t think that’s what they have in mind when they say, ‘Things go better with Coke.'”

To my mind, it’s not that good of a little book. But I enjoyed it as a gossipy memoir and as a coming-down-on-the-wrong-side-of-cinematic-history curiosity.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 at 2:52 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “NATURAL BORN KILLERS addendum 1: Killer Instinct”

  1. eh, as a big Tarantino fan it sounds like this book would just piss me off

    and speaking of which, does anyone recognize my new gravatar?

  2. I don’t doubt that the young Tarantino was a bit of a prick after his first taste of success – just look at the old interviews with him – but it usually takes one to know one. This is a common flaw in most biographicalbooks. The writer’s always so damn cool and clever that you often start hating him/her after a few pages. They might think so, but they’re NOT the new Charles Bukowski.

  3. Jareth Cutestory

    August 7th, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m that guy who doesn’t like FROM DUSK TO DAWN, not even a little bit.

    Griff: Wicked Helen Hunt gravatar, dude!

  4. Shit, I think I might like this in much the same way I like listening to the director’s commentaries for Boondock Saints 2. Always good for a laugh.

  5. You’re right, Vern, it’s hard to hate on From Dusk Til Dawn. I fucking loathe most of Tarantino’s moves, Resevoir Dogs and like 10 minutes of Pulp Fiction excluded, but even From Dusk Til Dawn is watchable and enjoyable. I’ve not seen it for years, but I doubt I’d change my mind much.

    I’m also sad to hear that someone that shares my view of Tarantino (loser who watched lots of films and has zero life experience) is also pretty terrible. Oh well.

  6. Thanks for putting down the more in depth journalism on a film you’re not thrilled about, Vern. Very interesting article.

  7. Whoa whoa…Nice new look Vern!

  8. Popping in to say that I like the new look, Vern. Though it could be even cooler if you went even more pulpy as your Marvel style character box on the top left of the main page suggests.

  9. Call me a purist, but I’m sticking with Classic Vern.

  10. I read a lot of political blogs and I can tell you that Jane Hamsher is an idiot. If she says things that seem wrong or hard to believe, those things are probably wrong.

  11. From 2003-04, I worked at this insanely upscale furniture store in an ‘up and coming’ neighborhood in Manhattan, and celebrities would come in occasionally.

    One very slow afternoon, a big, gap-toothed, middle-aged white dude came in with a very petite Asian woman, and he seemed really into chatting with me. There was the vibe of something not quite connecting during our interaction, but it was nice enough. He had questions about the store, the furniture, but he seemed to be expecting something that didn’t come.

    Ten minutes after he left I realized that I had been talking to Oliver Stone. I’ve always thought that he wanted me to recognize him, particularly because the early 2000’s were not exactly the brightest patch of that dude’s career. I wish I had.

    And that’s my story about meeting Oliver Stone and not realizing it.

  12. Jareth Cutestory – it’s the anime version of The Bride from Kill Bill :(

  13. I approve of the change of background. I used to be blinded whenever I switched from looking at this websight to any other websight.

  14. I read this book around 2004, long after its publication but at a point where it seemed true, I didn’t know Don Murphy yet so I didn’t have that context. Seemed like true Hollywood gossip, and still resulted in a great film.

  15. Gilmore, just out of curiosity, what kind of stupid things does Hamsher say?

  16. And how have her leggs held up?

  17. I would be more interested in reading this book than watching NBK again.

  18. “So you’re Quentin Tarantino. You’ve been a big goof sitting on a sofa watching videos for most of your life. You don’t even have a car, but you get yourself a job in a video store with a bunch of other geeks like yourself, and you all sit around musing about the movies you’d make if you had the money. With your pal Roger Avary, you jerk off this 400-page mess called Open Road, and out of that you carve NBK, True Romance, and parts of Reservoir Dogs – the rest you rip off from Chinese action films.”

    “And the only thing you’ve ever written by yourself is this lame vampire movie called From Dusk Till Dawn for some special-effects guy who pays you $1,500,” says Don.

    “Right. So boom, Res Dogs comes out, and it’s a phenomenon. Boom, True Romance comes out; it could be better, but everyone’s calling you a genius. Suddenly the onus is on you to follow it up. And in your heart of hearts, you know that you’re a one-trick pony–you’ve got the same characters, the same scenes appearing over and over again in Res Dogs, NBK, and True Romance. You’ve never really written anything on your own, except for one weak script. What are you gonna do for a follow up? The last thing you want is for someone else to be doing your hyperviolent, digressive dialogue stuff and playing it out before you can do that yourself. How do you keep that from happening?… you buy a little time before anyone realizes you haven’t got an encore,” I said.

    I disagree with Hamsher’s assessment of QT, and time has only further proved her wrong (what the fuck does she know, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is awesome). However, I can see what she is getting at. I am sure QT was just being protective of his work, but QT was still finding his voice as a writer on RD, NBK, and TR, and RD the best film of the 3 does owe a lot to Ringo Lam’s CITY ON FIRE. I am not knocking QT, I love his films, but if you look at his career I think you can see his growth as an artist. QT of the 90’s could have never made INGLORIOUS BASTARDS he had to grow as a writer and film maker first.

  19. “you buy a little time before anyone realizes you haven’t got an encore”

    And then you go ahead and release PULP FICTION, the film that defined an entire decade of filmatism. How’s that for an encore?

  20. Good point Mr. M. I wonder what she would say about that quote now if someone asked her?

  21. I’ve been going through Oliver Stone’s archives for a top secret project (he’s a nice dude, always smells like weed) and right now I’m in the middle of the Natural Born Killers box. There are tons of memos from Hamsher, all of them absolutely ridiculous and full of bile. She’s always talking shit about how no one knows what they’re doing on the film, how Oliver needs to cut out the “easy-listening” music like Leonard Cohen and replace it with cool stuff like Pearl Jam (she’s very open about how this is more about selling soundtracks than an actual appeal to aesthetics), and how they need to keep trying to appeal to teenage boys. She reminds me of the execs on the Simpsons’ Poochy episode (“Is there a way he can be more in my face?”). At one point, she writes about how she’s in talks with some guys at Sega to do a Natural Born Killers video game! Imagine the firestorm that would’ve caused. So yeah, she’s a total fucking nut but definitely an entertaining one.

  22. That’s great. I’m pretty sure she talks in the book about wanting more music like Pearl Jam on the soundtrack. Or at least there was something about how she wanted something different.

  23. I have a bunch of her memos scanned. I might transcribe a couple of anyone’s interested.

  24. Sorry I’m late to this and you’ll probably never notice, but I’m interested, all you need to know is “writes for the Huffington post” to know she’s an idiot., I bet those memos are hilarious.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>