Reflections of a Filmmaker
George Hickenlooper, director of Mayor of the Sunset Strip, believes filmmaking is a difficult job. Then why did he choose directing as a career? "I think I was deluded at the time; I should have been a poet," he replies facetiously. But after a moment of reflection, he adds, "It's tough, but satisfying."
No doubt Hickenlooper felt great satisfaction when his documentary about pop impresario Rodney Bingenheimer became the second highest selling documentary of all time, right behind Bowling for Columbine. Or when he won an Emmy for Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Journey (a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now). Or when Roger Ebert put Hickenlooper's acclaimed psycho-sexual drama, The Man from Elysian Fields, on his list of Best Films of 2002.
Whether directing a documentary or a fiction film, Hickenlooper allows the camera to capture life as it unfolds. "I'm interested in purity and honesty of the moment, not montages or artsy shots," he explains. "I focus on simple human emotions, looking for emotional truths such as trying to find something positive in a cynical world. I'm more in tune with the movies of the 30s and 40s and directors like George Cukor, John Ford and William Wyler. But it's hard to get attention for these kinds of films now. Filmmakers today like Lars von Trier, Quentin Tarantino and Les Anderson make over-stylized films and don't tend to deal with human emotions on real terms -- other than on a nudge, nudge, wink, wink basis. But that's what the New York literati prefer. Post-modern irony saturates our culture today."
Turning to Mayor of the Sunset Strip, Hickenlooper declares, "I made this documentary so people would know about Rodney. It's a great journey through the history of rock and roll through the eyes of this unique Forrest Gump who sustained himself by living through the lives of celebrities and then becomes a celebrity himself. He's a metaphor for our obsession with the cult of celebrity."
Hickenlooper posits that in the last 30 years in our country, celebrity has become "a huge, enormous thing." Why? "Celebrity is being used as a kind of cure-all for a lot of the fragmentation that's happened in our society -- the breakdown of the nuclear family, for instance. I think we often find ourselves filling those cracks with celebrity."
Ironically, Hickenlooper's next project should please many celebrity worshippers. According to the versatile filmmaker, he starts shooting Diary, a small popcorn thriller, in the fall -- and Jennifer Aniston has signed on to star.