Who hustles the hustlers?
This time last night I was putting the plan into action. On leaving work I faced up to the hassles and bustle of the tube strike and managed to get myself into the West End. I walked up from Embankment to Forbidden Planet in St Giles’s and picked up a copy of a Dark Knight comic (along with my current fave, Sledgehammer 44). Phase 1 complete.
From there I headed across Soho to the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I dropped down into the screening room (where I was last for the classic in-the-making, The Wolf of Wall St, with Enfant Terrible No.1) to watch, for the second time, American Hustle. I wasn’t too taken with it on my first viewing on DVD – it felt a bit superficial and cold in the shadow of Silver Linings Playbook which was my top film of last year.
But it played much better for me on a huge screen – and all the better as Christian Bale, director/co-writer David O Russell and producer Charles Roven showed up in the modest-sized screening room and gave articulate insights into how the film works.
DOR placed the emphasis firmly on exploring “What’s worth living for” / “what people live for”. He also talked in terms of wanting to “find a way of loving [Irving Rosenfeld]” (the protagonist, based on a real person called Len Something). He picked up on his authenticity/sincerity and joie de vivre. And from there looking at how various pairs, from Irving and Sydney (Amy Adams) to Irving and the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), loved one another. So it was closer to Playbook than I had realised.
I asked one of the first questions – to Christian Bale. His Londonish accent (belying his Welsh roots) knocked my socks off. It must have already done the job on him as he was without socks and laces, reflecting a modest openness. He had mentioned that DOR’s way of directing gave him space and comfort to “try crazy stuff” as he played the scenes. Also David’s way of wielding a fluent and unpredictable camera meant the acting was whole body and exposed. So I asked, given this, ‘What crazy stuff did you try?’, probing for concrete examples. CB gave a long explanation, attentively directed at me in the second row, which made it clear that each take was deliberately different, a certain amount of improvisation or harking back to older versions of the script took place, and we ended up focused on the scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York where Irving tries to lure Carmine back in. It was a very full and thoughtful answer (see beard-stroking below).
After the Q&A the distributor invited us into an adjacent rather red bar for drinks. I chatted with the MC, Edith Bowman, as I lay in wait. Then as Christian Bale entered I was obliged to ambush to see through the plan. I whipped out the Dark Knight comic, another Batman comic Enfant Terrible No.2 had given me (one of his most treasured) and a good black pen. Christian was very Christian about it as I explained it was my delivering on the request of a 14 year old, apple of my eye. Phase 2 complete.
We had a good chat about how the film played better for me second time/how you sometimes need to be in a receptive state (his observation); his accent and its origins; and finally about the nature of the autograph requester: Enfant Terrible No.2 said to me as we were planning and I was walking along Old Compton St on the phone to him that if I could only get one signed, Aurel’s (the first one, a birthday present for his best friend) was the important one. Now that’s what’s worth living for. Mission accomplished.
I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?