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Terrence Malick Thought It Was Too Slow: 10 Things Learned From The Revival Screening Of 'The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford'

The Playlist By Jordan Hoffman | The Playlist December 9, 2013 at 12:10PM

This weekend either witnessed the harbinger of specialty exhibition for cinephiles or was just a nice night out for New Yorkers. It was the “revival” of Andrew Dominik's “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford,” a movie not quite old or obscure enough to merit the Lazarus treatment—but, then again, what self-respecting movie snob doesn't want to see Roger Deakins' cinematography or hear Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' original score at a state of the art facility like the Museum of the Moving Image?
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The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

5. Everyone's a Critic
As moderator David Schwartz tried to dangle hope about Warner Bros. eventually releasing the “ideal” cut, Schwartz mentioned “hey, at first they wanted to dump 'Bonnie & Clyde.'”

“Have you seen 'Bonnie & Clyde' lately?” Dominik interrupted, scrunching his face in disapproval. “Has some good editing in the end, I suppose...“

“I see the film as far more similar to 'Barry Lyndon' than anything else.”

6 . No, really, EVERYONE'S a Critic
When Dominik showed Terrence Malick a cut of “Jesse James,” his reaction was “it's too slow.”

This got some laughs, but Dominik (rightly) pointed out that people who think Malick's films are slow are dead wrong—they zoom. He also said those who compare 'Jesse James' to Malick don't know what they're talking about (again, true) and they are just getting hung up on shots of nature. “I see the film as far more similar to 'Barry Lyndon' than anything else.”

7. Your Humble Narrator
Watching the film again (it had been a while), I was trying to recall out who the narrator was. For a minute I thought it was Ricky Jay. Turns out the narrator was the assistant editor, a fella named Hugh Ross.

Originally, Dominik wanted a woman to do the narration. Ross was in there just as a temp track. And, as so often happens, they fell in love with the temp track. No one could do it as good as Hugh. Oddly, even Hugh couldn't do it as good as Hugh. When it was time to re-record, he got nervous, or something, and it lacked the essence they loved from the first read. So some of what you hear (much of it poorly recorded, according to Dominik) is that initial voice over.

Dominik said that when the movie played festivals, Hugh Ross was part of the gang that travelled with it, and it always freaked people out to hear him talk from the back of a car after watching the movie.

8. Nick Cave's Lookin' Out For Nick Cave
Dominik first approached Nick Cave to play the barroom singer in the one scene toward the end. Cave quickly agreed, but also said “I want to do the music.” Dominik says he was embarrassed that he didn't ask him originally and said “sure” because he didn't know what else to say. Of course, now he's happy with the result that he and Warren Ellis came up with, and remarked that it sounds much bigger than what is really just violin and piano.

Killing Them Softly Brad Pitt

9. Not Soft Enough
There was no shortage of movie journos in the house, and my colleague Matt Patches asked a question that touched upon “Killing Them Softly.” (I'm not going to repeat the full question – what am I, working for Patches now?) Anyway, Dominik took the opportunity to say, bluntly, that he is “embarrassed by the stylization in 'Killing Them Softly.'”

Later in the evening, Patches and I schmoozed with Dominik as he smoked outside (we were on our way to get milkshakes) and he confessed that “maybe in a year I'll be able to watch 'Killing Them Softly' with a clear head and like it.” He said it took quite some time to get to a place where he could watch and like “Jesse James.”

10. What's Next
Dominik said that he's “good to go” to shoot “Blonde,” based on Joyce Carol Oates' book about Marilyn Monroe, next August. He said that the film has very little dialogue, which is odd considering how all his other films “rely so heavily on talking.” He said there is no scene in the script longer than two pages. Also, it will be his first film with a major female character. “My films have always been bereft of women,” he confessed.

This article is related to: Andrew Dominik, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly, Blonde


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