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Nine Things I Learned at the Hilarious Santa Barbara Film Fest Tribute to David O. Russell (VIDEO)

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! February 3, 2014 at 2:28PM

At the upbeat Santa Barbara International Film Festival best director tribute to David O. Russell, the Oscar-nominated man behind "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook" (who infamously called Lily Tomlin the c-word to her face in 2004) had us all in stitches. While Russell can get testy or cagey around questions about his so-called "hiatus" from film, this evening at SBIFF was a joyous one. Here are 9 things I learned.
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David O. Russell on set of 'American Hustle'
David O. Russell on set of 'American Hustle'

5. His first film, the incest comedy "Spanking the Monkey," was inspired by a disgusting daydream he had. "I had this disgusting daydream based on the summer my mother got into a car crash. My mother would slap me in the face for making up that daydream. And I said, 'that is just filthy. I'm going to write that daydream just for me.' I was so angry, I had broken up with a girlfriend, I was broke, my friends had cars, marriages and children. I was the guy at weddings who was asked, 'how's that writing thing going? How's that working out?' But I said, 'this thing is fucking good because it was emotional and intense and it came from a place I would never make a movie... It was messed up, and that's what made it a good movie.'" ["Spanking the Monkey" went on to win two Indie Spirit Awards in 1995.]

6. Russell wrote a script for Dolly Parton. After "Spanking the Monkey" (1994), Russell got an agent, and Dolly Parton hired him to write a script. She had a company called Sanddollar. After the Sundance premiere of "Monkey," Russell couldn't get the script financed. 

7. Russell says that "strong women are the secret to great cinema."

8. Between "Flirting with Disaster" (1996) and "Three Kings" (1999), Russell originally intended to make a film about the turn-of-the-century oil industry, a la "There Will Be Blood." Alas, his son was developing bipolar syndrome, which contributed, along with a divorce, to his much publicized meltdown during the filming of "I Heart Huckabees."

9. He still does not want to talk about the time between "I Heart Huckabees" and "The Fighter." While Durling poked and prodded Russell about the time between these two films -- when his life was falling apart -- the director nervously asked, "Isn't it time for a clip?" Russell infamously dueled with star Lily Tomlin on the set of "Huckabees." A few years prior, on the set of "Three Kings," the obstreperous Russell headbutted George Clooney, who in turn tried to choke him, as alleged in Sharon Waxman's "Rebels on the Backlot."

He's now a calmer and wiser man--and a superb filmmaker who is challenging Scorsese for the best director Oscar. 

This article is related to: Festivals, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, David O. Russell, David O. Russell, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, American Hustle


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.