GEORGE HICKENLOOPER 1963-2010
The film community(especially his home town of St. Louis) was stunned to hear of the death of director George Hickenlooper. The forty seven year old was found dead of natural causes in Denver, CO where he was helping his cousin John in his run for governor.
George left behind an impressive list of films. After making Super 8 movies during his years at St. Louis University High School, he continued his studies at USC School of Cinema and Television and Yale and interned with Roger Corman. George’s debut as a professional director was the 1988 short ART,ACTING,AND THE SUICIDE CHAIR:DENNIS HOPPER. In 1991 George had great success with two feature length documentaries: PICTURE THIS:THE TIMES OF PETER BOGDANOVICH IN ARCHER CITY, TEXAS and HEARTS OF DARKNESS:A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (with Fax Bahr). Hearts, a look at the making of APOCALYPSE NOW, has been hailed as one of the greatest behind the scenes documentaries ever made and was singled out by Gene Siskel as his favorite film of 1991. For his fiction film debut, George directed the Civil War horror tale GREY KNIGHT(AKA GHOST BRIGADE AKA THE KILLING BOX) in 1993. The next year George brought Billy Bob Thorton’s Carl Childers character to the screen in the short film SOME FOLKS CALL IT A SLING BLADE. Soon he was back to features with THE LOW LIFE, PERSONS UNKNOWN, and DOGTOWN. George was finally able to film in his hometown when he directed an unproduced Orson Welles story, THE BIG BRASS RING in 1998. After THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS, George returned to feature length documentaries with a look back at early FM radio with THE MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP. His next film was a bio of Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, FACTORY GIRL. Most recently George has been taking his latest work CASINO JACK to film festivals. Morgan Spurlock profiled George and three other directors in his AMC TV documentary on the Toronto film Festival COMMITTED.
I had the great pleasure of meeting George Hickenlooper thru a mutual friend almost twenty years ago. On one of my first visits to LA, George was kind enough to allow me to visit his Semi Valley set during the last days of shooting on GREY KNIGHT. I was very impressed to be on a professional movie set with real actors(Adrian Pasdar and Corbin Bernson) and George couldn’t have been friendlier. Months later I was able to set in on a screening of the finished film and joined George and my friends for dinner afterwards. I got to see him again a few years later when THE LOW LIFE played the St. Louis Film Festival. When I took my next LA vacation my friend and I were extras on PERSONS UNKNOWN. I was chosen by the stunt co-ordinater to help in a big fight scene involving the star Joe Montegna. When George yelled cut I was lying flat on a pool table after the stunt guys knocked me over during the brawl! After DOGTOWN was shown at the St.Louis Film Festival George joined me for a lunch and I coaxed to sit for me while I drew up a caricature of him. Of course I made him the typical, temperamental director complete with megaphone, jodhpurs, ascot, beret, and light meter neck-piece(I think I had a word balloon with him yelling ,”Kviet! Und….action!!”). When he returned to town to film THE BIG BRASS RING, George told me that the cartoon was snatched up by his family immediately. Oh, I was an extra on that film, too.
Got to see George again when the film was brought back to St. Lou for a screening. I saw him next on the IFC show Dinner for Five. He got big laughs from the other guests when he told a story about GREY KNIGHT and left Molly Shannon speechless when he asked her,”Why isn’t SNL funny anymore?”. There was some talk that George would take over hosting duties once Jon Favreau left, but the show ended. Just last week I watched the AMC documentary and chuckled as he got his hair cut and styled before the big Toronto screening of CASINO JACK.
Speaking of Jack, the movie is scheduled to screen in the next couple of weeks at the St. Louis Film Festival. I’m sure the event will be bittersweet, but I hope the evening will be celebration of George’s talents. He seems to get great performances out actors : Sean Astin is heart breaking in THE LOW LIFE as is Mick Jagger in THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS (with one of James Coburn’s final roles), so I’m looking forward to see his work with Jon Lovitz in Jack. His death at such a young age is a great loss to the film making community , but an even greater tragedy for those who were fortunate to spend time with him. I’m reminded of the story of the passing of director Ernst Lubitsch. One man said,”Well, no more Lubitsch!” . The other replied,”Worse, no more Lubitsch movies!”. I’d flip that around.No more Hickenlooper movies. Much, much worse, no more George. While he’s left us many great movies, the greatest gift George may have left is to remind us all to treasure our friends and family because life can be much too short. Hope to see you all at the Fest for CASINO JACK, the final work of an exceptional filmmaker and a man who is very missed.