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City of Angles

Praise, in Any Language

June 13, 2002|GINA PICCALO AND LOUISE ROUG

In a converted warehouse on Ivar Avenue in Hollywood, Marines and Navajo "code talkers" from World War II mingled with publicists, agents and photographers at the "Windtalkers" after party Tuesday night.

Nicolas Cage huddled with Lisa Marie Presley in one corner as his mother, Joy Vogelsang, chatted with Adam Beach at the next table. Beach was enthusiastic about his co-star. "The rhythm of his soul ... ," he said before leaning over to tell Cage's mother how much he admired her son.

Cage's veneration was directed at the code talkers.

"They were instrumental in helping to win the war," he said, adding that a recognition of their effort was "a little overdue." The movie, which charts how a group of Navajo Marines helped develop a military code based on their dialect, was an important tribute, Cage said.

Chester Nez, 81, one of the original code talkers, couldn't see Cage from where he was sitting. He and a group of his fellow Navajo veterans were seated outside in the parking lot, which had been furnished and carpeted for the occasion. But Nez didn't mind. He was just happy to be there. "I've never been to Hollywood before," he said. "It's a strange feeling to be part of the crowd. It's wonderful."

A couple of code talkers were brought in for a photo opportunity with Christian Slater. Nearby, Arianna Huffington made her way through the crowd, passing a group of Marines standing in a corner.

The Department of Defense had provided some technical advice to the movie, and the party got the DOD stamp of approval. "We're all excited to be here," said Maj. Jeff Nyhart of Camp Pendleton.

Eager to be part of the Hollywood premiere, some had paid their own way. Sgt. Freddy Ortiz, who'd flown in from Hawaii, said the $700 travel cost was worth it. "I expected it to be more on the wild side," he said. "But it's kind of relaxed. I like it."

Sitting outside on a leather couch and surveying the scene was Morgan J. Freeman, a director (who's not related to the similarly named actor). He had brought a friend from Long Beach and a game of backgammon, in case the party got boring. Having just made "American Psycho II," "a tiny movie," Freeman wondered aloud about the cost of the premiere and party, including the 50-some valets outside. "I could probably make three movies for this kind of money," he said. "If I have an after party, there won't be any valets. People can park their own cars."

Parental Guidance

Few people are more attuned to the quirky work habits of director Robert Altman than his production-designer son, Stephen Altman, who has worked on nearly every one of his father's 20 or so films since 1985. The young Altman started showing up on his father's sets at age 15, hanging around the set decorator. ("I have a corner of Brewster McCloud's room that I did," he said, referring to his father's 1970 film.)

In the spirit of Father's Day, Stephen Altman offered the following assessment of his 77-year-old dad on the job: He doesn't suffer fools. He likes to improvise to the point of confusing the actors, but he's focused, decisive and enjoys surveying "everyone" on a work in progress. "It's always a team effort with him," said Stephen Altman, 45. "He really involves everybody and does a Tom Sawyer on them, gets everyone whitewashing the fence and loving it."

Robert Altman seemed to agree with his son's assessment. "I am focused on my own vision, and that's all that interests me," he said by phone Monday. "You've got to really love it to do it."

The director's technique isn't easy. "Gosford Park" co-star Stephen Fry put it this way in the liner notes of the DVD release (due out June 25): "One or both cameras will be moving and you somehow go in between them and say your dialogue off-camera and think that it's making no sense. You do four camera rehearsals, which are absolute chaos, and you think you are in a nightmare. But by the sixth rehearsal, suddenly this kind of ballet has emerged."

"It is 'Make it up as you go along,' " Stephen Altman said of his father's technique. "I believe he has more fun just making the movie than [focusing on] what the movie is actually about."

Despite the unconventional atmosphere of the Robert Altman set, father and son say they genuinely like working together. "If we ever have a disagreement it's pretty washed over during the next [scene] set-up or the next backgammon game," the younger Altman said. Barring that, his father said, "If he doesn't behave, I spank him."

Quote/Unquote

"I look nothing like him. You put anyone in a tri-cornered hat and a uniform and they're going to look like Napoleon." --Actor Ian Holm on his third portrayal of the Gallic leader in the film "Emperor's New Clothes," due out in Los Angeles on June 28.

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City of Angles runs Tuesday through Friday. E-mail: angles@latimes.com

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