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Fade-outs are part of the job

March 28, 2004|David Freeman | Special to The Times

A few days ago I went to Paul Mazursky's office to see videotape of his recent expedition to Mexico looking for locations for our maybe movie. The footage looked promising and the local film commission fell all over itself, hoping to get the business.

That's all good news, of course, but I felt left out. It's the screenwriter's lot -- time to start separating from this thing that has been such a part of me. I don't mean I've been pushed out the door -- quite the contrary -- Paul and I wrote the script together and he needs my views and there's always rewriting to do. But it's part of the screenwriter's game -- there comes a time when what you've written no longer belongs to you. Not legally, but in the emotional sense. The late John Gregory Dunne used to say that one of the good things about screenwriting was you could do it without getting involved with what you've written. I never believed him. He also said that wanting to be a screenwriter was like wanting to be a co-pilot. No argument there.

An actor's charm

There have been a couple of European visitors to the Farmers Market recently. Franco Nero, the Italian film star, was around for a few days last week. Each morning, he took out a tiny cellphone and called Rome. A torrent of Italian followed, punctuated with occasional scraps of English: "Fah-meerz Mah-keet" for one. He's charming in a wonderful Italian way that sort of makes up for his actorish self-absorption. When he talked about a forthcoming movie, he said, "I do a cah-may-oh only." Then he launched into a description of the picture seen from the cah-may-oh's POV. He liked it when some market denizens recognized him, though they weren't sure who he was. He smiled and pretended he didn't quite notice -- a star's prerogative. For all that, he charmed me entirely with tales of his peripatetic life. Maybe all Italians are charming. He certainly cuts what his countrymen call "bella figura."

Market's life

There's a picture of Franco (and much else) in Leon Capetanos' show of photographs, "Portraits of Farmers Market," which has just opened and will be on permanent display on the upper dining deck. The exhibit catches the quotidian life of the market in the mornings. The picture of Franco appears simple -- he's wearing dark glasses and drinking coffee. The light falls around his face and you just can't look away, an irrefutable sign of a film star. These photos collectively are the best answer to questions I'm occasionally asked: What's it really like at the market? What is it that keeps you coming back?

A reality plot

After Franco left for another continent or at least another time zone, English director Mike Figgis turned up. His picture is in the exhibit too. Mike has the best kind of director's personality: He takes pleasure in what other people say or do. He too is always flying somewhere -- London one minute, L.A. the next. Then off to Dublin, or maybe it was Berlin. An enviable life.

On one trip to L.A. he told me about a rash of burglaries at his London office. Each time he installed new electronic equipment -- computers, cameras, etc., a break-in soon followed. We decided to treat the situation as if it were a script problem. The conclusion was that Mike should install hidden cameras set to start running when anyone entered the office after hours. A few weeks later he turned up with photos of the burglars (taken from the video) moving around the office, apparently stealing equipment. I thought he should send the video and photos to the Telegraph (a conservative London newspaper). Mike is too English for that. I think he let the word out that the photos existed, managing to suggest that if there was more trouble, the evidence might find its way to the constabulary. It seems to have worked. No more break-ins.

These international visitors to the market gave us a temporary air of glamour. Soon they were gone and the market in the mornings once again belonged to locals -- deliverymen with their handcarts, old people from Park La Brea, Israelis worried about the country most of them left years ago, and our table of Hollywood veterans retreating into arguments about movies, politics and sports. There's once again a gentle quotidian sameness to the market. It's comforting.

International issues

The second guessing of the foreign film committee at the academy is still going on even though the Oscars are already fading into trivia. One contention is that it's patronizing to refer to the committee as "foreign language." It seems, in this view, to suggest American hubris.

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