Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Venice Film Festival Diaries
Day 3

by Howard Feinstein

Saturday, August 31

One of the problems with big film festivals is that one day runs into the next. So please excuse me. if I forgot to tell you yesterday about my visit with Dustin Hoffman.

Dustin was feeling very high: He got his lifetime achievement award, and the festival granted his request that they add to the program a screening of his next film. American Buffalo, adapted from David Mamet's play (which Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall earlier, had performed on stage).

Dustin, who likes to talk and hold an audience, insisted on serving me orange juice. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to make a good impression. I know it doesn't work. But I was a waiter in New York for 12 years. " He points to the oddly-shaped curves at the top of the juice pitcher. "This is Picasso's vagina period," he says. "As opposed to Miro's."

His character in Sleepers, Danny Snyder, is the defense lawyer for the two men accused of killing their former reform school guard because he had sexually molested them 15 years before. Snyder is small-time, an alcoholic and a drug user Dustin talks about his own experiences with drugs and the negative effect they have had on Hollywood.

"I loved cocaine in the '70s," he says. "I was allergic to it. Thank God. Cocaine seemed like the answer to me.

"When I did The Graduate in 1969, there were Nicholson and all that generation of talent. We lost half of that generation to drugs. No one thought marijuana and cocaine were dangerous, or realized that they destroy brain cells. Actors of my generation can look at a film from that period and tell you what drug the director was on!"

Dustin hasn't forgotten the years that he waited for some kind of recognition. "Until I was 30, I was a waiter. I was a failure. I never went to college. I barely got out of high school. Actors are considered failures by society. Then things change. It can ruin you, it can fuck you, but you get stuck with your feeling of lack of stature."

He has no illusions about the limits of his star power.

"I've never opened a movie. I would love to be a big opener, but I'm not." He offers Tom Cruise in Interview With a Vampire as an example of a big opener. The film started off very well at the box office, then fell very, very quickly. "The amount that the. studio keeps the opening weekend is ninety per cent. They don't care if it decreases." If you wondered why film companies insist on a big star name, there's your answer.

My friend Helen von Layers accompanied me to Count Giovanni Volpi's annual palazzo luncheon on the Giudecca island, actually one of two he gives every year during the festival. Since his late father was the founder of the Venice Film Festival, he feels hospitable toward the visitors, especially social butterflies, stars, and a select group of reporters. Helen somehow was invited anyway, and soon got in a snit because an ill Liam Neeson didn't show.

We strolled through the beautifully-manicured gardens of hibiscus, chrysanthemum, and roses, then she began to take aim. She hated the loud wavy tie worn by Count Volpi's house guest, Dennis Hopper, saying it looked like something Kenzo threw up. She sneered at a woman much more slender than herself who wore the top half of a Chanel pink velour playsuit. And she noticed before I did that Nan Kempner, the New York socialite, was having lunch on the lap of artist Julian Schnabel, in whose honor Count Volpi gave the affair. (Schnabel's first film, Basquiat, is in the Venice competition.) Helen was curious--and furious--about how Nan is able to stay so thin and eat so much. Anjelica Huston, in black and lots of bracelets, sat at the same table. but no one was on her lap.

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