Curtis Hanson: In Memoriam

Curtis Hanson died last week. He had not been well for some time and rumors In Memoriam Curtis Hansoncirculated he was suffering from the onset of a form of dementia. His last film was, Chasing Mavericks in 2012, but he was unable to finish the film due to ill health. He was replaced by Michael Apted

Hanson was born in Reno, Nevada. In something of a parallel to Stanley Kubrick, Hanson dropped out of high school, finding work as a freelance photographer and editor for Cinema magazine.

Hanson worked on the screenplay for ‘The Dunwich Horror’, based on the short story by H. P. Lovecraft, in 1970.

He began making small-budget films, working up to larger productions. He wrote the screenplay and directed ‘The Bedroom Window’ and directed ‘The River Wild’.

Hanson claimed as influences Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. He gravitated towards suspense thrillers.

While I admire the grit of Hanson’s film ‘8 Mile’, his films based on the books of James Ellroy and Michael Chabon were my personal favorites. It was Hanson’s adaptation of Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential’, the third novel in his ‘L.A. Quartet’, where it all came together.

Brian Helgeland met Curtis Hanson during post production on ‘The River Wild’. Helgeland had been trying to convince Warner Brothers to let him make ‘L.A. Confidential’. But Warner Bros. hired Hanson instead of him. Hanson saw promise in Helgeland, who recognizes Hanson took a chance when he brought him aboard the project.

“Curtis started out as a screen writer and had done horror films in his younger days, as I had,” said Helgeland in a recent interview. “In a funny sort of way, Curtis saw a younger version of himself in me.”

“We basically worked on our own dime a lot of it. I did a lot of drafts that I didn’t get paid for, but Curtis was always this cheerleader for the film. Not rah rah, just this kind of grim cheerleader and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so it was kind of, that was his big thing was to just put this thing on his shoulders and not put it down till he got it made.”

Hanson’s belief in the project, and in Hegeland, paid off handsomely. The film is the best adaptation of Ellroy’s work to date. ‘L.A. Confidential’ was a hit at the box office and has had a long life in rentals and streaming. Hanson and Hegeland shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for their work on ‘L.A. Confidential’.

And Hanson’s career was made.

After L.A. Confidential, Hanson worked on a screenplay and read scripts looking for his next project. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, (The Fabulous Baker Boys) had written a script based on Michael Chabon’s second novel, Wonder Boys. Hanson loved the characters. They made him laugh. He identified with the Grady Tripp character and the frustration building inside him. The film ‘Wonder Boys’ is a beautifully crafted comedy of errors that completely captures the chaos and hilarity of Chabon’s book.

Hanson continued to make features and, in 2011, he directed Too Big to Fail, based on the 2009 Andrew Ross Sorkin book. It was the last film he was to complete in his lifetime.

Regarding which character in their film Hanson identified with the most, Helgeland said:

“I think ironically, he associated more with Kevin Spacey’s character, [Jack] Vincennes, because Vincennes had sort of existed on the fringes of Hollywood. And not that Curtis was on the fringes of Hollywood, but he wasn’t an A-list go to guy at the time. And I think he had a lot to prove cause he loved Hollywood so much and he loved movies so much. And he knew he had this great movie in him, but…he had to give himself the chance to make it. It wasn’t going to be given to him.”

Curtis Hanson will be missed.

Tune in Tomorrow: How Authors of the Classics Built Platform Through Serialization

Vintage Magazine Cover

The Century Magazine published Jack London’s ‘The Sea Wolf’ in installments.

When we think of the literary works by the great authors of Western civilization, we usually think of them as novels born complete from the writer’s mind and pen, and then typeset into print as volumes adorning the shelves of bookstores. The fact is quite different. While some writers did publish their work as complete volumes (Often paying printing costs themselves), many of the novels we think of as ‘classics’ were, in fact, originally serialized in periodicals.

This practice had already been an accepted method for getting published for a century by the time Charles Dickens ‘‘The Pickwick Papers‘ began serialization in 1836. Over the course of its publication, circulation went from 1,000 to 40,000.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was serialized in an abolitionist magazine, ‘The National Era. Herman Melville‘s publishers refused his novel ‘Israel Potter’. It was serialized in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in 1853. Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ appeared in installments in La Revue de Paris in 1856.
Alexandre Dumas ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov’ were also each serialized.

By 1878, publishing a novel in serialized form was not just the last resort of authors wishing to get their work before the public. According to an article in Scribner’s Monthly, “Now it is the second or third rate novelist who cannot get publication in a magazine, and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in the magazine that the best novelist always appears first.”

It is well known that the stories of Sherlock Holmes appeared in The Strand magazine. His first novel featuring the great detective, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, was published en toto in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ and met with a lackluster response. The follow-up novel, ‘The Sign of Four’, was also published complete in an installment of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and did considerably better. Following the publication of many of the Holmes short stories, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was serialized in ‘The Strand’ beginning in 1901. The first Holmes story to be published following the character’s death was so well-received that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to bring him back by publishing stories that had ostensibly taken place prior to Holmes’ demise at Reichenbach Falls.

Several notable 20th and 21st Century authors saw their work appear in magazines. Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, ‘Red Harvest’, was serialized beginning in 1927 in the pulp magazine ‘Black Mask’. After a long career as a journalist and author of non-fiction books like ‘The Electric Koolaid Acid Test’, Tom Wolfe’s first novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, ran in 27 parts in ‘Rolling Stone’ beginning in 1984. Michael Chabon had already published several novels (Including ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburg’ and ‘Wonder Boys’) when he serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

Novels already have full stops to the narrative and so naturally lend themselves to serialization. The return to the practice of serializing novels makes sense in a world of sound byte mentality, where we rely on infographics and factoids to give us information packaged for bite-sized consumption. It would provide print magazines with content that could potentially increase sales.

But beyond physical (And electronic) distribution of serialized novels in magazines, the web has a voracious appetite for content. A web site is a kind of ‘magazine’, if you will. The site Mousehold Words provides Dickens and others in serialized form. Amazon has a Kindle Serial program stocking a variety of titles. DailyLit e-mails installments of books on a daily or weekly schedule. They were bought in 2013 by the serialized-fiction outlet Plympton.