George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010

George Hickenlooper, 1963-2010 (photo)

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Besides the initial shock that comes with the news that writer/director George Hickenlooper died in the midst of a whirlwind festival run for his latest film “Casino Jack” at the far too young age of 47 is the great irony that he reportedly passed away quietly of natural causes. For anyone who has followed Hickenlooper’s career, the latter fact may come as an even greater surprise since even more so than his films themselves, he may be best known for the struggles he endured in getting them made, the product of a indefatigable love of film, and as his cousin, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper said in a statement to The Denver Post, “his unquenchable curiosity.”

As the late Hickenlooper recounted in the foreword to his invaluable 1991 collection of interviews with directors and film critics, “Reel Conversations,” such passion for the medium was evident from an early age when he arrived in Hollywood at 17 from St. Louis over the summer and snuck onto the set of “Poltergeist” only to be escorted out by security guards in tears. Showing the same toughness he was defined by as a filmmaker, he hopped on the next bus to American Zoetrope studios across the city where he made it into the office of Francis Ford Coppola unscathed, charmed him with a sketch he drew on the bus and got invited to lunch by the director.

Incidentally, Coppola would be the subject of arguably Hickenlooper’s most famous film, “Hearts of Darkness,” that shaped the hundreds of hours of footage shot by Eleanor Coppola on the set of “Apocalypse Now” into one of the most engrossing behind-the-scenes documentaries ever made. (The film that got him the gig, “Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City,” which detailed the tumultuous making of “The Last Picture Show,” is equally compelling.)

10292010_Hickenlooper.jpgA student of medium who had the arts running in his blood (“Fantasia” composer Leopold Stokowski was his great uncle), Hickenlooper was unusually connected to greatness, moving on from documentaries about celebrated filmmakers to making dramas that would become important stepping stones for one reason or another. In 1994, he directed the short “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” which would later lead to star Billy Bob Thornton’s award-winning feature (though a falling out between the director and star would prevent Hickenlooper from returning to “Sling Blade.”)

Likewise, his gritty dramas during the ’90s about life in Los Angeles would introduce or reintroduce some of the city’s finest talent to audiences in films such as “The Low Life,” featuring Kyra Sedgwick, Ron Livingston and Renee Zellweger, and “Dogtown,” starring Jon Favreau and Rory Cochrane, not to mention his 1996 thriller “Persons Unknown” with a then-unknown Naomi Watts starring alongside Kelly Lynch and Joe Mantegna. Hickenlooper even dared to take on Orson Welles by directing the unproduced screenplay for the political thriller “The Big Brass Ring” and cast Mick Jagger in one of his most successful onscreen performances in the writer’s block drama “The Man From Elysian Fields.”

Hickenlooper acknowledged to Bright Lights Film Journal in an extensive interview in February that his passion for film history actually may have handicapped him in his early days of making narratives, telling Steve Johnson, “I was making serious and intelligent documentaries, but my interest in making them inherently came from this love. And so as a consequence of that, I made a lot of films where I was evoking the sensibilities of a lot of other directors.”

However, one could argue that it was a documentary that allowed Hickenlooper to really find his groove as a storyteller in 2003 when he helmed “The Mayor of Sunset Strip,” an alternately joyous and heartbreaking portrait of Los Angeles radio legend Rodney Bingenheimer. Since the film’s subject was a Zelig-like presence in the ’70s music scene, Hickenlooper’s ability to appreciate pop culture and celebrity without being in awe of it made for a particularly poignant and understanding look at a man who craved fame.

Hickenlooper’s next two narrative features, the Edie Sedgwick biopic “Factory Girl” and “Casino Jack,” the blow-by-blow account of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, would explore similar themes and though each ran into complications outside their actual production – “Factory Girl” was rushed into release by The Weinstein Company and “Casino Jack” survived a change in distributors — they are distinctly the brand of fiercely independently films that Hickenlooper at first admired and then became a purveyor of.

While there will be great sadness at the Starz Denver Film Festival on Thursday night when Hickenlooper was scheduled to present “Casino Jack” in his cousin’s city (two days after John could potentially become the state’s next governor), it will likely be the premiere of “Casino Jack” in his hometown of St. Louis on November 11th that will prove to be the most emotional. (Tributes on his Facebook wall are already flooding in.) “Casino Jack” is currently scheduled to open nationally on Christmas, a day when Hickenlooper’s gifts to the artform he loved can be properly celebrated, though that’s no reason not to start now. (As Moisés Chiullan notes in his warm personal remembrance of Hickenlooper, many of his earlier films are on Netflix Instant.)

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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