Friday, June 15, 2007

Got the Blues, Still Not Satisfied

Continuing the story begun last post...

I did manage to get in to see a couple of agents (hoping for representation) and one producer too, leaving them copies of the Hellhound script. But I also came down sick, retching and sweating, holed up alone in that airless and un-airconditioned bungalow for several days. By the time I recovered I was also feeling overwhelmed by the movie scene, ready to head back to Seattle; and when one agent said he'd represent me for sure if I would move to Los Angeles, I just said I'd have to consider it...

Nothing to consider. I was sure my writing was so obviously brilliant that the script would sell without me down south to work it, make connections, schmooze with the big guys, whatever. Totally wrong, of course.

When nothing happened in Hollywood, I tried to push it myself via other connections, working to get a copy to Eric Clapton (never happened), and sending copies also to John Simon (producer who had moved on from The Band to film work) and white bluesman John Hammond; the last two gave friendly-but-not-interested responses.

I did succeed in getting scripts to black actor Ossie Davis (suggesting him as director) and the management for Taj Mahal, thinking that after his experience with the film Sounder maybe he'd like to provide the other-than-Johnson music for my film too. And I got back letters from Davis, saying he'd be pleased to direct if I could get a production going, and Taj's manager or some other person saying pretty much the same thing--show us a production and we'll be interested. (Taj told me later he'd never known about the script.)

By about 1975, I was ready to write off Hellhound as having no chance. But the script had an odd (devilish?) circulating life all its own, and something new would happen every five or ten years. A Seattle area black man, involved with the state's Film Production Support office (or whatever that title was), decided he'd move to Hollywood and sell my script; he had no luck. A well-connected cameraman known for perfecting the Steadi-Cam (can't remember his name) wanted to start directing, and he wrote me to say he'd be taking my script around to various studios. Again nothing happened.

As the years passed, one or two other eager producers called me up all excited, having found Hellhound in some stack of good unproduced scripts, ready to launch yet another effort to sell the film. I actually signed papers a couple of times authorizing so-and-so to exclusive rights for six months or a year. But I never did demand any option money, believing that unencumbered access would improve the production's chances, and that I'd get paid further on.

No luck. No film. Decades have passed, and many other movies involving the Blues have appeared--from elegant documentaries to sad blaxploitation films--some worth viewing and remembering, others just reminding the world how basically useless most movies are.

When the late-Nineties Robert Johnson CD box set finally appeared, selling millions of copies and reviving interest in the Blues once more, I hoped maybe the magic would finally work. (Nope.) But I have had 40-some years of reading about and listening to Blues of all kinds, from Chicago to the Carolinas, from London to Lisbon, from Memphis to Malawi. And I have enjoyed two other benefits from the years with Johnson...

First, back in the early Seventies I managed to place several Hellhound excerpts in a Boston-based rock magazine called Fusion. When the issue appeared, I was definitely jazzed (blues'd?) to see my prose and dialogue in print, but the rest of the world evidently just yawned.

And around 2000 when the excellent Blues Museum down in Mississippi opened and was accepting materials to build up its holdings and library, I presumptuously sent off a copy of Hellhound on My Trail, which was in fact welcomed, and which now appears (the script title, anyway) in some Museum computer files or lists.

So my own Story of the Blues rolls on, just like that mighty Mississippi!

(one of these days, I'll post some excerpts from Hellhound... maybe.)

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