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Out in the Cold

September 21, 2006 By:
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If you need further proof that making movies is an insane process -- and that it's a miracle that anything sensible gets up on the screen these days -- then find a copy of August's Vanity Fair, which has a story by Patricia Bosworth, the biographer of famed photographer Diane Arbus, about what Hollywood has made out of the book. Bosworth catalogs every bump in the road, and though it's sometimes amusing to contemplate from the sidelines, it must have been sheer hell for her.

It wasn't just that she had to listen to the money people and their infantile ideas; she had to listen to the quirkiest directors, writers and actors expound their various takes on how they would "handle" the material.

For example, Bosworth's biography appeared in 1984, but it's taken two decades to finally get something up on the screen -- and that after Diane Keaton and Barbra Streisand toyed with the idea of playing Arbus. Neither is anything like the photographer, but they may be more like her than the person who's playing the role now: Nicole Kidman, with hair dyed jet-black to mimic Arbus' distracted look.

The article begins with a little blurb from the Associated Press, dated April 5, 2005: "A new film (Fur) starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr., about the life of the photographer Diane Arbus, will be shot at Brooklyn's new Steiner Studios. ... Shooting on Fur, to be directed by Steven Shainberg (Secretary), is set to begin next month and continue through July."

Bosworth was the screenwriter at the start, then she was fired, then hired again. (The title wasn't her idea.) Here's a passage that conveys both the nuttiness and how it all turned ugly.

"Throughout the summer of 1997, [producers Bonnie] Timmerman and [Ed] Pressman kept making me revise my drafts. After the sixth treatment they told me they liked what I'd written and introduced me to Mark Romanek, a talented young music-video director who'd worked with Madonna and Michael Jackson, among others, and went on to direct Robin Williams in One Hour Photo.

"We met at the Royalton, on West 44th Street. Romanek was bearded and super-serious. He told me he'd originally wanted to be a photographer. He was from a wealthy family in Chicago, so he understood Diane's need 'as a rich kid' to explore other realities.

"He did not like my idea of focusing on Diane's emotional relationship with [her married lover] Marvin Israel. 'Too tidy,' I recall him saying, and, besides, he had 'no interest in relationships.' He wanted to concentrate on Diane's art."

It was then suggested that Romanek and she hole up together, and try to write until something cropped up. For 10 days they did just that, "throwing ideas and concepts and snatches of dialogue back and forth." They came away with a few pages they both liked.

But Romanek decided he wanted to do it all himself, and that he also wanted Bosworth off the project completely. And so she was out -- and hadn't even seen the left hook coming.


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