Sinister Cinema: Wim Wenders’ Hammett

Heard from a guy over in France who plans to do a documentary on the 1982 Wim Wender’s film based on the Joe Gores novel Hammett.

Cool aspect — I guess if it all works out — is that the eventual montage of film clips and images and Talking Heads will mostly cover the initial try at filming the story.

You may or may not know but Wenders shot most of the movie on location in San Francisco, but then producer Francis Coppola had a reshoot done in Zoetrope Studios in Lalaland. The reshoot would be the finished movie you’ve seen.

The way I heard it at the time, with this report based strictly on memory of the moment, is that Wenders filmed approximately 80% of what he wanted — including towing the old ferry boat Eureka around the Bay for some scenes. But Coppola insisted they reshoot at least 60% of those reels, plus whatever else they needed to tie it up.

The documentarian told me that he understood I followed that original shoot and press coverage when it was happening in 1978, before Coppola hauled it into the studio backlots.

“I’m trying to gather as much info as possible on that San Francisco part,” he said, “and any direction toward first hand witnesses, documents, magazines and other press coverage (newspapers, local TV, etc.), audio and behind the scenes photos — and of course contemporary memories — would be more than helpful.”

I wasn’t following the progress as much as you might think (I did hike out to some of the major locations to see the billboards painted to recreate the 1920s era), and can imagine someone with much more on scene knowledge.

If you’re still alive and interested in diving into a noir Ken Burns thing, let me know and I’ll forward the contact info over to France.

As I was thinking about it, I did get excited over what would have been a great lead: star Marilu Henner. In recent years I heard she is one of less than a hundred people worldwide documented with the condition hyperthymestic syndrome — essentially, she remembers every detail from every waking hour of every day.

That would make for a hell of a source.

Our filmmaker says, “To the best of my knowledge, Henner was not part of the original location shoot, as she took over the part extended by Wenders for Roney Blakley, a fact which didn’t make Coppola happy.”

Maybe he’ll get lucky. Some of the major players are still around, but perhaps as many more have passed away.

That original shoot, however — that’s almost like a whole new film. Alternate reality stuff. What coulda been — and was — shot on the streets of San Francisco.

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