“I’m retiring. I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.” So says George Lucas in a New York Times Magazine profile timed to the Friday release of his new film Red Tails. Apparently, George Lucas doesn’t want to make blockbusters anymore (though calling Red Tails — a film about the Tuskegee Airmen produced and financed by the mogul — a blockbuster is quite a stretch). Apparently, George Lucas doesn’t want to deal with Star Wars or any of its demanding fanboys anymore. Apparently, George Lucas wants to make “experimental films.”
Sure he does. But he won’t.
For years now, Lucas has been parroting the same line — that what he really desires is to make art films like they ones that made him fall in love with cinema in the first place. Tone poems and visual collages and non-narrative short films. That he has yet to deliver anything of the sort despite being one of the richest and most independent men in Hollywood is surely some sign that he prefers to externalize his dreams rather than actualize them.
Some very quick, non-rigorous research turned up the following:
- A Sept. 1991 piece by Joseph Gelmis in Newsday: “It’s been 18 years since the then-boy genius told me, on the eve of the release of American Graffiti that he yearned to make abstract experimental films that would evoke emotional reactions as powerful as any narrative adventure.”
- In a June 1999 piece by Nick Hasted in The Independent, Walter Murch, who brilliantly edited Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and did sound design work on The Godfather II and Apocalypse Now, said of Lucas, “If you look at what happened to George, his oft-stated ‘What I’m doing to do next is small, experimental films’ … well, he’s never done that.”
- In a 2005 Wired profile, Steve Silberman wrote, “Now Lucas says he is determined to leverage that security to make the kinds of movies that no one expects from him. He claims to have a stack of ideas piling up on his desk for “highly abstract, esoteric” films even more daring than his 1971 debut, THX 1138 … As a director of “very out-there” films, he admits that he faced this crossroads at least once before and chose to go down the more familiar route of embellishing Darth Vader’s backstory.”
- Lucas’s ex-wife Marcia says, in Peter Biskind’s 2005 book about the New Hollywood of the 1970s, “George would have remained an experimental filmmaker if it had not been for [American] Graffiti leading to Star Wars.”
And in this week’s New York Times piece, Bryan Curtis writes:
Lucas has decided to devote the rest of his life to what cineastes in the 1970s used to call personal films. They’ll be small in scope, esoteric in subject and screened mostly in art houses. They’ll be like the experimental movies Lucas made in the 1960s, around the time he was at U.S.C. film school, when he recorded clouds moving over the desert and made a movie based on an E. E. Cummings poem. During that period, Lucas assumed he would spend his career on the fringes. Then Star Wars happened.
Briefly mentioned in the Times piece is that Lucas has wanted to follow the path of fellow Bay Area director Francis Ford Coppola, who has begun to self-finance films. Twixt, which screened at last fall’s Toronto Film Festival and stars Val Kilmer as a third-rate mystery writer who encounters vampires, murderers and intermittent 3-D during a book tour stopover, isn’t a particularly good movie. But it is loose and personal (witness the scenes that flashback to what is essentially a recreation of the speed boating death of Coppola’s son Gian-Carlo) and was filmed on and around Coppola’s Northern California estate.
(READ: Richard Corliss’ Toronto Review of Twixt)
If Coppola — a man who has gone bankrupt at least twice and now uses the proceeds from his wine business to fund films — can get together some slightly washed up stars and make a film in his backyard, surely the eternally flush Lucas can do the same. He can probably shoot, edit, mix, and do all the sound effects right on his sprawling Skywalker Ranch. The fact that he wants to make “esoteric” films makes it even easier; 30 minutes of digital sunburst patterns, no people, no dialogue, no overhead. Done.
Though, as might be clear, we suspect he won’t do any of this. He’s talked this game for a while and the closest he’s come to “experimental” is the dialogue in the Star Wars prequels. If one of the wealthiest men in show business is unable to achieve his dreams, what hope do the rest of us have?
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p.s.—Our movie critic, Richard Corliss, alerted me to a lengthy 2006 interview he conducted with Lucas in which he said much of the same stuff, like “The area I’m interested in now is to go do some form-experimenting—to try and figure out different ways of telling movies.”