It has only been several months since Irish author Wayne Byrne released his acclaimed fourth book, Welcome to Elm Street: Inside the Film and Television Nightmares, but in that time the Kildare man has been busy preparing to unleash his latest work, Walter Hill: The Cinema of a Hollywood Maverick, which is set to hit the shelves imminently. The book couldn’t be timelier as American film legend Hill is back in the pop culture consciousness as fans anticipate the release of his latest film, Dead for a Dollar, a western starring Willem Dafoe and Christoph Waltz. Byrne spent a year talking with Hill and many of his collaborators, documenting the filmmaker’s entire career and delving into the making of cult classics like The Warriors, Southern Comfort, and 48. Hrs. However, for the prolific author, it was Hill’s lesser celebrated works which proved the most exciting part of the project.
“For me it is always more interesting to find out what happened on the films in-between the well-known classics. I get why the likes of The Warriors and The Driver are held in such high regard and remain popular, but there has been so much already written about them over the years that as a film historian the truly exciting part of all this is putting on paper the effort and endeavour that went into the likes of Last Man Standing, Extreme Prejudice, or Streets of Fire – brilliant films on which there is little information, especially first-hand experiences of those who were there and who made them.”
Byrne has given all of Hill’s films a thorough critical examination and provides an insightful look at their making thanks to interviews he conducted with many people who have worked with Hill, including producer Larry Gordon, screenwriter Larry Gross, cinematographers Matthew Leonetti, Lloyd Ahern, and Bobby LaBonge, and many other crucial collaborators. Not to mention Mr. Hill himself.
“Some of the people I spoke to for this book rarely give interviews about Walter, they are careful of what they contribute to and what they reveal because Walter is held in such high esteem; people want to know that if they are going on the record then that record better be something valid and respectful. Some of these guys already know me and know that my work is passionate about and respectful to the subject, so sometimes they recommend me to others who are less inclined to give interviews. However, I did begin this project expecting that I would never get to talk to Walter. I knew he was in the middle of making his new movie, but also because I knew he is not keen on looking back on his work or talking about himself. But we have some mutual friends who were able to let him know what I was doing. He said to me, “you’ve spoken to all of my friends, so I thought we ought to have a chat.”
And how did Byrne find speaking with his hero?
“It was one of the highlights of my writing career. We got along very well. He was receptive to my approach to the book, and he was happy that I was enthusiastic about some of his films which haven’t received as much love over the years, such as Another 48 Hrs. and Last Man Standing…they are amongst my favourites. And we bonded over a shared love of Old Hollywood, particularly the great director Raoul Walsh. With Walter, I had a feeling he would not be one for overtly analysing his films on some social or psychological level, it was more about the context of the times in which the films were made, and the process of their writing and productions, which is the approach I took with most people I interviewed. I had other contributors who did discuss with me the more intellectual, philosophical stuff, but for the most part the people I spoke with detail their personal and professional experiences with Walter, providing an insight into the man and the moviemaker; the consensus painted a portrait of a quiet, good-humoured man who likes to move fast and have a good time doing it, all the while maintaining the highest professional standards of the filmmaking process. The fact that these people have worked with Walter time and again speaks volumes about their loyalty to him, and him to them. I’ve rarely come across an artist so admired, respected, and adored as Walter.”
Byrne’s book will have the boon of being the first comprehensive literary overview of Hill’s career, which means the author goes all the way back Hill’s screenwriting days working on Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway and John Huston’s The Mackintosh Man, among others. Though Byrne admits to being picky about which of Hill’s script work that he would write about in-depth. “I didn’t want to spend much, if any, time on Alien,” he admits. “There is a surfeit of information already out there on that film, so much so that I felt no need nor desire to talk about it in the book or with Walter. Of course, it is referenced a couple of times, but I was much more interested in writing and talking about Hickey & Boggs, The Thief Who Came to Dinner, The Drowning Pool, and films like those which don’t normally get a lot of page space in books.”
And that seems to be Byrne’s method, to draw attention to films and filmmakers that have been underrated or which haven’t been given the kind of deep consideration that they deserve. To date, it has worked well for him, as his books on Burt Reynolds, Tom DiCillo, and Nick McLean have all garnered acclaim. But who will the writer focus on next?
“Ten female musicians, actually,” he reveals. “I’m just finishing another book which will be out next year called Hired Guns: Women of the Road and on Record in Alternative Music. I’ve spent the last year writing that with my dear friend Amanda Kramer, who is a wonderful musician. She has brought me into her world, that of touring musicians who perform with acclaimed and successful bands. She is a member of The Psychedelic Furs and has played with Siouxsie Sioux, 10,000 Maniacs, Lloyd Cole, Eurythmics, and others, and what we’re doing is documenting the careers and stories of people like Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie), Sara Lee (Gang of Four), Joy Askew (Peter Gabriel), Jane Scarpantoni (Lou Reed) and other fascinating female players. Amanda texted me early one morning last year to say she had a cool idea for a book, so I called her back and she told me what it was and within a week we got a publishing deal for it, and now we’re just wrapping it up. It is something new for me, a music book, but there will be more movie books along the way, I’m sure.”
Walter Hill: The Cinema of a Hollywood Maverick is available to pre-order now and will be released soon, available at all book stores.