Last night’s premiere of the new Richard Gere movie, Unfaithful, was confusing for a number of reasons — not the least of which was trying to figure out who wrote the damn thing.
Unfaithful is based on a famous 1969 Claude Chabrol French film called La femme infidèle. Originally, highly respected screenwriter Alvin Sargent adapted the new version for director Adrian Lyne. What a combo, too: Sargent is known for his nuanced work in films like Ordinary People and Julia, while Lyne is remembered for his erotic thrillers 9 1/2 Weeks and Fatal Attraction. The marriage of the two should have produced a blockbuster thriller with characters involved in fascinating relationships.
But Sargent, who wrote his script around 1996, was replaced by former Newsweek editor William Broyles, who wrote a couple of good things like China Beach and Apollo 13 — and a couple of bad things like Cast Away and 2001's Planet of the Apes. Broyles did a full re-write and then was also dismissed.
At last night’s screening, much of the talk was about former Vanity Fair and New Yorker writer Stephen Schiff, who wrote the excellent screenplay for Lolita, which Lyne directed in 1997. Schiff was overheard telling people that he wrote the filmed version of Unfaithful, completely overhauling the Sargent-Broyles script. Schiff took his contention to the Writers Guild of America arbitration board, but they shot him down two-to-one and denied him a credit.
A friend of Sargent’s told me last night: “I like Stephen, but I can’t believe he’s going around saying that. He didn’t write it. He may have written the dialogue, though, which has been changed.”
Indeed, the dialogue in Unfaithful is terrible, so I hope the talented Schiff didn’t pen the line, “Your eyes are so beautiful, you should sleep with them open.” It’s almost as good as Kevin Costner’s famous line to Jeanne Tripplehorn in Waterworld: “I’ll breathe for you.”
Sargent, who did an uncredited polish on the Spider-Man script, wrote a very different version of Unfaithful than the one we saw on the screen last night. “His version was about nuances,” my source told me, “and concentrated on the couple — Richard Gere and Diane Lane — dealing with consequences of their actions. There was a whole third act, and now it’s gone.”
Sargent’s version isn’t perfect, either. Retained in the Sargent's shooting script is an opening sequence in which Soho looks like it’s being upturned by a hurricane on sunny day. It’s a Chicago wind, not a New York one, and it’s as preposterous as many of the lines Olivier Martinez and Lane spew at each other. So here’s the explanation: apparently, the movie was supposed to be shot in the winter during a snow storm. However, when that didn't work out, the scene was changed to spring and the wind. Only in Hollywood...
If there is any bright spot in Unfaithful, it’s — surprise — Richard Gere. As in Dr. T and the Women, Gere seems determined to re-invent himself. His character in Unfaithful is textured and shaded, a marked change from his pantheon of colorless heroes and romantic swains. Gere commands the chilling unexpected climax of Unfaithful. He has extended his career by miles just by taking a couple of chances and succeeding in the process.
On the downside, though, much of Unfaithful becomes so implausible that several people in the audience last night seemed to be chatting away at one point. Two very good actresses — Kate Burton and Margaret Colin — are squandered in their scenes. The always-popular Dominic Chianese — Uncle Junior from The Sopranos — is miscast as a private eye hired by Gere. (When you see him, you immediately think he’s been hired to whack the offending party.)
Twentieth Century Fox, which is about to have a huge hit in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, also didn’t need the mess it got at the Unfaithful screening. The seating arrangements were so screwed up that Joan Rivers walked out in a huff before the movie started, taking famed New York actress Arlene Dahl with her. No one seemed to care much one way or another.
On the other hand, I did get to witness a rare meeting between two old TV warriors: soon-to-depart CBS Early Show producer Steve Friedman (no relation to this reporter), and NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker. They chatted amiably while the massive seating problem was being re-confused over and over. Interestingly, Zucker was once Friedman’s protégé at The Today Show. Now, Friedman is out of a job, and Zucker is flying high. That, my friends, is entertainment.
I am thrilled to repeat the news that Rhino Records is getting ready for a major re-release of the Chicago catalogue. If all you know about the band are those awful Top 40 goopy songs like “Hard for Me To Say I’m Sorry” with Peter Cetera, then look out. The first two or three Chicago albums were full of blues, soul and funk with an incredible horn section. "Beginnings" is a great moment in pop music.
Rhino, under Scott Pascucci, is converting itself into an important archival force. So far, they’ve also done a terrific job re-releasing Elvis Costello’s catalogue. I wish they would take on groups like Squeeze, Talking Heads and the Pretenders — their catalogues are a mess. As far as I know, the Talking Heads’ albums have never been remastered for CD — with the exception of Stop Making Sense. Maybe Pascucci will save the day there, too!