Star Wars: parla il produttore Gary Kurtz

Sul Los Angeles Times c’è una bella intervista di Geoff Boucher a Gary Kurtz, produttore dei primi film di George Lucas, sino a L’impero colpisce ancora, di cui si feseggia il trentennale proprio questa estate.

La rottura decisiva, dopo il secondo capitolo della saga più famosa della storia del cinema, avvenne quando Kurtz si rese conto che la Lucasfilm incassava dai giocattoli tre volte di più dei film in sala. A quel punto le sorti della trilogia furono guidate dal profitto più che dalle invenzioni artistiche.

Kurtz smentisce atresì che Lucas avesse in mente tutti gli episodi sin da subito. Misero in cantiere Star Wars solo quando non ruscirono ad avere i diritti di Flash Gordon e la dicitura episodio IV era solo per richiamare i tanto amati serial a puntate…

Curiose le parole su Harrison Ford, vero antieroe, nella vita, come in Guerre Stellari.

Di seguito alcuni passi significativi..

 

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“Star Wars” was born a long time ago, but not all that far, far away. In 1972, filmmakers George Lucas and Gary Kurtz were toiling on “American Graffiti” in their San Rafael office when they began daydreaming about a throwback sci-fi adventure that channeled the old “Flash Gordon” serials as opposed to the bleak “message” movies that had taken over the genre.

“We had no idea what we were starting,” said Kurtz, who was the producer of the first two “Star Wars” films and also a second-unit director. “That simple concept changed Hollywood in a way….”

There was a bittersweet tinge to Kurtz’s voice, and it’s no surprise. This year is the 30th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the “Star Wars” sequel that many fans consider the pinnacle moment in a franchise that has pulled in $16 billion in box office and merchandising. But 1980 was also the year that Kurtz and Lucas realized the Jedi universe wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”

 He added: “The first film and ‘Empire’ were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.”

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…“The emphasis on the toys, it’s like the cart driving the horse,” Kurtz said. “If it wasn’t for that the films would be done for their own merits. The creative team wouldn’t be looking over their shoulder all the time.”

No fan of conflict, Kurtz has remained relatively quiet through the years but over coffee on a sunny Southern California afternoon he spoke at length about his lightsaber days.

…“I don’t like the idea of prequels, they make the filmmakers back in to material they’ve already covered and it boxes in the story,” Kurtz said. “I think they did a pretty good job with them although I have to admit I never liked Hayden Christensen in the role of Anakin Skywalker. I just wished the stories had been stronger and that the dialogue had been stronger. It gets meek. I’m not sure the characters ever felt real like they did in ‘Empire.’”

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…For Kurtz, the popular notion that “Star Wars” was always planned as a multi-film epic is laughable. He says that he and Lucas, both USC film school grads who met through mutual friend Francis Ford Coppola in the late 1960s, first sought to do a simple adaptation of “Flash Gordon,” the comic-strip hero who had been featured in movie serials that both filmmakers found charming.

“We tried to buy the rights to ‘Flash Gordon’ from King Features but the deal would have been prohibitive,” Kurtz said. “They wanted too much money, too much control, so starting over and creating from scratch was the answer.”

Lucas came up with a sprawling treatment that pulled from “Flash Gordon,” Arthurian legend, “The Hidden Fortress” and other influences. The document would have required a five-hour film but there was a middle portion that could be carved out as a stand-alone movie. Kurtz championed the project in pitch meetings with studios and worked intensely on casting, scouting locations and finding a way to create a believable alien universe on a tight budget.

“Star Wars” opened with a title sequence that announced it as “Episode IV” as a winking nod to the old serials, not a film franchise underway, Kurtz said.

“Our plan was to do ‘Star Wars’ and then make ‘Apocalypse Now’ and do a black comedy in the vein of ‘M*A*S*H*,’” Kurtz said. “Fox insisted on a sequel or maybe two [to ‘Star Wars’]. Francis [Ford Coppola] … had bought the [“Apocalypse Now”] rights so George could make it. He eventually got tired of waiting and did it on his own, of course.”

…After the release of “Empire” (which was shaped by material left over from that first Lucas treatment), talk turned to a third film and after a decade and a half the partners could no longer find a middle ground.

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”

…On casting the 1977 film: “We had a lot of people, hundreds, that we saw. It was quick and dirty. You talk to each person, jot down a note or two. Are they a score of five or higher? Do they deserve a callback? On those lists were a lot of interesting people — John Travolta, Sly Stallone — who were great but just not right. I went to New York to do an interview with Jodie Foster, for instance, but she was just too young for Leia. A lot of it comes down to luck and timing.”

On Harrison Ford, who became a Hollywood icon after “Star Wars” but keeps the fervent fandom at arm’s length: “He’s always been somewhat cynical, since the beginning of his career, about everything. In a way he tried not to take notoriety or the fans too seriously. Movies are movies and real life is his ranch.”

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“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down,” Kurtz said. “ ‘Empire’ was the tree on fire. The first movie was like a comic book, a fantasy, but ‘Empire’ felt darker and more compelling. It’s the one, for me, where everything went right. And it was my goodbye to a big part of my life.”

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