by Cliff Froehlich on Oct 30, 2020

Originally published in The Riverfront Times, October 1999

If seeing is believing, filmmaker George Hickenlooper would have a difficult time winning converts.

It’s not that he’s lazy: Since 1991, Hickenlooper, who’s only in his mid-30s, has made nine films (three documentaries, a fiction short, and five features), directed a clutch of TV shows, and even written a book (Reel Conversations). In recounting the credits, he says with clear surprise, “God, I’ve done a lot of work, if you think about it.”

And it’s not that he lacks talent: Although the films vary in quality and content — from the heartfelt semi-autobiographical comic drama The Low Life to the beautifully constructed short “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade” to the impersonal but efficient thriller Persons Unknown to the loopy vampire quasi-Western Ghost Brigade — Hickenlooper’s work pushes at and intelligently deforms genre boundaries and always features a strong cast, distinctive authorial voice, and elegant visual style. Even at their most cringingly imperfect, his movies are marked by an impressive ambition and reach.

So Hickenlooper merits attention. It’s just that no one’s watching.

Despite working nonstop in the movie business for a decade — “I just celebrated my 10th anniversary, in July, of not having a 9-to-5 job,” he notes proudly — Hickenlooper remains what he self-deprecatingly terms “virtually a nonentity in Hollywood.” Although known and respected on the film-festival circuit — his most recent film, The Big Brass Ring, played the prestigious Toronto fest in September and will receive a special presentation by the St. Louis International Film Festival — Hickenlooper has yet to secure a major theatrical release for any of his movies.

Local cinephiles are among the few people who have had an opportunity to see Hickenlooper’s films on the big screen: A St. Louis native — the city figures peripherally or prominently (as in The Big Brass Ring, which was shot here) in most of his movies — Hickenlooper has screened virtually all of his work at different venues around town. But filmgoers elsewhere are familiar with Hickenlooper — if at all — through cable-TV showings and tape releases. The majority of his films can be found on a well-stocked video store’s shelves, but only the most obsessive of movie nerds is likely to be familiar with the entire Hickenlooper oeuvre.

As Hickenlooper succinctly puts the situation: “It’s horribly frustrating.”

In an interview with the RFT in 1991 — before the Showtime premiere of the work for which he remains best known, the making-of-Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness — Hickenlooper was perhaps all too prophetic when discussing his own future as a maker of serious films: “It’s getting a lot harder,” he said. “I think it’s really grim now. I think audiences are less tolerant of films that make them think.” His experience in the following years has done nothing but provide bleak confirmation.

Fresh from the glowing reviews for Hearts of Darkness, Hickenlooper first attempted to set up the film that he only recently completed — The Big Brass Ring, an unmade Orson Welles script — but he tripped over the first of the many career hurdles that he’s had to clear. “At the time, I was very much pigeonholed as a documentary filmmaker,” Hickenlooper recalls. “Burt Reynolds’ people at one point approached me about doing the life story of Burt Reynolds for one of those cable stations. That really wasn’t a career move that I wanted to make. After I had done Hearts of Darkness, it was very difficult for me to set up a feature, ’cause I really hadn’t been proven in that world.”

The one film Hickenlooper was offered — “this Civil War vampire script, this B-movie script” — appeared unpromising, but he was confident he could find an interesting approach to the story. “It was owned by Roger Corman’s people,” Hickenlooper says. “I had worked for Roger as an assistant, and I knew how his factory worked and that I would be given creative carte blanche in what I wanted to do. Since I still very much had Joseph Conrad on the brain from having done Hearts of Darkness, I thought it would be interesting to create this hybrid of Bram Stoker and Joseph Conrad, create this story about these Union soldiers who were going on a mission deep in the Tennessee mountains to find out what this mysterious force is that is killing both Union and Confederate soldiers.

“The original screenplay had literal vampires with fangs, and they flew around in the sky. I was more interested in a sort of metaphorical vampire, so it became this kind of metaphysical take on vampirism, very kind of ethereal and atmospheric. I rewrote it completely, whether for good or bad — I think for better.”

The resulting film — known originally as The Grey Knight but released to cable as The Killing Box and to video as Ghost Brigade — never quite rises above its bizarre conceit, and some of the actors seem profoundly uncomfortable in their period get-ups and unsatisfying vampire makeup. But Hickenlooper demonstrates a fine compositional eye, assembles a typically intriguing cast (which includes Adrian Pasdar, Ray Wise, Cynda Williams, Martin Sheen, Billy Bob Thornton, David Arquette, and Matt LeBlanc), and coaxes a surprising depthful performance from Corbin Bernsen.

Establishing a pattern that would soon repeat itself, The Grey Knight never played in theaters domestically, although it was released in Europe to what Hickenlooper calls “decent reviews” (one writer even termed it, presciently, Wellesian). Adding further insult, the picture was re-edited against Hickenlooper’s wishes to remove the strong current of homoeroticism. “Even though I’m a heterosexual,” Hickenlooper explains, “I find homoeroticism in art really fascinating, maybe stemming from my Catholic upbringing.” According to Hickenlooper, “The producer was kind of freaked out by the homoerotic take on it and he wanted more fangs, so he basically completely recut the picture after I finished it.” (Hickenlooper’s version is available on the Turner Home Entertainment laserdisc with added audio commentary.)

Although he says that “I was at the time very despondent over the recutting,” Hickenlooper quickly regrouped and began a new project: a short called “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade,” written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, with whom he had become friends on The Grey Knight set. “We were sitting in his apartment drinking beers,” Hickenlooper says, “and he said, ‘I want to do this character for you. You’ll totally freak out.’ I actually left the room, and when I came back in, he was in his character, Karl Childers, and he did this monologue for me about how he killed his mother, and I was riveted. The hair was standing on the back of my neck. I said, ‘That’s amazing. We’ve got to get this character on film.’”

Together, Thornton and Hickenlooper developed the frame in which the monologue is set — Karl is interviewed by a reporter on the eve of his release from an mental institution — and Hickenlooper raised the money for the three-day shoot, casting J.T. Walsh as Karl’s creepily insinuating fellow patient and Molly Ringwald as the journalist. The short is an assured, fully realized work, beginning with a long tracking shot of Walsh and his perambulations before the baton of the story is passed first to the reporter and her photographer, then to the asylum’s head, and finally to Karl, who at last relates his terrible and mesmerizing story of matricide.

Despite the success of the collaboration, friction between Thornton and Hickenlooper was developing, soon to produce a conflagration. Hickenlooper remembers: “He and I got into it about how I had shot the monologue, the big confession speech about killing the mother. I had shot it two ways — in closeup, because he asked me to shoot it that way, and as a long tracking shot where you start out wide and slowly dolly in on his face and you slowly pull back from the reporter. Well, we had a light leak on the closeup (making it unusable), but it was never my intention to use a closeup anyway. I didn’t think it would work cinematically. I thought if we were looking at his monologue in closeup for such an extended period of time, it would start to feel artificial, mannered. I thought it was much better to slowly draw the audience in. Then I started thinking that I had raised the $55,000 (budget) from three different friends — he hadn’t contributed a penny — and ultimately he was going to benefit from this as an actor. I told him, ‘I didn’t raise $55,000 to create a really nice actor’s reel for you. This has got to work as a film.’ Anyway, we had this huge, fiery argument over this, and, unfortunately, as much as I revere Billy Bob as a writer, he has a very tempestuous personality. Because he was so abusive to me and to the people I was working with, I could no longer really stomach talking to him. I had raised the money, so basically we stopped talking to each other.”

The pair reached a temporary truce when the short premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Hickenlooper claims, “Billy Bob Thornton suddenly changed his whole tone. He was very ingratiating; he was pretending that nothing had happened between us. I was like, ‘OK, I’m willing to go this way.’” Buoyed by the positive reception at Sundance, Thornton and Hickenlooper began developing the narrative for what eventually became the feature Sling Blade. “He had a lot of ideas that I thought were a little over the top,” says Hickenlooper. “For example, one of his ideas initially was that the Karl character falls in love with the mother of this young kid, but the mother’s a burn victim. I thought, ‘Let’s make her just a normal woman who’s married to an abusive guy.’ Though I never wrote the feature script with him, we certainly talked about it enough to kind of build a story where ultimately he kills the abusive father in the end — that was both of us. I’m not trying to take anything away from him — that was completely his character — but we did develop the feature together.”

Because money for Sling Blade was slow in coming, Hickenlooper redirected his attention to another film, The Low Life — about a group of recent college graduates living a hardscrabble life in LA — which the director says precipitated the final break between the former friends. Hickenlooper offered Thornton a small part in The Low Life, but the actor lobbied for the role of Andrew, the annoyingly solicitous roommate of the film’s protagonist (played by Rory Cochrane). After mulling the possibilities, Hickenlooper says, “I decided he was just too old for the part. I needed somebody who was Rory Cochrane’s contemporary (Thornton is 17 years older than Cochrane). He just flew off the handle and said, ‘I fucking gave you this short. I gave this to you as a gift, and you throw it back in my face. I’m not going to do any fucking cameos for you.’ And he started insulting me and my family, and it just got so ugly.” After that episode, Hickenlooper says, “I thought about it for about 48 hours and I called him back and said, ‘Look, I think we should just end it here. You go your way and I’ll go my way.’ That was the last time I ever spoke to him.”

But, as moviegoers know, those final words were not the end of the story. When Sling Blade finally went into production, Thornton was behind the camera himself. One of the critical hits of 1996, the film earned ecstatic notices, and Thornton received both an Oscar nomination for his performance and an Academy Award for his script. Hickenlooper, needless to say, was not thanked in the acceptance speech. “In retrospect, sure, part of me is sad,” Hickenlooper confesses. “What an incredible career move for me had I been able to survive my relationship with him. But in the end I did it for my own sanity. You can’t undo what is done. I’m very happy with the movies I’ve made since I did the short. Sure, I would have loved to have done the feature, and had I done the feature, it would have been different. I think it would have been better — it would have been darker — but as a result it probably wouldn’t have won an Oscar, either.” Hickelooper laughs loudly at the thought, and admits, “I like the feature — I thought it worked — but it was a little more schmaltzy than I would have wanted to go.” For those who want to compare the two versions, the short — paired with an accompanying behind-the-scenes documentary on its filming — is available on video. Hickenlooper notes that it’s “the second-biggest-selling short of all time, behind ‘Frankenweenie.’”

Hickenlooper carefully emphasizes that he remains an admirer of his former collaborator — he calls One False Move, which Thornton co-wrote with Tom Epperson, “the greatest film of the 1990s” — and says, “I just wish him well. Billy Bob’s career is so mainstream now (he’s currently helming the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses), he’s in a totally different world than I am. Who knows? We may end up working together someday. It’s Hollywood.”

The film Hickenlooper made after “Sling Blade,” The Low Life, should rightly have moved its director into the same world Thornton now inhabits. A tough, bittersweet comedy with winningly unpredictable tonal and plot shifts, The Low Life evokes the unclassifiable, character-based works of the ’70s — Five Easy Pieces, say, or Scarecrow — that Hickenlooper admires. Although the original script was written by John Enbom, with whom the director was glancingly familiar from his college days at Yale, Hickenlooper collaborated on a rewrite that incorporated elements of his own autobiography in the character of the film’s strangely affectless antihero, a down-at-heels would-be writer from St. Louis now at sea in LA, working dead-end temp jobs by day, drinking with similarly hard-up and unmoored college friends at night, and taking awkward steps toward maturity and real emotional engagement. Hickenlooper also added the key character of Andrew — the part Thornton insisted on playing — whom he describes as “this kind of dependent geek. He was based on two people I had known, one of whom I was very close to who sadly passed away in a car accident.” As subtly embodied by Sean Astin, Andrew proves alternately annoying, frightening, and heartbreaking: a black-comic joke that is as guilt-inducing as laugh-getting.

“It was just a great, fun film,” Hickenlooper says, but when the shooting ended, the usual troubles began. “Again, it was one of those very painful scenarios,” Hickenlooper says. “We premiered it, and it got incredible critical response. All the executives at all the distribution companies loved it, but they said it just wasn’t commercial because it had a real downer ending. I said, ‘But that’s deliberate. I mean, some of the greatest movies of all time, like Midnight Cowboy (a conscious model for The Low Life), have downbeat endings.’ One of the executives said, ‘Yeah, but if Midnight Cowboy were made today, it would end up being on the Sundance Channel. It wouldn’t even get a theatrical release.’ And it’s true. That was what was so sad about it. It ended up going out by CFP, which became Lionsgate but at the time was a really small, rinky-dink company in Canada. It played in 12 cities, got great reviews, and deserved a much bigger release, but that’s the way it went.”

During this period in the mid-’90s, Hickenlooper was also slumming in television, pseudonymously directing five episodes of America’s Most Wanted over a four-year period. “It brought in money,” Hickenlooper admits frankly. As a bonus, he says, “They completely left you alone, and you could create these little scenarios, kind of exercise your director’s eye by trying new and different things without having to embarrass yourself.” His other TV credits include the flat-lined medical drama Vital Signs for ABC and an Aaron Spelling pilot called Crosstown Traffic, a remake of The Mod Squad with rapper Tone-Lōc, whom Hickenlooper says memorably collapsed from a drug overdose during the shoot.

Hickenlooper picked up another work-for-hire directing assignment in 1996 with Persons Unknown, a competent but formulaic HBO thriller whose clichéd script is slightly elevated by an excellent cast of Joe Mantegna, Kelly Lynch, Naomi Watts, J.T. Walsh, and Jon Favreau. Hickenlooper generously assesses the film as “a semi-successful attempt at making a stylish thriller,” but his preferred “funny, ironic” ending was cut by the producer, and he believes that “the movie works more or less until the very end and then kind of falls apart.” Like The Grey Knight, Persons Unknown premiered on cable in the U.S. but received a theatrical release in Europe. “It got amazing reviews in England,” Hickenlooper says, and it was even cited as one of the year’s best films by Empire magazine. “Can you believe it?” asks Hickenlooper with a mix of amusement and pride. “The guy must have been on drugs.”

Hickenlooper returned to a more personal brand of filmmaking in 1997 with Dogtown, which he both wrote and directed. A look at the constricting nature of small-town life set in Cuba, Mo. (though shot for budgetary reasons in Torrance, Calif.), “Dogtown was very much my homage to Peter Bogdanovich and The Last Picture Show,” says Hickenlooper, and it allowed the filmmaker to explore in fictional terms territory covered in one of his first movies, Picture This, a documentary on Bogdanovich and his collaborations with author Larry McMurtry. Hickenlooper, in fact, has made films on four of the ’70s touchstone directors: Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola (Hearts of Darkness), Dennis Hopper (“Art, Acting and the Suicide Chair”), and, most recently, Monte Hellman (who also edited The Grey Knight). The latter short, “Monte Hellman: American Auteur,” accompanies the recent DVD release of the director’s widely admired Two Lane Blacktop.

Dogtown, like The Low Life, shares with the films of the ’70s a quirky, stopped-down rhythm — it’s unafraid to dawdle over small, revealing moments — and a narrative based more in realistic situations than in genre conventions. Although the film ultimately suffers from its derivative, poor-second-cousin kinship to The Last Picture Show and some reductive yahoo stereotyping, it’s dotted with painful moments of verisimilitude and features two beautifully nuanced performances by Mary Stuart Masterson and Jon Favreau.

The film also interestingly amplifies on the autobiographical elements of The Low Life, centering as it does on the homecoming of Phillip (Trevor St. John), a Cuba native made uncomfortable by the star’s welcome he’s accorded given his lack of success as an actor in LA. “It was a movie I wanted to get off my chest for a while,” explains Hickenlooper. “I had come back to St. Louis, and I always felt, with family and friends and people I would meet, that I was treated a little differently than I had been as a kid. I felt like I had become this minor celebrity in St. Louis, and it felt silly to me because I’m virtually a nonentity in Hollywood, and it felt like this weird polarity between what my life was like in LA and coming back to St. Louis. I felt in a way like a fraud. I wanted to capture that feeling in Dogtown, but I wanted to exaggerate it slightly, which is why I set it in a small town in Missouri and created these kind of Flannery O’Connor-esque characters, and sort of dealt with someone who feels that he’s being over-lionized for something he’s never accomplished but at the same time is reluctant to reveal the truth in fear of losing the girl who once wouldn’t give him the time of day.”

(Hickenlooper will examine the nature of celebrity again in a more expansive form in a documentary he’s been shooting for the past two years on LA disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer called Mayor of the Sunset Strip. “It’s about his relationship to celebrities,” explains Hickenlooper. “Rodney discovered David Bowie, the Bangles, Courtney Love and Hole, Van Halen. He just has an incredible ear for music. Through his whole life he’s known Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix. He’s this Zelig-like figure — he’s been photographed with all these people. But as you get to know Rodney, you find he’s obsessed with being in the presence of celebrity. In his personal life, he has no friends. He basically sits alone. So I’m exploring the idea of the illusion of intimacy with celebrity.”)

With dismaying predictability, however, the ill luck that Hickenlooper first experienced with The Grey Knight returned with Dogtown. “Again, it got amazing reviews at festivals,” asserts Hickenlooper, “but the pacing was considered slow and deliberate — that’s just the kind of movie I like. Fox Searchlight liked the picture but thought it was too downbeat and didn’t have enough octane in it for a theatrical release. One distributor said it was ‘too Chekhovian.’” Hickenlooper sighs with exasperation. “Dogtown to this day has yet to see any kind of distribution. Since The Big Brass Ring, there has been some interest for taking it out theatrically, so it may yet still have some life. But otherwise it’s available in my closet drawer.”

Given Hickenlooper’s difficulties with distribution over the past decade, it’s ironically appropriate that his most recent feature, The Big Brass Ring, should be adapted from a screenplay by Orson Welles, who was famously shunned and ill used by Hollywood after making what many consider America’s (and the world’s) finest film, Citizen Kane. The Big Brass Ring, which Welles co-wrote with his longtime companion Oja Kodar in the mid-’80s, actually serves as something of a coda to Citizen Kane, revisiting the political milieu of that film and reiterating, albeit in diminished and less compelling form, some of its themes: the impact of abandonment, the conflict between the public and private lives of great men, the need for friendship and the difficulties of sustaining it.

Hickenlooper’s movie, which he co-wrote with LA Weekly film critic F.X. Feeney, departs substantially from the Welles script, altering setting (moving it from Spain and Africa to St. Louis) and story (a presidential defeat becomes a gubernatorial election, a scandal involving an Asian mistress becomes a potentially devastating revelation about a long-lost brother). “The original Welles script is kind of amusing and funny and very gothic,” says Hickenlooper. “I thought, ‘This is an incredible story, but it’s a story that only Welles could make because it’s so baroque.’” Hickenlooper, however, retains Welles’ quartet of main characters and their essential relationships: Blake Pellarin (William Hurt), here an independent candidate for Missouri governor; his mentor, Kim Menakar (Nigel Hawthorne), a former senator living in exile in Cuba because of revelations of his homosexuality; his wife, Dinah (Miranda Richardson), a manipulative alcoholic who provides the money and drive that fuel Blake’s political aspirations; and his journalistic pursuer, Cela Brandini (Irène Jacob), who suspects Blake hides a dark secret beneath his sunny facade.

The film Hickenlooper molds from Welles’ clay has fascinating moments, a delightful performance by Hawthorne, and an admirable complexity of character and theme — it raises some vexing questions about media and politics — but it remains lumpy and at times logically incoherent (the opaque motivations of a sinister aide seem especially implausible). And not only has Hickenlooper failed to discard all of the “gothic” flourishes of the Welles original (a pet monkey, for example), he’s added a few of his own devising (most outrageously, a gay riverboat on the St. Louis waterfront).

But whatever the film’s faults, St. Louisans will delight in Hickenlooper’s fresh take on the city. He persuasively argues that St. Louis was an apt choice for the movie because of its backstory of two separated brothers (a detail culled from Welles’ own life, interestingly): “I was interested in St. Louis really for metaphorical reasons,” Hickenlooper says. “It’s always dangerous to think in metaphors, but I was dealing with a story about two brothers estranged from each other, and the dynamic of that relationship was something I thought literally played into the dynamics of St. Louis. Here you have a city at the crossroads of two major cultures — being in the Midwest but being caught between the brazen industrialism of the North and the crazy genteelism of the 19th-century South.” It’s also clear, however, that Hickenlooper simply loves St. Louis’ unique architectural and geographical qualities, and he makes wonderful use of the riverfront and the Arch, which he calls “one of the most beautiful structures ever built by man.” And as for that gay riverboat and its carnival-like revels: “Are there any gay riverboats in St. Louis? No, there are no gay riverboats, but, hell, there should be,” he laughs. “And believe me, I’ve been to St. Louis, and I’ve been to some really interesting, decadent parties, so that kind of subversive, erotic lifestyle definitely exists, albeit on a more clandestine level. It’s not publicly on a riverboat next to McDonald’s, but it does exist in St. Louis.”

Hickenlooper was so pleased by his experience shooting in town that he hopes to set future films here as well. He’s hoping to shoot an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Winter Dreams” in St. Louis during late spring 2000, and he plans to complete his trilogy (with The Low Life and Dogtown) about “characters who are artists coming to terms with who they are” with a back-burner project called The Missouri Compromise. “It is my intention,” says Hickenlooper, “if I were to be blessed and have a career like Barry Levinson, to do for St. Louis what he did for Baltimore. I do have a lot of stories I want to tell in St. Louis.”

The eventual shape of Hickenlooper’s career, of course, remains in question. With typical bad fortune, The Big Brass Ring proved another near-miss for theatrical distribution. Although serious interest was evidenced by three distributors, none wanted to pay more than the $2 million offered by Showtime, where the film premiered in August. There’s a possibility that the movie will receive a limited release before Columbia/TriStar debuts it on video, but Hickenlooper no longer dwells on it. “Maybe — I’m hoping,” he says. “But I’ve shifted gears, and I’m well into my next project.

Given his experience, Hickenlooper is understandably depressed about the current state of independent film, and he relates an illustrative anecdote: “Just about a month ago, I was having dinner with Quentin Tarantino and Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd” — a group that incidentally belies Hickenlooper’s supposed “nonentity” status — “and Quentin and I were talking about The Last Picture Show and how great it was. And Peter said, ‘If Picture Show were made today, it wouldn’t even get a cable release.’ It’d probably end up on video if he was lucky. That’s just how the market has changed.

“In the independent-film world today,” Hickenlooper continues, “in order to pique anyone’s interest, your film has to have some kind of shock value. I’m speaking kind of broadly here, but unless you have lesbian heroin addicts or Siamese twins or some kind of gender-identity switch, then distributors aren’t going to pick your movie up. I’ll tell you why: Because it’s so expensive. The marketplace for the last five or six years has been so glutted that, in my opinion — and you can call this sour grapes — the only pictures that get any kind of attention have to have some kind of subversive quality. The perception from distributors is that the media or audience won’t pay attention otherwise because it’s so fucking hard to sell a movie.”

Hickenlooper feels scant kinship with most of his peers. “I’ve modeled myself after the great pantheon of directors,” he says, citing William Wyler, William Wellman, John Ford, and Howard Hawks. “I was kind of born 20 years too late. That pantheon of directors influenced Francis Coppola, Monte Hellman, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper. As a result, you had this incredible golden age of filmmaking in the early ’70s. Now you’re got a group of kids who are making films influenced by comic books. It’s so patently obvious: comic books and MTV and just basically crap. A lot of these young, hip filmmakers, if you would compare their work to what was made 30 years ago, the literary establishment would just have laughed at it, it would be a joke. But the literary establishment, particularly the New York critics, have bought into this kind of kitsch, so kitsch rules.

“That’s why I’m retiring from independent filmmaking,” Hickenlooper announces. “The Big Brass Ring was kind of my swan song to independent filmmaking.” Laughing ruefully, he adds, “It may be my swan song to filmmaking in general, I don’t know.” Deriving hope from such challenging mainstream releases as The Sixth Sense and American Beauty, Hickenlooper is now actively pursuing a more traditional studio path, and he believes his substantial body of work and experience with stars will provide him an entree into the system. “The independent film scene is so artistically bankrupt in my opinion,” he says, “and clearly I’ve not been accepted by it in the last couple of years. I want to get out of the world of the Kevin Smiths and the Todd Solondzes and just say good riddance. God bless those guys — I’m sure they’re all smart, funny guys — but it’s just not the kind of storytelling I want to do.” Hickenlooper pauses and, in recognition of the polemical nature of his extended rant, calmly concludes: “Let me step off my soapbox now.”

Despite his undeniable anger and frustration, and whatever direction his career path finally takes, Hickenlooper clearly is not intending to retreat into a Wellesian exile. “As long as I can make films, I’ll make films,” he says. “I don’t really see myself going into advertising or going to law school. I love making films, whether or not they’re seen by huge audiences. Of course, it would be nice to be on the radar screen, but I am respected, actors do want to work with me. People will hopefully see these films in time. I go one film at a time.”

And like Blake Pellarin, he continues to grasp for the big brass ring.