by George Hickenlooper on Oct 30, 2020

Originally published in St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase program, July 2002

Short Films, 1979-84

While attending St. Louis University High School (1978-82), there was a group of young cinema buffs who spent much of their free time making Super8 films and attending the Tivoli Theatre watching cool, old movies. Those who were active in this clique included me, Steve Goedde, Bill Boll, Chris Curtis, Mike Pfefferkorn, Doug Hart, Jonathan Perkins, Tom Hagale, Lisa Rassman, Tim Gallagher, Michael Beugg, and James Gunn.

All the following Super8 films are silent and were shot on a Nizo Super8 camera with a Schneider lens. All of these were two-men productions, with me shooting and Steve Goedde either starring or providing invaluable production assistance. All the films were financed by my father, George Hickenlooper Sr., who bought me the Nizo camera from St. Louis Photo in the fall of 1979. Without his encouragement and unwavering financial support, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pursue filmmaking as a career. During this period in high school, I completed more than 20 Super8 shorts, most of which are not worth showing. These are among the better ones:

“Introduction” (1984, 2 min.): While I was in college getting bloated on modernity, Marxism, Andre Bazin, and the French New Wave, I did this parody of all those things I found annoying about postmodernism. I play myself introducing a program of my own short films that I made in high school. This introduction was part of a larger video program called Fifty-Five Minutes at Cafe Hickenlooper. It was shot in New Haven in the fall of 1984. The girl is Liesl Schillinger. Today she lives in New York, where she is a staff writer for The New Yorker.

“Telefission” (1979, 8 min.): This is technically my first completed live-action film. Steve Goedde stars as a young media junkie who doesn’t know when enough is enough. This was shot on school nights in Steve’s house in Maplewood, much to his parents’ dismay.

“A Black and White Film” (1981, 5 min.): This film was my commentary on the poor race relations that I feel had always existed in St. Louis. The short starred two of St. Louis U. High's best actors at the time, Kip Loui and Tom Miller. I had seen them perform in a one-act version of David Mamet’s Duck Variations (the first time I had ever heard Mamet) and was blown away. I cast them immediately. We shot this during a weekend at the intersection of Manchester and Hanley roads.

“Ground Zero” (1982, 10 min.): After Ronald Reagan became president and the Soviet Union once again became the Evil Empire (which I actually believe it was), the ominous cloud of nuclear Armageddon began to hang over our daily lives at St. Louis U. High. It wasn’t quite the “duck and cover” mentality of the 1950s, but it was close. This short was my thought on the subject. Both Steve Goedde and Bill Boll were instrumental in the making of this film.

“A Day in the Life” (1981, 5 min.): The Vietnam War was my first political memory and has made an indelible impression on me in every aspect of my life. Both my parents were actively involved in the antiwar movement, so much of my childhood was spent watching my mother spearhead political demonstrations while we lived in San Francisco. The Beatles are my first popular-culture memory, so in high school I decided to marry these two major influences in my life. The short was shot in January 1981 over a few very cold days in Forest Park and Jefferson Barracks. Tom Hagale and Steve Goedde star in what I still consider one of my best films.

“Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade” (1994, 25 min.)

After the success of Hearts of Darkness, I befriended Billy Bob Thornton, who at the time was a struggling actor and screenwriter. We became close friends who shared a love of baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals. In the summer of 1993, we collaborated on this short, which eventually became the foundation for the Oscar-winning feature Sling Blade. I was originally set to direct the feature and was actively involved with its development. However, contrary to what has been written in the media, I terminated my relationship with Billy Bob Thornton and declined to direct the film for personal reasons. It’s a long story that can be heard in a documentary about the making of the short, available on the DVD of “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade.” The short stars Billy Bob Thornton, Molly Ringwald, the late, great J.T. Walsh, Jefferson Mays, Suzanne Cryer, and Ron Livingston. Enjoy.