My Republican friends do not like Ted Cruz. They say he is a devious and unpleasant character unpopular within his own party. My Democrat friends do not like Ted Cruz: he is a Republican. Yet the Texas Senator has come up with a proposal which seems eminently sensible. In April he introduced legislation which he called the Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity and Protecting Talkies Act – SCRIPTA – which would free Hollywood studios from having to submit to multiple forms of state censorship.

Rejoice, Hollywood! For surely this is good news. In theory, of course, the studios don’t have to submit to any kind of censorship – not since Roger Corman and AIP broke the back of the Production Code some six decades ago. But in practice, the reader will be shocked to learn, over the last few years Hollywood has been subject to censorship from not just one, but two, powerful sources.

The first is the Pentagon. For, in order to gain access to a smorgasbord of military goodies – tanks, planes, uniforms, permission to shoot at Camp Pendleton – the studios must submit their scripts, and make changes. Let us assume that the scripts are the usual war-mongering, platidudinous balderdash that Hollywood invariably offers up. No matter! The military brass can always identify some problems: too much swearing, perhaps. Or not enough diversity to satisfy current recruitment aspirations. Or no hand sanitizers in the CIA torture chamber. So there will be changes made.

Fair enough. Hollywood isn’t going to make an anti-war movie any time soon so it probably doesn’t matter if TOP BUN 2 puts on a few extra pounds of patriotism. And the rewards are great! Free stuff for the studios! Well, not free, really, as we the taxpayers pay for it. But hey, that’s not what Ted Cruz is complaining about.

Cruz’s SCRIPTA bill points out that, after receiving US taxpayer largesse from the Army or the CIA, the studios shoot part of the picture in China, with Chinese producing partners, and/or distribute the finished film there. And in order to do this, they – you’ve guessed it! – have to submit the script to Chinese state censors. Not just the script – the finished film itself has to be screened for the Chinese censors, and, if required, further changes must be made. An example given in Variety is from TOP BUN 2, co-financed by China’s Tencent Pictures, where the wardrobe department had sewn the flags of Taiwan and Japan on the back of Tom Cruise’s flight jacket. A complaint from China, and they were digitally removed.

The same thing happened on the remake of RED DAWN, where the Chinese invaders had to be digitally converted into North Koreans. Ted Cruz is tired of this stuff, and the way it impacts our “talkies”. His legislation proposes that any film which submits to Pentagon censorship cannot submit to Chinese censorship as well.

Let the bells of freedom ring! Strangely, Variety is less than enthusiastic, reporting that “the Script Act asks American companies to give Congress a list of all titles submitted to Chinese authorities for approval in the past decade for review — “Good luck with that,” laughs one top film executive with deep ties to China — but more troubling is its prohibiting studios engaged in co-productions with Chinese companies from accessing government assets.

“Chinese regulations require that there is only one version of a finished Chinese film, meaning that the version of a co-produced movie released in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere should be the same as the one censored for Chinese audiences.”

It’s worth reading that last sentence a second time, since it appears that the Hollywood studios, in order to gain access to a very large market and make more money — have agreed to submit all co-produced films to worldwide Chinese censorship. So if you make a “talkie” for Disney, and Disney make a coproduction deal with Tencent, Disney must submit your script to the Chinese government for prior approval, and the version that Beijing approves is the one that you must shoot, and the only one which can be screened anywhere.

Possibly, it could be said that Cruz isn’t sincere. That his attempt to save our talkies will go nowhere, and is just part of a bi-partisan campaign of China-bashing. This may be so. Yet it seems to me that Cruz’s proposal is useful, throwing light on a very serious problem: a covert, internationalized film censorship regime. The official journal of our industry doesn’t seem to have a problem with multiple censorship regimes and their impact on the quality of the art, yet only offers up anonymous responses:

“What are they going to do, demand copies of each draft of each movie script? Gimme a break!” laughs one veteran exec.”

But why not? The studios provide the Pentagon with copies of each draft of every script. They provide the Chinese censor with a similar package, and a screening of the finished film. They can deliver the same materials to Cruz’s office. And if this whole deal is just a storm in a teacup, political grandstanding, why can’t Variety find an American producer who’s willing to go on the record, to talk about it?

[Next week I’m going to write about plans for reopening film production during the pandemic. But first I must do more research…]

Oh… if you would like to support independent cinema and watch a couple of my old flicks, the Texas Theatre in Dallas is streaming a double bill of EL PATRULLERO and STRAIGHT TO HELL. Kino Lorber, the distributor, is splitting the gate with them, so as with the IFS and Loft online screenings, your support keeps independent theaters (and distributors) alive! Thank you.


It’s always a pleasure to visit the Pearl of the Pacific and at the end of next week I’ll be in Hollywood CA to present four fims at the American Cinematheque: EL PATRULLERO (HIGHWAY PATROLMAN) and WALKER on Friday 15 March; and REPO MAN and TOMBSTONE RASHOMON on Saturday 16 March. Both screenings start at 1930hrs at the Egyptian Theater.

This is the LA premiere of TOMBSTONE RASHOMON and also of the new 4K transfer of EL PATRULLERO, which got a very nice write-up from J. Hoberman. I’m hoping that Lorenzo O’Brien, who wrote and produced EL PATRULLERO and produced WALKER, will be there on Friday, if his NARCOS duties permit.

The REPO and TOMBSTONE screening may be of interest since it’s a double bill of my first feature – released 35 years ago; US rights just reverted to me! – and my most recent one. An opportunity to see if I’ve improved, or only got worse.

There will be a Q&A between shows on both evenings. (UPDATE: The first evening was attended by my dear friend Zander Schloss, composer of EL PATRULLERO and Strummer’s partner on the WALKER soundtrack. Dick Rude and Olivia Barash from REPO MAN and Eric Schumacher and Rogelio Camarillo from TOMBSTONE RASHOMON were present the following evening, as were Lorenzo, and Merritt Crocker, producer of TOMBSTONE. Thanks for your presence, and to the American Cinematheque for two great evenings.)

10000Ways-1.1Also! Entirely unconnected, I’ve completed the second edition of my Italian Western book, TEN THOUSAND WAYS TO DIE, which will be coming out from Kamera Books later in the year. Just received this attractive piece of cover art, in my favourite colour.


VANISHING POINT is a road movie made in 1971. I saw it years ago, and had a brief and enlightening email exchange with the original author of the tale, Malcolm Hart. On my shelf of DVDs sat the Japanese “King Records” double disk version, assembled by the great Japanese cineaste Katsumi Ishikuma… So I took it down, peeled off the shrinkwrap and opened it up.

There are two versions – the American release version, and the UK version, which is a little longer and contains a splendid scene in which the taciturn protagonist, Kowalski, picks up a hitchhiker, played by Charlotte Rampling. Like the beautiful lady who tells Toby Dammitt “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time” it is pretty clear that she is Death. It seems like the American producers really didn’t get the film. For Richard Zanuck, the child studio head, it was a low-budget way of showcasing a muscle car and paying off some debts to his pals. But Zanuck’s parents fired him during the production – according to the director, Richard Sarafian, whose commentary is spendidly disgruntled and old-school – and took over the studio to make it safe for HELLO DOLLY and their real films.

Which was unfortunate, since VANISHING POINT is a very good picture, which – if Sarafian is correct – was the first road movie to feature the extreme telephoto shot of cars approaching out of the heat haze, a shot now de rigeur in all road movies made since, including DUEL, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, and my own EL PATRULLERO.


The authorship issue… Malcolm Hart, who wrote the original screenplay, is credited with quite a demeaning title card: “Original Story Idea by…” Instead, the screenwriter is identified as one Guillermo Kane. In his commentary, the director recalls Kane as creating the Super Soul character (who was supposed to be a Latino disk jockey named Super Spic – an idea which didn’t go far). One of his pursuing policemen makes a joke about Kowalski taking the car to Cuba, which perhaps might be attributed to Kane – who was in fact the Cuban author Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

VANISHING POINT was green-lit by 20th Century Fox in order to do “some people” favours. One of the recipients was Barry Newman, who wasn’t the director’s choice: Sarafian wanted Gene Hackman. Newman is fine in the role, but he wasn’t a big star and Sarafian is adamant that his casting was done to please some associates of Fox… The car itself – a Dodge Challanger – was imposed on the picture. Chrysler/Dodge had been in the habit of loaning cars to the studio for a dollar a day. The director didn’t get to choose the Challenger: it was a done deal.

I think the presence of Cabrera Infante falls into the same category. The author, recently defected from Cuba, had been the Revolution’s Minister of Culture. He was a big catch for the Americans. Political defections may occur for various reasons, and one is the desire for a better material existence in the United States. When a high-ranking politician jumps ship there’s plenty of negotiation as to the pay-off they’ll receive. English wasn’t his first language, and he has almost no other script credits. But so what? A writing credit on a Hollywood movie would be a good way for him to receive one of his CIA pay-offs…

Go on, tell me it isn’t so! CIA and the Pentagon would never involve themselves in Hollywood movies, would they?

But my main thought about VANISHING POINT is how great it might have been. It’s a good film, of course, particularly in its beginning and at the end. Barry Newman and the Challenger carry the film. It is buoyed up by some fantastic stunt work and the splendid photography of John Alonso. And it is weighed down by a series of encounters with eccentric, unbelievable characters.

The vice of VANISHING POINT is its failure to follow through on its premise: that Kowalski is all alone. Kowalski, as we are shown him, has no friends he can rely on (other than to score him drugs). He is literally only about speed – in the sense of the amphetamines which keep him awake and kill his judgement, and in the unbeatable velocity of his white muscle car. This makes him a very, very interesting character. The flashbacks which fill in his back story (girlfriend dead in surfing accident! the only honest cop on the Venice police force!) are unconvincing and unnecessary. So are almost all his interactions on the road – with gay stickup artists, with an old prospector, with a revivalist minister, with a naked woman and her goofy boyfriend – who cares about these?

If you’ve seen the film, imagine it without them – yes, even without the nude biker girl. Imagine Kowalski all alone, with just his car and the voice of Super Soul on the radio. Imagine all those interactions and sideshows gone — just Kowalski, pursued from state line to state line by different armies of cops, escaping all of them — headed for his meeting with Charlotte Rampling, the hitchhiking Angel of Death.

What a film that would have been!

How many talking pictures had an entirely mute protagonist? I can only think of a couple – IL GRANDE SILENZIO (what if Corbucci had directed this film?) and COCKFIGHTER (where TWO-LANE BLACKTOP director Monte Hellman directed Warren Oates in an almost-entirely silent role). Both pictures are excellent – as is the first act of PARIS TEXAS, which Harry Dean Stanton plays in a similar vein.

Malcolm Hart told me that Kowalski didn’t die in his first script. Facing a road block of police cars and bulldozers, Kowalski put pedal to the metal… and drove right through ’em. The last shot was of Kowalski at the wheel, smiling to himself as the muscle car flies on through the stratosphere.

(Years later, that would be the ending of REPO MAN, of course… But did Otto and Bud follow Kowalski to the Other Side? Or will they return? We’ll have to wait for REPO MAN 2, in 2019, to figure that one out…)

Fascinating in addition to the film itself was the map included with the Japanese DVDs — for it is the map of my commute from Oregon to Colorado – via Highway 50 (“Loneliest Road in America”) and the Interstate through Green River and Glenwood Springs. In 1971 there was no Interstate though Glenwood Canyon, just a two-lane highway, and it’s tremendous to see how that iconic canyon looked before all that concrete got cantilevered in there. Whereas Austin, Nevada, home of the Serbian International Hotel, looks exactly the same.

I’ll be taking that commute one more time, soon, even though I’m no longer teaching at CU Boulder — for the launch party of my next film, TOMBSTONE RASHOMON.

What (I hope you ask) is TOMBSTONE RASHOMON? All will be revealed on 27 August, when the new crowdfunding campaign goes live. Unlike BILL this will be a commercial feature, and we plan to pay the cast and crew (imagine that!). And it will be quite unlike any other film about certain events in Tombstone, AZ, as you’ll see…

For now, if you’re around at the end of August, I’d like to invite you to join me and my esteemed producer, Merritt Crocker, in Boulder for a beer to celebrate the launch of the campaign. Venue and date of this exciting event to follow…

And if you ever felt an urge to tear the t-shirt of the director’s back, rewards this time will include my personal collection of production t-shirts from REPO MAN on…

My Way t-shirt from REPO MAN

Love Kills London t-shirt

Love Kills London t-shirt