Living Life, One Hollywood Line At A Time (Homage to Frank Pierson)

Posted on July 23, 2012. Filed under: Media Commentary, Movies, Society, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: AtomicPope)

Memorable movie lines such as this come along rarely: “What we got here is failure to communicate.” Frank Pierson wrote that line while creating the script for Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 film that starred Paul Newman as a southern prison chain-gang member.

Pierson died today Hollywood writer dies. He also wrote the script for Dog Day Afternoon, and perhaps most unfortunately for him published a piece in the old New West magazine about the behind-the-scenes goings-on of Barbra Streisand, Jon Peters and Kris Kristofferson during the filming of A Star Is Born. Then as now, spilling the beans about the real lives of Hollywood heroes got you nothing but trouble with the studios.

Who among us, has never felt the urge to utter that line about the failure to communicate in response to a communications breakdown? (“Communications breakdown,” in itself a phrase made memorable by Led Zeppelin.)

Were You Paying Attention?

Hollywood, by God, supplies ready-made answers to a lot of our problems, personal and societal.

For example, one response to someone observing that “what we have is failure to communicate” is “You can’t handle the truth!” as mouthed by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.

Supposing you can’t handle the truth? It’s not the end of the world. Not if you’ve got good drugs, or, as Lily Tomlin put it, “Reality is a crutch for those who can’t handle drugs.”

Don’t Let The Unreal Get You Down.

Don’t take that flight from reality too far, though. Beautiful as life may look through rose-colored glasses, it’s also true that beauty can be a killer as seen in the demise of the love-addled ape in King Kong (“It was beauty killed the beast.”).

However, “Love is a many splendored thing,” as noted in the 1955 film of the same name.

Still, if love doesn’t work, we can still be friends, can’t we? “I found out what the secret to life is: friends. Best friends,” says Ninny (Jessica Tandy)  in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Girl Can’t Be Too Careful.

It might be easy for some to find friends, but caution must sometimes still be observed, especially in certain cities. “That’s a nice girl, that. But she ought to go careful in Vienna. Everybody ought to go careful in a city like this,” says Popescu in 1949’s The Third Man.

The same could be said about New Orleans, as Blanche DuBois (“I have always trusted in the kindness of strangers”) discovers in A Streetcar Named Desire. Although it was not strangers but her own sister’s husband, Stanley Kowalski — he who is famously “not a Polack” — who does her in.

A man’s got to know his limitations, according to no less an authority than Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force). So it is that I have come to the limit of my blogging time today.

Before I go, let’s go one more quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Straight out of the mouth of the gumptious hero of Forrest Gump and I’ll add that the same is true for writing. Sit down at a keyboard and start typing away, you never know what you’re going to get. Maybe something like this blog post, sometimes.

You could have asked Frank Pierson. His greatest one-liner just appeared on the page one day when he was working on the Cool Hand Luke script.

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