Kidman is Campion’s ‘Lady’; Ferrara plays ‘Game’

SITTING PRETTY! There’s a select handful of filmmakers whose very name brings with it palpable anticipation. One expects quality and elegance from Merchant/Ivory, controversy in an Oliver Stone film or Spike Lee Joint and bravura from Bertolucci.

Jane Campion — whose “The Piano” shared top honors at Cannes — is another seemingly assured quality name. Though that film won’t hit these shores till the end of the month, her next project, an adaptation of Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady,” has all the earmarks of a high-pedigree production. The Kiwi filmmaker has lined up Nicole Kidman to play an American heiress who marries a dissolute European on her first trip to the continent.

And, as we all know, talent attracts talent. The rest of the cast is to include William Hurt, Daniel Day-Lewis and Holly Hunter. Laura Jones did the screenplay adaptation and it’s being produced by Propaganda Films, with filming to start in the late spring.

A NUMBER OF WEEKS BACK, Cinefile reported that Abel Ferrara was locking horns with Universal; the iconoclastic filmmaker and the studio were both working on films titled “Snake Eyes.” Ferrara’s picture with Harvey Keitel and Madonna has premiered at the Venice festival. Universal has yet to commit to its “Snake Eyes” but had registered the name with the MPAA.

Honest Abe said everything could be worked out. His distrib, MGM, just wanted to clear the title and open the picture. So, on Nov. 19, the teaming of Keitel and Madonna premieres at New York’s Art Greenwich Theatre in “Abel Ferrara’s Dangerous Game.”

WHAT MAKES HARVEY RUN? We don’t know but just pray it’s legal. Keitel reports to work on Interscope’s “Imaginary Crimes” next week for director Anthony Drazen. It’s the story of a fast-talking hustler trying to raise two young girls after the death of his wife. It co-stars Kelly Lynch, Fairuza Balk and Seymour Cassel.

Then he jumps to “Taxi Dancer” opposite Rosie Perez. That oddball romance from Alex Rockwell includes in its rogue’s gallery Steve Buscemi, Stanley Tucci and Anthony Quinn.

But to truly illustrate the point of Keitel’s prodigious output, casting director Georgianne Walken was recently discussing several projects with a filmmaker. After describing one in particular, the director asked her if she had cast the lead. She had, and it was Keitel. At that point her husband, actor Christopher Walken, turned to her exasperatedly and said, “You cast Harvey!?”

THE AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE is saluting the work of the late filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov this weekend at the DGA on Sunset. Admittedly, Paradjanov isn’t exactly a household name, but he was making Felliniesque films on the Russian steppes even before the maestro got into those wild, swirling, colorful, slightly askew cinematic voyages.

The Armenian-born filmmaker made only eight films over a period of 25 years. Four of his early films are receiving their U.S. premieres at the tribute.

“Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors,” an eye-popping Romeo & Juliet tale set in the Ukraine, remains a memorable film of the ’60s. What subsequently happened to Paradjanov was the subject of much speculation, amid tales of political and religious persecution and rumors he had gone mad. There were legends about a film he had made that Soviet authorities had banned and burned.

In 1977, word spread around the Cannes festival that that “lost” film was going to play in a special screening outside of town. A mad latenight cab ride led to a small youth hostel where “The Color of Pomegranates” was showing. The 16mm print was scratched, with a bad soundtrack and less-than-pristine color. Nonetheless, it was a spellbinder.

Afterwards a group of us were told how it barely survived at all. The film was to be screened in Beirut around 1970 and was sent to the Lebanese Cinematheque. Shortly after it arrived, the film was banned and a telegram was sent requesting the return of the print. But the Lebanese kept it and arranged a deal with the Cinematheque Francaise in which prints would be made and donations made to charitable associations. We were seeing a clandestine print and it would take another decade before “Pomegranates” and dozens of other works would be taken off the forbidden list.

WHAT BEFITS A LEGEND? Some are saying that legendary Manhattan-based uber-agent Sam Cohn is losing his luster. After all, several of his longest-standing and most prominent clients have headed South in the past year. But a prominent writer/director tells us that despite years of friendship with the infamous paper-eating percenter, he’s yet to get the better of him.

Distraught that his calls are routinely unanswered or returned on an untimely basis, the filmmaker was determined to see some fundamental things change in his personal/professional relationship with the agent. He sat down in his L.A. office and wrote Cohn that he was sick and tired of his professional laissez-faire attitude. Something important had arisen and he needed to speak with him by 4 p.m. the following day … or else! He faxed him the missive and, just to be safe, faxed it a second time.

The minutes passed by slowly. But at about 3:45 p.m. the call came from the seasoned rep.

“What’s wrong?” asked Cohn in his most conciliatory tone.

The filmmaker froze. “You returned my call, I can’t believe it,” he gasped. But the urgent issue had vanished from his mind. Grasping for a way out, he blurted, “Let me call you back, Mike Ovitz is on the other line.”

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