Movie star-helmers feel that ‘Bagger’ sag

MEMO TO: Robert Redford
FROM: Peter Bart

HAVING SEEN YOUR LATEST film, Bob, I’d like to ask you the following question: Do you still think movie stars make good directors?

This may sound like a loaded question, but there are issues here worth examining — especially by someone like yourself who has had such an impact on independent filmmaking. After all, you invented Sundance. You’ve never chosen to direct a Sundance-like film, mind you, but that’s beside the point.

Or is it? Perhaps one problem with movies directed by the likes of Kevin Costner, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Mel Gibson et al., is that you all lean toward epics, not intimate, low-budget films. Think about “The Postman,” “Reds,” “Yentl,” “Braveheart” or even your “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

Perhaps there’s something in your collective head that says, “I’m a star, I take up a lot of ego space, my movies should too.”

Ironically, while some of you have achieved great initial success as filmmakers, you’ve had a tough time sustaining your own mythology.

COSTNER WON AN OSCAR for “Dances With Wolves” in 1990, but then fell to earth with “The Postman” seven years later. Streisand seemed to be mastering her craft in “Prince of Tides,” only to lose it in “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

Beatty showed great courage in mounting “Reds” and deserved his Oscar. But his follow-up, “Dick Tracy,” seemed to surrender content to style. It’s hard to erase the memory of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s epitaph to that film in his famous “secret memo” to fellow Disney executives: “The number of hours it required, the amount of anxiety it generated and the amount of dollars that needed to be expended were disproportionate to the amount of success achieved.”

Beatty went on to produce and star in the uniquely vapid “Love Affair,” co-starring his wife, Annette Bening, then directed the brilliant and quirky “Bulworth,” which failed to find its audience.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK to you, Bob. You and Beatty have had remarkably similar career paths, even though you barely know each other. As directors, you’ve both been picky — you’ve directed only six films to his four. As with Beatty, two of your films were riveting — “Ordinary People” and “Quiz Show” — while three, “Milagro Beanfield War,” “A River Runs Through It” and “Bagger Vance,” were downright soporific.

As actors, you’ve both shown amazing durability, though you, Bob, seem insistent on playing the conventional leading man. Beatty has cast himself as the freaky Sen. Bulworth, the slimy Bugsy, the priapic hairdresser in “Shampoo” or, going back to the beginning, as the killer Clyde.

By contrast, Bob, you leaned toward the righteous reporter in “All the President’s Men,” Mr. Clean on skis in “Downhill Racer” and the prototypical lover in “Indecent Proposal.” Directing yourself in the interminable “Horse Whisperer,” you saw to it that the sunlight would permanently illuminate your blonde hair, and immortalize your craggy, back-lit grin.

You put your butt on the line in fostering Sundance, Bob, but you are obsessively self-protective as an artist. At a Sundance press conference, you once declared, “Most important to me is to press home new work and new visions.” Those visions, however, are for others to implement, not yourself.

After all, you’re a franchise while they are merely hungry young filmmakers. Hence, you’ve decided to fixate on the “perfect stroke” in “Bagger Vance” and the “perfect swing” in “The Natural.” It’s as though you’ve anointed yourself as the arbiter of perfection.

I SUPPOSE THE BASIC dilemma of being a movie star, Bob, is that it imposes responsibilities as well as perquisites. All of you can basically make any movie you want. I respected Streisand for taking the risk of making “Yentl,” even though it shed more light on cross-dressing than ethnicity.

Remember, you guys are sending a message to intelligent young actors like Ed Norton who themselves are embarking on careers as actor-directors. Should they use their weight to grind out another “Mission: Impossible” sequel as Tom Cruise did? Or should they try for another “Reds” or “Ordinary People”?

Damn, it’s tough being rich and famous.

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