The AFI Fest tribute to David O. Russell climaxed with a screening of the opening six minutes of “American Hustle.” Awards possibilities? Let’s just say the audience had waited in line for a long time, then the tribute was delayed an hour due to tech “fine-tuning,” and the sequence was stopped midway due to sound problems, then started over again — and, despite all that, it played like gangbusters.
You can’t judge a film from just a glimpse, but the segment offered reasons for high hopes, displaying the Russell trademarks: zero exposition, sharp below-the-line work, interesting use of music and casting against type. The sequence showed a paunchy, hairpiece-wearing Bale, agitated Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams as an English-accented sexpot working to entrap a city mayor, played by a hilariously pompadoured Jeremy Renner.
Before the tribute, which was scheduled to start at 9 p.m., Russell was feted at a reception at the Roosevelt Hotel, where celebrants included two of his Oscar winners, Jennifer Lawrence and Melissa Leo, and Jane Fonda. The small space was also jam-packed with collaborators on the film, who were smiling that the picture had been locked on Thursday, and they were now tweaking audio and music.
The tribute at the Egyptian Theater started with brief clips of his previous films. In a Q&A, Russell said he’s proud of all his work, but feels like the last three — “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Hustle” — are different. “I’ve finally found the kind of films I want to make.” He took a six-year hiatus after the 2004 “I Heart Huckabees” and found his voice: “I went through a period when I thought too much.”
The interview displayed the traits of his filmmaking style, where his philosophy is to “stay loose,” experiment and treat the film team as a family. Like his films, his anecdotes mixed seriousness with humor, and a lot of spontaneity (he fretted about the “wildly uncomfortable” chairs onstage and the microphone humming). While the main focus was on his films, he also offered such tidbits as the fact that he used to run a bingo parlor in Maine, that he was in Central America during the Contra wars, and that Lawrence auditioned for “Silver Linings” via Skype. He also did impressions of Lionel Barrymore, Christian Bale as Batman and Robert De Niro (“one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met”).
Variety‘s Jenelle Riley moderated, and brought onstage, for brief comments, the film’s producers Jonathan Gordon, Charles Roven and Richard Suckle, editor Jay Cassidy, costume designer Michael Wilkinson (who got applause, based on work seen in the trailers) and music supervisor Susan Jacobs. Cooper sent a video message via his iPhone.
Also in attendance were Columbia’s Doug Belgrad and Hannah Minghella and editors Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten.