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R.I.P., George Hickenlooper

October 30, 2010 |  7:37 pm

It feels like it was essentially yesterday that we talked to George Hickenlooper, the director of "Casino Jack," who died suddenly last night at the age of 47.

Hickenlooper was found dead this morning in Denver, where he had traveled to support the gubernatorial campaign of his cousin, John Hickenlooper, and attend this coming week's Starz Denver Film Festival. We'd met and spoken to the filmmaker at last month's Toronto International Film Festival, and he came across as vibrant, candid and articulate in promoting the Kevin Spacey-starring Abramoff biopic, which is scheduled to come out in December.

Hickenlooper The director spoke about his hopes for John's gubernatorial bid in Colorado (it's a tight race, he said, but the poll data was encouraging)  his new project ("How to Make Love Like an Englishman," a drama with Pierce Brosnan about an older professor reevaluating his life, which he was preparing to shoot in November) and his interest in the intersection of politics and idealism.

"There's something unique about the United States, a sense of individual rights and freedoms, and a sense of social and civic responsibility that we contributed to so much of the world," he said. "We lost that mission in the 1980s and 1990s, when we entered a gilded age, and the culture of individualism became a culture of avarice. It's seen in every aspect of our culture. Everything is totally commodified, even in box office. Do you care how many Big Macs McDonald's sold last week? How is that relevant? And that kind of feasting and ravenous thinking has seeped into the pores of our culture such that we've lost a sense of ourselves."

Hickenlooper was an independent filmmaker par excellence, struggling to get movies his way even if they were out of sync with the Hollywood fashion. His best known work, "Hearts of Darkness," which took a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of "Apocalypse Now," documented some of those same struggles, while his 2006 Andy Warhol-Edie Sedgwick movie "Factory Girl" examined the troubled souls and diverse company of an artist. He also directed the documentary "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," about pop impresario Rodney Bingenheimer, and the feature drama "The Man From Elysian Fields," about a novelist who threatens to crack under various pressures.

"It's tough when you're a filmmaker because you go into a studio and they say 'You gotta like a character,' " he said. " 'You gotta sympathize.' And I think 'No you don't.' Travis Bickle -- do you like Travis Bickle? No. But you empathize with his loneliness."

Hickenlooper said that both politics and filmmaking had a tendency to increase one's cynicism, something he thought about a lot after studying and meeting with Abramoff, whom he found flawed and tragic. But he said it was important to fend off those thoughts. "Most people, 95% of people, are good people. It's the 5% who get seduced by power," he said, adding, "Abraham Lincoln said if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Hickenlooper summed up a worldview both pragmatic and ambitious.

"As a storyteller I want my films to entertain -- what is it Louis B. Mayer said, 'if you want to send a message, call Western Union?' -- but I do want them to be worldly and relevant. I'm fascinated by failure, and I'm fascinated by finality. Shakespeare's historical plays are more universal than his comedies because they relate to the finality of life. Without finality, life would not be beautiful."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: George Hickenlooper at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. Credit: Dan Steinberg/AP


Casino Jack director deals a new hand

Kevin Spacey plays Jack Abramoff


Comments () | Archives (15)

The comments to this entry are closed.

It was Samuel Goldwyn who said "If you want to send a message, call Western Union," not Louis B. Mayer.

goodbye georgie...rest in peace buddy...you worked sooo hard!

It is sad to see someone who had so much left to accomplish pass away so suddenly and young. Condolences to the family and friends of this insightful and thoughtful man.

beautiful story

We just saw Casino Jack on Thursday, 10/28/2010 at the close of the Austin Film Festival, and stayed to watch George and Jon Lovitz talk about the film.

He struck me as an intelligent guy, well-versed in filmmaking and not afraid to do it his own way.

Benton Quin - thanks for your know it all expertise. But on a thread where people are leaving their heartfelt thoughts and last farewells, did you really need to be such an insensitive moron?

IMO,he was not the picture of health. I didn't know him personally... but a reminder to eat right, exercise and do all that other (boring) stuff that one needs to do to stay healthy.

@J. Geils: Benton Quin was correcting an error. This poster was not expressing any negativity, like you did.

He was a true talent who passionately pursued his art while exercising an extraordinary generosity of spirit. His vision lives on in his body of work: films that challenge the intellect and refresh one's hopes for the potential of independent cinema. George will be sorely missed.

Lunching in the Park, there was no negativity, just sadness after having read such a selfish post. You have added immeasurably to your own negative karma by joining the ranks of heathen.

George was one of a kind. From the time he was a freshman in high school until my last meeting with him in Toronto in '92 when he previewed Hearts of Darkness and was on his way to huge success, he hadn't changed a bit - sensitive, magnanimous, honest, self-effacing, deep-thinking yet full of childlike wonder. We're all sorry we didn't have more time with you, George! St. Peter, roll out the red carpet!

I met George when he ran craft-service table on a Rodger Corman flick I was acting in.We became friends. He begged me to make documentary on "Texasville". I agreed , forgoing huge salary cut . 50/50 after costs hand shake... I never saw a dime or the where abouts of my film . My brother Sam put George in touch with Coppolas for work on their doc. "Hearts of Darkness". Also Sam gave him script "Big Brass Ring". Saw George briefly at Hollywood Awards. Condolences

George and I were grade school friends. We used to have sleepovers at each others houses. I've watched proudly from afar his career and his success. I am so saddened and shocked by this genuinely good guys sudden death.

@J. Geils - guess this is all about you, huh? Nice hijack. Go back to making catch tunes.

He died "accidentally" mixing alcohol with Oxy? I see...

I was with George the night he died. To all that knew him, take solace in the fact that he went out the way he would have wanted to...partying his ass off.


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