William Lustig, Robert Forster and Company on the Making of ‘Vigilante’

Vigilante movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: It was a shock to learn of Robert Forster’s death on October 11, 2019 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 78 years old. I remain in awe of his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” for which he deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as he was able to convey so much while doing so little. Having bumped into him once at New Beverly Cinema, I can also confirm he could not have been a nicer guy.

The following article is about a screening which took place at New Beverly Cinema back in 2010 in which Forster was one of the main guests, and I present here in his memory. RIP Robert.

Filmmaker William Lustig appeared at the Grindhouse Film Festival at New Beverly Cinema to talk about his 1983 “Death Wish” exploitation knock off, “Vigilante.” Joining Lustig for this Q&A were some of the film’s stars: Robert Forster, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Frank Pesce. For these four men, the evening was full of laughs and great memories as they discussed the making of this movie which was shot in what they called the “real New York” with blue collar workers and all.

The print of “Vigilante” being shown was from Lustig’s own collection and was over twenty years old. The color was pretty faded which the director apologized for. While they could have shown a digital copy of it instead, he was quick to remark, “The great thing about going to the Grindhouse is the prints, warts and all.”

Forster said he got cast thanks to Pesce and Lustig who remembered him from another movie Lustig made called “Alligator.” The role of factory worker Eddie Marino was originally given to Tony Musante who later turned it down by saying he did not want to work with “those guys.” Forster said the three guys onstage with him did more for his career than anybody, and he also got four or five film roles from Pesce alone as well as a set of golf clubs which he still uses.

Forster also had a very positive overview regarding his career as an actor:

“I never ever worried about the jobs I didn’t do. Every single movie I’ve done has been instructive to me in its own way.”

Pesce said he was also responsible for getting Williamson cast in “Vigilante,” but Williamson saw it a bit differently:

“I don’t remember how I got involved and I don’t give a damn!”

Suffice to say, Williamson was the coolest guy in the theater on this evening.

Pesce also gleefully told one story about the scene between him and Williamson where he was chasing him and they get separated by a chain link fence. Between takes, Pesce asked Lustig, “Should I spit through the fence at Fred?” “Do what you want to do,” Lustig replied.

So Pesce did what his instincts told him to do, the director yelled cut, and afterwards Williamson went up to Lustig and told him point blank, “Cut the spit.” Williamson’s reasoning in saying this to the director was very blunt:

“You don’t do that to a brother!”

Lustig also got Williamson to talk about some of the ad libs he came up with on set like when he was asked what he thought about capital punishment:

“Do you think anyone really misses Ted Bundy?”

Pesce also remarked how the scene with the guy in the wheelchair he pushed over was actually an homage to a similar one with Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death.”

“Vigilante” may not be great cinema, but watching it with an audience was highly entertaining and we were lucky enough to have Lustig, Forster, Pesce and Williamson on hand to talk about it. Lustig summed it up best:

“There always seems to be a need for retribution movies.”

 

 

Before ‘The Hurt Locker,’ Kathryn Bigelow Gave Us These Movies

Kathryn Bigelow photo

You only need to see one film directed by Kathryn Bigelow to know that few, if any, other directors can create such an unrelentingly intense movie going experience the way she can. Bigelow didn’t win the Best Director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” because she is a woman. She won it because she made a war movie which was unlike many we saw at the time. She gave us yet another intense war movie with “Zero Dark Thirty” which looks at the decade long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. It won the New York Film Critics’ Awards for Best Film and Best Director, and it maintains a strong level of intensity from start to finish.

But the truth is Bigelow has always been a great director, and her talent behind the camera has never been in doubt. Whether it’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Point Break” or “Detroit,” her films keep us on the edge of our seats throughout and barely give us a moment to breathe. If you enjoyed these movies, here are some of her other efforts which deserve your attention.

The Loveless movie poster

“The Loveless”

This 1982 film marked Bigelow’s feature film directorial debut, and she co-directed it with Monty Montgomery, the actor who played the Cowboy in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” “The Loveless” stars Willem Dafoe and tells the story of a motorcycle gang that makes a pit stop in a small southern town while on their way to Daytona. Once they arrive, however, trouble starts brewing when the gang starts fancying the female locals.

Blue Underground, which released a special edition of “The Loveless” on DVD, called it “the thinking man’s biker movie.” Whether you agree with this assessment or not, Bigelow does give us many beautiful images of leather and chrome, and she does show a love for the look of neon lights as well.

Blue Steel movie poster

“Blue Steel”

Bigelow’s 1989 action thriller next because was the first movie of hers which I watched, and I was absolutely stunned by her unflinching style of direction. The always terrific Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Megan Turner, a rookie New York City police officer who shoots and kills a grocery store robber (played by Tom Sizemore) on her first day. But while staring in shock at what she has done, New York Stock Exchange trader Eugene Hunt (the late Ron Silver) grabs the suspect’s gun and uses it to go on a psychotic killing spree.

What looks like your average police thriller ends up turning out to be a far more violent and unsettling movie than you might expect. Silver gives us one of the craziest and most unhinged psychopaths ever to appear on the silver screen, and Bigelow gives the action sequences a thrill as vicious as it is visceral. Regardless of “Blue Steel” having a plot which has been used over and over, it still stays with me years after having seen it as Bigelow doesn’t shy away from the violent natures of Curtis’ and Silver’s characters.

Near Dark movie poster

“Near Dark”

Forget the “Twilight” films, this is a real vampire movie! Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) gets up close and personal with the beautiful Mae (Jenny Wright) only to be bitten on the neck by her. It soon turns out Mae is a bloodsucking vampire who travels from town to town with her extended vampire family which includes actors Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Joshua John Miller. They end up taking Caleb in once he has become one of them, and this forces him to make some tough decisions which he may not be able to live with.

“Near Dark” was a box office disappointment upon its release, but it has since gained a large and deserved cult following. Bigelow, along with cinematographer Adam Greenberg, gives the film such a beautiful look which is aided by one of the many great Tangerine Dream film scores of the 1980s. Its best scene comes when the vampire gang visits a bar in the middle of nowhere, and Bigelow does a literally bloody good job in how she stages it.

Strange Days movie poster

“Strange Days”

Like “Near Dark,” “Strange Days” was a box office failure which has since gained a cult following over the years. Co-written by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron, it stars Ralph Fiennes as a former cop who deals in SQUID equipment, devices which record images taken directly from an individual’s cerebral cortex. When those images are played back, it allows the user to experience a person’s memory as if they are living it themselves.

This concept allows Bigelow to stage some exhilarating point of view action sequences which must have been insanely difficult to choreograph and put together. While it may be tempting to compare “Strange Days” to other futuristic movies which show a major city in peril, this film really has its own unique look. And like your typical Bigelow movie, you don’t watch it as much as you experience it.

K19 The Widowmaker movie poster

“K-19: The Widowmaker”

Okay, I know many had issues with Harrison Ford’s and Liam Neeson’s accents and of the liberties taken with the movie’s true story, but I still think “K-19: The Widowmaker” is a far better movie than people give it credit for. It’s no “Das Boot,” but Bigelow mines a lot of raw emotion out of the story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine. This comes about when the ship’s reactor malfunctions to where it will explode if the temperature to continues to climb, and members of the crew are dispatched to work on the reactor while wearing chemical suits which do far too little to protect them from severe radiation sickness (“they might as well wear raincoats,” says Neeson’s character).

Watching these young men essentially sacrifice their own lives in order to prevent World War III is devastating to witness, and Bigelow makes you respect their selfless act to where you cannot help but be on the verge of tears while watching them go into a room they will not come out of in one piece.

Kathryn Bigelow