David Weisman, an Academy Award nominee as producer of Kiss of the Spider Woman and an accomplished graphic artist, died on October 9 from complications from neuroinvasive West Nile virus. He died in Los Angeles at Cedars Sinai at age 77, according to his publicist.
Born in Binghamton, New York, in March 1942, Weisman attended Syracuse University’s School of Fine Arts in the early 1960’s. Inspired by the classic Italian film La Dolce Vita and armed with a gift for languages, Weisman dropped out of college to design film-posters in Rome. There he met Federico Fellini, for whom he created a poster for 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo).
Returning to New York, he collaborated with Otto Preminger, who asked him to create the title sequence for Hurry Sundown. He then became Preminger’s assistant on the film. Weisman also designed the key art for The Boys in the Band, among many others.
In 1967, with a splinter-group from Andy Warhol’s Factory, Weisman began the five year long production of the “aboveground-underground” cult classic Ciao! Manhattan, which he co-wrote and co-directed with Warhol alumnus John Palmer. A “chronicle-à-clef” about sixties-icon Edie Sedgwick, the film features Sedgwick, Roger Vadim and Factory luminaries Brigid Berlin, Viva and Paul America.
Weisman then worked as associate director on Nelson Lyon’s avant-garde film The Telephone Book and created an English-language film edited from a series of Japanese samurai-movies, which was successfully released as Shogun Assassin by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.
Weisman’s long collaboration with Leonard Schrader began on The Killing of America, a feature documentary about the evolution of US violence, which Weisman wrote with Leonard Schrader and Chieko Schrader. Schrader’s background in Latin American literature and Weisman’s familiarity with South America from his many travels prompted them to look for a film project they could make below the equator.
In 1982, using his proceeds from a re-release of Ciao! Manhattan, Weisman acquired the screen rights to Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and developed the screenplay with Schrader. They began pre-production on the film with Burt Lancaster, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga in the lead roles. But in October 1983, as director Hector Babenco commenced filming in São Paulo, Brazil, William Hurt replaced an ailing Lancaster.
When Babenco himself suffered a health crisis in 1984, Weisman completed the film’s editing with Schrader. Post-production took an arduous fourteen months, much of it, for lack of funds, done in Weisman’s Los Angeles home. He was obliged to re-dub most of the film’s dialogue, re-cut the negative, and mix the soundtrack twice before Kiss of the Spider Woman was accepted as an Official Selection In Competition at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, where William Hurt won the Best Actor award.
The film, released that fall by independent distributor Island Alive, broke box office records in New York and went on to gross nearly $18 million, at that time an unheard-of sum for an independent film title. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture (the first independently released film to do so), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and the 1986 Oscar for Best Actor went to William Hurt.
In 1988, Weisman produced Paul Morrissey’s comedy Spike of Bensonhurst, starring Sasha Mitchell, Ernest Borgnine and Sylvia Miles. Weisman also produced Leonard Schrader’s directorial debut, Naked Tango, a love-story set in the bordellos of 1920’s Buenos Aires starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Mathilda May, Esai Morales and Fernando Rey.
Weisman spent a great deal of the 1990’s conducting new interviews with friends, colleagues, and fans of Edie Sedgwick in preparation for a documentary on her. In 2006, he co-authored a book with Melissa Painter for Chronicle Books about Edie called Edie: Girl on Fire. He recently won a lawsuit giving him the publicity rights to Sedgwick’s name and likeness.
In recent years, he developed several projects with Paul Schrader; one titled Little K, based on a best-selling book by Adrienne Sharp, about a pre-revolutionary prima ballerina at the Bolshoi who had an infamous affair with Czar Nicholas II. Another, titled Xtreme City, is a Hollywood-Bollywood fusion film which he developed with Shahrukh Khan. With collaborator Caleb Mann, he had also developed a streaming series, Space Brothers, based on a popular Japanese manga by the same name.
Weisman is survived by his brother, film and television director Sam Weisman, sister-in-law Constance McCashin, nephew Daniel Weisman, and niece Margaux Weisman.
A memorial celebration is in the planning stages under the guidance of Weisman’s co-executors, Chase Mellen III and Jim Thompson. Donations in Weisman’s memory can be made to: Savetigersnow.org, which is a joint effort of the World Wildlife Fund and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
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