From too many years in and around the movie business, I’ve consciously kept exactly one souvenir. It’s a smallish chip of concrete, about 3” x 4”, with some daubs of red and blue paint.
Ray Stark gave it to me not quite thirty years ago. He was just back from the Berlin Film Festival, which in February of 1990 had opened with Steel Magnolias, directed by Herbert Ross and produced by Stark.
The Berlin Wall had just come down. Stark said one of the Magnolias stars – Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis attended, so it could have been any of them – had nicked this chunk off the tumbling wall in a fit of All-American, freedom-loving exuberance.
How could you throw away something like that? History. The movies. Stars. Ray Stark. All mixed up in one little piece of cement.
There might be other mementos around the house. An old Rolodex card with five or six numbers for the late Ned Tanen. A fake oak leaf from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit town set in New Zealand.
But that’s just stuff that hangs around. The Berlin Wall chunk is something I actually kept, like a moon rock, because it is so unlikely, so loaded with story, and so deeply representative of what film has meant to the last century. As the Cold War ended, an entirely nonpolitical picture about the life, love and death of a young woman in America’s Deep South was already binding hearts on both sides of a global divide.
I mean, wow. When the movies are good, they are unstoppable.
Which leads me to believe there is hope, still, for the much-delayed film museum being built by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. With the departure of Kerry Brougher as director, some new guiding hand will soon be in place.
This next leader will have to address what has always been the toughest question about an institution devoted to an art as ephemeral as film: That is, what do you actually put inside?
Along with those exhibits presenting the art of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and the history of black cinema, I hope the new director is clever enough to reserve a patch of the attic for backstories. It doesn’t have to be large. But it could be crammed with artifacts – some as small as a chunk of the Berlin Wall – that would drag a thoughtful visitor deep into the crazy, weirdly powerful culture of film. There could be good things, and bad things. Darryl Zanuck’s casting couch. Lew Wasserman’s suits. A piece of the mural from Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope office. Roman Polanski’s court filings. Warren Beatty’s phone number. Tanen’s executive notes on American Graffiti. The mirrors from Stallone’s Rocky work-out ring. A menu from Chasen’s. The blanket Carrie Fisher brought to pitch meetings (or so they say). Any recipe from Nora Ephron. Sam Arkoff’s cigars (Six of them spilled out of his pockets into my car once.) The “Reality Ends Here” sidewalk from USC. Michael Ovitz threats. The Eszterhas letter. Culver City dust. Sunlight from the Golden Hour.
Anything, actually, to remind us how amazing the movies really are.