By Tim Pelan
After ‘The Last Temptation’ was cancelled in ’83, I had to get myself back in shape. Work out. And this was working out. First ‘After Hours,’ on a small scale. The idea was that I should be able, if ‘Last Temptation’ ever came along again, to make it like ‘After Hours,’ because that’s all the money I’m gonna get for it. Then the question was: Are you going to survive as a Hollywood filmmaker? Because even though I live in New York, I’m a “Hollywood director.” Then again, even when I try to make a Hollywood film, there’s something in me that says, “Go the other way.” With ‘The Color of Money,’ working with two big stars, we tried to make a Hollywood movie. Or rather, I tried to make one of my pictures, but with a Hollywood star: Paul Newman. That was mainly making a film about an American icon. That’s what I zeroed in on. I’m mean, Paul’s face! You know, I’m always trying to get the camera to move fast enough into an actor’s face—a combination of zoom and fast track—without killing him! Well, in ‘The Color of Money’ there’s the first time Paul sees Tom Cruise and says, “That kid’s got a dynamite break,” and turns around and the camera comes flying into his face. Anyway, that night, we looked at the rushes and saw four takes of this and said, “That man’s gonna go places! He’s got a face!” —Martin Scorsese
The Color of Money (1986) is another film, like The King of Comedy and Raging Bull, where director Martin Scorsese had to be flattered, cajoled, coerced into taking it on by a leading man with a taste for the material. In this case, star Paul Newman was keen to revisit his character from The Hustler, pool shark Fast Eddie Felson, twenty-five years on, a little older, kidding himself he’s a little wiser, still with that hunger in his belly for the snap of the cue and the thunder of the break. Newman was a huge fan of Raging Bull and thought the director could bring that same kinetic energy to the pool hall backrooms and big TV tournaments Eddie and protege Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) graduate to. He wrote Scorsese a flattering letter suggesting he could do something with the 1984 sequel novel by The Hustler author Walter Tevis. It worked, even though it was seen as a “one for them” Scorsese film (“Play for play,” In Vincent’s easy-going love of the game manner), garnering Newman a long-delayed Oscar in the leading man category in a film critics were nevertheless a little lukewarm on. Siskel and Ebert in their TV show laid the blame, perhaps unfairly, squarely on the script by novelist Richard Price, with “predictable” tropes of the old pro and the problematic protege. Tevis had taken a stab at it himself originally, but amongst other things Newman wasn’t keen on the original take on Eddie’s career path. When he wasn’t playing comeback classic tournament matches alongside his old rival Minnesota Fats (played in the 1961 Robert Rossen film by Jackie Gleason) he had a lame job selling furs, as aI recall—in the final film Eddie is a traveling salesman, selling premium bourbon to bars, the better to scope raw talent he can stake in the newly fashionable nine ball style. Price would work on a scene, give it to Scorsese, who would read it and give him notes. Price would take those notes and chisel away at the scene, then give it to Newman, who would come up with his own take. Newman would sometimes tell the others, “Guys, I think we’re missing an opportunity here.” “The minute I heard that I would groan, ‘Oh, no, here we go again,’” Price told Myra Forsberg for The New York Times.
Just like with Robert De Niro on Raging Bull, Scorsese sequestered himself somewhere sunny with his collaborators. “We were in Malibu—me and Marty Scorsese—the two New York guys on the beach. Marty’s sitting there with his jacket and his nasal spray and I was smoking a cigarette, hunched over coughing. And then Newman comes out, all tanned up, Mr. Sea & Ski, eating a grapefruit. It was the two New York clowns with the Hollywood platinum.” The film was shot in a tight 49 days after the triumvirate continued to hammer out their strategy, just like Eddie and his travelling circus of Vincent and girlfriend/muse Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) “in brainstorming sessions held in New York restaurants, apartments and offices. “We not only went over every word,” Mr. Price recalls. “We went over every punctuation mark.”
Scorsese was a huge fan of Newman’s anyway, which softened his natural disinclination to film a sequel of another director’s work (video essayist Scout Tafoya has an interesting take on this–see later). He felt their new take could almost work as a stand-alone piece, with little need to be familiar with the earlier work (Minnesota Fats’ part got gradually sidelined more and more, until Gleason respectfully declined to take part, feeling Fats was now “an afterthought”). Besides, thought Scorsese, “the characters in my own films seemed to have an affinity with Eddie. Characters like Eddie are always creating dramatic situations where they’re confronted with choices—and sometimes the choices will set them back morally and sometimes they set them ahead morally. And that fascinates me.” Price also seemed a good fit to work with Scorsese, as many reviews of his novel The Wanderers, about Italian-American street gangs in the Little Italy of 1960s New York, cited a Scorsese-type feel. Scorsese’s opening narration over cigarette smoke and pool chalk harkens back to that of Mean Streets and illuminates all the novice needs to know (the rest is bullshit, and you know it):
“Nine-ball is rotation pool. The balls are pocketed in numbered order. The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9. The player can shoot eight trick shots in a row, blow the 9 and lose. On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win. Which is to say that luck plays a part in 9-ball. But for some players, luck itself is an art.”
What is interesting looking back (we all remember the cocky moves of Cruise in this) is how so much talk at the time was about Newman’s veteran appeal. Cruise as Vincent is magnetic, but back when the film was being cast and made, he wasn’t a star. Newman had met him a few years earlier, after seeing his hard wired performance in military academy drama Taps (1981), and liked what he saw, calling him “Killer”. Top Gun had only opened in May 1986, a few months earlier than The Color of Money‘s release. Cruise as ever blossoms with a mature co-star, more than holding his own, but got zip for his trouble—Mastrantonio picked up a nomination for supporting actress.
20th Century Fox were keen on the material but didn’t want either Newman or Cruise. Madness. Columbia also passed, until Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Touchstone/Disney hit the greenlight with Newman naturally filling the shoes of a character he knew well, and chosen co-star Cruise secured. The film had a strict $14.5 million budget—if the movie broached that, Newman and Scorsese would be responsible for making up the difference, and so put one-third of their respective salaries at risk to secure the deal. They ended up finishing the shoot one day early and $1.5 million under budget.
Price believed that “Newman loves playing the antihero. Like a combination of all the H’s—‘Hustler,’ ‘Hud,’ ‘Hombre,’ ‘Harper.’ He likes playing the Outrider, but the Outrider that you just can’t bring yourself to hate. He was looking for redeemable factors to come in a little earlier. He just didn’t like the guy. So we had to find out what was turning him on about the character after 25 years. You see, Marty and I like mean things—the meaner the better because the greater the shaft of light in the end. And while Newman wanted to explore aging—the fear of losing it—he just thought the character was too hard.” Newman’s an Alpha Male who isn’t afraid to play vulnerable. After taking Vincent and Carmen on the road for a while Eddie gets a taste for the green baize himself, and falls into playing with the personable Amos (a young Forest Whitaker), a hustler who laughingly fumbles his plays until he takes Eddie’s money and his pride. Humbled, he chokes putting on his jacket and sniffles about how could he be suckered so much?
Eddie’s a hustler “who’s afraid to play the game,” Scorsese said. “The kid plays the game purely for the poetry of it. He doesn’t understand anything about money, the manipulation of people, cheating.” “You gotta have two things to win,” Eddie tells Vincent. “You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.” Between him and Carmen, the kid is honed. “We got a racehorse here,” Eddie tells her, “a thoroughbred. You make him feel good, I teach him how to run.” Eddie shows them how to successfully work a pool hall for money, trying his best to make Vincent screw down his natural show-off talent, working their way up to a major nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City. Price believed that Eddie has become without realising it, “the thing he hated the most—the George C. Scott character in the original. He had become a stakehorse, a man who backs young pool players. We worked from the premise of what happens to a man when you take away his art—whether it’s pool playing, writing, directing or acting.” He gradually wants to feel a cue in his hands again, to make the big money himself. Watching Vincent, he confesses to his bartender girlfriend Janelle (Helen Shaver), “was like watchin’ home movies.”
Vincent is at first too seemingly pure and green. Hungry yes, but not street smart. The threesome enter a pool hall in search of prey. “You smell that?” Eddie asks. “Smoke?” queries Vincent. “Money,” Carmen eye rolls. She’s a hardened player too though, trying to manipulate Eddie. She actually met Vincent after taking part in a burglary of his parents’ house. Feeling Eddie is putting too much of a stranglehold on Vincent’s natural talent (the real trick to winning long term here is losing) and holding back on the money, she attempts to use her sexuality on him, inviting Eddie into her and Vincent’s room, knowing full well Vincent is away, wearing nothing but a loose fitting shirt and some panties, curling away from Eddie on the bed. Eddie susses her out immediately, slamming her against the wall. “I’m not your daddy and I’m not your boyfriend, so don’t be playing games with me. I’m your partner.”
Roger Ebert said he switched off at the whiplash editing by Thelma Schoonmaker of multiple close-up shots of balls clattering across the tables by DoP Michael Ballhaus, but to me the lipstick camera lunges of the cues in close-up and wider shots of actors making their own laser guided shots are electrifying and character revealing, including Newman’s reflection in the ball as he prepares to break.
Both Newman and Cruise were naturals—in this Russell Harty interview for Film 87, Newman deadpans the kid was nearly as good as him: “Cruise was fantastic, never had a pool cue in his hands, and he was as good, if not better than I was, in five weeks.” This, of course, was advantageous for Scorsese, who can keep them in frame with their trick shots and racking up of balls in long, unbroken takes. Cruise’s Vincent relishes being unleashed with Eddie’s treasured Balabushka cue—Dan Janes of Joss Cues made an effective mock-up to serve as this rare and expensive Excalibur to the once and future king of the hustle. “What’s in here?” he grins. “Doom.”
In the 1991 book Martin Scorsese: A Journey, the director reflects that The Color of Money was the first time he worked with a movie star, qualifying that, “a movie star is a person I saw when I was ten or eleven on a big screen. With De Niro and the other guys, it was a different thing. We were friends. We kind of grew together creatively… But with Paul, I would go in and I’d see a thousand different movies in his face, images I had seen on that big screen when I was twelve years old. It makes an impression.” So as Flavorwire states, he “frames Newman like a movie star, bigger than life, acknowledging those thousand movies, and he never misses an opportunity to look at that face in one of those big-screen compositions. The best comes near the end, the camera slowly circling Newman, tracking in front of him as he glances around a giant room, lost in distraction because he’s just found out he’s been had.” Eddie and Vincent had faced off and the younger man lost—on purpose, and has delivered Eddie his cut of the winning bet. Disgruntled, Eddie sees himself reflected in the cue ball, taken for a sap again. He forfeits and faces off against Vincent for another game, just them, pride at stake.
Scorsese was some way from his glory days here. The King of Comedy was a maligned dud, After Hours barely registered. Tafoya (whose video essay you can see here) believes that “Rossen was another of Scorsese’s problematic absent father figures… Scorsese stepping into his shoes strikes me as an act of empathy and curiosity, the kind for which he’s become famous. The Color of Money perhaps necessarily takes as its subject an old man who barely practices the craft that made him a legend. What would it take to get back into it? Scorsese’s there, symbolically: the young guy who doesn’t know what it feels like to have that much mileage on your soul, despite the stack of crushing defeats to his name. That was just money. [Elia] Kazan and Rossen lost more than that. The Color of Money is about re-discovering the hunger to work, about being too tired to look over your shoulder at the potential you left behind years ago. Scorsese’s at the absolute height of his powers here because no one expected him to make a film as good as The Hustler or even Taxi Driver. He showed up and made one of his most endearing works and nobody seemed to notice.”
“Eddie, what are you gonna do when I kick your ass?” Vincent taunts. “Pick myself up and let you kick me again.” Eddie lets him know he’s gonna chase him through every tournament until he wins—“Just don’t put the money in the bank, kid.” “Oh yeah? What makes you so sure?” Vincent asks. Eddie stares him down for a beat then bends to break, grinning before the freeze frame, “Hey—I’m back.”
Tim Pelan was born in 1968, the year of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (possibly his favorite film), ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Barbarella.’ That also made him the perfect age for when ‘Star Wars’ came out. Some would say this explains a lot. Read more »
Richard Price is the acclaimed author of numerous novels and screenplays. His books include Clockers (1992), Lush Life (2008), and, under the pseudonym Harry Brandt, Whites (2015). He has written many film and television scripts, including The Color of Money (1986), Clockers (1995), The Wire (2002), Freedomland (2006), and the Emmy Award-nominated 8-part HBO series The Night Of (2016). —Richard Price in conversation with Claire Messud
Screenwriter must-read: Richard Price’s screenplay for The Color of Money [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
This article by Peter Biskind and Susan Linfield, Chalk Talk, originally appeared in American Film, November 1986.
How come Marty Scorsese is making a sequel?
Martin Scorsese: It’s not a sequel. Let me give the rundown. I was in London for about a week in September of 1984, after the shooting of After Hours. Paul Newman called me while I was there and asked if I’d be interested in this project. When I first spoke to Newman on the phone, he said, “Eddie Felson.” I said, “I love that character.” He said, “Eddie Felson reminds me of the characters that you’ve dealt with in your pictures. And I thought more ought to be heard from him.” I asked, “Who’s involved?” He said, “Just you and me.” I said, “Okay, what have you got?” He said, “I’ve got a script.” So he sent it to me and the next day I read it. I had a lot of reservations about it. I felt that it was a literal sequel: There were even a few minutes of film inserted in it from the first picture. It had its own merits, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to do. And so I made an appointment to see Newman when I got to New York. Now, I know that he’s not afraid to play people who are not necessarily “nice.” Many characters in my pictures are also what we would call unsympathetic. So, I like the guy and he likes me and we respect each other’s work—maybe we can find a common ground. And this character of Eddie Felson is the only common ground that we have. And, of course, Fast Eddie lives and thrives in my favorite places, which are bars and pool rooms. But I have to ask myself: Can I, from my generation of filmmakers, work with somebody from his generation? I’ve admired and appreciated the guy since I was twelve years old and in a movie theater. But can this happen? At about the same time, I found out that there had been a book called The Color of Money by Walter Tevis, who wrote The Hustler. I read the book, but I didn’t really think it had anything in it in terms of a film, either. So I thought: Let’s drop the book, just keep the title. I asked Richard if he would get involved in it. It was totally starting from scratch.
Richard Price: To write the script, I spent a lot of time traveling with pool hustlers. If I’m doing a movie about pool hustlers, and if pool hustlers are sitting in the audience opening night, I don’t want anybody getting up in disgust. I don’t want anybody saying, “This is bullshit.” I want people to say, “This is true.” As true as drama and fiction can be true. The nature of pool is such that on one night, if there’s a $7,500 pot, sixty of the one hundred top pool hustlers in the nation will be under this tin roof. You can go and say, “Hey, I’m doing a movie,” and they’re all your friends, they all want to show you the inside, because they’re all dreamers in a way. They all knew The Color of Money, the book, and they all knew the movie The Hustler because that was a romanticized version of their lives. You can be like one of those guys in a red vest playing in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel and writing little pamphlets on trick shots, too, but you know, pool is really just hustlers. It’s kids in Members Only clothing with those sort of long, outdated hairdos and those marshmallow shoes.
What’s the thrust of the script?
MS: I felt that Eddie Felson was a very strong guy. I thought if something that bad happened to him in the first film, he would get stronger. He says, “You want to see bad, I’ll show you bad.” In twenty-five years he’s become a sharpie and a hustler of a different type. He doesn’t play pool anymore; he doesn’t have the guts to do that. But he sees young talent, takes it, and makes money with it. He takes this young kid under his wing and corrupts him. And then somewhere along the road, in the education process, he reeducates himself and decides to play again. It’s about a man who changes his mind at the age of fifty-two. The first time I met Paul Newman, I asked him why this guy would start playing pool again at fifty-two. I asked Paul, “Why do you race if you don’t win every time?” There is really no answer. We looked at each other for a while and I said, “That’s the picture.”
There’s no ethnic material in this script. But both of you have frequently dealt with Italians and Jews.
RP: This is more urban stuff than ethnic stuff. But I feel like everybody’s a Jew in the world.
MS: I feel everybody’s Italian.
RP: But all Italians are Jews.
How did the three of you work together?
MS: In writing sessions, it was the three of us constantly reworking, constantly coming up with and batting ideas back and forth. Eventually, the writing sessions took on the aspect of rehearsals. So by the time we did the picture, I’d already had two weeks of rehearsal—it was the most preplanned film I had ever made. This was also the way that I’ve worked with Bob De Niro. We’d get something we’d be interested in—maybe he’d be interested first, or I’d be—and we’d get together and see if both of us could find ourselves in it. And then we’d get a writer. It always comes down to whether I can see myself in the film, if I can express myself in it through the mouthpiece—in this case, through the persona of the Paul Newman character. And could Paul express himself in it.
RP: I know this: If these guys had left me alone to write what I wanted (because I’m a novelist and all that), it would not have been as good a screenplay by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll be the first to admit that. It would have been different, and it would have had its merits, but in terms of the requirements of the film, it would never have been as good.
MS: Remarkable meetings.
RP: Four o’clock. “Why does this guy have to play pool, anyhow?” Paul says, “Guys, I don’t know, I have to go race, so I’ll see you in about a million years.” He’d come back with a big steel bowl of popcorn.
MS: I gained seven pounds.
RP: That’s because you put butter on it. I learned a lot about writing dialogue from working with Marty and Paul. I’ve always taken pride in writing these great lines, but it was literary dialogue, an urban literary dialogue. An Elmore Leonard line or a George Higgins line looks great on the page, but when somebody is saying it, you feel like you have to stand up and say, “Author! Author! Perfect ear!” It sounds like a David Mamet thing. You just look at each other and go, “Wow, that is really true dialogue.” And everybody is at the mercy of the dialogue because the dialogue is so, like, perfect. So, they sort of decalibrated my dialogue. I didn’t go for the razor every three lines. It’s like, instead of acres of diamonds, let’s just make it a tomato box of diamonds.
MS: How about one diamond? I’d say, “It sounds like it’s written.” Very blunt. Paul would say, “It sounds like a bon mot.”
RP: A what?
MS: It means it’s written. Sounds like a play.
RP: Now my problem, frankly, is going back to a book. Because I had to unlearn a whole lot of novelistic stuff to do a screenplay. I’ve got to go back to baseball from softball, which I’m playing now. For example, I don’t know how to write a sentence more than five words long.
MS: Working with me—any word longer than two syllables is no good!
RP: It’s not just from you, but it’s the momentum, the pace. I feel like I’m Leroy Neiman and there’s a camera over me and I’m doing a quick sketch of horses neck and neck. I can’t go into depths of character, because everything has to play out one-dimensionally on the screen. There’s no internals. You can’t stop and sniff the roses; you’re playing beat the clock. My pacing is all off. My thought processes are jacked up too high. I’ve got to go back to a slow pace and think: Now, what do I really want to say? The other phrase of Newman’s that was great was when I would have an idea, but it was sort of unformed and obscure and it existed exclusively in my mind. Newman would say, “I don’t understand, what’s going on here?” And I’d explain and he’d say, “Well, let’s call that our delicious little secret.”
MS: The audience will never know!
RP: But the killer was, I’d go into meetings and my hands are shaking, and Newman’s looking at the script, and I think it’s like the Koran, it’s so perfect. And he goes, “Guys,” going dot dot dot—and I was looking at Marty and Marty’s looking at me, and he’s like my mother saying, “Didn’t I say you’re gonna get a beating?”—and then the rest of Newman’s dreaded sentence would come: “I think we’re missing an opportunity here.”
MS: When a guy says something like, “I think we’re missing an opportunity here,” our reaction is: Let’s hear what he has to say. What opportunity? We think we hit on them. But what do you think we missed—because if you think we missed, for example, the opportunity that the character could be in a Nazi uniform or blackface or something, then we are talking totally wrong. But usually he was right.
RP: I remember the moment in Connecticut when I realized that the picture was going to really get done. Newman turned to Marty and said, “Are you good at holding actors’ hands?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, excellent, excellent.” Newman goes, “Let’s do it.” I’m thinking: Shit, man, we’ve been doing this for six months; what do you mean, “Let’s do it”? Oh, you mean we were just playing at doing it?
MS: How many times do I have to tell you that? I had just come off The Last Temptation of Christ, man. That’s why I kept telling you over the phone, “Don’t tell people. Don’t say anything.”
RP: Is it still too soon?
MS: It hasn’t been released yet! It still has to be released! He’s walking around saying, “We’re making the picture.” I’d say, “Shut up, you jerk, we’re not making anything.” First Fox decided not to do it. It’s not the kind of picture Fox does. Then began the long problem of going from Fox to Columbia. Even with Tom Cruise involved as the kid, it was still difficult to get a “go” on the picture.
I thought Paul Newman was one of those automatic “yeses.”
MS: I don’t know. I think in a case like this, given the kind of film that it is, even with Newman and Cruise—it’s not what the studios need. We are now talking about censorship in America, which is worse than the blacklist, and the kind of difficulties certain unique sensibilities have. We now have to do it with a lot of style, and very cheap, in order to get projects done. There’s no guarantee of anything in this business any more unless it’s a big epic—invading cannibals.
RP: I Eat Cannibals Who Massacre Zombies.
MS: Then Columbia decided not to do it. And Katzenberg and Eisner at Disney grabbed it.
Did Disney bother you?
RP: They were great. I’d do a pornographic movie with them. Bambi Does Dallas.
MS: Portions of Paul Newman’s and my salary had to be put up as insurance against going over budget.
It’s incredible that people like you and Newman had to put up part of your salaries.
MS: I don’t know. The kind of picture I make is sort of in the margin at this point.
RP: What’s the median age of the moviegoer now?
MS: Two. They’re kids.
RP: Two of them added up together make two. Who goes to the movies? Didn’t they say that 90 percent of the audience would not have seen The Hustler?
MS: It is a crime what’s happening in the American industry. If the situation is not totally bleak, it’s news to me. I just lock into certain projects. Hopefully, I can still get The Last Temptation of Christ made someday, but it won’t be in this country, and it won’t be financed by this country. At all. Forget it. That film has nothing to do with the American industry. I mean, I love Spielberg pictures. You have those wonderful little kids. But I don’t think everyone should have to make them.
RP: It’s true. Now you’ve got all of these prepubescents. It’s not even the Brat Pack. It’s the Wet Pack.
MS: I did a half-hour TV show with Spielberg called “Mirror, Mirror” although the network neglected to tell anyone it was on. But I can’t imagine directing one of those special effects… talk to the blue screen!
RP: Since Color of Money, I’ve turned down fifty projects. Basically, it feels like people sit down and say, “All right, what’s the trend now? What’s hot? We have to get somebody to capitalize on this trend.” There’s not even anything like generic caper movies any more. It’s all tailored to, well, there’s a kid with two heads, and we’ll use this girl who’s got no arms at all, and it’s wacky and her father’s having a sex change, and it’s really wild.
Richard, did you do the scripts for the movies of Bloodbrothers and The Wanderers?
RP: No, I wouldn’t go near them because I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do on my own book, which is the nature of the game. The best thing is just to take the check; let them make a bad movie rather than no movie. But I’ve always loved movies. And I always knew that because two of my books were made into movies, I could write scripts if I wanted to. And I knew I wanted to eventually.
MS: That’s why I worry about you, Richard. You’ve got this whole thing about writing scripts. Here you are, you’re a novelist, you actually have this gift—you can sit down with a blank piece of paper and somehow the words come out and you have total control over it. And you want to be a screenwriter!
RP: Well, my last book was a very tough project—it was like giving birth to a cow—and I’d just had it for a while, and I wanted to have fun.
MS: I can’t believe you said that.
RP: I got tired of the loneliness. I wanted some group interaction. When you get out to Hollywood, everybody starts stroking you because you’re a novelist and they’re kind of in awe of people who can really write. You get hooked on the contact, the phone calls, the plane tickets, the meetings. It beats work. Then there is the fact that you make about one-tenth the money when you’re writing novels. Once you’re making screenwriter money, it’s very hard to voluntarily cut your income by 90 percent. That’s a bitch for anybody. Your life changes. I bought a loft in SoHo, my wife is pregnant. (I got fertile.) But Marty says to me, “Hold on to writing novels.”
MS: Yeah. You gotta prepare yourself for cutting the lifestyle. You have to get used to the moments when you don’t have the money. The only thing you have to rely on is yourself and your own talent. Don’t get sucked into all that nonsense. Don’t get used to the planes and the meetings and everything else. People are told they’ll have four campers with three telephones in each. But that’s not necessarily what’s important in making a movie. It’s not important to make it bigger and with more money. It’s important to remain true inside yourself and keep your own thinking straight. That’s going to show up on film.
Paul Newman talks to Brian Baxter on The Color of Money, Films and Filming, March 1987.
A few weeks before winning his first Oscar for the role of Fast Eddie Felson in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, Paul Newman was interviewed by Russell Harty for the British film programme Film 87.
MICHAEL BALLHAUS, ASC
“When Last Temptation was cancelled, I had to rethink who I was and the kinds of films I wanted to make,” the director told American Cinematographer. “I’d gotten myself in a slower frame of mind, where I felt encumbered by bigger productions. I started planning to do a smaller film again, an independent film, and the experience I had working with Michael was a sort of rebirth for me. On After Hours, we had the chance to see if we could make a film with the energy level I had when I did Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore or Taxi Driver. The great thing about Michael on that film was that he was so enthusiastic about my shot designs. He was very, very helpful in getting exactly what I wanted. We had a lot of fun figuring out what type of lens to use, how fast or slow to move the camera and in what direction. It was like rediscovering how to make movies—together. He really gave me back my faith in myself about how to make films.”
That sense of renewed enthusiasm is also apparent in the duo’s second collaboration, The Color of Money (1986; see AC Nov. ’86), which Ballhaus ranks among his favorite projects. The dynamic, fast-paced sequel to The Hustler allowed the cinematographer to create some extremely flashy shots on, above and around pool tables—including a dazzling array of his beloved circular and semi-circular dolly shots. Working in real Chicago poolrooms, Ballhaus lit the games primarily with low-hanging fluorescent light banks that allowed him create a moody, dramatic ambience. “I lit the movie the way these pool halls were lit. I illuminated the tables’ felt surfaces, letting the areas beyond the tables fall off into darkness.” Scorsese credited Ballhaus—and stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, who became deft with their pool cues—for helping to make some of the show’s trick shots look easy: “Sometimes I’d think it was going to take 17 or 18 takes to get a ball to go into a certain hole, but then we’d nail it in two takes!” —American Society of Cinematographers
“Sometimes you just have to give in to the system. Scorsese comfortably admits that he made at least two movies for calculated business reasons: The Color of Money, in 1986, and Cape Fear in 1991. The early ’80s were difficult for Scorsese. ‘For a long time,’ says Schoonmaker, ‘our films were not recognized and did not make money—which was a serious problem.’ As much as critics now admire Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and even The King of Comedy, none of those movies ignited the box office. The Last Temptation of Christ had been ginned up in 1983, but six weeks before production was to begin, the studio pulled the plug. Scorsese’s follow-up to The King of Comedy was After Hours, a quirky comedy starring Griffin Dunne. The film was shot on budget and on time over 40 nights in SoHo and did fairly well as a low-budget film. But none of that mattered. ‘They saw me as outside Hollywood,’ Scorsese remembers. ‘You’re gone, you’re in independent cinema now, on the outside from now on.’ Enter The Color of Money. Paul Newman was interested in doing a sequel to The Hustler, the 1961 movie he had starred in with Jackie Gleason. Scorsese abhorred the idea of doing a sequel to anything but says he was intrigued by the character of Eddie Felson: ‘Again, it was a guy who took too many risks, overstepped the line, didn’t understand his own self-destruction, and didn’t catch on until it was too late.’ So he took the job, as a way of proving to Hollywood that he could make a box-office winner. ‘It was a calculated business move. I needed the new studio heads to think they could give me another chance, finance me again.’ Color hit at the box office, and Paul Newman took home the Oscar for best actor. As a result, at least the way Scorsese tells the story, he won the right to finally make his passion project, The Last Temptation. But the tortured production drained Scorsese financially. ‘I was never interested in the accumulation of money, you know. And I never had a mind for business,’ he explains. ‘There have been serious issues with money over the years. I have a nice house now, in New York. But there have been major, major issues. In the mid-’80s it was pathetic, I mean, my father would help me out. I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t buy anything. But it’s all my own doing.’” —Martin Scorsese on vision in Hollywood
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. Photographed by Ron Phillips © Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners II. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
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