Perspectives on Cinema: A Conversation with Tom Luddy

By Sipiora, Phillip | The Mailer Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Perspectives on Cinema: A Conversation with Tom Luddy


Sipiora, Phillip, The Mailer Review


Tom Luddy is an American film producer and executive notable for his involvement in the restoration and revival of foreign film masterpieces. Luddy has been associated with Francis Ford Coppolds American Zoetrope since 1979. He collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard on two projects, Every Man for Himself (1980) and Passion (1982). Luddy's work also includes Barfly (1987), based upon the life of poet Charles Bukowski, and The Secret Garden (1993), an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 novel. He was program director of the Pacific Film Archives in the early 1970s and currently serves as program curator for the Documentary Film Institute at San Francisco State University. Luddy was the Executive Producer of Norman Mailer's 1987 film, Tough Guys Don't Dance. He is also co-director of the Telluride Film Festival, which he co-founded in 1974. My thanks to Michael Chaiken for his assistance with this interview.

Sipiora: You have been in the film industry for more than four decades and were the Executive Producer of Mailer's Tough Guy's Don't Dance (1987). You also worked, I believe, with Jean-Luc Godard as early as the 1960s, Can you tell us about the importance of Godard to those times and his impact on contemporary cinema?

Luddy: Godard was the most exciting Director for most of my generation of cinephiles and film-makers. The fifteen features he made between Breathless and Weekend represent not only the greatest creative "streak" ever seen in cinema, but were a principal reason for many in the sixties, like Susan Sontag, to consider cinema the most important of all art forms. His move into radical politics and left-wing collective film-making following May 1968 made him even more of a culture hero. I brought him to the Berkeley Campus in 1967 for a then-complete retrospective, and assisted him on his abortive project with Leacock-Pennebaker. Later at Zoetrope, I was responsible for Zoetrope's partnership with Godard on Every Man for Himself and Passion.

Sipiora: Mailer also knew Godard in the 1960s. Did you have a relationship with Norman in the 1960s? When and where did you meet Norman?

Luddy: I first met Norman thru Peter Manso in Berkeley in May 1965 when he [Mailer] came to speak at the Vietnam Day Committee rally in Berkeley organized by Jerry Rubin and others. I was in charge of a showing a series of anti-war movies as part of the overall two day program of the VDC.

Sipiora: Although Mailer said that Godard had significant reverence for him in the late sixties, in 2007 Mailer stated that "Godard was the second most evil person he had ever met." Can you tell us about your involvement in the fallout between Mailer and Godard? Can you set the record straight on the infamous Cannes napkin deal between Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan, and Jean-Luc Godard that set so much into motion?

Luddy: In Cannes Golan and Godard signed a deal on a Napkin (which Golan later framed) stating that Cannon would give Godard a series of monthly payments over twelve months adding up to $1,000,000 (as I recall), and that at the end of that period Godard would deliver to Cannon a Contemporary King Lear.

I don't think Godard put the words "William Shakespeare" on that napkin but Golan certainly thought they were talking about a film based on the play.

Golan put on the napkin that Godard must agree to work with an American Screenwriter approved by Cannon. Godard then asked if Norman Mailer would be pre-approved as the American Screenwriter. Golan said yes and it was written on the napkin that Norman was approved by Cannon.

Godard then found me in Cannes and asked me to work with him on the film, and as my first task, asked me to convince Norman to work with him.

I called Norman and met him in NYC on the way back from Cannes. Norman was interested in the money he would make for writing the script, but said he would have to pass because he knew he would lose twice should he accept-once to Shakespeare and once to Godard, since he figured Godard would never shoot any script he [Mailer] would write. …

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