Friday, June 4, 2010

I Knew It Was You is Overdue, Tragic

I have always been a big fan of John Cazale. The man only starred in five movies - The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. These five movies received 40 Oscars combined. What an amazing career, cut short by his tragic death from cancer at 42 years old. Finally, it seems he is beginning to get his due in the superb new documentary (with the perfect title) I Knew It Was You. Find out more here.

From Sundance:

When director Richard Shepard was around 13 years old, his dad took him to see The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II at New York’s Bleecker Street Cinema. “I remember not only loving both movies, but being really taken by Fredo,” he says. “There was something about the sadness and loneliness and oddness of the guy that as a child I somehow related to.” Years later, Shepard was having an off day, so he decided to lay aside his work and learn everything he could about John Cazale, the man behind Fredo. But there was little information either in books or on the Internet about the actor, who appeared in a total of five movies — The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather: Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter — before dying of cancer at age 42. “It’s one of the most perfect records ever in terms of an actor who’s been in five great movies that were nominated for Best Picture,” Shepard says. “If he were a baseball player, he’d be in the Hall of Fame. He was five for five.” Determined to tell the story, Shepard looked up Cazale’s brother in the phone book and began assembling interview footage for a five-minute trailer. Shepard showed the result to fellow Cazale fan Brett Ratner, who signed on as a producer and sold the project to HBO within a week and a half. During the interview and editing process, Shepard quickly realized that his documentary would be less about the biographical details of Cazale’s life — “He liked to smoke and drink and work as an actor, and that was it,” joked Shepard — and would instead focus on the profound creative influence he had on those who worked with him. Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, and Meryl Streep, who was engaged to Cazale until his death, all remarked on his total devotion to his craft and his unparalleled ability to raise the game of those around him. “I write fiction movies and make fiction movies, and it was interesting having a responsibility to a once-living person who was clearly loved by a lot of people,” says Shepard, who has previously brought two narrative features to the Festival as the producer of 2001’s Scotland, Pa. and the writer-director of 2005’s The Matador. “We had a big picture of John in our editing room staring down at us and making sure we didn’t fuck it up. And that was a more sobering, different experience than I have ever had.” Despite that pressure, making a 40-minute labor-of-love documentary did provide a nice change of pace from the world of narrative feature film. “Somehow, 30 years later, it’s all come around, and I’m able to actually do this thing where I can celebrate this person who has clearly meant something to me my whole life since I was 13,” Shepard says. “It’s like a childhood fantasy, in a weird way.”