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Jameson Cult Film Club: L.A. Confidential & A Talk With Danny DeVito (JDIFF 2013)

This event was held as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

The Jameson Cult Film Club really is a film lover’s paradise, an excuse for the celebration of classic cinema in a unique environment that tries to bring classic movie moments to life – whether bringing the gospel sermon from The Blues Brothers to life, or having the face-huggers from Alien drop into the audience to the satisfying sound of screams. Launched two years ago at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the club celebrates its birthday by hosting a very special guest at a celebration of one of their best films. Danny DeVito is this year’s guest of honour at the festival – hosting screenings of the superb The War of the Roses and Throw Mama From the Train. As such, holding a celebratory screening of L.A. Confidential was really the perfect fit for a cult film club event.

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It’s easy to lose sight of just how impressive these events are. The team from the film club carefully stage a number of scenes from the film. It can be tough to balance these moments, to prevent the action on the floor from overwhelming the action of the scene, but the team generally manage to use the space in order to augment and enhance the story unfolding on the gigantic screen. L.A. Confidential balanced this particularly well, with the fight scene in the jail cells literally spilling over off the screen and on to the stage. Other touches were more theatrical and inspired – playing Ed Exley’s interrogations in silhouette was a delightful moment, and the final scene threatened to blow the entire room apart thanks to some carefully coordinated pyrotechnics.

The Jameson Cult Film Club is about celebrating classic films, and it’s immediately apparent that these shows are constructed with a great deal of love for the source material. Even the little touches – turning the lobby of the Mansion House into a 1950s Los Angeles police station, or offering drinks tokens in the form of cards from Fleurs-de-Lis demonstrate a very obvious affection for the film, and it’s clear that the evening was – as ever – crafted with the greatest amount of skill and care. A fantastic job, as usual.

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The screening featured an interview with Danny DeVito afterwards, by Rick O’Shea. O’Shea is the perfect host for an event like this, charming and collected, but very clearly geeky and nerdy in his own way – sharing his recollection of witnessing DeVito’s performance in Batman Returns at the age of eighteen or nineteen in nothing short of awe. DeVito affectionately offering Cobblepot-esque asides was just one of the many ways that he proved himself a wonderful sport. As an aside, seeing him grunt and “waugh” without the make-up on underscored just how much of an affectionate tribute many of DeVito’s mannerisms had been to the wonderful Burgess Meredith.

The conversation was suitably film geeky, with DeVito offering a great deal of insights into his creative process. Musing on his time on L.A. Confidential, he joked, “Should’ve had a scene with Kim Bassinger.” Getting slightly more serious, he had a great deal of affection for the talent involved in the film. “You knew you were working with good people,” he explained, praising his co-stars.

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Indeed, DeVito confessed that he didn’t have too much prior knowledge of James Ellroy before he took the role. “I’d never written anything he’d written before this.” On meeting the author, he confessed that Ellroy wasn’t necessarily the kind of person you would assume would have produced a story as brutal and as dark as L.A. Confidential. “He was very low key,” he revealed of the writer.

He talked a bit about some of his more famous past roles. In particular, he briefly discussed how he came across War of the Roses. Apparently it was serendipity, finding the discarded script on the floor of a borrowed car. “I reached down and I grabd a screenplay,” he related. Most actors would love to claim that their fingerprints were all over a screenplay like that, but DeVito joked, “It had my footprint on it!”

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Luckily for DeVito, as much as War of the Roses was critical success, it was also something that he wound up earning a great deal of money on. Building from the success of Throw Momma From the Train, he was able to negotiate a decent fee from the studio to direct. He remembered confessing to the executives, who had turned down his early offers to do the film for a fraction of the cost (before the success of Throw Momma From the Train), “I’dda paid you to do this movie!”

DeVito spoke rather warmly of his collaborators and co-stars, relating the story of how he once spent all morning setting up Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas dangling from a chandalier, painstaking waiting to get the shot perfect, and – once the two actors were wired hanging from the ceiling – advising the crew, “That’s it! Lunch! Thirty minutes!” He confessed that he did let Turner and Douglas down, but there was a clear sense of fun about DeVito’s ancedotes.

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He also spoke a bit about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He’s a Republican,” he joked, smiling and shrugging playfully. However, honestly, “A genuinely good guy.” As DeVito noted, Schwarzenegger was “always playing around.” Apparently, while working on Twins, DeVito was dieting (“I’ve been on a diet since I was ten!”), Schwarzenegger would make a point of showing up with all manner of cakes and sweets to his trailer.

Of Junior, DeVito was quick to credit Schwarzenegger with the basic concept. “That was his idea,” he explained, smiling playfully. “Go figure.” Apparently the oft-rumoured Triplets is still in development, somewhere. “Why do Twins II when you can do Triplets?” DeVito inquired. Apparently DeVito and Schwarzenegger had dinner with Eddie Murphy to discuss the concept.

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DeVito also shared a piece of trivia that I had been unaware of listing four collaborations with Tim Burton, he asked the audience to name them. Easy! Batman ReturnsBig FishMars Attacksand… and… Apparently Burton had visited DeVito while filming Hoffa, and DeVito had arranged for a cameo. In a coffin. Eagle-eyed viewers might catch Burton in one of the shots.

DeVito, of course, is now balancing his big screen obligations with smaller screen work. He’s a regular on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and has been since the second season. Asked to name his favourite episode, he immediately responded with the Christmas special, which involved him inside a couch. Nude. He affectionately recalled the experience of filming the sequence. “And they have all these rules like you’re not supposed to show your junk,” he complained. “I had a pouch!” Apparently there’s a YouTube clip for that I am still afraid to seek out.

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Outside of his work in film, DeVito honoured the assembled crowd by featuring them in the background of one of his “troll foot” pictures, even if a lack of signal inside the Mansion House prevented him from getting the word out. Assuring the audience that it was a sacred ritual, he explained just how big a deal this was. “Something has to really move you to take your shoe off!” he explained, smiling.

In a way, that pretty much set the tone for the interview, with DeVito a wonderfully engaging and witty presence – treated with a “hushed awe”, to quote O’Shea – and responding with a great deal of warmth and affection. DeVito really is one of the most recognisable and best comedic talents of his generation, and there was something surprisingly frank and sincere in his stories and his anecdotes.

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Apparently the actor has a long association with Ireland. He had been over in 1996, filming Matilda, and pleasantly recalled the experience. Apparently he has family over here, and pretty close to the heart of the city, too. Pointing to the “gaming joint” on O’Connell Street, he boasted, “That’s one of my relatives! Figures, huh?”

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