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Saturday, May 03, 2008

White Hunter, Black Heart 3

Clint Eastwood's "White Hunter, Black Heart" (1990) - in which director Eastwood plays director John Huston on the shoot of Huston's "The African Queen" - is one of the great unsung movies about filmmaking and filmmakers.

Before Eastwood/Huston shoots his movie, he feels compelled to hunt down and shoot an African elephant. This obsessive desire to bag the biggest of game animals endangers the life of the motion picture he's been hired to make.

In what I would call the film's key scene, screenwriter, Pete Verrill (a fictionalized Peter Viertel - who died last fall a few days shy of age 87), confronts director, John Wilson (Eastwood doing an unapologetic John Huston impression) on his reprehensible quest to hunt down and make a trophy of an African bull elephant. 

VERRILL: You're either crazy, or the most egocentric, irresponsible son-of-a-bitch that I have ever met. You're about to blow this whole picture out of your nose, John. And for what? To commit a crime. To kill one of the rarest, most noble creatures that roams the face of this crummy earth. And in order to commit this crime, you're willing to forget about all of us and let this whole god damn thing go down the drain.

WILSON: You're wrong, kid. It's not a crime to kill an elephant. It's bigger than all that. It's a sin to kill an elephant. Do you understand? It's a sin. The only sin that you can buy a license and go out to commit. That's why I want to do it before I do anything else in this world. Do you understand me? Of course you don't. How could you? I don't understand it myself.


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