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KARLOVY VARY — Jerry Schatzberg is at work on a sequel to Scarecrow, which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes four decades ago.
But the veteran American celebrity photographer and filmmaker admits it’s a long-shot to get his follow-up to the 1973 American road movie made.
Al Pacino, who along with Gene Hackman starred as two vagabonds in Scarecrow, has the script for the sequel in hand.
But over a recent dinner in Los Angeles, Pacino told Schatzberg what he already knew: Warner Bros., which has the rights to Scarecrow, won’t allow a sequel without the studio’s permission.
“It’s not their kind of film,” he told The Hollywood Reporter while at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival to introduce a trio of his early films, including Scarecrow, screening here this week.
But with Pacino’s interest, Schatzberg insists he can tweak the names of the film’s two main characters and make sufficient changes to a script penned with Seth Cohen to go the indie route for production financing.
In the original film, fresh from a starring role in Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather that Schatzberg helped convince Paramount to give the young New York stage actor, Pacino plays Lion, a homeless ex-sailor that heads east with Max, an ex-con drifter (Hackman).
It also doesn’t help Schatzberg’s cause that Hackman has retired from acting.
So he’ll need a new co-star for a sequel that takes place 30 years on from the original Scarecrow.
In the sequel, Lion comes out of the navy, takes advantage of the G.I. Bill and becomes an educated computer geek.
And Max, now married and with a daughter he adopted as a baby from China, operates a successful car wash business.
“She’s grown up to be just like Max. She swears like him, acts like him and they’re in conflict all the time like fathers and daughters are,” Schatzberg said.
The other lynch-pin to the sequel is introducing Lion’s son, whom the father thought was dead.
Schatzberg knows he will have to make Pacino an offer he can’t refuse to star in the sequel, after the Hollywood actor was cheated out of a fortune by swindler Kenneth Starr.
“Al, while he can, wants to make as much money as he can,” the director insisted.
Absent Pacino and Hackman, Schatzberg still thinks he has a worthy film to make.
“The story is what’s interesting, not the actors,” the filmmaker — whose movies have long appealed more to European, especially French, film critics than mainstream American audiences — said of a possible sequel.
“The idea is what interests most people, especially the Europeans. But it’s a good story, it’s a touching story. It’s funny,” Schatzberg added.
In the meantime, he’s keeping his day job as a snapper, which more than pays the bills.
Schatzberg parlayed earlier success as a fashion photographer for the likes of Vogue, Esquire and Glamour into capturing iconic images of 1960s celebrities such as Jimi Hendrix and Andy Warhol.
He gained cult status after his photograph of a young Bob Dylan became the cover for his album Blonde on Blonde.
That artistic achievement never made him bankable in Hollywood, which is fine by Schatzberg.
“I don’t make big box office films, and that’s what counts with studios. They’re only interested in how much money you make,” he said.
At the same time, success as a photographer has allowed the filmmaker to be choosy about which projects he takes on, unlike so many others of his generation.
“They all went out to Hollywood and a lot of them have done crap. I try not to,” Schatzberg insisted.
The filmmaker also is enjoying a revival of interest in his earlier movies — also screening in Karlovy is his recently restored 1970 debut Puzzle of a Downfall Child, which stars a young Faye Dunaway, and the drug drama The Panic in Needle Park, which Pacino also starred in.
In a way, the Bronx-born filmmaker, now 86 years of age, may even see his work again celebrated in his lifetime after his 1970s critical high-water mark in Cannes.
“It may be after I’m dead that they will recognize my photographs more, my films more,” he allowed.
Schatzberg, ever the perfectionist, insists it even took him a long time to appreciate the achievement of his photographs and films.
“When you make a film, the last part is so technical. You’re worried about whether that move or that cut matches that cut or the colors,” he insisted.
In addition, Schatzberg, while working with Martin Scorsese and Ford Coppola in New York City during the 1970s, remained very much a loner by never joining their directorial circle.
“When a whole bunch of guys get together, they make a lot more noise than one person,” he said.
And Schatzberg remained in Manhattan rather than go to Malibu, and makes New York his own as did other directors like Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet.
That said, all the adulation he received in Europe and elsewhere overseas for his movies never eased the sting of negative New York Times reviews.
After all, Vincent Canby‘s 1973 review of Scarecrow in the Times dismissed the Cannes award-winner as a “moody study of contemporary dislocation” whose two stars were not enough to salvage the picture at the box office.
“It makes you feel better, but it doesn’t make the American public go to see your film,” he said of his Cannes success.
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