|Giona Nazzaro, Walter Hill and Mario Sesti at Rome Film Festival 2012|
The well attended masterclass opened with a long, violent sequence from Hill's 1981 movie Southern Comfort, but the conversation rather surprisingly began with the director mentioning poet John Keats, when asked about his own artistic imagination and the creative process. The director had visited the house where the poet died at the foot of the Spanish Steps earlier in the day, describing it as a melancholy place to die. This immediately set the tone of what would be a thoughtful, relaxed and extremely generous encounter with Walter Hill. Always modest about his own talents, yet quick to acknowledge those of his colleagues, the director also seemed to genuinely enjoy watching the selection of clips from his own movies, many of which he said he had not seen since they first came out in movie theatres. The Long Riders, Geronimo: An American Legend, The Warriors, The Driver, Red Heat and Crossroads were used as springboards to fascinating discussions about westerns, action sequences and music.
I love Walter Hill's westerns so was delighted to hear his thoughts on the decline in the popularity of the genre. He suggested that cinema audiences today were no longer in touch with their agrarian roots, and that of all the movie forms the western was probably the most subject to parody and self-parody, adding that he still tried to make them now and again.
Asked about the rapid pace and editing in his movies he admitted that he loved to keep things moving fast and tried to avoid overstatement in any of his films: I believe in brevity and economy in statement...I don't like long films, I certainly don't like my films to be long! He also added that the influence of television had made audiences more used to faster cutting these days.
Not a great lover of storyboards or excessive planning prior to shooting a scene, Hill has clearly always enjoyed the post-production scoring of his films. His love of music and the importance of putting his images to music is apparent in so many of his films, and the director talked with great affection about his working relationship with Ry Cooder, whom he described as the most talented person he had ever worked with.
A wonderful lesson in cinema!
Watch the video of excerpts from the Walter Hill masterclass below (or click here to watch on YouTube).