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White Hunter, Black Heart Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 1987
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This is a great book, and a real look into the dark heart of Huston. Viertel started the job as a very close friend of Huston, but before the script was finished he was fired and he and Huston parted, although Viertel still thought Huston was one of the best.
If you are interested in the people behind the camera, and love movies this is a great read and insight.
Read the book, and compare it to Clint Eastwood's movie.
Viertel spent traveling and carousing with Director John Huston as the two completed the shooting script.
Forget the film version of the book--read the real deal with "Black Heart".
The book was the result of Viertel's experiences working on the screenplay for The African Queen with its director, John Huston, whom Viertel had worked with before on other films and was friends with. The difference this time was that Huston was determined to shoot the film on location in Africa and convinced Viertel to come with him for the film and for getting in some big game hunting. The experience took a physical and emotional toll on everyone involved and Huston ended up firing Viertel. Two years later Viertel wrote White Hunter, Black Heart as a roman à clef about his experiences.
While much of the book details the challenges that went into working on the screenplay and and into the preparations for shooting the film on location in Africa, the real focus of the book is on the portrayal of the fictional film's fictional director, John Wilson (very recognizable as John Huston). You do get glimpses of other players - Phil Duncan (Humphrey Bogart), Kay Gibson (Katherine Hepburn) and Paul Landers (Sam Spiegel) - but only glimpses as the novel ends before any actual film for the fictional movie is shot.
This excerpt in particular captures Huston's dominating (and downright bullying) personality. And his thoughts on making film:
"You see, Ralph, movies are all foolish. They're an exercise in insanity, until you get them shot and cut together, and then very often they're worse than insane. But especially while you're making them, they're pure madness. To set out the way we're doing and go thousands of miles away into a wilderness, and try to create a story that never happened, about people who never existed, in a time that is long past... well, there's madness in that, real madness. And to risk your health, and maybe your life, doing it, makes it even greater folly. But we're stuck with that. We're not building a road or subduing a native tribe. We're not even looking for Dr. Livingstone. We're just making a movie, and we're going to be just as caught up in it as if we were conquering the great wilderness for the queen. That's why I say it's crazy, and so are we, all of us, who've chosen to do this. But as we're in this thing, why, we might as well bluff our way through to the bitter end. And that's what we're going to do." He looked compassionately at Lockhart before continuing, as if he really felt sorry for him. "You see, Ralph, there are always little guys like you who are sane who get caught up in a thing like this, and they always advance a lot of logical hurdles. All the way down the line thre are practical little guys like you putting jumps up, and barricades, and objections. All the way down the line there are Ralph Lockharts resisting the great madness. And I have to beat my way through them. I've had to do it for years. Usually in the end they see things my way. Sometimes they fall by the road, and I have to go on without them. But I always win against them, even when they're right. Because I'm the boss, Ralph, you see. My name's on it. I'm responsible. I don't mind your quibbling and fighting as long as you get this one thing straight., and that's that I'm in command, crazy and illogical as I may be. I'm the boss, and I like to have things my way."
Recommended as a novel about movie-making in the 1950's and a vivid portrayal of what it was like to work with John Huston.
however, don't let that sway you from reading this incredible tale; you'll go away appreciating huston all the more for it as a genius filmmaker and will want to check out some of his masterpieces like the maltese falcon or the treasure of the sierra madre, fat city or blackboard jungle.
having said all that, stay away from the clint eastwood turkey
entitled white hunter, black heart based on viertel's fine book. eastwood was in too deep here--but the book, as stated, is one of the best on how (some) films get made.