Saturday the Denver Post confirmed that film director George Hickenlooper was dead. The 47-year-old filmmaker was in Denver promoting his new movie Casino Jack, produced by and starring Kevin Spacey as controversial Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which was showing at the Starz Denver Film Festival. The cause of death is being investigated. He is survived by wife Suzanne and son Charles. It is always disturbing when folks in their prime leave us too soon.
“There’s something unique about the United States, a sense of individual rights and freedoms, and a sense of social and civic responsibility that we contributed to so much of the world,” he said. “We lost that mission in the 1980s and 1990s, when we entered a gilded age, and the culture of individualism became a culture of avarice. It’s seen in every aspect of our culture. Everything is totally commodified, even in box office. Do you care how many Big Macs McDonald’s sold last week? How is that relevant? And that kind of feasting and ravenous thinking has seeped into the pores of our culture such that we’ve lost a sense of ourselves.”
The last time I communicated with Hickenlooper, he and New York documentary director Alex Gibney were facing off in the comments section of a November 2009 TOH blog post over who had the right to use the title “Casino Jack.” Hickenlooper had gone fictional with his film, Casino Jack (which played Toronto and other fests; I see it on Monday) while Gibney had stuck to the doc approach with Casino Jack and the United States of Money, which earned $177,000 at the U.S. box office for Magnolia Pictures.
Hickenlooper made his name by directing the must-see 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, an exhaustive portrait of filmmaker Francis Coppola during the filming of Apocalypse Now!. Hickenlooper’s last three films were indie projects that did not connect with wide audiences: the Edie Sedgwick biopic Factory Girl, starring Sienna Miller (TWC, 2006), the documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003), and The Man From Elysian Fields (2001).
Hickenlooper was preparing to shoot in November the drama How to Make Love Like an Englishman starring Pierce Brosnan as a professor. Alas, that will now not happen.