An hour late, and after a couple of technical blunders, David O. Russell held court last night at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Hosted by AFI Fest, the evening was a special tribute to the Oscar-nominated “Silver Linings Playbook” director for his new and hotly anticipated film “American Hustle,” which is locked and currently mixing for its December 13 opening.
What screened were the first six minutes of the 70s set ABSCAM caper film, which opens with the title “Some of this actually happened” before we see a balding Christian Bale with a beer paunch while he glues pieces of wig to his head with spirit gum.
And then appears a British-accented Amy Adams, elegantly costumed, and Bradley Cooper in a Jewfro. The film jumps right into the action as these three con artists set to meet an FBI agent played by Jeremy Renner, seen briefly here.
Given that this is a Russell picture, of course there are rapid zooms and an energetic soundtrack. The first sounds heard in the film are the chords of “A Horse with No Name” by America.
It was not easy to tell from these first six minutes exactly what “Hustle” will be, but you should expect a comedy/drama in the vein of “Boogie Nights”: funny and flashy, but with an unexpected darkness that hits hard.
Audiences who attended last night’s AFI tribute were treated to seeing these first six minutes not once, but 1.5 times exactly. After a perfect afternoon run-through of the clip, the left-side speakers kicked out after the delayed prior screening, which ended so late that audiences were filing into the theater as O. Russell’s editor tried to figure out a technical solution. Unfortunately the Egyptian’s projectionists didn’t follow his instructions, and after a no-talking start to the clip, the dialogue track was silent. No sound came from Cooper’s mouth. At which point O. Russell (known for the occasional tantrum) stood up, threw off his jacket, ordered “turn it off!” and left the stage to deal with the problem.
Understandably, O. Russell was on edge. At first, literally on the edge of his uncomfortable seat, joking as the panel moderator switched seats with him until theater staff brought in a new chair. And O. Russell was irritated by twenty minutes of hissing feedback produced by the afflicted sound system during the Q & A.
But AFI and the Egyptian pulled it off for a sonically intact second screening of the clip. This isn’t the first bump-in-the-road for AFI Fest, Hollywood’s free film festival. In the digital era, festivals are particularly prone to technical glitches due to the high volume of temperamental DCPs. Last year, the Egyptian couldn’t get the DCP of “Holy Motors” to play, and made audiences wait hours for the screening.
From “Flirting with Disaster” to “I Heart Huckabee’s” to “Playbook,” editing is key in an O. Russell film. Coeditor Jay Cassidy, who was Oscar nominated for “Silver Linings Playbook,” onstage at last night’s chat, says that O. Russell likes to look at three or four different cuts for a scene to see how it plays from different angles. Such was the case with “American Hustle,” which O. Russell has finally locked.
From the clip shown, it’s tough to gauge the heist thriller’s awards chances, but let’s just say that Christian Bale displays yet another astounding physical transformation.
Watch Russell discuss the first film he ever made — at age 13 — below: