'The Revenant' continues Hollywood tradition of arduous shoots

AFP , Sunday 7 Feb 2016

The Revenant
Still from The Revenant's official trailer

Shot in brutal weather to a punishing schedule, Oscar favorite "The Revenant" belongs to a fine Hollywood tradition in which the truly creative must suffer for their art.

Leonardo DiCaprio went through hell to inhabit the character of 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass, eating a raw buffalo liver, bathing in icy rivers and climbing mountains laden with furs.

In an era where much of the heavy-lifting is done in post-production by CGI artists, the tough conditions endured by cast and crew of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's survival and revenge epic resulted in several resignations, months of delays and a soaring budget.

The Mexican director's claims that all this hardship would be worth it in the end appears to have been borne out, with the film proving a box office hit and picking up 12 Oscar nominations.

Inarritu is the latest, but by no means the first filmmaker to put his actors through the mill in the service of perfection.

Francis Ford Coppola created his own mini-hell in the Philippines for the infamous "Apocalypse Now" (1979), which updates the setting of Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness to the Vietnam War.

Chief among numerous problems and setbacks were Martin Sheen's near fatal heart attack, a typhoon that flattened expensive sets and Coppola's chronic indecision, which led Marlon Brando to improvise much of his dialogue.

"Jaws" (1975), which ushered in the era of summer blockbusters and propelled Steven Spielberg into the Hollywood stratosphere, also has its place in the pantheon of nightmarish shoots.

"The mechanical shark, nicknamed Bruce, wasn't working and didn't really inspire fear," said Jonathan Kuntz, a professor at UCLA's School of Theatre, Film and Television.

At one point, the hull of the ship carrying the crew broke up at sea, causing a mini-mutiny.

Meanwhile, Bruce's problems led Spielberg to decide only to show the briefest glimpses of the shark, which in the end proved far more terrifying.

The filming of "Titanic" (1997), one of the two highest grossing movies in history along with "Avatar" -- both by James Cameron -- was in itself a titanic struggle.

Hours of filming in a huge tank led to colds, infections and delays.

Rumor has it that a crew member, infuriated by Cameron's despotic style, spiked a soup in the canteen with a hallucinogenic drug.

German director Werner Herzog is also "famous for his intense and exhausting cinematography," Kuntz said.

On "Fitzcarraldo," a film about an Irishman who becomes obsessed with building an opera house in the jungles of Peru, he forced his cast to pull a real steamboat weighing hundreds of tons up a muddy hillside.

Leading man Klaus Kinski was enraged and his screams of protest led the Peruvian Indian extras to offer to kill the temperamental star, the director would later claim.

Michael Cimino's excesses on the production of epic western "Heaven's Gate" (1980), starring Christopher Walken and Isabelle Huppert, finished off studio United Artists.

The budget and shoot time spiraled out of control as he built and rebuilt set after set, picking extras by hand and insisting on waiting for the right cloud formation before allowing the cameras to roll.

Cimino ended up delivering a movie lasting almost five-and-a-half hours and, despite a two-hour cut by United Artists to render the film more watchable, it was a flop at the box office.

It took 14 writers and five directors to bring L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz" to the silver screen in 1939.

During filming, the Tin Man developed an allergic reaction to his makeup, while the Wicked Witch of the West suffered burns to her face and hands when a stunt involving her exit in a blaze of fire went wrong.

Director Joseph Mankiewicz refused until the end of his days to utter the name of the eponymous "Cleopatra" following his experiences on the cult 1963 movie.

Hollywood's version of the Egyptian queen's story, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, swallowed $44 million -- equivalent to $270 million today.

Countless delays were caused by the resignation of the original director, the capricious behavior of the stars, Taylor's health problems including bouts of pneumonia and meningitis, the drama of her affair with Burton and the persistent fog on the English set.

But the textbook case of a nightmare shoot probably remains "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," Terry Gilliam's labor of love that has suffered setbacks spanning two decades.

The problems began on set in Spain in 1998 when Jean Rochefort, in the title role, fell ill and the set was flooded, among other calamities.

After many failed attempts, the cameras were rolling again this year with John Hurt as Quixote -- until his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer forced another postponement.

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