SEA OF LOVE (Film, 1989)

Sea of LoveDirected by Harold Becker

Screenplay by Richard Price

The novel Clockers is probably Richard Price’s most emblematic work, the one most commonly associated with his identity as a writer. The Wire looms large on his resume as well and is certainly his most highly-regarded TV gig, as it will probably remain for everyone who was ever involved with it. But when people talk about Richard Price’s career writing feature films, the credit they most often bring up is the 1989 romantic thriller Sea of Love. It was his first full-length original script to be produced (not counting The Color of Money, which was sort of based on Walter Tevis’s novel), it was a box office hit, and it set the template for the kind of neo-noir movies he’d be working on for the next decade and beyond. Continue reading

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New York StoriesDirected by Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Richard Price, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola

This may just be me, but when I think of anthology movies I generally think of scary story collections like Creepshow or Trilogy of Terror, so the concept behind New York Stories immediately seemed unusual and intriguing: Three of America’s most respected directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen) each contribute an approximately 40-minute short film set against the backdrop of New York City in its 1980s heyday of decadence and crime. One rarely gets to see filmmakers of this caliber working in the medium of shorts, so this whole project had a lot of potential even apart from the fact that Scorsese’s segment, “Life Lessons,” reunited him with his screenwriter collaborator from The Color of Money and “Bad,” Richard Price. Continue reading

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“ARENA BRAINS” (Short Film, 1987)

Arena BrainsDirected by Robert Longo

Screenplay by Eric Bogosian, E. Max Frye, Robert Longo, Emily Prager and Richard Price

Richard Price had his name on two projects released in 1987. One was the short film “Bad,” possibly the most-viewed, highest-profile project of his career. The other was the short film “Arena Brains,” now one of the most obscure, hardest-to-find titles in his filmography. I’ve referred to other movies on this blog as being available only on VHS, but this is the most VHS-exclusive of them all, without even a foreign DVD release like Streets of Gold or Night and the City have. Except for a couple excerpts, it doesn’t seem to be online anywhere, either, so without a working VCR you really just can’t see it. And this despite its crazily star-studded cast, which includes Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Sean Young and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe! Continue reading

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“BAD” (Short Film, 1987)

BadDirected by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Richard Price

Michael Jackson’s music videos (or “short films,” as he’d apparently insist you call them) are one of the best arguments out there for the music video as popular art. From the seedy dreamscape of “Billie Jean” to the kooky horror antics of “Thriller” to Macaulay Culkin rapping in “Black or White,” you’d be hard-pressed to find more entertainingly freewheeling funhouse mirror visions of society and popular culture.

And when you think kooky funhouse mirror dreamscapes, you think ultra-realistic urban novelist Richard Price, right? No? Well, someone did! Continue reading

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STREETS OF GOLD (Film, 1986)

Streets of Gold (Film)Directed by Joe Roth

Story by Dezsö Magyar, screenplay by Heywood Gould and Richard Price and Tom Cole

[UPDATE: I asked Richard Price about this film in an interview and am including his response here:

…[B]efore the Color of Money thing happened, [producer] Joe Roth–who wanted to direct for a change–had a script that was Streets of Gold, that was written by another guy, and he asked me if I would script doctor it. And so I did. I wrote a lot, and then apparently after me he got another guy to do it, so there were three writers. I was the guy in the middle. When he first put forth the writing credits he left me out. And I started making a fuss, even though it’s up to the Writers Guild, all you got to do is arbitrate. So he just said, “Ah, the hell with it,” and he put me in for a credit. So that was my first credit. But when I saw the movie there was not one line or one scene in that entire movie that I recognized as mine. So I don’t even really deserve that credit.

Obviously this makes considering the film in the context of Price’s filmography something of a fool’s errand, but I did enjoy doing so and am glad to have been made aware of this movie via Priced Out. My original Streets of Gold post is below.–Matt]

Continue reading

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The Color of MoneyDirected by Martin Scorsese

Screenplay by Richard Price, adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis

First, some background:

During the writing of his fourth novel, 1983’s The Breaks, Richard Price felt that he “ran out of autobiography.” None of his books had been straight non-fiction memoirs, but they had all been based heavily in his own experiences, and that well of inspiration finally seemed to be running dry; he had told his own story as thoroughly as he could. The film adaptations of his first two novels had made him a known quantity in Hollywood, and for years he had been pursued for screenwriting gigs due to the cinematic quality of his prose. Now, feeling like he had nothing left to say via the page, Price decided to try his hand at writing for the screen. Continue reading

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THE BREAKS (Novel, 1983)

The BreaksThe Breaks, Richard Price’s fourth novel, is a long, meandering book about a directionless college grad trying to find himself. It doesn’t have much of a discernible structure and ends without reaching much of a narrative conclusion. Price himself has called it “[t]he hardest book for me ever to write, and the least satisfying.”

I love it, though! In fact, The Breaks is one of my favorite novels of Price’s, and the only one I had re-read purely for pleasure before starting this blog.

To be fair, I found it at exactly the right time in my own life. The book is narrated by Peter Keller, recent graduate of prestigious (and fictional) Simon Straight College, as he suffers through a stifling year living at home in Yonkers and then moves back to his alma mater for a teaching gig and a torrid romance with a professor’s ex-wife. I read it when I was, like Peter, fresh out of college, on the job hunt and living on my own for the first time, and I identified with Peter’s unease about being let loose for the first time from the institutional and family dynamics he was used to–being “an astronaut with a snapped lifeline,” as he says at one point. Or, maybe more to the point, having “a ferocious case of the Who Am I’s.” Continue reading

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THE WANDERERS (Film, 1979)

The Wanderers (Film)Directed by Philip Kaufman

Screenplay by Rose Kaufman and Philip Kaufman, adapted from the novel by Richard Price

The film versions of Richard Price’s first two novels, The Wanderers and Bloodbrothers, are like a case study in what makes an adaptation succeed or fail. The Bloodbrothers movie, which Price disparagingly said reminded him of a spaghetti commercial, actually stayed pretty close to the plot of the original book (apart from the ending), but changed countless details throughout in order to soften the harsh story for the screen. In contrast, while almost every individual scene in the silver screen staging of The Wanderers, Price’s darkly comedic debut novel about teenage gang members in the early ’60s, is taken from the book, those component parts are all re-ordered and rearranged in terms of how they relate to each other. We still see a hapless teacher trying to instill some tolerance in a class divided between Italians and blacks, but that moment is now used as the instigation for the two sides’ ill-fated football game, which is now a gambling opportunity for the gangsters from the bowling alley, one of whom is now the father of Richie’s girlfriend, who now gets pregnant like Buddy’s girlfriend did in the book, etc., etc. It’s like husband-and-wife screenwriting team Rose and Philip Kaufman grabbed a loose thread hanging off the novel and pulled until all the chapters were scrunched up real snug against each other.

But even though this film is much further from its source material than the Bloodbrothers adaptation was, plot-wise, it’s also closer to that source material’s intent, and more successful on its own terms. “It’s not my book,” Price has said, “and I don’t care. The spirit is right…” Continue reading

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LADIES’ MAN (Novel, 1978)

Ladies' ManRichard Price’s novels can be roughly divided into three phases. The first phase includes 1974’s The Wanderers and 1976’s Bloodbrothers, semi-autobiographical tales of teenage Italians growing up in the Bronx. The most recent phase, made up of 1992’s Clockers and everything he’s put out since then, tends to focus on interactions between cops and the residents of impoverished urban black communities. You might expect the middle phase, encompassing 1978’s Ladies’ Man and 1983’s The Breaks, to function as some kind of transition between the other two, but it’s actually the opposite. Phases 1 and 3 at least share third-person narration and an interest in urban violence, but Phase 2 shifts away from both of those qualities, adopting a first-person perspective and a lighter tone even more overtly farcical than that of The Wanderers. And while I love Clockers and the novels that followed it, I kind of wish Phase 2 had lasted longer, because Richard Price’s comedies are funny as hell. Continue reading

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Bloodbrothers (Film)Directed by Robert Mulligan

Screenplay by Walter Newman, adapted from the novel by Richard Price

Like many novelists turned screenwriters, Richard Price first got involved with Hollywood through a screen adaptation of one of his books–1976’s Bloodbrothers, as it happens. Price isn’t credited as having worked on the script for this adaptation, or on that of the 1979 movie version of The Wanderers, so one could question whether or not those films even belong on this blog. But, first of all, from what I understand of how the film industry works, a screenplay with Price’s name on it isn’t necessarily any closer to Price’s ultimate creative vision than someone else’s adaptation of his book. And, second of all, these films are worth considering both in terms of how they presented Price’s work to a mass audience and how they affected Price’s outlook on the film industry.

Bloodbrothers apparently did not affect that outlook positively. Continue reading

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