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'The movie life is kind of like a club'

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The Wanderers
Michael Chapman Film-maker
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I used to come back to New York to do a movie and, you know, stay in a hotel and shoot. I did a whole bunch there and one of them was The Wanderers, which either came right before or right after Raging Bull... I think it was right before Raging Bull.  And it's a story about teenage gangs in the Bronx, or teenage kids in high school, who belong to a gang called the Wanderers – it's a Dion and The Belmonts song... 'I'm a wanderer', you know? 'I'm the kind of guy that will never settle down', you know, and they have wonderful jackets that say Wanderers on the back of them, and there are Italian gangs, and there are black gangs, and there's an Irish gang, and there's a gang called the Fordam Baldies... there really was a gang in... in... who all have shaved heads and they were written by the novelist Richard Price, and they are originally a book of connected short stories that's sort of a novel, and I can't remember what the name of the book was or if the book was called The Wanderers, but they are... maybe the book was called The Wanderers, I just don't remember, but they are clearly based on his own adolescence in the Bronx where he grew up, where he was kind of the nerdy Jewish kid in the high school and he desperately wanted to be in with the hip Italian... really, you know, cool guys, and it's... it's... the stories are wonderful, by the way; the stories are really marvelous, and... and Phil [Kaufman] and his wife adapted it as a screen play and we shot it, and it's really very touching and moving.

Unlike many of the movies of the '70s that are full of irony and, you know, very hip and this and that, Phil's movies tend to be more... more sort of... not... middle class is not the right word, but more... less ironic and more overtly emotional, or dealing with people's emotions – not overtly emotional, but dealing with the emotions of the people who are in them and treating them... treating those emotions quite sincerely and straight-forwardly, unlike the irony of whoever you want to mention, and because of that I think somehow they don't quite get... they don't seem as hip as... as others, and that's... that's wrong because in fact, Wanderers particularly and [The] White Dawn, too, are packed with genuine emotions. Wanderers is really so sad and so wonderful – about these kids and what they want and the one... the hero kid is the... you know, we all know that the kid who... who peaked too early, who was the king of everything in high school and... and the hero, the lead... sort of the lead character, that is clearly that guy who was the one that everybody admired in high school, and then after high school it turned out he was just going to be a sort of goombah... local goombah who gets fat and wears Hawaiian shirts, and the other kids who... who was the nerdy kid who could draw, and somebody else, they're going to run away to San Francisco and be hippies and it... it's just full of that... those genuine teenage emotions – admittedly originally gotten from Richard Price's really wonderful stories but really well translated to the screen, and, again, we had a lot of fun doing it, a lot of fun; it was great to do . And... oh, and the Ducky boys were... were sort of like representing... they were a gang of tiny little kids that... I mean, they're teenagers but they're vicious, and they sort of come out of the dark, and they're like the unconscious, or the memory of the unconscious, and we had a great deal of fun doing it, and I think it's... an over... it was a sort of cult movie; it's not perfect by any means, but it... it has had a life and it... now it continually shows. And somewhere or other I had a couple of Wanderers jackets that I gave to my two sons. I don't know whatever happened to them, but they are priceless, they're wonderful... oh, they're orange and red – dark red – and they have 'Wanderers' in yellow letters across the back. They were nice.

The Wanderers... I really highly recommend The Wanderers as a piece of '70s-ness that when it was shown two or three weeks ago, here in LA, and I was, as I say... you know, was there, and we were supposed to talk about it afterwards, several people came up to me and said, 'You know, I grew up in the Bronx at that time and you absolutely had it right, you really had it right', and they got quite passionate about how... how much it was like their memories, and that was nice because we wanted it to be not exactly teenage life, but teenage life remembered, as... as Richard Price's stories were, because obviously he wasn't a teenager when he wrote them, and it's full of... we hoped, anyway, would be full – and apparently it worked – of the sort of memory of the intense emotions of teenage life, and I think... well, you'd have to look at it to see, but I recommend looking at it because it really is... I think we were successful and several of the performances are marvelous. There was a woman who played the daughter of a local goombah, who in the end the hero marries because he knocked her up, and she was a young comic actress named Toni Kalem, and I never knew what happened to her, and then later – many, many years later – she showed up on The Sopranos; she has a regular role as somebody's wife on The Sopranos –she's, you know, Italian, and she plays... and there she is, in middle age, and she's on The Sopranos. I'm very happy to see that she is still working. She uses glitter. I ask, 'What kind of...what's that nail buff?' She says, 'Glitter.' There's a wonderful... several wonderful scenes of dancers and a strip poker scene and things that are really... well, anyway, I don't want to go on boasting, but it's a marvelous movie, you should see it, and Phil is... was a very good director who really got to the heart of those things and was not ironic about them. You know, he resisted the temptation to be ironic, which is a hard temptation to resist, but it's well worth resisting most of the time.

Michael Chapman, an American cinematographer, has had a huge influence on contemporary film-making, working on an impressive array of classic films including 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull', 'The Lost Boys' and 'The Fugitive'.

Listeners: Glen Ade Brown

British Director of Photography and Camera Operator Glen Ade Brown settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago.

He has been working on features, commercials and reality TV. He played an instrumental role in the award-winning ABC Family series "Switched" and is also a recipient of the Telly and the Cine Golden Eagle awards for Best Cinematography. He was recently signed by the Judy Marks Agency and is now listed in her commercial roster.

Tags: The Wanderers, The White Dawn, 1970s, The Sopranos, Richard Price, Toni Kalem, Phil Kaufman

Duration: 5 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008