May 052012

The July 1993 issue of the British magazine Empire had several in-depth articles on Falling Down, including one piece that commented on why the film was “geographically unsound,” and a second offering an analysis of how the film came to be.

“You Can’t Do That!” (p. 18)

“Surely D-Fens doesn’t expect to walk from Lincoln Heights in downtown L.A. to Venice Beach in one day?… Indeed, ‘D’ could have made it easier for himself if he hadn’t rather bizarrely insisted on machine-gunning a phone booth on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Avenue—miles out of his way—and if he hadn’t decided to take a detour through snootsome Beverly Hills just to have a go at the richies. As the crow flies, it’s a 15-mile trip to Venice from Lincoln Heights, which is quite enough for one day’s walk—as D-Fens rampages, you’re looking at at least 25 miles.

Falling Down is not a documentary!,’ screams director Joel Schumacher when confronted with this geographical conundrum. ‘I don’t know how it is in London, but L.A. is sprawling, and if you go ten minutes in any direction it’s like you’re in a different world. So it’s like Michael is going through different cities in this movie—it’s not literally a walk through L.A.’”

“Get Out of My Face” (p. 74)

Joel Schumacher says of Falling Down, “This is a movie inspired by anger. It shows anger. It got people angry. I think many people are in denial when they see this film. People don’t want to admit that they have anger, that they have rage, and when you strike a nerve, people scream, and they scream loud. This is one day in a multicultural, multiracial, screwed-up city, and I know it’s tough, but I think it’s time for people to grow up and face the fact that we’ve got problems.” Says Michael Douglas, “A lot of people are angry out there now. They’ve worked hard all their lives and they’ve got nothing to show for it, but they don’t know who to be angry at.”

Hollywood is filled with stories of important (and not-so-important) films that almost never got made. Falling Down is one of them. Ebbe Roe Smith’s script had been rejected by every major studio in Hollywood, and it looked destined for cable television when Michael Douglas, fresh from his star-affirming role in Basic Instinct, looked at it. He proclaimed it one of the best scripts he’d ever read and in short order contacted producer Arnold Kopelson and longtime friend director Joel Schumacher. “I remember thinking, ‘Thank God no one’s made this movie, because I get to make it,’” said Schumacher.

“Foster’s release is so identifiable to all of our angers because they’re simple ones. Getting out of a car in the middle of traffic; the desire to maybe pull out a gun if you don’t get something your way.… But, like all abhorrent behavior, there’s a price and I think the reason we don’t do these things is because, like Michael, you cross the line. If you pull out a gun when you don’t get what you want, you’ll eventually use it, because what if the person still says no? What if the person still says, ‘I don’t care how many guns you pull, I’m still not giving you your burger or your breakfast?’ What do you do?”

“Annette Bening said that when she walked out of seeing the film in New York, and at first she felt, ‘What kind of world am I bringing my baby up in?’ Then as she got further down the block, she thought, ‘Any one of these people could be Bill Foster.’ And by the time she got to the curb, she thought, ‘I could be that person.’”

“With Falling Down I tried to give a face and a soul to the Six O’clock news story we see all the time, the one about the seemingly ordinary man who’s worked hard all his life, who’s been a law-abiding citizen who snaps suddenly and kills his family or his co-workers, and where they always show the clip of the neighbours saying, ‘I don’t know how this happened, he was such a nice guy…’”

Falling Down is an anomaly: A big-budget picture with no recognizable good guy. “Some people may see him as a hero,” considers Douglas, “most will probably see him as a psychotic.” Director Schumacher asks, “What has happened in our culture, where we can only tell each other stories where everything is black and white, crystal clear, when we all know life has nothing to do with that? Why can’t we have stories in which someone commits acts we cannot condone and yet we understand their behaviour? I think the fact that many people are disturbed by the fact that they can’t work out whether Michael is the good guy or the bad guy is the point.”

Surely such a blurring of morality is dangerous, in that there’s a chance the some people might not make the distinction? “I think the people who want to commit acts of violence will go and see Aladdin and be violent, because I think they’re violence looking for a place to happen,” insists Schumacher…. “I don’t think that people see violent acts in films and go out and do violent acts. Because if they want to be violent, they don’t need Falling Down.”

Bill Foster, aka D-FENS

Douglas discussed how he developed Bill Foster: “I was in a supermarket that I’d been to for years and the manager came out to sign a check. He was about 40, had that hair, a white shirt and pencils. I was looking at him for the first time and I asked him how long he had worked there. He said 12 years and I realized I had seen him many, many times and never noticed him. And that’s how I got the character because I realized that he’s one of these invisible people that we don’t pay much attention to because they’re not interesting to us, and therefore we give them labels like ‘nerd.’”

Falling Down Protests

Like Douglas, Schumacher is no stranger to controversy. When he made Flatliners he was criticized as irresponsible because certain factions in the U.S. felt that the nation’s teenagers would try to imitate the film’s heart-stopping experiments. With Falling Down it was the Korean community and, weirdly, the defense workers whose wrath he evoked.

The film topped the box office for three weeks and sparked protests. Minority groups began picketing cinemas, in particular members of the Korean community. Instead of leaving it to Warner Brothers PR flacks to address the issues, Schumacher personally met with protestors to discuss the film. “There was a very deep misunderstanding which I did not realize until I met with them, because people are not sophisticated about the time frame of a movie. They felt I made this after the [1993 Los Angeles] riots, in which a number of Koreans were killed and abused. I explained that I hadn’t, and I felt that they understood.”

And it wasn’t just minorities that had a beef with the film. Even the defense worker’s union defensively protested that Foster was not representative of their workers. “Defense workers picketed the film,” Schumacher says, “because they were all unemployed and they feared that people would see the film and think that all defense workers were crazy, and so no one would hire them. But people with abhorrent behaviour appear in films from all walks of life. People did not stop committing adultery after Fatal Attraction. People did not stop taking cabs after Taxi Driver. I felt [the protests were] a very good way for them to get publicity, because these are the people who were working to defend the country and were then just thrown out on the street…. I empathize with them. I’ve been unemployed many times in my life, and in Hollywood you never know.

“Actually the outcry for and against the film is very healthy,” Schumacher says, “because as long as we keep expressing our anger this way it’s healthier. If there are opportunities to talk about how angry we are then maybe we won’t act it out… I hope this movie is a wake-up call. But I don’t think it is because I don’t think films have that power. I wish they did, but they don’t….”

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