Camp David

CAMP DAVID AUGUST 2013: SIX DEGREES OF MASTROIANNI

By • Jul 31st, 2013 •

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In Fellini’s masterwork 8 ½, a film director is faced with a mid-life crisis as he begins to work on his new film after having achieved great success with his last one. This situation causes the director Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni, forever immortalized as Fellini’s alter-ego, to question the very nature of creativity. The screenplay gives his character a bit of dialogue I have never forgotten, about just what it is a film director tries to do in his career. “I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I’m the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.”

Fellini’s wonderful film and this line of dialogue came delightfully back to mind this past Fourth of July as I wandered into a Hollywood-style pool party after being away from this kind of scene for nearly five years. Among the people I became reacquainted with was a director with the illustrious name of Mastroianni; in fact Armand is a cousin of Marcello Mastroianni, the mythical director from 8 ½ himself. Armand Mastroianni is a director of style and substance when given the chance, who began his career in 1980 with a modest horror film that introduced Tom Hanks into the world of film entitled HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE. Now this surprisingly restrained shocker released on the heels of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is almost devoid of the gore you would expect from a film made at the height of the slice-and-dice craze we experienced in the 1980’s. It seems Armand is blessed with sensibilities more in keeping with, say, an old school producer like Val Lewton, keeping his shocks more in the shadows. “Fear of the unknown and what we can’t see is far more terrifying than being confronted with the source. Our imagination is far more powerful and capable of producing more terror than what reality holds. It’s for that reason I like the so-called foreplay rather than the result. The longer you can sustain it the longer the audience is on edge. Hitchcock was a master at this and I, like so many other directors, certainly was influenced by it.”

Armand’s career as a film director was kismet, ever since he made his way as a kid onto the film sets of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER. Coppola allowed Armand to stay for three days and watch the famous wedding scene with Diane Keaton, not only giving Armand a front row seat in watching a master at work but also interacting with Brando himself at one point between takes. He was present during the famous scene between Brando, as the Don in his later years, and Al Pacino in the garden and was surprised at Brando’s need for cue cards. “The pauses and glances away from Al were to read his lines, but he did it so well.” Mastroianni also made his way onto the sets of John Schlessinger’s MARATHON MAN, observing key moments with Olivier as he made his way through the diamond center of Manhattan. There he introduced himself to the film’s producer, the infamous Robert Evans, to whom he said “You make great films” to which Evans replied “Tell that to the studio.” Earlier Armand was also on set for MIDNIGHT COWBOY during the famous food automat sequence where Joe Buck encounters the Warhol crowd and soils his pants in the process.

His early days of creating his own short films drew the attention of the not-always-easy-to-know Otto Preminger, who was judging a film festival and picked Mastroianni’s as the winner. He then took the young Mastroianni under his wing, introducing his short film to his vast circle of film intelligentsia, praising his work and assuring Armand a place in the business he was destined to be a part of all his life. “Otto Preminger inspired me and gave me the confidence to get to the next step. I figured if someone like him believed in me then I must have something.

He hosted a private party at his home on Sutton Place in NY and invited several top executives in the film business to a buffet and a screening of my short film The Private Worlds of Sophie and Bernie Schwartz. It was a very special time for me and I met all the right people.”

Armand and I first met many years before this warm summer afternoon in July. I was in the midst of taping my cable TV show THE SINISTER IMAGE in the summer of 1987 when my then-photographer Dan Golden got an assignment to do stills on a horror film being shot around town called CAMERON’S CLOSET.

CAMERON’S CLOSET was done from a child’s point of view as we witness a demonic force that steals its way into our dimension to spell death for those who dare to open the door to… Well, you get the idea. The film starred the talented and always underrated Tab Hunter and funnyman Chuck McCann, two very different personalities who both shared a deep love of show business. I was more than happy to take Dan Golden’s offer to set up a meeting and then tape a show around the making of the film with Tab and Chuck joining me at the little makeshift studio in Santa Monica, along with Armand to discuss and promote the film-in-progress.

Now, this half hour show never aired anywhere outside of local Los Angeles in 1987. You can imagine my surprise then, during that July 4th weekend, to run into not only Dan Golden, who I had not seen within the last five years, only to have him say, “Hey, there’s Armand. I must go over and say hello,” to which I said, “You don’t mean Armand Mastroianni, do you? Well, I know him, although it’s been a long time between chats, to say the least.” It was a good thing Dan was there because I simply would never have connected the stocky mustachioed Armand I taped the show with back in 1987 with the clean-shaven, svelte gentleman standing there before me looking youthful and fit. It did not take too long to catch up since his charming son Paul, who was at the party as well, was instantly able to find the one and only clip of THE SINISTER IMAGE show on his cell phone (that some of my friends had posted on Youtube) featuring Chuck McCann. It gave Paul a very candid glimpse of his dad during a time when he was still in his nursery phase. Armand reminded me of all this because it seems during my one and only set visit Paul was brought on stage in a stroller, which I pushed around the set at the time. Now I was talking to a grown 30 year-old professional man, another of the degrees of Mastroiannis entering into the family business. We recently ensured that the show from 1987 would live on as a special feature for a future Blu-ray release of CAMERON’S CLOSET.

It was clear from that afternoon that we had indeed reestablished contact in such a positive way that we met a couple of weeks later and began to catch up even more. From these meetings I learned directly from Armand what a productive career he was maintaining. After his debut with HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, Armand went on to film at least two more genre features, THE KILLING HOUR (produced by the great William Friedkin, who from that point onwards has remained a close personal friend and champion of Armand’s talent) and THE SUPERNATURALS with Maxwell Caulfield, a bizarre mix of Civil War ghosts and mayhem. This film showed yet again what Armand was capable of with atmosphere and shadows in place of blood and gore. At this time Armand was also making a name for himself in television with episodic shows like TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE. Directly from this work came a phone call out of the blue from producer/director Dan Curtis with an offer to do his reboot of the ultra-popular Gothic series DARK SHADOWS.

Armand embraced this opportunity and flew out to the coast only to receive much more than he bargained for, as he eventually became the producer of the series, as well as its oft-time director. Armand explained to me one afternoon quite beautifully how he won over the DARK SHADOWS cast and crew by reimagining long-existing horror film tropes with imagination filled erotic situations now so ingrained in the vampire subtext.

Armand took an overly familiar scene where Barnabas summons a sleeping maiden to come to him in the garden so he can drink her blood. The camera caught every bit of emotional longing the girl could convey right up to the point where he took her from behind, while she willingly accepted him, pulling his head down to her virgin neck, begging for his piercing teeth — all of this done as an unholy parody of the sex act, complete with an orgasm of blood running down between her breasts. The rushes proved his vision to Dan, who trusted him to helm and produce the series, until the Gulf War ended what might have reinstated DARK SHADOWS back to the popularity it once enjoyed at the end of the sixties.

During this period Armand began to direct a wide variety of all aspects of what television had to offer, with mini-series like Danielle Steel’s THE RING, which was a favorite with viewers both male and female this time around. Armand sampled every genre with action films like SHARPSHOOTER and FINAL APPROACH, along with family dramas and bio-pics like THE LINDA MCCARTNY STORY, and working with several cable channels like Lifetime. He also made a feature film from James Redfields new age bestseller The Celestine Prophecy.

“I felt very fortunate to be able to diversify with the subject of films I was making. I didn’t become just a horror, action or comedy director. I idolized great directors like Wyler, Wilder, Preminger, Coppola etc. who’s body of work was never specified in one genre. I was attracted to all types of material as long as it was good and I felt that I could bring my interpretation to it. This was especially true with movies which I created from the script as opposed to TV series which had established characters and a visual look that had to be maintained.”

While I personally feel that Armand Mastroianni has a special feel for the horror genre it would be unfair to label his abilities at this point because I have seen evidence of his mastery in any genre he sets his sights on; case in point the Lifetime movie I watched just prior to reconnecting with him, DARK DESIRE. While it’s a made-for-television thriller exclusively for a female audience, it has such a command of perverse material and imagery that the film transcends the genre, allowing gorgeous men to be objectified on a level that was once reserved for women. Armand understands the need for a more balanced view of the sexes and is more than willing to break taboos if needed to create more three-dimensional characters and situations.

Armand Mastroianni is still evolving as a talent and, much like his cousin Marcello Mastroianni’s character in 8 ½, Guido has the final word on his career when he asks his producers to “accept me as I am; only then can we discover each other.” I certainly feel that we can now accept Armand’s already impressive body of work, but only as a work in progress, because from what I have observed in just the short time I have been back in his orbit, the best is yet to come.

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One Response »

  1. Thank you so much David and Roy for an amazing article. I’m receiving so many wonderful comments from friends and fans around the world. What an excellent birthday present!
    All the best,
    Armand

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