Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Film Festival 'Love Ranch' screening a real event.

I hadn't made time to attend any of the New Orleans Film Festival screenings, especially with all the splendid weather and musical events. But last night, I had a notion to hop over to the Prytania, which is so close, after all, and check out the film, Love Ranch, showing at 7 o'clock. I told Ralph I was going to see a movie about a brothel and he just shook his head. What's next?

The event was a real happening, as we used to say in the 1970s. The neighborhood theater was full - although I still managed to get a center seat arriving at 6:55 - and the director, Taylor Hackford, talked a bit before the show. I did not realize he is married to the star, Helen Mirren, nor that he had directed "Ray," the Oscar-nominated bio-flick about Ray Charles. You already know what I am about to tell you - Hackford and Helen are in love with New Orleans.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mike Scott

There comes a time in every relationship when key questions must be answered. When compatibility issues must be addressed. When you've got to find out if there's a future in this whole crazy thing or not.

When that moment arrived in director Taylor Hackford's then-blossoming relationship with actress Helen Mirren, there was only one way for him to get the answers he needed.

He took his future wife -- and a future Oscar winner -- on a trip to New Orleans.

"You know, it was a big test: 'Is this the woman for me or not?' " Hackford said. "And we got there and we spent a little time and she turned to me and she says, 'I want to die in this town.'

"And I said, 'That's the woman for me!' "

Hackford -- a California kid with a fondness for good times and great music -- had been harboring a long-running love affair with the Big Easy ever since his college roommate introduced him to the city sophomore year. Any woman in his life would have to recognize that infatuation, understand it and, well, laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all.

So it's fitting in a way that Hackford ("Ray," "Dolores Claiborne," "An Officer and a Gentleman") will be at the New Orleans Film Festival tonight to show off his latest film -- one starring Mirren and boasting the romantic-sounding title "Love Ranch."

It might even be downright poetic if "Love Ranch" weren't, in fact, about a Las Vegas brothel, with Mirren playing a madam married to Joe Pesci. But let's not drain all of the romance out of this New Orleans fairy tale, shall we?

"Love Ranch" is loosely based on the real-life story of the Nevada couple that, in the 1970s, opened the first legal brothel in the United States. As the film starts, they seem to be on top of the world, but the story takes a dark, violent turn after the emergence of a love triangle.

It's a particularly nice fit for this year's film festival, which seems to be loaded even more than usual with locally linked projects. That's not because "Love Ranch" was shot here -- it wasn't; it was shot in Nevada, where it's set -- but because Hackford was among the first members of the Hollywood community to see the potential for New Orleans to become the thriving film-production hub it has become.

That enthusiasm predated even his decision to shoot "Ray" here in 2003 -- a film that would earn him an Oscar nomination for best director -- and back to his days teaching at the University of New Orleans with former NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff. It was in those days, he said -- during conversations between himself, Tartikoff and former UNO Chancellor Gregory O'Brien -- that some of the first conversations cropped up about the possibility of a state tax incentive aimed at luring filmmakers to Louisiana.

For Hackford, it was a no-brainer.
"I said, 'Listen, No. 1, (Hollywood is) sending $10 billion a year to Canada, and that's a crime. We should not be doing that. The Canadians are great, but why aren't we offering the same kinds of incentives here to states that need their economies boosted?'

"And, secondly, I know that artists love New Orleans -- I do, my wife does, everybody who goes there is charmed because it's a unique city, it's a city for artists. Its every nuance, every place you look, is a picture, a feeling -- and the music, food, everything else. And I knew that it would draw. So it's not just that there were locations there, but for filmmakers and artists and musicians who wanted to be inspired, it's an inspiring city."
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Louisiana has become the third-largest film-production hub in the United States, behind only New York and Los Angeles.

Above all, though, tonight's screening provides Hackford with a good excuse to visit the city that has inspired him for so many years. Once upon a time, Hackford and Mirren made frequent trips to town, staying in the Creole cottage they kept in the French Quarter. ("Some people take a vacation house in Hawaii," he said. "Helen and I had our place in the Quarter.") They wound up selling it a few years back, but they still own property here, which brings Hackford back a few times a year.

"I was down in the spring," he said. "I come in and I deal with business and I see friends. And my son lives there, so when I can, I try to get down. I may come down for Thanksgiving. That's always a great day, to try to get out to the track.

"I don't get there as often as I would like now, because I'm jumping all over the place, but my heart is in New Orleans. And, as my wife said, it's a place that's always, always going to be in our soul."
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Movie critic Mike Scott can be reached at or 504.826.3444. Read him online at or follow his Twitter feed at

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