Take 'Crow' as is, not fateful filming, producer urges

May 14, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Well, here it is.

The death movie, as everybody knows. Late in the filming of "The Crow," an actor pulled the trigger on a blank-loaded .44 Magnum and, against an enormous mountain of odds, fired a bullet that had been wedged into the barrel the day before into star Brandon Lee, killing him.

The death was doubly, perhaps even triply, fraught with meaning. Lee was the son of the brilliant martial arts star Bruce Lee, who himself died at an early age under mysterious circumstances. But even in the movie, which opened Friday, death was a character: Lee had been playing a rock musician killed at an early age, who returns from the grave to kill his slayers.

Why did this have to happen?

"When you can't find a reason," says co-producer Edward R. Pressman, "you call it fate. Fate's as good an explanation as any."

Pressman, a distinguished movie executive with such projects as "Wall Street," "Reversal of Fortune" and "Homicide" behind him, and a reputation for spotting young talent (he produced Oliver Stone's first film and Brian De Palma's as well), has taken the unusual step of putting himself before the press in what amounts to a lobbying effort in favor of his movie, and to face all the hard questions of taste and propriety.

"I just hope that the interest in the film will go beyond the prurient," he says. "The movie should be looked at for what it is, not for what happened during the filming."

The hardest question is: Why go on? Why release a film that has claimed a man's life and will enter the marketplace with a titillating whiff of authentic tragedy about it? Evidently Paramount, which originally financed the movie, had its doubts, as it dropped the film from its list and now it is being released by Miramax.

Moreover, this is a question that has had different answers over the years. When Natalie Wood drowned near the end of "Brainstorm," MGM decided to ditch the movie; the director, Douglas Turnbull, lobbied to get his work out of limbo and the movie eventually came out. Comedian Roy Kinnear was killed riding a horse during the filming of "The Fifth Musketeer" and that movie never surfaced again. In the '50s, when Tyrone Power collapsed and died on the set of "Solomon and Sheba," the whole movie was reshot with Yul Brynner in Power's role.

Speaking in his slow, almost halting way, Pressman says, "After the death, the insurance company gave us the option. We could finish the film or they would pay up. Technically, there was no question that we could do it. It was entirely up to Proyas."

Proyas is Alex Proyas, the young Australian director whose first major movie the project was and who was so devastated by the accident that he returned to his native country for four months.

"But Liza [Eliza Hutton, Lee's bereaved fiancee] and the whole cast and crew begged him to go on. The real issue was, could Alex get his head together in order to finish the film?"

Eventually, Proyas returned and the film was completed.

Pressman bristles at the mention of a Premiere magazine article that maintained that the fatal accident came when an inexperienced weapons handler, working under great pressure, failed to note that one bullet from an amateurishly constructed dummy cartridge inserted in the cylinder of the gun had become stuck in the barrel. The next morning, the article said, the weapons handler again failed to check that the barrel was free of obstructions before blanks were inserted.

"It was a lot of rubbish," Pressman says. "The idea that we had unqualified people on the set, that was unfair. When something like that happens they have to look for a fault."

Pressman's explanation: "The accident, I believe, was a result of a company that supplied the dummy bullets -- the top got lodged in the barrel. Next, an actor who had been told to aim away from the target actually hit it -- and hit it in the one place where he wasn't protected and where it would do the most damage."

"The odds of this happening were incalculable," he maintains. "There was great spirit on the set, not exhaustion. It was the best spirit I've ever seen, all those young people working so hard on the film."

Asked if there was a lesson in all this, Pressman paused for about two minutes, while a reporter waited patiently, and then said, "One must carry on with life, as difficult as it is. There's no other recourse. You have to take the [press] shots that you get, too. The alternative is so much worse. I'm just glad we had the fortitude to carry on."

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