Richard Brautigan was, throughout his life, fascinated with movies. As a child, time spent watching movies was time escaping from the realities of an impoverished life. As an adult, Brautigan appreciated the cinematic and narrative crafts displayed in the movies he watched. Writing screenplays was also, he thought, a way to make money.
Two screenplays written by Brautigan are known. One is based on his novel The Hawkline Monster, the other, Trailer, was written with Brad Donovan. Brandon French adapted A Confederate General from Big Sur. None of these screenplays were ever made into movies.
Brautigan was paid to develop a "treatment" (an expanded idea for a film) to be called Magicians of Light.
Brautigan was reportedly included among those filmed for The Bed by film-maker, poet James Broughton but his appearance was cut out of the final film.
Brautigan made a number of 16mm films with San Francisco film maker Loren Sears. One, titled Yosemite Backyard, featured a voice over of Brautigan reading his poetry over a microscopic view of an overgrown backyard.
Brautigan was featured in three very short appearances in the movie Tarpon.
Brautigan has influenced a number of short, creative films, according to their makers. Additionally, several screenplays based on works by or about Brautigan are currently in development. These include adaptations of The Abortion, The Confederate General from Big Sur, and The Hawkline Monster, and a Brautigan biography entitled For Richard [Brautigan]. More information, HERE
At the end of July, Brautigan received a telephone call from William Jersey, president of Quest Productions, a small New York film company. Jersey agreed to pay Brautigan $1,000 for expanding an idea for a documentary film about San Francisco. In just a few days, Brautigan produced a fifteen-page treatment for a movie to be called Magicians of Light. It was to be a movie about movie making in San Francisco and would feature many of the members of the hip community. Locations included the Presidio pet cemetery, Foster's cafeteria on Market Street, Golden Gate Park, a Venerial Disease clinic, a light show commune, and a psychedelic whorehouse on Telegraph Hill. For actors, Brautigan suggested Michael McClure, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Bill Graham, and others. The film was never made. (William Hjortsberg 321)
A screenplay about eccentric characters living in a mobile home park.
Written on speculation during Summer 1982 with Brad Donovan.
Never optioned or produced.
Donovan provides the following account of how he and Brautigan wrote the screenplay for Trailer.
Feedback from Brad Donovan
"Taste Is No Object" or Writing with Richard
Brautigan was fascinated by how different everyone looks, and the little worlds they build. So he notices that western and gangster movies feature a dwarf—or child—as a messenger type then in Troutfishing In America he uses Troutfishing Shorty for that, boxing him up and shipping the dwarf to Nelson Algren—a writer whom Richard admired, for his hard-boiled style and desperate characters. That trippy novel has a cinematic effect, due in part to Richard's love of old movies gained from impoverished days staying warm in matinees. I collaborated with him on a screenplay, TRAILER, and from that intoxicating experience I can pass along a few ideas about how he worked, and what the effort cost him.
We had met in the kitchen of Ed and Jenny Dorn's house in Boulder, in the summer of 1980. Richard was in town for literary events, but to escape that attention we joined a redneck party in the mountains north of town for an amiable Sunday of drinking, loud Kinks records and some careful target practice. Following a fishing trip to his home in the Paradise Valley of Montana, my wife and I were convinced to move to Bozeman—it was, unbelievably, a cheap ski town then.
For the first year of our friendship we did not discuss his books. Dorn, my teacher, was an old friend of Richard's, so there was little of the wariness he had for fans or critics. Richard was proud of the fact that regular people read his books—he enjoyed talking to a carpet-layer from Livingston in a bar as much as Leslie Fiedler (his comparison). Like most self-taught geniuses, his reading was wide, intense, and happily unaware of "the Cannon." For instance, one afternoon, I mentioned my used bookstore scoop: a copy of Boris Pasternak's out of print memoir, I Remember. Richard knew it well, and recounted the poet's meeting his idol, Rilke, on a train in the story. Then Brautigan gave an extemporaneous lecture, fueled by a few glasses of whiskey, on Russian poetry, the limits of Mayakovsky, the political dimension injected by futurism, Akmatova's greatness then—an hour or two into things—his real concern: the debt a writer owes to a mentor. Richard was bothered by two things. The "sons of Hemingway" as he called the novelists of his generation, were getting Oedipal. And he regretted that he had not achieved success in time to send his books to William Carlos Williams.
Perception was Richard's thing, how people saw the world, and as he called it "the quiet dignity with which they put up with things." His method employed "going over the top" or accumulating layers of detail through revision. Usually, though, the additions are metaphors or images, not adjectives, adverbs or what he rejected as a tired convention, the accumulation of details to show a character's social status. He was viciously egalitarian, with a rebel's zeal. The attitude, and the technique, are in W.C. Williams' Spring and All and also In the American Grain.
So a trailer park is a natural subject for Brautigan—the last of the romantic transcendentalists, a nature writer observing our bizarre American landscape. He was renting the trailer next to ours in Forest Park, on the Gallatin River west of Bozeman. It was the summer of 1982. Richard had returned from a year of readings, and had taught at the local university. To escape the isolation of his ranch, he "raided on Bozeman." One morning, Richard's date from the previous night's foray was foiled in her escape by a dead car. I was busy threatening the old man across the road, for running his chainsaw at dawn. Obnoxious music leaked from junky trailers that could never be moved again. The landlady was driving a bulldozer around in circles, for no apparent reason. Richard walked up as the stranded damsel muttered, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea." He laughed and offered, "One thing you have to give this place, these people are without any pretensions. They don't have anyplace else to go."
Later that day Richard and I were drinking in the Robin bar, in downtown Bozeman. He had written an introduction to the Beatles Anthology, a collection of their lyrics. It did not talk about them directly, but described the Yellowstone River passing under the bridge at Pine Creek, near his ranch. His times, and the hippie energy attached to him, were flowing past: I think the lesson was meant for me, who was between career hallucinations. A pretty co-ed chatted for awhile, but Richard was self-absorbed. He noticed the marquee across the street, for the movie Cat People. The co-ed did not go for a horror movie as a first date—smart girl. So Richard and I watched the movie, gripped by the mixed blessing of seeing Nastasia Kinski get naked then turn into a leopard and eat people.
We returned to the bar and evaluated the movie. This meant thinking how it could be changed. Richard saw its grisly potential as a comedy, preying upon all the man-woman encounters seen in movies. For example, the husband can listen to the young lover claim that the woman is misunderstood. Then, the "lucky" youth congratulates the world-weary husband for being open-minded as the feline wife lures the young man outside,"Let's go get a bite." We ran through a dozen classic movies, ruining their most sensitive moments. Richard said, "You know, you and I should write a movie." I asked why, was he serious? "There are two serious, artistic reasons. We will have some fun. And we might make a shit-pot full of money."
The next week saw me staying at the Pine Creek place, in the converted smokehouse used as a studio and guest room. The main house—a stucco covered hacienda-looking ranch—was shaded and cool. We sat in the kitchen, sipping the 11 am Chard. "So how does a movie start?" he asked. "A couple guys going somewhere to do something dangerous." I suggested.
"Like with a chainsaw?" Richard still chuckled about the part where I had offered to pull the string after shoving it . . ..
"Like in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly." The object, and the soundtrack, came first: no ideas but in things.
Next we had to decide what kind of movie it would be, which is tougher than describing Richard's novels. His ambition, during the previous few years, was to recombine popular genres of fiction, to gain a hybrid energy. So our "concept" was to write a white-trash Steinbeckian comedy with a boy-girl plot, two buddy stories, a dash of Disney, lots of slapstick, and some UFO's. Richard called it, "a goofy blue-print for a house that might not get built," and that seemed a good day's work. We made up a list of character-types, a group of people you would never invite for dinner. We "cast" the roles, in order to visualize the actors. Margot Kidder (a friend of his) was popular, and Jamie Lee Curtis was on the cover of the Enquirer, so she was in. Richard suggested that we see Peter Fonda and Jeff Bridges as the two guys. They lived nearby, and I had seen them around at get-togethers. But I was more than a little surprised when Richard told me the next day that we had a meeting scheduled at Fonda's and we should get to work, pronto. For me this represented a step up from small-town reporting or reading poems to drunks.
Our way of working together was like a Tin-Pan Alley movie, with fortune lurking in the wings as the two songwriters try out lines, reject them, then add to the hits. Together, we made up a dozen scenes, to introduce characters and to create plot problems. Our intent, as far as cinema goes, was one stupid sight gag per page. Dialogue was to show how people felt, not to convey information. We each picked the scenes that seemed interesting, and wrote out individual drafts—Richard long-hand, me on his Smith-Corona. Then we swapped drafts, and added material, going over the top. In conferences we read these additions aloud, and took turns typing a 20-page pitch, with an outline and sample scenes. Richard usually tried to make each scene more open-ended, like in a soap-opera. Most used the repetition of key lines to shape the moment, like in a poem. Throughout, there was an effort to subvert expectations, by mixing genres and setting up the viewer for a pratfall. There were no rules to follow. We claimed the sky was the limit: "Taste is no Object."
Fonda and Bridges were very enthusiastic about the project and treated Richard, and me too, with friendly respect. Thus encouraged, we knocked out 100 pages in a month, reading drafts into a tape recorder that were transcribed by a slightly perplexed secretary from Montana State University's English department, named Jane. When Jane liked our stuff, we knew we had the normal vote. The abnormal vote was in the bag. Our show featured an All-American girl in love with a loser, the world's most beautiful repossession agent, some dwarfs, a Nazi landlady, Ma and Pa UFO nuts, and a main character whose "business" was to constantly borrow stuff. How could we miss? Each day after work we toasted ourselves with pride, and chanted the screenwriter's psalm: "We'll be rich!"
For about a year, we waited for the phone to ring. Richard went to Japan for some readings, then to Amsterdam. Fonda promoted the script, including a try for MTV play. (The episodic plot makes for a good, short-format series. TRAILER may have been the first reality show). Richard also pitched the screenplay to friends, such as Robin Williams and Francis Coppola. However, when the phone did ring, on a slow morning at our house in Livingston, it was Becky Fonda calling to tell me that our friend was dead.
Looking back, I wonder how Richard got to be the most successful experimental writer in American letters: he sold millions of book that defied convention, that were ignored by the critical establishment on their way to a world-wide audience. And there is a resurgent interest in his work. I get e-mails from young who people who dig it. He favored the common person, distrusted phoniness, portrayed the daily weirdness of life with a gently dark humor, and mastered the American tongue. It occurred to me there was another writer who ran away to California, cleverly made himself famous, lectured to packed halls, and re-invented the novel: Mark Twain. Go look at the pictures. Both, you might say, came in, and went out, on a comet. Is this Richard Brautigan—Mark Twain convergence proof of reincarnation? Such an idea he would have described, as he labeled his own work, "One man's opinion of moonlight."
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 5 December 2005.
Feedback from Brad Donovan
I looked the other day at the screenplay link on your site, and was proud to see my little memoir there. If you want to put Trailer on your web, that's fine with me. A few years ago, the Denisons, who bought Richard's house, found some handwritten notes [from early work on this screenplay] (in my writing and in Richard's) in the old smoke house. They gave them to Gatz [William R. Hjortsberg, who is writing a biography of Brautigan].
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 29 October 2007.
Hal Ashby, director of the movies Being There and Harold and Maude and many others, purchased, for $10,000, the screenplay rights to Brautigan's novel The Hawkline Monster in August 1974 and lined up Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton to play the two cowboys, Greer and Cameron. Brautigan traveled to Los Angeles, California, to talk with Ashby, who, in June 1975, contracted Brautigan to write the screenplay. The price for both the screenplay and the film rights option came to $125,000 for Brautigan. By mid-summer 1975, Brautigan delivered a 145-page screenplay. He was too late, however. Ashby had moved on to other projects and the Hawkline screenplay languished until June 1976 when Ashby renewed his option. He renewed again in December 1976.
Brautigan, apparently, refused to write a second draft, and Ashby worked, between other projects, to strengthen Brautigan's screenplay and asked writer Michael Dare to write additional scenes.
The movie was always high on Ashby's list of future projects. MGM was keen on the project and frequently asked Ashby about its progress. Ashby spent over $100,000 on developing the film, but set it aside, several times, to work on other projects.
Ashby's option was extended for eighteen months in 1984 following Brautigan's death to allow more time to develop the film. In 1987, Ashby was till trying to make a film of The Hawkline Monster.
In the end, however, Ashby never completed this project, and the novel was never turned into a movie.
(Dawson, Nick, ed. Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 2009. 176, 200-201, 219, 226, 271, 308-309, 331, 339)
Feedback from Michael Dare
I worked with Hal Ashby on Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Thomas Berger's Vital Parts, Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster. When Richard wouldn't do a second draft, Hal asked for my input and I wrote several new scenes. I thought your readers might like to know he [Ashby] had Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman lined up to play the cowboys.
Michael Dare. Email to John F. Barber, 25 February 2008.
Feedback from Douglas Avery
Through Michael Dare and Hal Ashby's biographer, Nick Dawson, I discovered that Ashby had tried to get the movie made his entire career. The first incarnation, as Michael Dare said, would have starred Nicholson and Hoffman. Later versions had Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton, and then Jeff and Beau Bridges.
Douglas Avery. Email to John F. Barber, 17 September 2009.
Brad Donovan, coauthor, with Brautigan, of the 1982 screenplay, Trailer (see above), provides some additional details about Brautigan's involvement with the original screenplay.
Feedback from Brad Donovan
Kate Jackson (the smart Charlie's Angel) was behind that project. Richard got a kick out of the association. He also received $30,000 for the option and first draft. Later, he tried to apply for unemployment in California and listed his earnings as a thousand bucks a day, just in case the state could find him suitable employment—a story he told with glee.
Brad Donovan. Email to John F. Barber, 29 October 2007.
Brautigan reportedly worked with artist Bruce Conner for a month in Tokyo, Japan, to write a screenplay.
The script aborted because they could not agree on a working style to compose it. Bruce pictured Magritte-like and Troutfishing-like ideas for the film. One idea was to show Dennis Hopper disappearing into quicksand (McClure, Michael "Ninety-one Things about Richard Brautigan" 61).
Tim Burton, artist and director, noted The Hawkline Monster as one of his failed projects as part of a show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 22 November 2009-26 April 2010.
A screenplay of the novel A Confederate General from Big Sur was adapted by Brandon French in June 1972 for Brady French Films. The project was never pursued beyond the first draft of the screenplay.
Brautigan was reportedly featured in a high school project movie during the 1960s but no copy has been found. The project was that of Tony Brown, son of Bill Brown, writer and friend of Brautigan. Brautigan visited and stayed with the Brown's at their house in Bolinas, California, before he bought his own house there in 1970. Tony provides the following information about this film.
Feedback from Tony Brown
Long before he moved to Bolinas, he would visit us at our home on the Mesa and if memory serves after all this time, he lived in our house for an extended period at least once. This would have been 1966-1968.
I was in high school at that time and our home was in Bolinas, California. Bill Brown was my father and my sister Maggie is married to Jim Koller.
[Text deleted here . . .]
I took a film class in my senior year of high school and was part of a small crew. We tried to make a short movie and Richard was in it at his home in San Francisco. I wish I knew what happened to that film.
Tony Brown, email to John F. Barber, 20 October 2005.
Rolling Stone (working title)
An autobiographical movie by Botto, who was played by Jack Thibeau. Janice Meissner played his girlfriend. Brautigan had a small part as a chicken delivery person. Part of the film footage, including Brautigan's walk on part, burned in a fire in 1967. The movie was never finished.
The Artists' Liberation Front (ALF) sponsored a crafts fair in the Pan Handle of Golden Gate Park early in the Summer of 1966. Neighborhood artists and residents attended and participated in the festivities.
A film made of the event by Reg E. (Reggae) Williams shows members of the Straight Theater emerging from their theater building, walking up Haight Street, jump starting a 1930s LaSalle automobile and riding it down Haight Street to join the festivities already in progress. This image, taken from the film, shows Brautigan standing amid the swirling events.
1967 (early September?)
Produced by Ernest Lowe
Cinematography by Lauren Sears(?)
Script by Richard Brautigan
16 millimeter; black and white
Running time: 5'44"
Brautigan interviews Ellen Aste (now Ellen Valentine Spring), age 3, regarding what she would like to see on an imaginary television show. Ellen, born 19 February 1965 in San Francisco, California, is the first child and daughter of Anthony (Tony) Frederic Aste and Virginia Dione Alder, Brautigan's first wife. The baby on the countertop may be Aste and Alder's second child, Mara S. Aste, born 22 February 1968 in San Francisco, California. A third child, Jesse, was born 24 November 1969, in Sonoma, California.
Brautigan was contacted by Ernest Lowe, a producer for KQED, channel nine, the public access television station in San Francisod, and asked whether he write a script for a short film for television. The film was made in the Lombard Street apartment of a friend of Alder. Brautigan and Ellen walk out from behind a curtain and sit at the kitchen table where Brautigan asks five questions about what Ellen would like to see on television. For every question she answers, "Purple." There is no record that the film was ever aired on KQED.
Produced by Ernest Lowe
Cinematography by Loren Sears
Script by Richard Brautigan
Running time: 3'00"
16 millimeter; black and white
Based on previous experience working with Brautigan (Ellen, age 3, versus American Television, see above) KQED producer Ernest Lowe again asked Brautigan to work on a short film. Sears was again the cinematographer. The film was made in the trash-filled empty lot next to Brautigan's Geary Street apartment. Brautigan's script divided the short movie into four chapters, each with titles and credits superimposed over images of scenic places in Yosemite Valley National Park. Brautigan's voice-over narration began, "This is Ghetto Yosemite located in the Western Addition of San Francisco. A lot of poor people live here. This is their Vernal Falls, their Castle Cliffs, their Inspiration Point . . ." as the film showed close ups of trash found in the empty lot. Police sirens and honking car horns provided additional, ambient sound. The movie aired on KQED in 1968.
Open and close narration by Rod Sherry
Program narration by Michael McClure
Produced by Alan Goldberg
Written by Jim Harwood
Directed by Dick Williams
16 mm format; color; 25:12
A television documentary film presented by Michael McClure as a public affairs presentation on San Francisco, California, television station KPIX. The film presented Haight-Ashbury, according to narrator Rod Sherry, as "a magical land that appeared only yesterday and may be gone tomorrow. But if it lasts, the effect on the rest of society could be far reaching. And that's why the outside world must try to understand what is happening here." The hand-held documentary camera follows McClure as he walks along Haight Street, stopping to visit the Pyschedelic Bookshop, the Print Mint, the Straight Theater, and painter Mike Bowen. The film also includes scenes of the house occupied by The Grateful Dead at 710 Ashbury Street. McClure's voice over provides his impressions of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, and explanations of its particular character.
Brautigan is seen twice in the film, once mostly off camera interacting with McClure on the sidewalk, and second, walking with McClure through a park (21:50-22:46). In both appearances, Brautigan is not introduced or identified, nor does he speak.
Kelly Hart (independent filmmaker)
Diggers/Free City Collective
16 mm format; color
In one section of this film, called "Street Scene," Brautigan is shown walking and then again in the overgrown garden behind his Geary Street apartment. In voice over he reads "California Native Flowers," one of the poems in his Please Plant This Book.
The film provided a glimpse into the daily life of the Haight-Ashbury underground.
20 minutes; 16 mm movie film; color
Camera: Bill Desloge
Music: Warner Jepson
Credited cast: Florence Allen, Gavin Arthur, Imogen Cunningham, Kermit Sheets, Roger Somers, Seth Stiles, and Alan Watts.
In this film, made by film-maker and poet James Broughton, an empty bed resting in a meadow becomes the site for several scenarios and trysts between characters, mostly nude, apparently liberated by its presence and its abilities to evoke pleasure and merriment. Broughton, sitting in a nearby tree, also nude, pops into the film as a kind of Pan, serenading the series of revelers. Crediting William Shakespeare for his world vision, Broughton phrased the theme of his film The Bed this way: "All the world's a bed, and men and women merely dreamers." Allegedly, Brautigan was included in the original footage, but his sequence, however, was not used in the final version of the film.
The Bed broke existent taboos against the depiction of frontal nudity in its celebration of the dance of life and won prizes at several film festivals, including the Oberhausen Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Yale Film Festival, and the Foothill College Film Festival. Broughton followed The Bed with several other films, each celebrating what he called "the beauty of humans, the surprises of soul, and the necessity of merriment."
Directed by Christian Odasso and Guy de la Valdéne
Photographed by Christian Odasso, Gerard Battista, and Manuel Teran
16 mm format
Running time: 50 minutes (approximate)
Edited by Marie-Sophie Dubus; Assisted by Catherine Galode
Original instrumental music written and performed by Jimmy Buffett (courtesy of ABC Dunhill Records)
A fllm about tarpon fishing using fly rods in Key West, Florida, featuring Jim Harrison, Richard Brautigan, Tom McGuane. Jimmy Buffett's original instrumental music is used throughout the film for background.
Guy de la Valdéne, Tom McGuane, and Brautigan (left to right), photographed in front of the Chart Room, Key West, Florida, 1974. Photograph by Benjamin "Dink" Bruce.
Brautigan appears in four scenes:
The film's introduction; Brautigan says nothing
Brautigan talks about tarpon fishing, saying the fish are extraordinary
Brautigan remarks about the Hemingwayesque-attitude of releasing the tarpon after they have been caught
Brautigan describes to Tom McGuane the tarpon looking like "silver Atlantis" and the splashing water like "liquid marble" when jumping after they have taken the fly
The film was restored in Spring 2008. Copies may be purchased through the distributor:
The Book Mailer
P.O. Box 1273
Helena, MT 59624-1273
The trailer for Tarpon includes a brief introduction to Brautigan.
A few years back, a copy of this film came up on an eBay auction. This was an actual film copy. I really wanted to win it, but figured that it would sell for way more than I could spend. But I threw a bid on it and ended up winning it! Afterwards, I got several emails from people wanting copies. What surprised me was they were all Jimmy Buffet fans and not the literary fans that I would have guessed. I ended up getting a local video production place to transfer a copy for me onto DVD. I was very happy to actually view the film, but was disappointed with the quality of the copy. But it was already costing me a small fortune and I couldn't afford to have it professionally "cleaned up" so I settled for what I had and to recoup some of my costs, a friend relisted it on eBay and it sold to a Jimmy Buffett collector.
Ken Keiran. Email to John F. Barber, 10 July 2008.
PBS—Produced by WGBH in association with KQED
Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Running time: 60 minutes
Part of the "American Experience" documentary series, this film chronicles the zenith of the hippie experience in San Francisco, the summer of 1967. In the 3:00 minute section dealing with the Diggers, and their efforts to provide free food for the thousands of young people living on the streets, Brautigan makes a brief appearance unloading produce from a truck. He is not named, nor does he speak.