Some folks call it "Sling Blade." Some folks call it "Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade."
"And some folks call it a lost opportunity," independent film director George Hickenlooper said dryly last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He was there to screen his latest film, "The Low Life," aka "The One That's Not Sling Blade."
Hickenlooper had been invited to the museum as part of this month's BMA/Johns Hopkins University film series, "Bright Lights, Dark City: Hollywood Today." As it turned out, his own story makes for a fitting subject in this look at the not-so-glamorous side of Hollywood.
It seems that Hickenlooper -- heretofore best-known for "Hearts of Darkness," his documentary about the making of "Apocalypse Now" -- has recently been receiving attention for the film he didn't make, the Oscar-winning "Sling Blade."
Four years ago, Hickenlooper collaborated with then-friend Billy Bob Thornton on "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade," a 29-minute short that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994. Last night, he screened this short after his feature.
Here's what's not contested: "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade," directed by Hickenlooper, features J.T. Walsh, Molly Ringwald, and Thornton as Karl Childers, a man who has spent much of his life in a state mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover with a scythe (some folks call it a sling blade). "Sling Blade," directed by Thornton, features Thornton as the same Karl Childers. But the feature film follows Karl into the community after his release.
Here's what is contested: Just about everything else. Hickenlooper says the $55,000 short film was intended to raise money for the feature film, and that he broke off his friendship and collaboration with Thornton for reasons he will not discuss publicly. Thornton told the Los Angeles Times that Karl is based on a one-man play he performed and that "If 'Sling Blade' had fallen on its [behind], this wouldn't be happening now."
"Sling Blade," made for $1.6 million, not only won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, but also has made more than $16 million to date.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper, who has just finished shooting "Dogtown," the second film in a trilogy that began with "The Low Life," would prefer to be known for what he has done. And the 33-year-old St. Louis native with a history degree from Yale has done quite a bit.
His first film, made in 1988, was a documentary about Dennis Hopper. He then made a documentary about Peter Bogdanovich, "Picture This," filmed on the set of "Texasville."
The Cannes-honored "Hearts of Darkness" followed, and then came Hickenlooper's first collaboration with Billy Bob Thornton, "Ghost Brigade," a Civil War-vampire story. Thornton's scenes didn't make the final film, but can be seen on the "director's cut" on laser disc.
After "Some Folks ..." Hickenlooper made "The Low Life," the cable film "Persons Unknown," and, finally, "Dogtown," a film he had been talking about for years.
"I saw parts of "Persons Unknown,' " one Hopkins student told him before the screening last night.
"That's the way to see it, in parts," the self-effacing Hickenlooper replied. "I hope you saw the good parts."
"Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade" may finally pay off its investors, in part because its twisted history has sparked interest in the video.
But it won't make as much money as "Sling Blade," whose producer, Larry Meistrich, happens to be a Hopkins grad.
"Really?" Hickenlooper said when informed of this fact. "Tell him I said hi and there's no sour grapes, despite what he told Entertainment Weekly."
Now that, as Karl Childers might say, is a pretty polite guy, I reckon.
The BMA/Hopkins "Hollywood" series continues on April 17 with "Swimming With Sharks" and "Rave Review" on April 24.
Pub Date: 4/11/97