Frank Pierson died today. Most people probably won’t recognize the name, but he wrote two of my favorite films: Dog Day Afternoon and Cool Hand Luke.
I got to hear him speak last year at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where he received the Kanbar Award. Now it’s late and I don’t have the time to give the man all he’s due, but I do have time to share this with you:
That’s the opening to Cool Hand Luke. Watch it. It’s got three lines of dialogue, two from a character you can’t see and never meet again and one that isn’t even clear. Now, ask yourself, what do you know about Luke?
Yeah. That’s right. Everything. In less then two minutes you know exactly who he is, what kind of man he is, what sort of demons drive him, what he thinks of the world, and what he’ll do about it—foolish or not. All he did was smile, but that was enough. And you’ve still got an entire film to cling to his back and watch him go.
So here’s to Frank Pierson. They don’t come any better than that.
I hear Frank Pierson could eat fifty hard boiled eggs in an hour.
Pierson was the Artistic Director at AFI when I was a student there in the late 90s. He was responsible for giving the rough cut critiques for the directing fellows (I was an editing fellow) and for doing the final critique for all the student work. We’d sit in the Mark Goodson Theate and watch him hold forth on the films we had just slaved over for the last eight weeks or more. He could be mercilous and unforgiving, but he was usually right. His language was, shall we say, colorful. This was a guy who had fought in WWII and was very much of the three martini lunch generation. I wish I could remember some exact quotes from him–he was great when ripping something apart. I remember being very proud when he said after watching one of the films I edited that “I feel like I just had a great five-course meal.”. It was a way of saying that our film was long, but also that he really liked it.