May 8, 2011

Alright Wayne, you axed for it. Well, actually you didn't but here you go anyway.

The financier of The Real Blonde told me at the beginning of production he felt it was time for me to make a "bigger film," one that would play in Middle America. His first demand was that I not cast Catherine Keener, who had been in all my films up to that point, and for whom I'd written the part.

I say this only to illustrate that from the outset the battles were deeply personal and relentless and although I lost a few of them I also won some crucial ones. Catherine did end up playing the part; brilliantly.

Catherine Keener in The Real Blonde

But, other aspects of the script suffered from this insistence on making the film more commercial. The ending, with the stolen dog finding its way home was never intended to carry so much weight, or to be taken so literally. There was a scene just before it dealing with Maxwell Caulfield and his abusive relationship with Bridget Wilson, which was intended to add a contrast and counterbalance to this.

Under pressure, it was cut and as a result the film ends in a way that I never intended, nor do I believe.

But, one of my favorite scenes involved Caulfield's obsession with finding a woman who is a real blonde. This of course is an idiotic quest, but like all obsessions it had a sliver of truth in it that interested me.

Daryl Hannah and Maxwell Caulfield in The Real Blonde

A theme in the film is the idea that most of the things its characters are concerned with are fake or artificial. Matthew Modine comes face to face with Madonna only to realize it is her body double, Elizabeth Berkely. I was interested in how frequently we can't see the truth that stands right in front of us, and can't tell the difference between what is real and what isn't.

Elizabeth Berkely as “Madonna” in The Real Blonde

Ultimately, Caulfield's obsession drives him to devalue, and demean  Bridget Wilson, the only woman who truly loves him.

We all are driven by things we feel we need to obtain in order to be Happy. Most of the time these things are either unobtainable, or revealed to be useless when they are finally obtained. I'm repeating my fixation on the notion that the last place we look for self-value or meaning is simply within ourselves.

So, I filmed a scene where Caulfield, the affable, successful playboy soap star, sneaks into a porno booth on 42nd Street. He stands behind a tiny glass window and peers into a darkened, circular room, around which other men can be seen in identical windows. They are like viewers in some strange porno aquarium at the bottom of the sea.

The focus of their gaze is a woman half-reclining on a cheap, rotating stage. A disco ball circles slowly, scattering shards of light around the room. The woman is not attractive. She is not svelte. But, to Caulfield's rapt amazement, she is a real blonde and that is all he cares about.

Absurd? Yes. Intense? Yes. The scene was one of the most cinematically rich and disturbing that I have ever shot. To me it perfectly suggested the uneasy underbelly of the film. But, just before the film was released the financier declared the scene would kill the film in the Heartland and insisted it be cut. I refused. He insisted harder. I said I was taking my name off the film. He said go ahead.

I sought the advice of everyone I knew in the business, personally and professionally. The sum of opinions was, yes, it will hurt you to cut the scene but for the good of your career, and the film, just swallow it and do it. And so, against every grain of my artistic instinct, I did. Little did I know that casting Steve Buscemi in the film as the indie director who moves up to directing Madonna videos would have so much personal resonance.

Buscemi and Chapelle in The Real Blonde

The film bombed. It never even got within 10,000 miles of Middle America. But honestly, that didn't bother me even a fraction as much as knowing what I'd allowed to die on the cutting room floor.

I still wake up at night thinking about it.

Francesco Roder
Isn’t part of that scene still in the movie? I remember one moment when Maxwell Caulfield enters, sits, the window is opened and he stares at something (someone) we don’t see.
I loved The Real Blonde but I totally understand your frustration! Still, I’m glad you hired Elizabeth Berkley 🙂 She did fantastic, like everybody else in the cast. I still play the soundtrack album all the time!
Hey Francesco, good eye. Yes, a fragment of the cut scene still remains. But, the footage of what he sees through the window was some of the best I’ve ever shot. I will never allow that to happen again. Elizabeth Berkley was a joy to work with. I’m really touched you play soundtrack. There is some cool stuff on there. Thanks for watching, writing, listening and the kind words.
Do you not have access to that scene, still?
Is there no way that you can put together your own cut and release it?
Stuart Henderson
Tom, I’m going to buy this film of yours on wednesday……Looking forward to it…
Fyrisån blues
Bicycles and perfume
Molecular motion
Hair flying
Scandi scarfs
Then she’s gone
Down an alley
Night is dark 
Sky is blue
I love the posts where you show us a peek behind the curtain–what was in your mind and how it differs from what we’ve seen. You mentioned the Catherine Keener casting issue in the Box of Moonlight Diary, and you’d mentioned your ole nemesis Maligma had crept into “The Real Blonde” more than most, but I didn’t realize the extent or how key scenes were cut. Wow.
Your verbiage is also descriptive and beautiful (A disco ball circles slowly, scattering shards of light fragments around the room–gorgeous way to set the scene!) but it sounds like a powerful slice of life you captured. Wish we could see it visually now, but I enjoy reading about it at least 🙂
Hmm…interesting info on the ending. I liked how the beginning and ending tied together with the dog – it came full circle. Though you’re right, there is a strong weight on the end. I dunno, this film and its meaning has shifted for me over the years. The first few times, I thought it was a good movie and related to Keener’s character. Now, though, every time I watch it is because I relate to Joe’s struggle to work in the arts and not lose himself in the process. I love the film and have a deeper appreciation for it now for those reasons, and Modine giving that speech at the end is one of the best things ever put on film 🙂 Love love love that scene.
Thx Tom, continue to keep us updated,
Wayne Byrne
Man, I’m incredibly moved by your latest post, it is an astonishing piece for those of us who are so fond of this film. Part of me feels really bad for having dragged up those memories of your work getting cut, I honestly would never mean to do that for the sake of industry gossip or insider info, I am just a huge fan of The Real Blonde, as I am all of your work, and when you mentioned those cut scenes in the previous post it really got my curiosity working overtime, thinking what could have made a film I hold so dear even better than it already is.
The scene you mentioned that got cut, the one with Maxwell Caulfield’s Bob at the peep show, particularly resonated; his scenes in the porn shop and being abusive to Bridget Wilson are even more insidious now that you mention what more was to be included. I’ve always felt sorry for Wilson’s character because of her naivety and innocence which is compromised by his knowing cruelty. To me the film was always about ambition, whether it be a realistic, sustainable ambition or otherwise, which is countered by the pressures and strains of real life (bills, mortgage, settling down, cost of living, etc); now it is even more clear, and I could be wrong here, but I feel that Bob is as delusional as Matthew Modine’s Joe. Yes, Joe dreams of stardom, acting plaudits and a charmed life etc, but Caulfield’s pursuits, even though more idiosyncratic, are as far-fetched and perhaps more damaging than Joe’s. His career, finances and even relationship with Catherine Keener’s more grounded Mary may suffer while in pursuit of thespian/artistic reverence, but Bob’s particular sexual pursuits are ultimately more psychologically and physically damaging (particularly to those that love him, in this case the abused Bridget Wilson character).
These notions of pursuing one’s passions through personal and professional adversity is a thread I see throughout your filmography. Johnny Suede, Nick Reve, Joe, Les Galantine and Jim Morrison are all people whose ambition is expected to lead to a life of reverence; of course Jim Morrison did lead this life and his legacy speaks for itself, but what is fascinating in the fictional characters is the personal sacrifices made in order to at least sustain the ambition; this is another reason why I think When You’re Strange is a perfect DiCillo film, aesthetically as well as canononically speaking. Maxwell Caulfield’s character in The Real Blonde is emblematic of someone who has what other people want (Joe, in particular), yet it is not enough; he seeks the very personal interests that people outside of a particular fame bubble don’t get to witness happen to intrigue those on the inside, but which currently through the proliferation of various social networks and increasingly intruding media outlets (with the help of the paparazzi, of course) are now highlighting…Charlie Sheen’s recent activities come to mind. It seems to be increasingly fascinating for people to find out that “celebrities” are as fucked-up as other regular people, that they share the same personal urges or peculiar activities; Bob seems to fit the bill of someone whose idiosyncracies would be deemed as eccentric, rather than insidious or perverting, thanks to his celebrity. Fame can mask what would otherwise be considered an oddity in your neighbour down the road or even a close friend. These themes and ideas are just some of the reasons I find The Real Blonde a fine work, but which I now think would have even been finer had the cut scenes remained uncut.
I’m probably getting far-fetched here myself, so I will stop and just say thank you so much for the latest post, I am immensely grateful that you took the time to share with us the obviously painful experience that was the post-production of this film. Thanks, Tom! 🙂
That was pretty intense, Tom. Thank you for sharing that.
Regardless of my varying thoughts on your projects over the years, the one thing that is unwavering is your artistic integrity. It is a characteristic that has always been dear to me.
You, Nick Cave, Wajdi Mouawad, among others, have been inspiring and always are the reminder that we are not alone and that we are not crazy, well, not totally crazy, at least. 🙂
Certainly do not lose any sleep over this. The only tragedy is that so many are sleeping well, when, in fact, they should be waking up in the night with the cold sweats of regret.
Yours truly,

Leave a replyReply to


Independent Filmmaker & Musician