For Martin Scorsese, the story of his 1985 yuppie horror-comedy After Hours began on Thanksgiving Day 1983, when Paramount Pictures chief Barry Diller informed the director that the studio was essentially dropping out of The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project.
Scorsese felt utterly demoralized. “In pulling the plug on this project on which they had already spent millions of dollars, they were sending me a very clear message,” he says today. “And the message was: go away.” Then his lawyer handed him a script called A Night in Soho. The screenwriter, Joseph Minion, was a young unknown. But a familiar name was attached: Amy Robinson, who had a memorable role in Scorsese’s 1973 breakout, Mean Streets. She was developing the project with her producing partner, the actor Griffin Dunne. Scorsese was riveted by the tale’s many unexpected twists. “It was like a Kafka novel set right around the corner from where I was living,” says Scorsese, who had recently moved into a loft in Tribeca.
Paul Hackett, a Manhattan office drone—played by a deliriously slapstick Dunne—leaves behind his blandly comfortable Upper East Side existence late one night to meet up with a mysterious and alluring woman (Rosanna Arquette). On the taxi ride to SoHo, his money suddenly flies out the window, leaving him stranded in what’s depicted as a seamy, rain-soaked village sparsely populated by artists, punks, gays, and criminals.
During his increasingly harrowing return journey, Paul encounters an ensemble of colorful characters: a narcoleptic sculptress (Linda Fiorentino) and her leather-daddy lover (Will Patton), a barmaid unfashionably trapped in the go-go 1960s (Teri Garr), a saloon owner given to fits of rage (John Heard), a tetchy Mister Softee truck driver (Catherine O’Hara), and a lady who dwells beneath a nightclub (Verna Bloom). Eventually, Paul is pursued by a lynch mob that mistakenly believes he is responsible for a series of burglaries actually being perpetrated by a pair of small-time thieves (Cheech and Chong).
After Hours would prove a success at the box office in 1985 and go on to earn Scorsese the best-director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Last month, the Criterion Collection released a long-awaited Blu-ray edition, featuring a 4K digital restoration “approved by” original editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
This is the story of After Hours, as told by the people who made it, and of how Martin Scorsese pulled himself out of one of the darkest periods of his career the only way he knew how: by shooting a movie.
Griffin Dunne (producer; “Paul Hackett”): The events of After Hours were not dissimilar from my life at that time. I would make immediate connections with total strangers and end up in places that it might not have been a good idea to be in. That’s why young people came to New York, to have experiences that were terrifying and exhilarating, sexy and dangerous.
Joseph Minion (writer): Around the time I wrote After Hours, I was under the spell of Kafka, and I had seen for the first time and was nuts about [Orson] Welles’s The Trial, which reminded me of a short I had made at N.Y.U. in which I was playing around with a kind of existential, what-am-I-doing-here vibe.
Amy Robinson (producer): We optioned the script and started to think about who could direct.
Dunne: One night, Amy and I went to see a movie, and before the feature there was a stop-motion animated short called Vincent, directed by Tim Burton, who was a complete unknown. It was about a little boy who loved Vincent Price, and Vincent Price actually did the narration. Amy and I walked out of the theater, totally forgot about the feature we had just seen, and thought this Tim Burton guy would be really good for After Hours.
Robinson: We tracked Tim down. He showed us a lot of drawings that looked like things he did later—Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Dunne: We met him in the cafeteria at Disney, where he was working in the animation department. He had a pocket full of pens and ink stains on his fingers. He’d read the script, was incredibly prepared to talk about it, and had already done little drawings of the characters in his signature style—the huge eyes and, you know, bats in the hallway. He had never directed live action, but we knew the guy was brilliant.
Robinson: We tried to get After Hours going with Tim attached as director. But he had not made a live-action feature, and the script was very dark, and we struggled to raise even a modest amount of money.
Dunne: Because After Hours was so unusual, it was difficult to finance. To get a name attached to the project we cast Teri Garr, who was a very close friend of mine.
At the time she was actually subletting her apartment to me in violation of her rental contract. We told her very nasty landlord that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Teri would be away shooting a movie, and I would be there, and the landlord would go, “Your girlfriend—where is she?” I’d say, “She’s an actor. She’s on location.” And he’d say, “I don’t believe you!” I would then go into this melodramatic guilt trip: “It’s hard enough that the love of my life is away from me, and now you’re going to use my heartbreak to evict me?” Whenever Teri was in town, we made sure to act all romantic in the lobby.
So anyway, we had Teri Garr and Tim Burton—and still we hadn’t really raised any money.
Robinson: At that point, the idea of Marty came up, because The Last Temptation of Christ had fallen apart.
Dunne: Amy knew Marty to be personally very, very funny. Because he was not an obvious choice for After Hours, having directed Taxi Driver and Mean Streets. His previous movie, The King of Comedy, was not well received by audiences or critics, so he was in director’s jail.
Martin Scorsese (director): I worked on Last Temptation throughout all of 1983—costumes, locations, casting. I was flying all over the world, meeting actors, doing auditions. Sets were being constructed. And then, all of a sudden, the project was canceled.
I started reading scripts. One after another. In most cases, I couldn’t understand why they’d been submitted to me in the first place. Some of the offers that came with them would have been lucrative, but they were packages in which there really wasn’t any place for me. It would’ve been a matter of just showing up and putting my name on something that meant nothing to me.
On top of that, I was still recovering from the craziness of what I’d been through a few years earlier. Literally, I had almost died [in 1978 from internal bleeding caused by drug abuse and misuse of medications]. So, if I was going to get up at the crack of dawn every day and do night shoots and go into battle with studio heads and executives, it would need to be something I believed in, something I could make my own.
Robinson: Marty’s lawyer, Jay Julian, was also our lawyer. I said to Jay, “What do you think about Marty doing this project?”
Scorsese: [Jay] handed me a script, called A Night in Soho. Actually, it read more like a novel than a script. It was written by a young man—first-time screenwriter, I think. But that’s what made it so fresh. It had a lot of heart. I was immediately struck by the dialogue, which was quite strange. And in every scene, I was surprised. You could never predict what was going to happen next.
I found myself identifying with the lead character, Paul Hackett, who suddenly realizes that he’s descended into the underworld and he’s just lost there. I empathized with him, because his experiences were like anxiety dreams that most of us have. I was having quite a few of them at the time. You know, you suddenly realize that you have to get on a plane, it’s urgent that you bring something essential to a friend or a family member, and you haven’t packed. What happens if you miss the plane? It’s sheer terror.
I also loved the way he goes through the night and finally comes out the other side. It’s like a sleepless night, or a night of horrifying dreams, or the kind of situation I was in at the time: I felt like I was floating through this netherworld with no idea of when or how it would resolve.
Robinson: Griffin and I went to dinner with Marty at a restaurant on Carmine Street. He thought the story was funny and guilt-ridden, but he also saw that there was a way for him to make it in a very dynamic way. And the film seemed, to him, manageable after the chaos of the cancellation of Last Temptation.
Scorsese: It would be set up as an independent production, shot in the city on a modest budget, $3.5 million to be exact. I agreed to take it on for a minimal salary, and then David Geffen came on board. He invested another million and told me to take my time, develop the script carefully, and finish the film under more favorable conditions.
Dunne: We then had to have an awkward conversation with Tim Burton. We said, in rather cowardly fashion, “You know, a funny thing happened. Martin Scorsese’s picture fell apart, and he read the script for After Hours—” Tim interrupted and said, “Wait, stop right there. Are you saying that Martin Scorsese wants to make this movie?” We said, “Well, yeah, but—” And Tim said, “I respectfully withdraw. I will never stand in the way if Martin Scorsese wants to make this movie.” He stepped aside very graciously.
The Right Wrong People
SCORSESE: The question was: could I go back to the way I made pictures before New York, New York? My first pictures were shot very quickly on tight budgets. With Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver, I had more time, 45 days or so, but it was still tight. On the next three pictures, it was 100 days each. [After Hours] would be 40 days, so that was a big change for me.
Dunne: The headquarters for pre-production was Marty’s apartment on Duane Street in Tribeca. Marty had devoted a room in his loft to maybe 15 VCRs that ran 24 hours a day. He would go through the TV Guide and circle the movies that an assistant had to record from television. Quite often he would hand me a VHS tape and go, “Griffin, this is a noir movie that reminds me of the kind of tone I like for After Hours.”
Scorsese: I do that on most of my pictures. For the actors, it’s usually about tone, mood, a certain emotional state, a suggestion of the world we’re working to create. With crew members, it’s often a cut, a camera movement at a specific point in the story, a certain way of framing. Not copying anything, but suggesting a way of approaching the question of how we’re going to tell the story.
I remember giving Griffin Isle of the Dead, an extremely haunting and disturbing horror picture produced by Val Lewton that takes place primarily at night, on a Greek island. North by Northwest was a touchstone, for obvious reasons: a film about a man who is thrust into a nightmarish situation because he’s mistaken for someone else who turns out to be nonexistent! And Lang—sure. His films always feel like nightmares from which you can’t wake up, literally true of Woman in the Window. And he’s a night director. You think of M or Man Hunt or The Big Heat, you see night. Lost in the night.
But most of all, it was the Allan Dwan comedies of the 40s, many of which were based on 1920s farces. Up in Mabel’s Room and Getting Gertie’s Garter were two models for me. They were both made very quickly and very cheaply, produced independently, with actors who would have been called “second-tier” stars. They’re both under 80 minutes, they both move like lightning, and in both cases the pace, combined with the mood—they fuel and reinforce each other—takes on a life of its own. Those films are airborne.
I watched them with the cast and the crew, and they were also inspirations when Thelma and I got into the cutting room. My pictures had a lot of humor in them, but I’d never made an outright comedy, and we found that the faster we moved, the funnier it got. We had to lose quite a bit of material that we loved, but it was better for the whole picture.
Dunne: Auditions were all held in Marty’s loft. Eight hours a day, the hallway would be lined with people coming in to read. Marty never questioned whether I was right to play Paul Hackett, never floated the idea of “Well, maybe Bobby [De Niro] should do the part.” What bonded Marty and me was that we were both raised Catholic. And one of the things he loved about Paul was this kind of Catholic guilt. We both knew what it was like to go into a confession booth and admit to things you merely thought about doing. We found it very funny and kind of ridiculous. Our shared guilt was the initial bond.
Robinson: The rest of the cast was a mélange of people who came in for auditions and people that we knew and were able to bring to the table.
Dunne: Rosanna Arquette was always a shared vision for the part of Marcy. She had been the star of Baby It’s You, which Amy and I had recently produced. I had met Rosanna years before, while shooting a TV movie in Poland called The Wall.
Rosanna Arquette (“Marcy”): The Wall was about the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Griffin and I met on this horrible flight to Poland. We immediately bonded as pals for life. He has a comedic energy about him. He’s also a huge intellect. And when you have intelligence with a sense of humor? There’s just nothing like it.
Robinson: Marty really wanted Catherine O’Hara in the movie. He was a big fan of SCTV.
Catherine O’Hara (“Gail”): I had met Martin Scorsese about a year or two before After Hours, at the Toronto Film Festival. He was being honored, and he was at the back of the theater where you enter. My sister, Mary Margaret, and I were arriving late and trying to sneak in without anybody noticing. And he looked over and went, “Hey, I know you!”
“I felt like I was floating through this netherworld with no idea of when or how it would resolve.”
While the crowd is waiting for him to go on, he’s telling me how much he loved SCTV. I was beyond flattered. Then he sent someone over to invite us to join him for dinner afterward. At the table was Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker—and Mary Margaret and me! It was crazy! I was way in over my head but just thrilled to be sitting there.
At the end of the night, he said, “I wanna give you my phone number.” He ripped out a piece of his passport and wrote his number on it. A year or two later, when I went in to meet him to talk about After Hours, he told me this nightmare story that while in the Middle East scouting locations for The Last Temptation of Christ, he got stopped at a border because of the ripped passport. He tried to explain: “I only ripped it out because I gave it to some actress.”
Arquette: Many of the people involved in After Hours were regulars at the New York bar and restaurant Cafe Central. A lot of artists would gather there to eat, drink, and be merry. Griffin and Amy were there all the time. Bruce Willis was the bartender. Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken were always in.
Dunne: We partied hard at Cafe Central. It was an incredible place. The biggest movie stars in the world would hang out there, and not one paparazzi knew about it. One night Marcello Mastroianni came in, and all the actors dropped to their knees and genuflected.
Amy and I brought up the idea of casting John [Heard], and Marty said, “I think he’s incredibly talented, but I’m a little worried. He’s got a reckless reputation,” which he did. John was quite a carouser. Amy and I spoke to John and said, “Marty would love you to do this, but he’s a little worried.” He goes, “I get it. He has nothing to worry about.” And John came in so focused. He gave it his all. In one scene, he smashed his hands over and over against the bar. He was just brilliant.
Robinson: Linda Fiorentino came in for an audition, and she was unbelievably gorgeous and mysterious and sexy and everything that Kiki needed to be.
Dunne: Linda intimidated the shit out of Marty and me. She came in like she didn’t give a damn whether or not she got the part, and it made her seem like Veronica Lake. Marty and I looked at each other and said, “That’s Kiki.”
Robinson: Marty had the idea of casting Cheech and Chong.
Dunne: When we were thinking about who should play the parts of the criminals, Neil and Pepe, Marty would say, “I want these two guys to be like Cheech and Chong.” Finally, someone said, “Why don’t we ask Cheech and Chong?”
Tommy Chong (“Pepe”): He wanted us for the thieves. [Laughs.]
Cheech Marin (“Neil”): Tommy and I had met Martin Scorsese at the Cannes Film Festival a year or two before After Hours.
Chong: We were at Cannes promoting The Corsican Brothers.
Marin: He really liked our movies, which was a great compliment. And, of course, we really liked his films. About a year later, I get a call: “Hey, this is Marty Scorsese. You remember me?” I said, “Oh yeah, the little Italian guy, right?” He said, “I need Cheech and Chong characters for this film I’m doing.” I said, “I know Cheech and Chong. I’ll call ’em.” [Laughs.] When Tommy and I eventually arrived on set in New York, one of his assistants told me that Scorsese had been rehearsing scenes with a couple of the actors and he would play Cheech and Chong—both parts—and try to do the voices. The assistant said to us, “I’m so glad you guys are here instead.”
Dunne: No detail was overlooked. We had to cast the exact right gay leather guys in the bar who’d be making out. So we brought in men in pairs, and they would just make out in front of us. We watched that for hours.
Jeffrey Townsend (production designer): SoHo was already super-gentrified when we were making the film. So we had to fabricate a fictional SoHo made of bits of Chinatown, Little Italy, Tribeca.
Michael Nozik (production manager): Those areas were pretty desolate at that time. We could close the streets and have no problems. We would be shooting all night with lights on and making noise on the street, but there weren’t many people to disturb.
“Linda intimidated the shit out of Marty and me.”
Townsend: On After Hours, Marty was almost daily arriving at a set that he had not seen or approved. I just couldn’t get his ear. His list of rules included don’t ever talk to me on set if it’s not about this shot; don’t ever talk to me on set between shots; don’t ever talk to me when I’m on my way to my trailer; don’t ever talk to me at lunch, and don’t ever talk to me when I’m going from my trailer back to the set; don’t ever talk to me before dailies; definitely don’t ever talk to me after dailies. It included every minute of the day.
Then I realized what he was doing was helping me operate from the most anxious and paranoid place to have an experience a lot like Paul Hackett in the movie. And my design work and choices definitely were informed by this anxious and paranoid state that he kept me in all summer long. For instance, I had my team working to find or make furniture where you can’t tell if it’s furniture or not—where it’s not clear if you’re actually welcome to sit on it or if it’s a piece of art. The idea was to blur those lines, to make things look layered and creepy.
Robinson: Everybody was a little nervous about the budget. And everybody was worried about whether Marty would be able to stay within it, because he had become accustomed to bigger budgets.
Townsend: I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to change gears fast enough, and that this little picture might buckle under the weight of his creative needs. Marty had a pretty long list of phobias, and it was made clear to us the things that make him uncomfortable: too many people on a set, too small a space. Because he is asthmatic, he was very worried about running out of oxygen. And he would not eat food that had not been prepared by his mother. It was a lot.
Dunne: Marty is asthmatic, and he could smell a cigarette 10 miles away. When we were shooting the crane shot where I drop to my knees and scream, “What do you want from me? I’m just a word processor,” I had to yell that at the top of my lungs several times. And a woman from a loft overlooking the scene lifted her enormous window up, poked her head out, and screamed, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” Marty, without missing a beat, looked up and said, “Tell that lady to put out her cigarette.”
Scorsese: After Hours would be almost entirely night shoots, which made it easier, in a way—in those days the streets of SoHo were completely deserted at night, so it was containable. In fact, it was so deserted, so empty, that it was almost hallucinatory. But still, could I do it? Then I met Michael Ballhaus, the D.P. I knew his work on [German filmmaker Rainer Werner] Fassbinder’s pictures, many of which were made on even lower budgets and tighter schedules. Michael was not only used to working that way, he relished it. It energized him. And in turn, Michael energized me. With Michael, I was really learning how to make pictures again, learning to shoot fast and with a sense of freedom.
He worked it out very carefully, how much time we could give ourselves to get every shot—30 minutes for this one, 25 minutes for this one. So we had a plan, and we knew that we could get 25 setups per day. As opposed to four. And Michael was able to work with the Arriflex [camera] on a much smaller scale than I’d been used to, and he really got the most out of the equipment.
Dunne: The main light source was the wet streets. We had a water-tank truck on location every night—one of our extravagant expenses—and we would soak the streets so the light would reflect.
TOWNSEND: At one point I told Marty, “The taxicab ride to SoHo is what ruins Paul Hackett’s life. That taxicab leaves a smear, a trail all throughout his night.” And so I made the color yellow and checkered patterns the visual motifs for the film.
Robinson: Marty was a night owl. So shooting at night for him was no hardship.
Bettiann Fishman (production assistant): We’d get to work at about five o’clock in the evening and we’d finish at around five o’clock in the morning.
Dunne: It was very tough to shoot straight nights. I had a gaffer come to my apartment and black out all my windows with a black tarp. I would come in around sunrise, sleep all day, wake up in the evening, and go right back to work.
Arquette: Shooting at night, something supernatural happened. It created this energy, this weird, adrenalized, tired vibe. I’d drink a coffee at three in the morning to get through the next couple hours.
Robinson: In a way, it was great. It was summer. It was night. You were sitting on the street. The rats ran by your feet. It was all a jumble of real life and the movie. That was what making Mean Streets was like, and that’s what Marty was getting back to with After Hours.
SCORSESE: My parents were basically both members of the crew. My father was really a member of the crew—he made his living as a clothes presser, so he hung out in the wardrobe department and pressed clothes as needed. My mother was there a lot, and sometimes she would cook for everyone, but she found the hours tough. I remember that my mother was so intrigued by the punks in the film, the guys with the spiky hair. There was one guy, she looked at him and said, “Boy, look at him—that’s beautiful!”
Arquette: Martin Scorsese is not a controlling director. You block, you rehearse what you’re doing, but then you have complete freedom in the takes to see what happens.
O’Hara: He gets you to improvise around what’s on paper in the script. That’s so he can get what he wants—the truth right in the middle.
“I was really learning how to make pictures again, learning to shoot fast and with a sense of freedom.”
Marin: Scorsese worked exactly the same way Tommy and I worked—semi-improvisational. You just had to get across the information he wanted. It was this realization: Oh, one of the big guys works exactly like we do. Cool!
Chong: It was like we were in our own Cheech and Chong movie within a Scorsese movie.
Dunne: I witnessed Marty’s genius as a director in a scene where Rosanna as Marcy was talking about her husband. It’s a very serious scene. She does the first few takes the way you would think someone would recount a terrible trauma. Marty comes up between takes and asks, “Do you think she’d laugh during this?”
Arquette: He goes, “Do you think Marcy would laugh here?” And I just looked at him, like, “I couldn’t.” But he was planting a seed, and during the next take this laughter just came out of me that wasn’t forced.
Dunne: There’s one scene where I’m trying to remember a phone number and Catherine O’Hara keeps fucking with my head.
O’Hara: I remember really being pumped up by Scorsese. He’d go, “Who’s this little fucker? He thinks that he can tell you what to do? You’re the one helping him!” He made it clear my job was to make Griffin’s character’s life hell. It’s fun when you’re given license to be bad.
Also, I got to drive the Mister Softee truck that’s trying to hunt down Griffin. Most of that driving you see in the movie is actually me behind the wheel. It wasn’t easy, but I was driving in an ice-cream truck in a Martin Scorsese movie, so I was not complaining.
Dunne: Marty knew I was a single man in New York who liked to party. He knew I liked the ladies. And he said, “It’s very important for Paul Hackett to have a look of desire in his eyes throughout the whole movie. That’s what gets him into this mess in the first place. So I need you to not have sex for the eight weeks of the shoot.” And I said, “Eight weeks? No problem. I can do that.”
On a Friday during the shoot, we didn’t get to finish a sequence at Kiki’s loft where I was massaging Linda Fiorentino, who was in a bra. So we had to wrap, and we planned to pick up the scene on Monday. Over that weekend, I had what I call a “fucking accident.” I went out to Area, which was this big club, and hooked up with someone.
So Monday night arrives, and we pick up right where we left off, where I’m practically panting, desperately trying to contain my lust as I’m touching Linda Fiorentino’s back. And suddenly, in the first take, I’m massaging her neck like I’m Pepé Le Pew. I’m so relaxed and so sort of sexy and seductive. And Marty goes, “Cut! Griffin, come here.” He pulled me aside and said, “Did you get laid? You ruined this whole scene! You fucked up this whole scene, maybe the whole fucking movie! I trusted you.” It’s the only time I ever saw him really angry. And I confessed. I said, “I’m so sorry. Let me do it again.”
And it turns out that the look of fear in one’s eyes looks pretty similar to the look of lust. Good old Catholic shame kicked in, and the scene went on as planned. I’m sure he did feel I betrayed his trust, but I also bet he amped up his anger to get the scene back on track.
“A Kind of Miracle”
Dunne: When we put the film in test screenings, we were seeing in the comment cards a lot of negative feedback about the ending. In the original ending, Neil and Pepe take off in the van, with me in the back, trapped inside the pâpier-maché sculpture. Audiences were left feeling very claustrophobic, and they wanted to know what happened to the guy trapped in the sculpture being driven off somewhere.
Scorsese: We didn’t have an ending. So I sent it around for friends to look at. Steven Spielberg—Steven thought we needed to show the neighborhood people looking for Paul, a great idea. We were really racking our brains. How were we going to end this picture? One night, [British filmmaker] Michael Powell was there, with Amy, I think, and Griffin. We came up with an idea of Paul going up in a hot-air balloon and soaring over the city and it’s beautiful and … boring. One of those ideas you come up with when you’re desperate and it feels like you’ve struck gold for about nine seconds and then it’s over.
Minion: We tried on crazy endings. I am the one who came up with Paul entering June’s womb and waking up naked in the fetal position on Sixth Avenue at dawn, then beginning to walk uptown.
Dunne: Me on the West Side Highway, curled up in a fetal position, covered in placenta. We all thought this was a brilliant idea. I pitched it to David Geffen, who was very concerned that we get the right ending. I said, “We’ve got the ending,” and I described the placenta and the whole thing. And he takes a beat and goes, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Scorsese: And then Michael [Powell] said, “He winds up back at work.” We didn’t really take it seriously. We continued work on other ideas until a couple of weeks later, we ended up with Michael’s ending.
“Did you get laid? You ruined this whole scene! You fucked up this whole scene, maybe the whole fucking movie!”
Dunne: Neil and Pepe’s van doors swing open, the sculpture falls out, it smashes onto the street in front of Paul’s office, and I dust myself off and go to work.
SCORSESE: It was a kind of miracle. A rejuvenation. On After Hours every time I put my eye to the viewfinder, I was happy. I could even sit down and look at the set with detachment. Whatever tension there was—and believe me, no film set is ever free of tension—was focused on making our day. That was a great feeling. I had regained the freedom I felt when I was starting out. It was a real gift.
Arquette: At the premiere, Michelle Pfeiffer went with me. Ellen Barkin might have come, too. I had Dustin Hoffman sitting right behind me. When the lights came up after the film, he looked at me, shook my hand, and said “Congratulations.” I immediately went to a telephone booth to call my mom.
Robert Plunket (“Street Pickup”): I was sitting next to Peter Boyle. Andy Warhol was there. Christopher Reeve. Was Cher there? Yes, I seem to remember meeting Cher. Everybody loved the movie, and here were all these stars telling me how great I was.
J. Hoberman (Village Voice film critic): There were at this time what I called the “comedies of yuppie angst”—Lost in America, Desperately Seeking Susan, Something Wild. After Hours was part of that. When I wrote about After Hours in The Village Voice in 1985, I was responding to the fact that it got such a tepid response—and, in fact, a really hostile one from Pauline Kael. She really hated it. It was clearly an existential situation in the movie, which I felt that the critics didn’t really appreciate. They were inclined to take the film very literally.
Dunne: Around the time that the Cannes Film Festival came around, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had been on a violent tear. I don’t know that he explicitly said, “I’m gonna hit Cannes and blow up planes filled with movie stars,” but that was certainly the common thought. It was convincing enough to keep everyone away except Michael Ballhaus and me.
When we finally arrived in Cannes, I was one of the few Americans in a prominent film who showed up. The press made a big deal of Sylvester Stallone being too scared to come to Cannes—but Griffin Dunne did. I was called “the bravest American.” Whenever I walked into restaurants, people cheered me. Gérard Depardieu threw his arms around me.
Before the film was shown at Cannes, I had one last Paul Hackett moment. I’m watching people going up the red carpet on a closed-circuit television in my hotel room. And I go to change into my tuxedo, but it’s not there. I’d given it to the hotel to press but never got it back.
They had given me a bodyguard just in case Qaddafi wanted to kill the bravest American. His name was Claude, and he had a little Uzi under his coat. He broke into the dry cleaner and got me my tux. By the time I got into my suit and into the car racing to the red carpet, everybody was already inside the theater, and they were impatiently clapping. But after the screening, the movie received this insanely long standing ovation. Marty won Best Director at Cannes, and I accepted the award for him in the worst French ever spoken.
Robinson: A lot of younger people who have discovered After Hours more recently tell me it made them want to come to New York. And part of me thinks, Oh, wow, you want these terrible things to happen to you?
Jake Malooley is an editor and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, New York magazine, and other publications. He also publishes Expanding Dan, a Steely Dan newsletter on Substack