Neil Simon, the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning playwright, has passed away at age 91. A Broadway legend, the Washington Post points out that he was considered the world's most popular playwright after Shakespeare, with his works adapted to international stage productions, TV series and motion pictures. Perhaps his signature pieces was "The Odd Couple", which was successful in all three mediums and is still widely-performed today. Simon wrote slice-of-life shows that usually centered on working class people, thus enabling a wide audience to identify with his characters and their humor. Click here for about his remarkable life and legacy.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, there
was a fear that gripped New York City. After 1977, the year of the Son of Sam
murders, the disastrous blackout, and the Bronx literally in flames later, the
cityscape and New York aura had drastically changed. The movie Death
Wish(1974) directed by Michael
Winner,made earlier, had caused quite a
stir reflecting the bleak and often paranoid reactions of citizens, and it
spawned several other films. Vigilante, produced and directed by
exploitation genre virtuoso, William Lustig, and written by Richard Vetere, was
perhaps arguably one of the leanest and no-holds-barred of this type of film.
Lustig and actor Joe Spinell had teamed up to make the lucrative but extremely
graphic and controversial horror/ serial killer film Maniac (1980). Vigilante
was Lustig’s follow up. Yet, Vigilante remains to be more aestheticized
with a raw prose of the street thanks to Vetere's work, and the grim urban
settings serving as a stark landscape, rather than relying on the raw
gratuitous gore of Lustig’s prior film.
caught up with Richard Vetere in July 2018, who was a former professor of screenwriting of
mine at Queens College in the late 1990s. I had seen the film on Netflix
recently and thought how underrated it was, and I wanted to contact Vetere to
find out his insight into writing such a gritty, visceral, and memorable film.
Vetere explains that Lustig approached him to write a “Blue Collar Death Wish”. One of the points Vetere
makes was how unapologetically politically incorrect the film is. It was on the top 20 highest grossing films of
1983, and it was an example of an innovative indie film, before indie
groundbreakers, Miramax, the Shooting Gallery and Tarantino were making waves
in the 1990s.
can easily be overlooked as an exploitation genre film, but offers the viewer
something more unique with the gritty performances especially by Forster,
dialogue thanks to Vetere, and cinematography that make it a stand out. I saw
the film when I was young and it made an impression. The political view is
obviously in --your -face about policing tactics and politicians not doing
enough for the public. We see this frustrated view in many of the films of the
era. Pre-Giuliani, pre-Disneyfication of New York was grim, but it had almost a
distinct street grit-aesthetic for filmmaking, such as in earlier films like The
French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971).
Vetere says what makes his film stand
out is that it is unapologetic for the action of the heroes in the movie. The
ending in which a judge is blown to bits was very controversial. He emphasizes
his own frustration at the growing apathy in the city by police and the public
alike. He also feels his film is one of the most realistic of the genre in
comparison to other films like Death Wish and Fighting Back. He
felt DeathWish had an ill-fitting sense of humor and the villains
were so over the top that they were not realistic. Vetere maintains that he was
going for “reality” untrammeled by Hollywood restriction or by a need for
self-justification as he felt Fighting Back had.
Richard Vetere's films that he wrote or
co-wrote include The Third Miracle
starring Ed Harris and produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by
Agnieszka Holland released by Sony Picture Classics, The Marriage Fool for CBS TV films starring Walter Matthau and
Carol Burnett, How to Go Out on a Date in
Queens starring Jason Alexander and the teleplay Hale the Hero! starring Elisabeth Shue for A&E.
What was happening politically at the time this film was made in the
early 1980s New York?
the late 1970s and early ‘80s New York City was a city on a major decline.There was no political will and no ability to
get anything done.Unlike today there wasn’t a single
neighborhood untouched by graffiti, street crime, vandalism and muggings.Prostitutes walked the streets, cars being
broken into -- all met with indifference by a somewhat over-taxed, somewhat
corrupt, somewhat bewildered police force.When you got on a subway you were basically taking your life into your
own hands since gangs roamed the subway with impunity.Just
stepping out of your house could be intimidating to the common citizen.You have to remember back then the police
only responded to a crime the concept
of attacking crime and preventing it was not put into effect. Also
the subway police and the street police were two different departments so if
someone committed a crime, they took refuge underground.So I would like to answer your question this
way – the average citizen was afraid and felt helpless.This made them apathetic to their own plight.As a young man this outraged me to such a
point that I wanted to take action.I
was angry at the indifference of the populace and of the authorities.From this anger and frustration came Vigilante.