Here’s one film driven not by an auteur but by an author-dramatist David Mamet, who earned $1 million for the movie rights to his play Glengarry Glen Ross and for his adapted screenplay. ”What we shot was 99.9 percent what he wrote,” says director James Foley. ”With people of his caliber, you change a word and a whole paragraph is thrown off. It’s literally music, where if one beat is wrong it sticks out.”
For the actors, who accepted minimal sala-ries for the opportunity to work on Glengarry, delivering Mamet’s verbal fusillades through repeated takes was a thespian high-wire act. Despite some revisions to ”open up” the original 1984 Broadway production — Mamet beefed up the part of weary Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) and added a bullying hotshot rep (Alec Baldwin) who sets a do-or-die sales quota — the author retained the compressed, comically profane tone of the dialogue. ”My one intervention with Jack,” says Foley, ”was that I thought his Lemmonizing, where he’s halting and breaks off sentences, was kind of a cousin to Mamet’s style, and that it was bad to mix blood. I told him we should surrender totally to Mamet.” It was hard work, says Lemmon, since ”all the overlapping, the uhs, the mmms, those had to be performed exactly as written. It took most of the rehearsal time to get his rhythms.”
Already considered a strong Oscar contender, Lemmon decries the scarcity of literate movies today. ”Everything’s always being blown up,” he says. ”It’s all, ‘Hey, we need $700,000 for blood, then we gotta get the little monsters to come out of your belly button.’ Where does the writing go?” In Glengarry, at least, it came dead first.