Q&A: Michael Mann on the restored ‘Heat,’ 22 years later
NEW YORK (AP) — “This crew is good,” declares Al Pacino’s Los Angeles detective Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann’s sprawling noir saga “Heat.” Hanna is speaking of Neil McCauley’s (Robert De Niro) criminal gang but the same could also be said of Mann and his production team.
The sheer filmmaking rigor is one of the things on display in the “Heat” Blu-ray, out Tuesday, that includes a number of insights into Mann’s 1995 opus of driven men and the women who suffer their obsessions. It features a glorious restoration of the film, the most pristine presentation yet of Mann’s heavily researched investigation into the night — a recurring fascination for the intrepid director of “Collateral” and “Miami Vice.”
It was and remains the quintessential Mann film. Preceded by “The Last of the Mohicans” and followed by “The Insider,” ”Heat” found the director — and his legendary leads — at the very top of their game: the thunderous downtown Los Angeles shootout, the historic Pacino-De Niro tete-a-tete, the panorama of characters.
Taking a break from developing a miniseries of Mark Bowden’s upcoming Tet Offensive history, “Hue 1968” — a project he is bursting with enthusiasm for — Mann spoke recently about “Heat,” 22 years later.
AP: What did you want to accomplish with this restoration?
Mann: What I wanted to do was take it away from the way the world would have seemed, seen 22 years ago, and into the way the world is now. Everything evolves, including what we think is real, how we see light and shadow on a human face, what constitutes a dramatic aspect. I think we probably went into every shot of the film.
AP: You’re co-writing a novel prequel to “Heat.” Is that something that could turn into a film?
Mann: It may be. It’s a ways away. There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to go into that.
AP: One striking aspect of “Heat” is how you linger on the deaths of various characters, as if taking a moment to contemplate the choices that brought them to their fate.
Mann: I’m a big believer in causality. I think if there was an instrument to measure all the micro-casual tracks between what causes a thing to happen and the effect, it would all be knowable. We don’t have that instrument.
AP: This film and others of yours, like “The Insider,” are about men consumed by their work. Are you drawn to these stories because the same is true of you?
Mann: I don’t know, maybe. Do I have to be lying down to answer this question? Listen, drama to me is conflict. Conflict is usually some kind of collision. Collision between two slackers isn’t really that interesting. “Do you want to watch TV at my house or your house?” It tends to take you into people who are pretty proficient at what they do, or want to be good at what they do, or ambitious.
AP: Do you grant that you’re an obsessively detailed filmmaker?
Mann: I plead guilty to being ambitious. I wish I wasn’t that ambitious sometimes because I love shooting. Some directors don’t like shooting. I actually like shooting. I would lead a very happy life as a journeyman director and I’m incapable of it. But I have to feel pretty passionate about something.
AP: The coffee shop scene famously for the first time united Pacino and De Niro on screen. Yet you avoided a wide shot of them both fully in the frame and stuck to over-the-shoulder shots. Why?
Mann: I hadn’t intended on excluding a wide shot until the editing. Every time we (Mann and editor Dov Hoenig) put that shot in, it let the air out of the balloon. It deflated the intensity. … When you stopped being empathetically projected over Al’s shoulder of Bob or vice versa, but then became an observer looking at the two of them, it stopped being quite as intensely immersive.
AP: Instead, they aren’t fully seen together until the final shot of the film, that incredible crescendo scored by Moby .
Mann: By the way, he was integral in the editing. He was fascinated with the film. We had a strange (round-the-clock) editing situation. … Often, I’d get in in the morning and Moby would be there sleeping under one of the Avids or something because he was hanging around quite a bit.
AP: Has “Heat,” in particular, remained with you? The characters seem to still rattle around your head.
Mann: Well, they all do. “The Insider” and “Heat” are two films I’ve never really changed. They didn’t need any modification. There’s a line I’d take out of “Heat” if I was ever motivated to. I’m not going to tell you what it is, though.
AP: Pacino has a few famously big, theatrical moments in the film. He’s claimed his character has an unseen cocaine habit that explains some of the behavior.
Mann: That kind of provocation and verbal, psychological assault is absolutely what guys who are good at doing this will do. That’s kind of where it comes from. And the scene with Hank Azaria, as well. By this point, Al and I were almost three quarters of the way through shooting the film and it was Azaria’s first day on the set. Al and I had a kind of shorthand communication about “I’m going to try something” or “I’m going to do a free one,” which meant that we had gotten the scene and “Let me just rip and see what’s going to happen spontaneously.” He and I would always do these. I said, “Great, go ahead.” We had forgotten to clue in Azaria. So all of a sudden Al explodes all over the place. The look on Azaria’s face.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP