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The novel on which "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon" is based, written in 1963 when Richert was nineteen years old, was itself an expression of youthful exuberance and precocity.
"When the book was published," he recalls, "it wasn't possible to make movies with teenagers, so I forgot about it. It got wonderful reviews which compared aspects of it to Joyce and Hemingway, resulting in my becoming totally intimidated. For six months I sat in the East Village, in front of a typewriter, putting the same three paragraphs on yellow paper. I felt like the whole burden of the literary world was on my shoulders..."
"When I adapted the book into a screenplay last year, I found that the story had remained remarkably fresh and relevant -- there's not a single line of dialogue that isn't in the book. But I did have to imaginatively relocate the kid who wrote the book, and let him write the script. Thus I became father to the young man of twenty years ago. It was an interesting confrontation. Now I can look back, see how I've changed and embrace that aspect of myself as an adult."
Richert had an itinerant childhood, the result of parents who were perpetually separating and reconciling. The experiences he incorporated into his book came from a rare two-year hiatus from moving in Evanston, Illinois. He made the film on that same turf, even putting some of his high-school teachers into it.
All of the teenaged performers were younger than their cinematic counterparts, by design. "Kids today are incredibly sophisticated compared to what they were then, and yet all my actors could relate to the characters I'd written so long ago. In some ways, they enabled me to get closer to those characters...and to myself," comments Richert.
"The book was a satirical reaction against the adult world -- conscious with a grin. One of the story's ironies is how Jimmy is in every sense exploited by all of the others. They have an awareness of his obvious weakness that he doesn't have. His parents see through him, but he doesn't realize that.
"In the Sixties I never liked those guys who were closing down colleges, because that wasn't the enemy. They were like entertainers, but there was something very disquieting about it all. I always knew that the rumors that those kids would end up like their fathers were real -- you had to be an aristocrat to revolt in that way. Jimmy Reardon was outside of that entire system.
"At a certain level, this whole civilization is Pompeii again and the artist is dancing on the edge of it because he's just an observer, an alien. Jimmy acts out like an artist would in certain aspects. He takes the ridiculous chances that artists take. Society produces what it needs, and it has artists for a reason. But society can cut off its artists by cutting off a certain aspect of their mentality. Jimmy is dealing with the sexuality of his imagination within the confines of suburbia. His sexuality is like a spring coming through him.
"At the end, he has a special bonding with his father because they both recognize that they're subject to the same limitations and desires. It's not because they made love to the same woman. They suddenly have a vision of the other as being something else than a cliche. The first opening you have into life is when you realize you're not alone. I once wrote a poem called I'm Not The Only Man. I mean, Jimmy suddenly realizes that this guy, his father, wasn't who he thought he was. Well, the world isn't what you think it is either, and the sooner you know that, the sooner you grow up to the next level of possibilities. Then, they are infinite.
"In the end, he has lost everything, but he's found his ancestry, the base of himself through kinship with his father. It's an ancient idea."
Commenting on the lapse of time between film and book, Richert observes: "I'm not a panel of experts with regard to the differences between 1967 and 1987, but I do think the world has lost its phony kind of innocence. Folks were more hidden and hypocritical about matters sexual in any age bracket back then -- and by the way, the book was published, not written, in 1967, so it was really pre-war, pre-assassination and pre-Watergate, three political situations which produced cultural changes in the population. At the same time, it's true that some things about human beings never change.
"When I wrote the book, I was basically uneducated, and I haven't become much more educated. That was what was interesting to me -- that I have the same outlook now as then. As my friend Vincent Sheehan used to tell me 'We're always in the process of becoming who we already are.'"
Island Pictures Presents a William Richert Film, "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon," written and directed by Richert based on his novel Aren't You Ever Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye? and starring River Phoenix, Ann Magnuson, Meredith Salenger, Ione Skye, Louanne and Paul Koslo. The director of photography is John J. Connor, the production designer is Norman Newberry, and the film is edited by Suzanne Fenn. The musical score is composed by Bill Conti. The film is produced by Russell Schwartz and co-produced by Richard H. Prince. The executive producers are Mel Klein and Noel Marshall.