Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

R | 102 mins | Black comedy | 6 October 1989

Director:

Gus Van Sant

Cinematographer:

Robert Yeoman

Production Designer:

David Brisbin

Production Company:

Avenue Pictures
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HISTORY

According to the 20 Nov 1988 NYT, writer-director Gus Van Sant based the screenplay on the as-of-yet unpublished novel, Drugstore Cowboy, by Washington State Penitentiary inmate James Fogle, who once made his living selling stolen pharmaceuticals, resulting in his own addiction.
       Van Sant encountered resistance as he shopped the property to studios, the majority of which refused to associate themselves with a story about drug addicts. However, Avenue Pictures, founded only a year earlier, was enthusiastic about the project. While some members of the production team envisioned a black-and-white film, Avenue preferred color. Art director Eve Cauley compromised by devising a color palette “emphasizing blue, dark green and black,” which created contrasts similar to black and white. Screenwriters Van Sant and Daniel Yost removed the more bleak aspects of the story, transforming it into a “black comedy.” They also changed the setting to 1971, more than a decade before the AIDS and “crack” cocaine epidemics. Actor Matt Dillon believed his character, “Bob Hughes,” was more sympathetic in this context, noting that the nature of drug addiction had become more sinister in recent years. Van Sant, a self-described “student” of William S. Burroughs, hired the author to play “the man who introduced Bob to drugs.” Burroughs revised the character as a defrocked priest, and altered the dialogue to reflect his own manner of speaking.
       Dillon prepared for the role by speaking with both active and reformed addicts, studying their personality traits and body language. The 29 Oct 1988 LAT reported that Dillon’s research included buying heroin paraphernalia in New York City’s East Village, with the ... More Less

According to the 20 Nov 1988 NYT, writer-director Gus Van Sant based the screenplay on the as-of-yet unpublished novel, Drugstore Cowboy, by Washington State Penitentiary inmate James Fogle, who once made his living selling stolen pharmaceuticals, resulting in his own addiction.
       Van Sant encountered resistance as he shopped the property to studios, the majority of which refused to associate themselves with a story about drug addicts. However, Avenue Pictures, founded only a year earlier, was enthusiastic about the project. While some members of the production team envisioned a black-and-white film, Avenue preferred color. Art director Eve Cauley compromised by devising a color palette “emphasizing blue, dark green and black,” which created contrasts similar to black and white. Screenwriters Van Sant and Daniel Yost removed the more bleak aspects of the story, transforming it into a “black comedy.” They also changed the setting to 1971, more than a decade before the AIDS and “crack” cocaine epidemics. Actor Matt Dillon believed his character, “Bob Hughes,” was more sympathetic in this context, noting that the nature of drug addiction had become more sinister in recent years. Van Sant, a self-described “student” of William S. Burroughs, hired the author to play “the man who introduced Bob to drugs.” Burroughs revised the character as a defrocked priest, and altered the dialogue to reflect his own manner of speaking.
       Dillon prepared for the role by speaking with both active and reformed addicts, studying their personality traits and body language. The 29 Oct 1988 LAT reported that Dillon’s research included buying heroin paraphernalia in New York City’s East Village, with the help of a recovering addict. The actor willingly placed a syringe in his arm on camera, injecting himself with a vitamin solution rather than heroin. However, the scene was removed due to its “unrealistic” appearance. Van Sant revealed that he originally considered actor Dennis Hopper for the lead role, despite his advanced age. He soon realized that Dillon was best suited to the part, describing his portrayal as that of “a likable maniac.” Executive producer Cary Brokaw admitted in the 26 Oct 1989 Chicago Tribune that Dillon’s popularity was instrumental in convincing Avenue to supply the picture’s $5 million budget.
       Principal photography began on 26 Sep 1988 in Portland, OR, as reported in the 27 Sep 1988 DV.
       Drugstore Cowboy opened in early Sep 1989 to positive reviews. The picture won Independent Spirit Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Male Lead (Matt Dillon), Best Supporting Actor (Max Perlich), and Best Cinematography (Robert Yeoman). In addition, it won National Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Film. The screenplay also received awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association. However, the picture received no recognition from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) because it was not written “under a WGA signatory agreement,” as reported in the 9 Feb 1990 DV.
       On 4 Jan 1991, DV estimated the film’s earnings at $4.5 million, after more than fifteen months in release.
       End credits include the following statements: “Special acknowledgement: Michael Eliasberg,” and, “Special thanks: Cary Woods, John Campbell, Gary Tieche, Michael Lally, James Grauerholz, Bruce Markoe, Sam Henry, Leslie Shatz, Cathy Main, Pat Lucas, Theresa Tamiyasu, J. D. Perkin, Jan Hassard – Portland Mayor’s Office, Portland Police Department, Oregon Film and Video Division, P.A.C.E Video, Red Lion Inn – Portland Center, Emmanuel Hospital & Health Center, Coda Clinic, Bruce Weber.” Additionally stated: “Filmed entirely on location in beautiful Portland, Oregon”; “In memory of Ron McMurran.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
26 Oct 1989
Section E, p. 11.
Daily Variety
27 Sep 1988
p. 1, 17.
Daily Variety
18 Dec 1989
p. 1.
Daily Variety
8 Jan 1990
p. 1.
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1990
p. 35.
Daily Variety
26 Mar 1990
p. 3.
Daily Variety
4 Jan 1991
p. 54.
Los Angeles Times
4 Sep 1988
p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
29 Oct 1989
p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
11 Oct 1989
p. 1.
New York Times
20 Nov 1988
Section A, p. 24.
New York Times
6 Oct 1989
p. 17.
Variety
30 Aug 1989
p. 30.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Avenue Pictures presents
An Avenue Pictures release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d unit photog
Best boy elec
Elec
Addl elec
Addl elec
Addl elec
Addl elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Unit photog
Lenses and Panaflex cam supplied by
Cam car provided by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept asst
Art dept intern
FILM EDITORS
Post prod supv
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Apprentice ed
Post prod coord
Post prod coord
Addl ed
Ed intern
Ed intern
Ed intern
Post prod intern
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Leadman
Set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Head scenic artist
Paint/Const asst
Head carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Const asst
Const consultants
Paint intern
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward asst
Ward asst
Asst cost des
MUSIC
Mus consultant
Mus coord
Mus score rec and mixed
Rec eng
Assoc mus prod
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Addl boom op
Supv sd ed
Danetracks
Sd eff ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
ADR ed
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
A.D.R./Foley mixer
Voice casting
Post prod and re-rec facilities
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Ultra Stereo consultant
Optical sd transfer
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hair des
Make-up/Hair asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Prod exec
Prod exec
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Asst to the prods
Asst to Mr. Brokaw
Scr supv
Unit pub
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Cam car driver
Asst coord
Asst coord
Asst loc
Asst accountant
Addl accounting
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Craft service
Craft service
First aid
Prod intern
Prod intern
Portland casting
L.A. casting asst
Extras coord
Loc equip
Public relations
Insurance provided by
Completion bond provided by
Legal services
Legal services
Legal services
Legal services
Legal services
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Film processing
Film processing
Negative timing
Release prints
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Drugstore Cowboy by James Fogle (New York, 1990).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"For All We Know," written by J. Fred Coots & Sam Lewis, vocal performance by Abbey Lincoln, piano accompaniment by Geri Allen, used by permission of SBK Feist Catalog, Inc. and Cromwell Music, Inc.
"Little Things," written & performed by Bobby Goldsboro, used by permission of SBK Unart Catalog, Inc., under license from CEMA Special Markets, EMI Records, Inc.
"Psychotic Reaction," written by Ken Ellner, Roy Chaney, Craig Atkinson, John Byrne & John Michalski, performed by The Count Five, published by Drive-In Music, courtesy of Original Sound Record Co., Inc.
+
SONGS
"For All We Know," written by J. Fred Coots & Sam Lewis, vocal performance by Abbey Lincoln, piano accompaniment by Geri Allen, used by permission of SBK Feist Catalog, Inc. and Cromwell Music, Inc.
"Little Things," written & performed by Bobby Goldsboro, used by permission of SBK Unart Catalog, Inc., under license from CEMA Special Markets, EMI Records, Inc.
"Psychotic Reaction," written by Ken Ellner, Roy Chaney, Craig Atkinson, John Byrne & John Michalski, performed by The Count Five, published by Drive-In Music, courtesy of Original Sound Record Co., Inc.
"Put A Little Love In Your Heart," written by Jimmy Holiday, Randy Myers & Jackie DeShannon, performed by Jackie DeShannon, used by permission of SBK Unart Catalog, Inc., under license from CEMA Special Markets, EMI Records, Inc.
"TV Commercial Music," written and performed by Will Kaplan
"Piu Amore Romantico Per Anna," composed & produced by Jeff Levi, published by Laughing Cloud Music
"The Israelites," written by Desmond Dekker & Leslie Kong, performed by Desmond Dekker & The Aces, courtesy of Island Records, Inc.
"I Am," music & lyrics by Roky Erickson, produced by Craig Luckin & Karl Derfler, performed by Roky Erickson & Jack Johnson, courtesy of Restless/Pink Dust Records
"Judy In Disguise," written by John Fred and Andrew Bernard, performed by John Fred and His Playboy Band, published by Su-Ma Music, courtesy of Janus Records c/o Original Sound Entertainment
"Cherry Lips," written by Winfield Scott, performed by The Robins, published by Neil Music, Inc., courtesy of GNP Crescendo Records.
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DETAILS
Release Date:
6 October 1989
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 6 October 1989
Los Angeles opening: 13 October 1989
Production Date:
began 26 September 1988
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Ultra Stereo®
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29905
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1971 Portland, Oregon, drug addict Bob Hughes lays in the back of an ambulance, reflecting on his past. Looking back over several months, Bob recalls robbing drugstores with his wife, Dianne, aided by petty criminal Rick and his naïve girl friend, Nadine. During a particular robbery, Nadine distracts the staff and customers by feigning an epileptic seizure, while Bob steals prescription narcotics. Afterward, as Bob divides the loot among his accomplices, Nadine complains about her meager share, disregarding her inability to tolerate hard drugs. The argument is interrupted by their teenaged neighbor, David, who offers to sell the group methamphetamine. Although Dianne disapproves, Bob believes the powerful stimulant will enable him to commit another theft that evening. The argument escalates when Dianne suggests that Bob direct more energy toward their sexual relationship. That night, Detective Gentry leads a police raid on the house. Recognizing Nadine as the weakest member of the group, Gentry questions her regarding the stolen narcotics, but neither is aware that Dianne has buried them in the front yard. Hoping to avoid further raids, Bob instructs Rick to rent an apartment across town, while he and Dianne retrieve clothing stored at his mother’s house. During their visit, Mrs. Hughes berates her son for his life of crime and addiction. After settling in their new home, Nadine’s request for a puppy reminds Bob of “Panda,” the dog he and Dianne once owned. Following a robbery, police used Panda to track the couple, and had him euthanized while Bob was in prison. He accuses Nadine of putting a “hex” on the group, ruining their ... +


In 1971 Portland, Oregon, drug addict Bob Hughes lays in the back of an ambulance, reflecting on his past. Looking back over several months, Bob recalls robbing drugstores with his wife, Dianne, aided by petty criminal Rick and his naïve girl friend, Nadine. During a particular robbery, Nadine distracts the staff and customers by feigning an epileptic seizure, while Bob steals prescription narcotics. Afterward, as Bob divides the loot among his accomplices, Nadine complains about her meager share, disregarding her inability to tolerate hard drugs. The argument is interrupted by their teenaged neighbor, David, who offers to sell the group methamphetamine. Although Dianne disapproves, Bob believes the powerful stimulant will enable him to commit another theft that evening. The argument escalates when Dianne suggests that Bob direct more energy toward their sexual relationship. That night, Detective Gentry leads a police raid on the house. Recognizing Nadine as the weakest member of the group, Gentry questions her regarding the stolen narcotics, but neither is aware that Dianne has buried them in the front yard. Hoping to avoid further raids, Bob instructs Rick to rent an apartment across town, while he and Dianne retrieve clothing stored at his mother’s house. During their visit, Mrs. Hughes berates her son for his life of crime and addiction. After settling in their new home, Nadine’s request for a puppy reminds Bob of “Panda,” the dog he and Dianne once owned. Following a robbery, police used Panda to track the couple, and had him euthanized while Bob was in prison. He accuses Nadine of putting a “hex” on the group, ruining their luck for the next thirty days. To avoid further hexes, Bob enumerates his other superstitions, particularly his fear of placing a hat on the bed, which can result in fifteen years of bad luck. Gentry and his colleague, Detective Albert Trousinski, observe the apartment from a camper truck parked outside. When an elderly woman informs Bob and Rick that “a sinister-looking man with a ladder” was seen outside her window, they assume Gentry is the culprit. Bob warns his burly neighbor of a perverted voyeur terrorizing the community, in hopes of undermining the detective. Trousinski observes the exchange from a distance and concludes that the neighbor is also a narcotics dealer. He spies on the man’s home that night, and is toppled from his ladder by a shotgun blast. The next day, Gentry beats Bob for his cruel prank, advising him to leave town or face retribution from Trousinkski. Bob and Dianne prepare for their trip by shipping suitcases filled with drugs to bus depots throughout the state, for retrieval during their travels. The group rents a motel suite in a small town, and acquires a pickup truck as their getaway car. Among the loot from their first burglary is a small bottle of Dilaudid, which Bob, Rick, and Dianne share, before stashing the remaining drugs in the attic. Exasperated with Nadine’s ineptitude, Bob bars her from participating in any further robberies, leading her to believe that the group will eventually abandon her. While Rick comforts Nadine, she defies Bob by placing a hat on the bed. Rick joins the others in the abortive burglary of a hospital pharmacy, which leaves Bob with a gash in his forehead. They return early the next morning to find Nadine dead from a Dilaudid overdose. Although the others are saddened by the girl’s death, Bob insists that she deserved it for putting a hex on the group. Later, the hotel manager informs Bob that the motel has been reserved for a sheriff’s convention, and their room must be vacated. Despite the overwhelming presence of law officers, Bob avoids notice as he removes the body in a duffel bag and buries it on a wooded hillside. Certain that his luck is exhausted, Bob invites Dianne to join him in seeking therapy for their addictions. She refuses and Bob returns to Portland alone. At an outpatient treatment facility, a counselor invites Bob to advise fellow addicts on reforming their lives. He declines, explaining that a “junkie” will always find a substitute habit “to relieve the pressures of everyday life, like having to tie your shoes.” In the lobby of his residence hotel, Bob encounters “Tom the Priest” Murphy, a defrocked Catholic cleric whom he had served as an altar boy. Both are undergoing methadone therapy, but Tom is not committed to the program and secretly continues his lifelong addiction. Bob works as a drill press operator and attends support group meetings, which he considers tedious. One day, he enters his room to find Gentry, who warns that Trousinski holds Bob responsible for his demotion to traffic officer and seeks vengeance. The detective is surprised to learn that Bob and Dianne have separated, as they have been together since childhood. On his way home from a meeting, Bob comes upon his former neighbor, David, threatening another boy over a drug debt. Bob intervenes for the boy and admonishes David for his childish behavior. Later, Tom the priest predicts that the demonization of recreational drugs will create hysteria among the populace, enabling conservative politicians to create “an international police apparatus.” One night, Bob receives a surprise visit from Dianne, who is unimpressed with his modest, sober lifestyle. Bob explains that he was overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding Nadine’s death, and promised the “Supreme Being” that he would live a virtuous life if he could be spared from arrest. Dianne declines Bob’s invitation to stay the night, revealing that she is romantically involved with Rick. Despite Bob’s sobriety, she leaves him with a bag of narcotics. The next day, Bob gives the bag to Tom, who is pleased to find a jar of Dilaudid among its contents. That evening, David and his accomplice subject Bob to a severe beating and shoot him in the back. As paramedics carry Bob to an ambulance, Gentry asks the name of the perpetrator. Bob puzzles the detective by muttering, “The hat.” On his way to the hospital, Bob muses on the unpredictability of life, and realizes that he has paid his debt to Nadine’s hat. He looks forward to resuming his life as an addict, as he is transported to “the fattest pharmacy in town.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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