Desert Hearts (1986)

R | 96 mins | Drama | 4 April 1986

Director:

Donna Deitch

Writer:

Natalie Cooper

Producer:

Donna Deitch

Cinematographer:

Robert Elswit

Editor:

Robert Estrin

Production Designer:

Jeannine Claudia Oppewall

Production Company:

Desert Hearts Productions
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HISTORY

       According to a 12 Jul 1985 Reader article, a fellow party guest at an industry gathering gave producer-director Donna Deitch a copy of author Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart when Deitch expressed the desire to do a straightforward love story between two women that did not involve suicide or a love triangle. She felt “the time was right” to explore the subject matter, and reportedly read the novel “seven times in a row.” Afterward, she contacted Rule in Canada to option the book. Rule had refused efforts by various film studios to buy the rights, fearing a lack of sensitivity toward the book’s themes, but optioned the book to Deitch for a small sum. At first, Deitch had several meetings with film studio executives but it became clear they would buy the rights, maybe give her an associate producer credit, but they would not hire her to direct the movie.
       Over a three-year period, Deitch hosted approximately a dozen investor parties in Los Angeles, CA, Detroit, MI, Washington, D. C., Miami, FL, New York City, San Francisco, and San Diego, CA, in an effort to raise the film’s initial $600,000 budget. The cost eventually grew to $1.5 million. Articles in the 2 Mar 1986 LAT and 24 Apr 1986 WSJ stated Deitch spent closer to four years fund-raising from approximately fifty feminist and lesbian investors to secure the bulk of the money needed.
       The Reader reported she met many people who promised to write checks, but failed to follow through. The legalities of limited partnerships stipulated that she could not spend any of the funds ... More Less

       According to a 12 Jul 1985 Reader article, a fellow party guest at an industry gathering gave producer-director Donna Deitch a copy of author Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart when Deitch expressed the desire to do a straightforward love story between two women that did not involve suicide or a love triangle. She felt “the time was right” to explore the subject matter, and reportedly read the novel “seven times in a row.” Afterward, she contacted Rule in Canada to option the book. Rule had refused efforts by various film studios to buy the rights, fearing a lack of sensitivity toward the book’s themes, but optioned the book to Deitch for a small sum. At first, Deitch had several meetings with film studio executives but it became clear they would buy the rights, maybe give her an associate producer credit, but they would not hire her to direct the movie.
       Over a three-year period, Deitch hosted approximately a dozen investor parties in Los Angeles, CA, Detroit, MI, Washington, D. C., Miami, FL, New York City, San Francisco, and San Diego, CA, in an effort to raise the film’s initial $600,000 budget. The cost eventually grew to $1.5 million. Articles in the 2 Mar 1986 LAT and 24 Apr 1986 WSJ stated Deitch spent closer to four years fund-raising from approximately fifty feminist and lesbian investors to secure the bulk of the money needed.
       The Reader reported she met many people who promised to write checks, but failed to follow through. The legalities of limited partnerships stipulated that she could not spend any of the funds until the full amount was raised. Also, she could not “hold investors’ money indefinitely.” After the first year of fund-raising, it was legally necessary to give financial backers the option to withdraw their money because she had not reached her expected goal. Deitch was fortunate that her investors were committed to the project, and no one demanded the return of their money. According to the 2 Mar 1986 LAT, Deitch eventually sold her West Coast home to help finance the film’s completion costs.
       The Reader stated Deitch found the fund-raising process exhausting and humiliating, but was determined to enjoy the filmmaking process. She wrote initial drafts of the screenplay, then worked closely with screenwriter Natalie Cooper on rewrites. The women traveled to Reno, NV, to visit locations and soak up atmosphere. Then, Cooper wrote a first draft in ten weeks. Deitch said she flew to Oakland, CA, every weekend, where Cooper lived, to review pages. During the writing process, Deitch and Cooper spoke everyday.
       Deitch began to cast the film after she had a working script. She met with approximately 100 actresses in Los Angeles before seeing a photograph of actress Patricia Charbonneau in New York City. Deitch thought Patricia’s look embodied the character of “Cay.” Casting director Tim Flack suggested Helen Shaver for the role of “Vivian,” and she competed with two other actresses for the role. When Deitch had Patricia read with each actress under consideration, it was evident that she and Helen had the most chemistry together. Production notes stated that Deitch also hired between 100 and 150 background actors, who were local Reno residents.
       A 7 Sep 1984 DV production chart announced that principal photography began 6 Aug 1986 in Reno, NV. The Reader reported Deitch was limited to a thirty-one day shooting schedule, which did not leave room for error. The schedule required that two scenes a day needed to be completed to stay on schedule. If they were not able to get a particular shot, Deitch had to make do without it.
       A 30 Jun 1986 LAT article reported that Patricia Charbonneau learned she was pregnant at the start of filming, but her condition did not affect the schedule.
       The Reader reported that editor Robert Estrin had started a company editing on videotape and Deitch was one of his first projects. It took a day to compose a “videoscript,” consisting of “master shots strung together in a sequence.” This helped Estrin get up to speed on the film’s rhythms because Deitch could not pay an editor to be on set during filming, as is the case with movies with bigger budgets.
       According to the WSJ, Deitch did not sit back a week before her film opened in theaters. She was busy handing out fliers at a showing of A Room With A View, and urging movie goers in New York City to see her film.

      The following acknowledgments appear in end credits: “The Producer wishes to thank: All of her investors, First Interstate Bank of Reno, The City of Reno, Nevada, State of Nevada, Highway Patrol Division, Park Wedding Chapel, Parker’s Western Clothes, Pick Hobson’s Riverside Hotel and Casino, Big Canyon Ranch, Herb Capurro, Nevada Motion Picture Division, Bob Hirsch, Pyramid Lake Piaute Indian Tribe, The National Endowment For The Arts,” and “to J. B.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1985
p. 3, 21.
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Apr 1986
p. 1, 12.
Los Angeles Times
30 Jun 1986
Calendar, p. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
7 Dec 2007.
---
New York Times
4 Apr 1986
p. 8.
Reader
12 Jul 1985.
---
Variety
28 Aug 1985
p. 13.
WSJ
24 Apr 1986.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Donna Deitch Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy/Grip
Elec
Best boy/ Elec
Still photog
Still photog
Release prints
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Asst set dec
Set dresser
Set dresser
Lead person
Prop master
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst costumer
Asst costumer
Loc asst costumer
MUSIC
Mus consultant
Mus supv
Mus supv
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Loop group
Sd eff
Sd eff
Sd eff
Sd mix
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opticals
Title des
MAKEUP
Asst makup
2d asst makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
[Casting] assoc
Scr supv
Loc coord
Asst to the dir
Cay's pottery by
Extra casting:Reno
Payroll services
Prod controller
Post prod accountant
Post prod accountant
Prod assoc
Prod coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Legal counsel, Entertainment
Legal counsel, Securities
Legal counsel, Securities
Prod's rep
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Maxi van driver
Honey wagon driver
Caterer
Caterer
Cook/Driver
Craft services
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule (Toronto, 1964).
AUTHOR
SONGS
“Leavin’ On Your Mind,” performed by Patsy Cline, courtesy of MCA Records
“Rave On,” performed by Buddy Holly, courtesy of MCA Records
“Amigos Guitar,” performed by Kitty Wells, courtesy of MCA Records
+
SONGS
“Leavin’ On Your Mind,” performed by Patsy Cline, courtesy of MCA Records
“Rave On,” performed by Buddy Holly, courtesy of MCA Records
“Amigos Guitar,” performed by Kitty Wells, courtesy of MCA Records
“Get Rhythm,” performed by Johnny Cash, courtesy of Sun International Corporation
“Blue Moon,” performed by Elvis Presley, courtesy of RCA Records
“Be Bop A Lula,” performed by Gene Vincent, courtesy of Capitol Records
“March,” from the “Suite For Three Oranges,” courtesy of Everest Records
“Wondering,” performed by Webb Pierce, courtesy of Shelby Singleton Enterprises, Inc.
“Crazy,” performed by Patsy Cline, courtesy of MCA Records
“When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold,” performed by Elvis Presley, courtesy of RCA Records
“Honky Tonk Man,” performed by Johnny Horton, courtesy of CBS Records
“Gone,” performed by Ferlin Husky, courtesy of Capitol Records
“He’ll Have To Go,” performed by Jim Reeves, courtesy of RCA Records
“Treasure Of Love,” performed by Clyde McPhatter, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Projects
“Old Cape Cod,” performed by Patti Page, courtesy of Polygram Records, Inc.
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” performed by Kitty Wells, courtesy of MCA Records
“Cry,” performed by Johnnie Ray, courtesy of CBS Records
“I Wished On The Moon,” performed by Ella Fitzgerald, courtesy of RCA Records
“Lookin’ For Someone to Love,” performed by Andra Akers, music and lyrics by Steve Ferguson.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 April 1986
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 4 April 1986
Los Angeles opening: 25 April 1986
Production Date:
began 6 August 1984
Copyright Claimant:
Desert Heart Productions
Copyright Date:
14 December 1987
Copyright Number:
PA365856
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
96
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1959 in Reno, Nevada, thirty-five-year-old college professor Vivian Bell takes up temporary residence at a ranch until her divorce becomes final. Ranch owner Frances Parker meets her at the station. As they drive off, Frances says she used to be a dancer at a casino in town, and was married to an attorney, who died of a heart attack when he was forty-one. Vivian says she was married for twelve years, and always lived in cities. A speeding car driven in reverse pulls up next to them, and Frances introduces Cay Rivvers, a sculptor and Golden Ring casino employee. However, Cay almost causes an accident before she races off. As Frances’s son, Walter, takes Vivian’s bags to her room, she tells him she teaches English literature at Columbia University in New York City. Walter offers to tell Vivian about the history of the ranch after she unpacks. Meanwhile, she removes her uncomfortable shoes and rests on the bed. In the employee locker room, casino worker, Silver, talks to co-worker, Cay, about her upcoming wedding to Joe. She wants Cay to marry her boyfriend, Darrell, the casino manager, so they can have a double honeymoon. Cay admits she does not share a sexual relationship with Darrell, and worries that Silver will not accept her for who she is. Silver reassures Cay that she is “the best.” On the casino floor, Cay makes change for patrons, and a man named Sherman gropes her. Cay’s boyfriend, Darrell, the floor manager, rescues her from Sherman’s grip and makes him apologize. When Vivian admires a photograph of a man on the mantle, Frances says it is Glenn, Cay’s father. She and ... +


In 1959 in Reno, Nevada, thirty-five-year-old college professor Vivian Bell takes up temporary residence at a ranch until her divorce becomes final. Ranch owner Frances Parker meets her at the station. As they drive off, Frances says she used to be a dancer at a casino in town, and was married to an attorney, who died of a heart attack when he was forty-one. Vivian says she was married for twelve years, and always lived in cities. A speeding car driven in reverse pulls up next to them, and Frances introduces Cay Rivvers, a sculptor and Golden Ring casino employee. However, Cay almost causes an accident before she races off. As Frances’s son, Walter, takes Vivian’s bags to her room, she tells him she teaches English literature at Columbia University in New York City. Walter offers to tell Vivian about the history of the ranch after she unpacks. Meanwhile, she removes her uncomfortable shoes and rests on the bed. In the employee locker room, casino worker, Silver, talks to co-worker, Cay, about her upcoming wedding to Joe. She wants Cay to marry her boyfriend, Darrell, the casino manager, so they can have a double honeymoon. Cay admits she does not share a sexual relationship with Darrell, and worries that Silver will not accept her for who she is. Silver reassures Cay that she is “the best.” On the casino floor, Cay makes change for patrons, and a man named Sherman gropes her. Cay’s boyfriend, Darrell, the floor manager, rescues her from Sherman’s grip and makes him apologize. When Vivian admires a photograph of a man on the mantle, Frances says it is Glenn, Cay’s father. She and Glenn had a ten-year relationship, and Walter is their son. However, Cay is not her child. The next day, Frances sits on the porch with two divorcees named Lucille and Pat. Vivian offers to help Frances by delivering Cay’s mail to her cottage. Cay invites her inside and Vivian admires her ceramic pots. However, Vivian sees a pretty woman named Gwen in Cay’s bed, becomes uncomfortable, and leaves. Later, Cay offers to drive Vivian into town to see her attorney. Vivian finds herself sandwiched in the car between Cay and Gwen. Vivian meets with Art Warner, her lawyer, and she surprises him by not asking for alimony as part of her settlement since she has always supported herself. Vivian is uncomfortable when Art suggests “mental cruelty” as grounds for her divorce. She thinks the term mischaracterizes her circumstances. Back at the casino, Darrell asks to see Cay in his office. There, he tells Cay he loves her, but she says she has been honest about her feelings toward women. When he says he is willing to look the other way, she is silent. At night, Vivian sees Cay in the kitchen with the ingredients to make a sandwich. Vivian boils water for tea, but Cay complains the noise will wake Frances. Vivian agrees to leave, and return at a more convenient time. Meanwhile, Cay drops a jar of mayonnaise on the floor. Laughing, the women clean up the mess until Frances asks Cay to bring her a bottle of Coca-Cola. In her bedroom, Frances confesses she is in financial trouble. If she sells the ranch she wonders if Cay will come live with her and go to art school. Cay suggests she might meet someone important someday, but Frances is not optimistic, given Cay’s choice of lovers. Cay warns her not to interfere. One day, as they ride horses, Vivian tells Cay her marriage drowned in still waters. Sharing a bubble bath, Cay confesses to Silver that her new crush is Vivian, a classy individual ten years her senior. Although they have not slept together, Cay hopes to start a romance with Vivian before she leaves town. Later, Frances warns Vivian not to get too close to Cay since they have little in common. Cay persuades Vivian to buy casual Western outfits, and they share a drink at the casino bar with Silver. There, Vivian is introduced to Darrell, who acts like a jealous lover. Vivian leaves to play the slot machines, and thanks Cay for a wonderful time. Later, Lucille admits that Buck, a ranch hand, has helped her overcome the sadness over her divorce, and warns Vivian that Cay was kicked out of college for “unnatural acts.” At breakfast, Cay is upset when Vivian declines to attend Silver’s engagement party. She would rather prepare lectures for work, but Cay suspects she would rather avoid any further confrontation with Darrell. Soon, Vivian is persuaded by Walter, who offers to escort Vivian to the party. There, Silver performs a song in honor of her fiance, Joe. On the drive home, Cay tells Vivian she lives at the ranch to hide from anything she cannot face. Cay parks, and the women walk around a lake. She declares Darrell’s affection is misplaced, she is only attracted to women. Vivian cannot admit her attraction to Cay, and walks back to the car as it starts raining. Cay follows, and insists Vivian roll down the window. She leans in and kisses Vivian on the cheek, then kisses her on the mouth. Vivian reciprocates, but abruptly stops, and asks Cay to drive her home. At the ranch, Frances greets them angrily, informing Vivian that she is no longer welcome, and a room has been reserved for her at the Riverside Inn. When she hands Vivian a refund, Cay grabs it and tosses the money on the ground. Frances insists that townspeople are gossiping about Cay and Vivian. She accuses Vivian of being a bad influence on her family. Cay tells Vivian she can be found at Silver’s, and warns Frances to stop interfering with her life. Cay goes to work, but her heart is not in it. Later, she visits Vivian at the hotel, and they talk. Vivian confesses that before she came to Reno, her life was orderly. Now, Frances has humiliated her by casting judgment on her uncharacteristic behavior. As Vivian takes a drink, she says one day she will get her revenge by writing a short story about the experience. Meanwhile, Cay has climbed into Vivian’s bed, and is topless. Vivian hands Cay her clothes and asks her to leave. Cay insists that Vivian wants her to stay, but Vivian nervously admits she would not know what to do. She sits down on the bed, but tells Cay she will not take off her robe. Silently, Cay takes Vivian’s face in her hands and kisses her. The women fold into each other’s arms, and Vivian says she has feelings she has never had before. She smiles and allows Cay to remove her robe. Gently, Cay explores Vivian’s body, and they make love for hours. Later, they have sodas at a bar. Vivian says she feels exposed. She is afraid of what her colleagues will think of her affair with a twenty-five-year-old woman when she returns to work. As they admit they are in love, three men at a nearby table send over beers. Vivian does not want to socialize with the men, and walks out. Cay joins her in the car, and says Vivian would be content to hide in her room until her divorce came through. Vivian accuses Cay of being too strident. Cay responds she acts the way she does so the world will not change her. They return to Vivian’s hotel and make up. Later, Cay and Vivian attend Silver’s wedding. After the ceremony, Frances comments she wishes things had worked out differently. She leaves before Vivian responds, but Cay runs after her. She tells Frances she loves her, but Frances says she will never understand Cay’s attraction to other women. Cay explains it is the same emotion Frances felt for Glenn. The women hug and Frances leaves. After Vivian’s divorce is granted, Cay is disappointed when Vivian does not plan to visit until Christmas. Vivian wants to have a last dinner together, but Cay plans to meet her at the train station to say goodbye. At the station, Vivian invites Cay to move to New York City. Cay is reluctant, and thinks she will not fit in with Vivian’s city friends. Vivian says if Cay rides the train with her to the next station they can figure out the details. She extends her hand and Cay boards the train. +

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

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