Although I had been warned before watching Hearts of Fire (HOF), I don't think I truly grasped how bad the movie was going to be. Yet, there were still a few parts of HOF that I actually enjoyed......one of them being that it was only 95 minutes in length!
Besides the bad acting, the screenplay by Joe Eszterhas (Showgirls, Jade, Basic Instinct 1 &2) is the worst part of the movie. It's full of cliches and struggles to make an "important" statement about the price of fame. The movie was originally written by Scott Richardson, but the production company felt he wasn't a seasoned enough writer for an important (?) script. Supposedly, Dylan liked the first script better and threatened to sue if he had to do Eszterhas's script. This might or might not account for Dylan's lackadaisical acting. Maybe having to do the re-written script caused Dylan to lose interest in the movie or maybe he even wanted the movie to be bad to prove his point. Either way, it's hard to imagine the original script could have been worse than what is presented here.
The movie begins with Molly McGuire (Fiona) working during the day and playing in a bar band at night. Billy Parker (Dylan), a retired music star who has walked away from fame, just HAPPENS to walk into the bar where she is performing one night. She catches a glimpse of him leaving and rushes out of the bar to meet him. He brushes her off this first night, but Dylan returns the next night and performs with Fiona on stage. He sings what is supposedly Billy Parker's biggest hit "The Usual".....(WTF, this is a song originally written by John Hiatt). It should be noted here that the words lip synch and Bob Dylan DO NOT go together.
The following night Fiona finds out that her band is going to take a steady gig at a Holiday Inn and Fiona doesn't want to do that type of job, so she quits the band. Fiona runs into the street, and who does she HAPPEN to run into....you guessed it....Dylan. Actually he was parked in an alley beside the bar. This really made it appear that Dylan was stalking Fiona, but I assume this was just a bad plot ploy. Best part of this scene is in the background: the movie theater just HAPPENS to be showing "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid". There's a skinny dipping scene that follows, but only on Fiona's part, since Dylan jumps in the lake fully clothed (Bob must have a no "little zimmy" clause in his contract!). Dylan invites Fiona to go to England with him and play in his band at an "oldies" show that he is going to do, but she declines.
The next day Fiona gets in trouble at work and quits her job. Dylan has been trying to hold the bus hoping that Fiona would show up, but he finally boards and just as the bus HAPPENS to be leaving Fiona shows up. Dylan catches sight of her, but the bus driver refuses to stop. In my favorite moment in the movie, Dylan makes the bus driver pull over by holding a harmonica to his neck!!
In England, Fiona is disgusted that Dylan, with the help of Bones (Ian Dury), is hiring people for Dylan's band who aren't very good (Ron Wood has a cameo as a very bad bass player). Richie Havens, playing another "oldie" - Pepper Ward, tells her it doesn't matter, that the fans are just coming to see if they've gotten fat or gray. Fiona runs out into the street (hmmm....running into the street seems to be a habit of hers!) and just HAPPENS to spot her idol Rupert, who brushes her off. Fiona goes back to Dylan and agrees to appear with him if they can do new songs (obviously she now could care less if the band is any good!).
Rupert, who knows Dylan from his past stardom, sends word for Dylan to come to his estate for a visit. As a treat for Fiona, since he knows she's a big fan, Dylan takes her along. At Rupert's, Dylan and Rupert have an exchange that makes no sense, but seems to amuse them (and also amuses me!):
Dylan: When was the last time you wrote a song?
Everett: 2 years
Dylan: And the last time you toured?
Everett: A year and a half
Dylan: Got any Johnny Cash albums?
Everett: A few.
This exchange sends them both into a fit of laughter. We can only assume that this is some type of private joke, since we are never shown any reason that this would be so hilarious. My guess.....Dylan wrote these lines or it was straight adlib....it just seems nonsensical enough.
The next morning Rupert just HAPPENS to hear Fiona singing one of her songs and he decides he can make Fiona into a star if she will stay in England. This infuriates Dylan and he says he is going to go back to The States, but Fiona talks him into staying. Fiona spends most of her time hanging out with Rupert and she gets to see how you can't have a private life because of fame. Fiona's star is rising thanks to Rupert and Dylan once again wants to go home. It appears he is mighty jealous of Rupert. Fiona tries to talk him into staying, but Dylan has his mind set. As she is trying to talk to him, Dylan s-l-o-w-l-y trashes his hotel room. Rupert arrives and Dylan and Rupert have a fight scene.....ok, a really bad fight scene, but still a fight scene!
Fiona continues to tour with Rupert (and somewhere along the line has sex with him). BTW, Rupert seems to know only one song, his supposed hit "Tainted Love". Rupert and Fiona eventually come to the U.S. and play in Fiona's hometown. After the concert she goes to see Dylan, who is now a big time chicken farmer (I think this was a Dylan touch) with his refrigerator stocked with nothing but eggs. He serenades her in the barn in what I think is Dylan's best part in the movie. Fiona leaves Dylan and meets Rupert who waiting for her beside the road, but she also leaves him and goes her own way.
Fiona had a very pleasant screen presence. When she sang quieter songs her voice was enjoyable; however, her louder songs really got on my nerves and I started fast forwarding anytime she would sing one of those. I think the term caterwauling could be used to describe her over the top songs, a word I didn't think I would ever get to use.
Every now and then in HOF you could get a glimpse of Dylan actually being able to act. Since I have seen him in "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid", I know that he is capable of acting and can only assume that the director of HOF wasn't strong enough to get a performance out of him. Listen to the director's comments in the video below. It appears he was in too much awe of Dylan. Something, I seriously doubt Peckinpah was.
Dylan has referred to HOF as something he just did for "the money". I'm a big fan of Dylan, but I know he can often be full of himself and will make up his own "truths" and I definitely smell B.S. in that statement. It's just a convenient way to excuse the failure of HOF, which only played for two weeks in England and went straight to video in the U.S. Listen to Dylan's statements in the press conference (see video below) and the statements he makes about HOF and judge for yourself.
One final thing that I didn't include in discussing the plot. Rupert's #1 fan, who just happens to be blind, pulls a gun on Rupert. In a movie filled with ridiculous situations, this one topped them all for a WTF moment. I don't think anyone is going to watch HOF and have a neutral feeling when it's over. Either you're going to hate it, love seeing Dylan (who appears to always be wearing his own wardrobe), or laugh at the travesty of the whole thing!
Tav Falco's Panther Burns "Shadow Dancer" 1995
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