This ain't no place for the weary kind
This ain't no place to lose your mind
This ain't no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try
-- "THE WEARY KIND (theme from CRAZY HEART)"
Four-time Academy Award nominee JEFF BRIDGES stars as the richly comic, semi-tragic romantic anti-hero Bad Blake in the debut feature film CRAZY HEART from writer-director Scott Cooper. Bad Blake is a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who's had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times. And yet, Bad can't help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean (two-time Golden Globe nominee MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL), a journalist who discovers the real man behind the musician. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Bad learns the hard way just how tough life can be on one man's crazy heart.
At the age of 57, Bad still lives his life out on the road, playing long-ago #1 hits in third-rate beer joints and bowling alleys to aging crowds as drunk and yearning as he is, while his fleeting fame slides into obscurity. The most he can hope for these days is to open a big concert for his young protégé, Tommy Sweet, who learned everything he knows from Bad -- except Tommy, unlike Bad, managed to become rich and famous from it.
One gig blurs into the next until one night in Santa Fe when Bad meets a local journalist Jean Craddock and falls for her harder than usual. Bad promises nothing to Jean and, as a single mom with plenty of regrets, Jean knows she'd be a fool to believe even in that. Still, they continue winding up in each other's arms.
But can Bad, who can barely keep his own head above badly troubled waters, really take care of anyone else? His attempt becomes a gritty and witty portrait of a man coming to terms with his own starkly human limitations and a last chance for a sweet drop of redemption.
Fueled by country rock, CRAZY HEART features original songs from Grammy-winning and Academy Award-nominated composer and producer T Bone Burnett (WALK THE LINE, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) along with the late Texas songwriter Stephen Bruton.
CRAZY HEART is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Cobb.
"Country music is three chords and the truth."
-- Harlan Howard
Like a sly and tender country song, laced with equal parts passion, humor and trouble, CRAZY HEART is the portrait of a man who has lived hard, fast and recklessly, but still goes after the salvation of love when his heart gets what appears to be one last chance to redeem itself.
Writer, producer and director Scott Cooper - himself a Southerner steeped in the rollicking legends and bittersweet themes of country music - always saw CRAZY HEART's outsized lead character of Bad Blake as a mirror of the country heroes he grew up idolizing, in spite of their wildly unpredictable love lives and battles with their darker impulses. Bad might indeed have a "bad" streak - he can be as ornery, irresponsible, intoxicated and ridiculous as they come - but he is equally a gifted storyteller, an unsinkable romantic, a soul in need, and a man who finally proves himself willing to chase after redemption when all seems lost.
Cooper was best known as an actor - he appears in 2010's GET LOW with Robert Duvall - when he first ran into Bad Blake in Thomas Cobb's novel Crazy Heart. He had been on the hunt for a raw and realistic country-music-themed project to write and direct for some time.
The book was critically acclaimed, with the New York Times Book Review saying "the milieu is as resonant as a steel guitar and the plot moves along without skipping a beat," and country star/novelist/politician Kinky Friedman writing, "The characters are cut cleanly out of America--the roadside West, the dance halls and beer joints, the occasional big concert . . .and the endless, eternal hotel rooms that are as close to home as any country singer ever gets... Bad Blake is a man you will not soon forget."
The character certainly carried a kick and abounded with potential, but as he sat down to write, Cooper faced the task of translating Bad Blake's mix of humor and sorrow into something that would feel resonant and exhilarating on screen, that would come across as funny and honest and that might illuminate in equal parts the sheer exuberance of his musical talent and the tough-to-escape lure of his demons.
In many ways, it came naturally to Cooper. "I grew up with this type of music, living in the same type of world that Bad Blake lives in. And being an actor, I understood the nature of a performance-driven story. I felt like if I couldn't do this, having grown up in the South, steeped in country rock, working as an actor, I was in trouble," he laughs.
Cooper let the character and the rich ironies of his almost-famous, perilously-conducted life guide the way. "What I really wanted to capture was the mixture of humor and pathos in Bad's life, and inject it with levity," he explains. "Bad is an old dog who doesn't know if he has any new tricks, a man who will always go through peaks and valleys but his story moves, in spite of that, towards redemption."
The urge to change is sparked in Bad by one of the sweetest romances he's ever encountered - and here, too, Cooper wanted to evoke all the real and wild contradictions of relationships - the heat and the electricity that make those first moments of love so thrilling and the ways we still can find ourselves doing wrong by those we care about the most no matter how powerful the feelings.
When the script was finished, Cooper turned to another Southern actor and filmmaker who has long been a mentor to him: Robert Duvall, who himself won an Oscar® playing a down-and-out country singer in Horton Foote's beloved classic, TENDER MERCIES. Duvall's response changed everything.
"When you send a script to Robert Duvall and he says 'Yes,' that's pretty much all that you could ever dream about," muses Cooper.
It was far more than just a relationship that sealed the deal, however. The script's unerring vision of man trying to follow his untamed, hungry heart and its distinctly Southwestern flavor was right up the alley of Duvall's production company, Butcher's Run.
"Duvall and I have always been drawn to character-driven dramas," explains producer Rob Carliner, Duvall's partner in Butcher's Run. "But we don't often find scripts that portray characters as honestly and authentically as CRAZY HEART. It's a story that will resonate with an awful lot of people because it's about a true American artist who has issues with women and alcohol but through his love of music, tries to save himself."
Adds Duvall: "This film honors a great American tradition: country music, a world I know very well and am happy to be returning to after many years. The story reminded me of TENDER MERCIES, only Horton Foote took a more delicate approach. There's a wonderful roughness to it and it really gets to the hard living and a guy fighting with his demons. It's an age-old story in some ways but Scott Cooper looked at it freshly, and with a sense of truth and new dimensions people haven't seen before."
Coming on board soon after was producer Judy Cairo of Informant Media. "This script just jumped out at me," she recalls, "because it's about country music, which is part of my roots, but also because it's such an earthy, realistic, moving story. Every character in the film is somebody who is completely relatable and distinctly true to the American landscape."
Sums up Carliner: "People who love music are going to really enjoy this movie but I also think people who don't know or care about country music will enjoy Bad Blake's story just as much. It's a movie about real people and real life."
"Brand New Angel" T Bone Burnett And Stephen Bruton Write Bad Blake's Songs
The storytelling of CRAZY HEART started with the script, but that was truly just the beginning. Bad Blake is all about his music, which is why the songwriting of CRAZY HEART was as central as the storytelling - and had to be 100% real and believable as coming from inside the soul and experience of a well loved, if washed-up, country singer. There was no one better to do that than T Bone Burnett, who wrote many of Blake's songs along with the late Stephen Bruton.
"We knew that if we were going to take on a movie about a country singer, we had to get the music absolutely right," explains Rob Carliner. "That's why we wound up going to T Bone. Without him, this movie likely wouldn't have happened - and it could never have happened as authentically."
A legendary songwriter in his own right and a fervent champion of American roots music, Burnett has made his mark all over contemporary pop culture, on such indelible soundtracks as O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? and WALK THE LINE, as well as a dizzying array of recordings for such diverse artists as Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, Alison Krauss, Counting Crows, the Wallflowers, Sam Phillips, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, and the list goes on.
It took almost a year for the filmmakers to track down the almost always-engaged Burnett, but when Scott Cooper finally met with him, they hit it off instantly. Burnett came on board not only to write and produce the film's songs but as a producer.
He couldn't help but be drawn in by the hard truths and raw humor of Bad Blake's story. "And with Scott Cooper being a musician, having been on the road, and having a good ear, it seemed there was the potential to make a movie that would be authentic to the experience of being a musician."
It was Cooper, Burnett says, who convinced him he had to be part of the film. "He made me believe he could make a film that would stand the test of time. He's very knowledgeable about country music and the South and the whole world these characters inhabit."
Burnett, in turn, called on his long-time friend, the lauded guitarist, songwriter and record producer Stephen Bruton, whose songs were recorded by the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Hal Ketchum, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, The Highwaymen, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride, among others, and who produced albums for such artists as Alejandro Escovedo, Marcia Ball and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Bruton passed away of cancer at the tail end of production in May of 2009, working even as he pursued treatment.
"It is remarkable that Stephen's artistic force and spirit were so strong and so constant throughout the process even though he was fighting a difficult battle the entire time we were working," says Burnett. "He co-wrote most of the songs, played a lot of the score, coached the actors, and was on the set the entire shoot to make sure things were real. I think there is a lot of Stephen in Bad Blake. Stephen had lived that same life -- in the extreme."
Bruton, indeed, felt a deep affinity for Bad, having spent much of his own life on tour buses rambling through roadhouses far from home. "It's an interesting life," Bruton said before his death. "Nothing but the performance is real. You're not responsible to anything you did yesterday and it's great for a while but it can easily become a state of arrested development. At some point, you have to walk through the looking glass."
Burnett, too, related strongly to the character. He was acutely aware that Bad is the kind of man who expresses himself best in verse-and-refrain, rather than conversations, especially the more intimate and revealing kind. "Bad says, 'I been blessed and I been cursed, all my lies have been unrehearsed,'" Burnett points out. "It would be extremely hard for Bad to say what he really thought in his actual life. Art is not a pretty sight. It is, however, all there in his songs. I think it is fair to say, the same holds true for the writers who wrote the songs."
But how could Burnett and Bruton channel Bad Blake musically? They knew they wanted him to be an original, not molded after any particular star, but did think in terms of influences. "Bad reminds me of some musicians I have known, but they should remain nameless," Burnett remarks. "Our thought for the music was to create a kind of alternate universe of country music. What might country music have sounded like if this thing had happened instead of that? We didn't want Bad to fit into any of the clear categories of country music as we know it these days. We put together a list of what Bad listened to growing up and worked from there."
That list included such artists (several found on the film soundtrack) as: The Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Lightnin' Hopkins and The Delmore Brothers, as well as Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, The Mississippi Sheiks, Jimmy Rogers, Skip James and Howlin Wolf, to name just a few.
Blake's most prominently featured songs in the film include "I Don't Know," which Burnett wrote with Bruton and calls a "cross between a Doug Sahm song and a Zydeco song"; "Hold On You," written with Bruton, John Goodwin, and Bob Neuwirth, which is used throughout the film as a theme in the score; and "The Weary Kind," that acoustic ballad which Bad Blake is writing throughout the second half of the film. "That song is the lesson he learned," says Burnett.
Then there is Bad Blake's biggest hit, made famous by New Country star Tommy Sweet: "Fallin' & Flyin'." That song emerged through synchronicity from an old tune Bruton had written. Said Bruton: "The funny story with that song is that we were all writing at T Bone's house and Jeff Bridges was fixing to drive back home and T Bone was going off somewhere and Jeff said, 'What are you doing tonight?' I said 'I'm going where I shouldn't go and I'm doing what I shouldn't do.' And he goes 'That sounds like a song.' And I said 'It is.' So I sat down with the guitar just like that in the living room and started playing this song. Then T Bone said, 'That's the song we need.' And then we realized it was perfect for this character. It's about a guy going down and basically having a ball doing it. Sometimes falling really does feel like flying."
Throughout the process of writing the songs, a big inspiration for both Burnett and Bruton was Jeff Bridges' unwavering commitment to every nuance of the role. "Jeff influenced the writing of the songs in two ways- by who he was becoming and the way that person sounded; and by bringing in his great friend, John Goodwin, to write with us. John is the one who started off 'Hold On You,' which was the first piece we wrote for the film," Burnett explains.
The recording of the music for CRAZY HEART was as specific as the writing of the songs, eschewing modern digital techniques for the warmer, scratchier sound of analog recordings. Burnett explains: "We recorded analog music with analog equipment to be true to the period, and we also went back to the original analog masters for the source cues. The source cues were from CDs that had been made probably in the 80s with the terrible equipment they had at that time. When the new versions came in that had been made from the original masters, the difference in the reality of the world was profound. Scott was insistent that every aspect of this film be authentic, and this was one of the most important areas in which that authenticity had to be maintained."
"To complete the film's nearly wall-to-wall music, Burnett populated the rest of the soundtrack with what he calls "authentic country music." "Every song we chose tells a different story," Burnett says.
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Jeff Bridges is one of those chameleonesque actors who is perhaps better known for the indelible characters he has played than for his own persona. With Bad Blake, Bridges would vanish once again into the skin of another man, exposing Bad's genius and flaws, his loneliness, foolishness and hopefulness, in the course of his unexpectedly life-changing romance with Jean Craddock. Read more
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ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
SCOTT COOPER (Director/Screenwriter/Producer) Cooper is an actor, writer, producer and director.
Cooper's training as an actor began at the famed Lee Strasberg Institute in New York City. He has collaborated with his mentor, Robert Duvall, on four pictures including the upcoming Sony Pictures Classics release, GET LOW, which also stars Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek; AMC's Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning BROKEN TRAIL, directed by Walter Hill; and the Warner Bros. Civil War epic, GODS AND GENERALS.
CRAZY HEART marks Cooper's first foray behind the camera as both writer and director.
Originally from Virginia, Cooper now resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Jocelyne, and his daughters, Ava and Stella.
THOMAS COBB (Based on the novel by) grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended the University of Arizona and the University of Houston. He is the author of two novels, Crazy Heart (Harper and Row, 1987)and Shavetail (Scribner, 2008), and the collection of stories, Acts of Contrition (Texas Review Press, 2003).
Since 1987 he has been a professor of English/creative writing at Rhode Island College in Providence, RI, where he now serves as Director of Performing and Fine Arts. He lives in Foster, RI, with his wife, Randel, and a cat.
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