Pharos of Chaos

Directed by Wolf-Eckart Bühler and Manfred Blank.
West Germany, 1983, DCP, color, 119 min.
English and German with English subtitles.
DCP source: Filmmuseum Munich

Wolf-Eckart Bühler was at work on a different film about the adventurous, seafaring Sterling Hayden (Der Havarist/The Shipwrecker) when he finally tracked down the man in person to make this frank, fascinating document. Bühler finds the semi-retired actor, war hero, occasional writer and itinerant sailor whiling away his days—frequently drunk or stoned—living on a barge in France. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to his character in Altman’s The Long Goodbye, the wild and weathered old man of the sea and out of time enjoys quoting his favorite literature and telling anecdotes until finally opening up about his alcoholism, his loneliness, his “creative impotency,” and his deepest shame: publicly naming names in Hollywood during the Red Scare. Dismissing most of his acting career as meaningless roles offered as a reward for his betrayal, he is proud of only of a handful of films—The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) among them. By the time Bühler catches up with him, Hayden’s dark and stormy life exists between paradise and the “prison without bars” his tortured soul has become.

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