“The Hustler” turns 50
The lesson of real life
came to Hollywood
“Six ball in the corner pocket, 15 in the corner, 1 ball in the side pocket, the 8, the 10, the 11, 12 ball in the side pocket, the 5, the 3…” Today the prestigious Ames pool hall no longer exists – it has become the television studios of ABC. Fifty years ago among its neat tables, and sayings hung on the walls, in the dim light of a room on 44th street, Minnesota Fats moved around better than any professional dancer. Fat like a baby, punctual as a clock, elegant like a 1930’s gangster, Fats shot the balls in one after the other, solemnly declaring where they would go as if they were articles of the Consitution in a country where he was king. Until, that is, he risks losing at the hands of a promising kid who made a living by cheating. But the Ames Pool Hall had already seen that story, and others like it – because it was the story of an everyman, not the story of a hero. This was the lesson of New York. This was the lesson of the streets.
And for Hollywood, which had already seen the snobbery of the French directors and critics, the mean pragmatism of the small screen, its one-time divas head for the dolce-vita across the ocean, the lesson of the East Coast would maybe be the hardest one. The lesson of real life. And also their last shot.
At the beginning of the 60s, the buildings of the majors in New York are shabby warehouses, cubby-hole rooms. The studios are only occasionally available because they have all been taken up by the new television productions. In New York, it is rare to re-construct a set in the studio, instead you get out on the street, moving from one place to another, wearing down your shoes – like you did when you went to Ames Pool Hall. Hollywood-Babylonia, which even Los Angeles was beginning to forget, never set foot in here. Here, in the hypnotic eyes of Paul Newman are real protagonists of real stories, like the failed man who is really more “hustled” than a “hustler.”
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