Despite being fronted by two of Hollywood's hottest sex symbols (Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek), Ask The Dust is an "emotionally barren" love story. It was written and directed by Robert Towne who is often credited with penning one of the best ever screenplays (Chinatown in 1974). Alas on this occasion he was slated for gutting John Fante's original novel. Oh, and it tanked at the box office.
Kicking Up Dust
"It's about knowing where you come from and wondering where you're going," says Farrell in a Making Of featurette. Well, we can at least vouch for the latter part of that statement and it doesn't come as much of a surprise when Towne reveals that nobody wanted to make this film. In fact the story of how it got to the screen is more interesting than the film itself. First Towne recalls a meeting with Fante who was apparently "really unhinged" - blaming Hitler's Mein Kampf for overshadowing his book on its initial publication in 1939. Then in the 12 years that Towne was shopping his script to the studios, Johnny Depp showed an interest before a then unknown Colin Farrell signed up. Lucky for Towne, Farrell became famous soon afterwards and helped give the project the green light.
Survival In The Desert
Towne shares a commentary for the film with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and reveals that he only came across Fante's novel as part of his research for Chinatown. He wanted to read something that gave a feel for Los Angeles in the pre-war years, from the "imported trees" to the bubbling "smudge pots" (to protect fruit orchards from overnight frosts). "It reminded me of my childhood," says Towne and it fell to Deschanel to realise these tiny details on film.
Later on the writer/director offers more reflections on why Los Angeles is "a state of mind" and talks about the angst of putting pen to blank paper. That's something he can well relate to in the character of Arturo (played by Farrell); "Writing," he says, "is a process of going a little bit crazy..."
While the extras do offer a few grains of interesting trivia, these mostly just remind you how disappointing the film is given the talent involved. In the final analysis, Ask The Dust is best swept under the carpet.
The Ask The Dust DVD is released in the UK on Monday 2nd October 2006.