By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Gill Dennis, an AFI fellow and future screenwriter (Walk the Line), was then married to actress Hartman and went to Utah to visit the shoot in Kanab, which had been used as a movie location since silent films. (Parts of Planet of the Apes were shot there.) He arrived to find AFI fellow David Lynch painting bricks gold and a crew that was completing only two setups a day. Not to mention a demoralized Kaye, who was curled up in a sleeping bag while his crew attempted the complicated tasks of lighting and shooting the insides of caves that figured in the story.
"It was a nightmare," remembers Deschanel. "You really had the feeling the movie wasn't going anywhere — virtually everyone involved felt the film was a mistake."
As the project slipped away from Kaye, who had never shot a feature in color, let alone with 35 mm anamorphic lenses, he realized he was in over his head — with no on-site producer or circle of friends to support him.
"I was very depressed," Kaye says. "I couldn't control the film I wanted to." Instead, he felt isolated in his tent as the film crew, in an effort to get the project finished, took over more of the decision making.
After it was nominally completed, In Pursuit of Treasure went through three edits, with still no final cut anywhere in sight by 1972. It had been a year and a half since the film had been green-lighted — a film that now climaxed with the massacre of the white miners by Indians, followed by preparations for an apocalyptic battle between the Indians and the U.S. Army.
"The first time George saw it," Kaye remembers, "he said, 'This isn't the film I thought we were getting. I thought this was a film about a boy who falls in love with nature.' After a while, we could not talk to each other."
AFI wrote the project off as a total loss.
"Cancer is terminal, but at least it ends," George Stevens Jr. is reported to have remarked about In Pursuit of Treasure's ongoing troubles. With that, AFI thanked Kaye for his effort and took the film away from him.
"They hated me because I was not a Hollywood filmmaker," Kaye says.
At this point Kaye might have been forgiven by the institute, his film debacle written off as youthful hubris. In an era famous for such chutzpah, his audacious failure might still have opened doors for him in Hollywood — on some level it was a collegiate harbinger of Heaven's Gate.
"Had In Pursuit of Treasure made money — had it been Easy Rider," says Schrader, "it would have been different, everything would have been validated."
Later in 1972, however, Kaye stole the AFI's work print and drove with the 10 reels in the back seat of his car to New York, stopping in Kansas City to visit director Robert Altman. Taking Altman's advice, Kaye arranged a showing of his work in progress in the basement screening room of Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan. Kaye's bad luck continued in New York, as his art-world audience was politely unimpressed with the very rough cut that had yet to be scored. Kaye had to borrow $20 just to get the projectionist to rewind his film.
"So there I was," he remembers. "Broke, busted — the film no good. When I got back [to L.A.], a friend told me, 'The FBI is looking for you.'" The suits at AFI had discovered In Pursuit of Treasure was missing.
Today, when he looks back on what went wrong, Kaye claims that the "older guys" who ran AFI wanted to keep Hollywood alive and viable in a new era but had no idea what was going on in that turbulent period.
"I was living in a time when revolution was on everybody's tongue," Kaye says. "Fashion was out the door, replaced by anything goes."
AFI's impulse, says Brandon French, who helped Kaye rewrite much of the Treasure screenplay from her Berkeley home, was to cut and run rather than work out a way to salvage his film.
"I was a very sensitive person," says Kaye. "Even though I might have been an outrageous asshole, what happened to me at the AFI was so inordinately wrong. I went away feeling pretty beaten up."
Kaye and AFI reconciled, with the institute regaining possession of the work print, while Kaye retained custody of his last edit. He says that his subsequent attempts to recut the film have put its sound almost hopelessly out of sync, and claims AFI lost the original magnetic soundtrack — making any attempts to reconstruct Treasure a Herculean (and expensive) project.
If you look at Kaye's silent fragments of Treasure today, it's easy to see his promise as a director. Once you recover from the shock of seeing a very young Glenn, Hartman and Bedelia, you're impressed by the maturity of the director's outdoor compositions and his ability to use Panavision — to create not voyeuristic pageantry, but a heroic landscape filled with Indians still trying, in a "scientific future," to win back their stolen land. These are not the claustrophobic urban perspectives of Brandy in the Wilderness but, occasionally at least, quotations from an imaginary dialogue between Ford and Eisenstein.