Ancient Man sat in caves, safe from the wolves, and gnawed burnt meat. Hollywood Man sits in Truffles, eats smoked salmon, and discusses disaster movies. There is in both cases the delicious sensation of flirting, in exquisite comfort, with danger.
"What better way to extort millions," James Goldstone said, his eyes gleaming in the candlelight, "than to hold an entire amusement park for ransom? A place where people take their families? Where the thrill is in risking death in safety - and then suddenly the risk becomes real?"
He squeezed a lemon on his salmon. I buttered a roll. Jennings Lang sliced into his paté.
"We came up with a great predicament," Lang said, "for our new movie 'Airport '77.' A privately owned Boeing 747, loaded with passengers, makes an emergency landing on the ocean and sinks. The fuselage doesn't break up. The passengers are trapped on the floor of-the sea with only two hours of oxygen. Try to open the plane, and everybody drowns."
"The poor slobs," I said. I told the waiter I would have the lamb chops. Goldstone said he would sample the venison. Lang ordered the fresh fish with a good white wine.
"We came up with a shot that'll have them falling out of their seats," said Goldstone. He is the director of "Rollercoaster," a thriller that Lang is producing (in addition to "Airport '77," not to mention "Earthquake Two").
"It's a great shot," Lang said. "Talk about audience involvement . . ."
"The shot is this," Goldstone said. "The camera is in a helicopter, flying directly in front of a speeding roller coaster. The roller coaster goes up, down, around - so does the helicopter. Then, suddenly, the helicopter peels off to one side. For one sickening instant, the audience thinks the roller coaster 'has jumped the rails. Then we cut to another camera and we see that everybody is still OK."
"They'll laugh," Lang said. "Audiences always laugh after they're scared - it releases the tension. "
Goldstone and Lang were in Chicago last week to shoot scenes for "Rollercoaster," which stars George Segal as a mild-mannered building and safety inspector.
Segal stumbles upon a plot by Timothy Bottoms, who plans to extort millions from amusement parks by sabotaging their roller coasters. Either the owners pay up, or all those kiddies and their mommies and daddies go hurtling off the tracks.
"Segal starts off as an innocent bystander," Goldstone said, "He's a peripheral figure, But then be gets involved, he's drawn into the thing, and finally everything depends on him.
The lamb chops were lovely - pink on the inside, crisp on the out. Goldstone watched as the waiter ladled sauce onto his venison. Lang sipped his white wine. "And at the end," I said, "is Segal on board the doomed roller coaster, trying to get it back to Earth, like Charlton Heston in 'Skyjacked'?"
"I'll leave that to your imagination," Goldstone said. "There IS a nasty accident . . . but I don't want to tell too much."
"In 'Airport '77' we have a spectacular scene," Jennings Lang said. "You have this solid wall of water roaring down on everybody . . . but tell about the Sensurround, Jim.
"We're shooting 'Rollercoaster' in Sensurround," Goldstone said. "This will be the third Sensurround picture - after 'Earthquake' and 'Midway' - but it's the first where we'll have real location sound effects."
"What you had before," Lang said, "were sound effects created after the pictures were shot."
"This time,'' said Goldstone, "we're using two sound crews - one for the ordinary sound, and one for Sensurround. When you hear a roller coaster, you'll really be hearing a roller coaster."
"Audience involvement," said Lang.
"Why are you shooting in Chicago?" I asked.
"It's a central location," Goldstone said. "George Segal flies here from California to meet with several other people who are in a position, shall we say, to do something about the extortion attempts. They all meet here at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The scenes we're shooting will show Segal on Michigan Ave. and arriving at the hotel in a cab, and then there's a helicopter that Richard Widmark arrives in."
"He's the FBI agent in charge," Lang said.
"Is Widmark in Chicago?" I asked.
"Only the helicopter," Goldstone explained. "We shoot the helicopter here, and Widmark in Los Angeles."
"The picture sort of takes place in Los Angeles, and sort of doesn't," Lang said. "We had a problem there. Los Angeles doesn't have any roller coasters."
"I've ridden on every major and most of the minor roller coasters in the country in preparing for this picture," Goldstone said. "My favorite is at Kenneywood, in Pittsburgh. Usually, your average roller coaster, you have a slow climb and then a quick drop. At Kenneywood, you leave the station and drop immediately. Then you climb, Talk about drama."
"This is very good fish," Lang said.
"Good venison," said Goldstone. "I ordered it because how many places can you order venison?"
In the shadows beyond our candlelit table, waiters wheeled carts filled with pastries and appetizers and bottles of exotic liqueurs. It was as if we were huddled around a hearth and outside there were sinking airplanes and roller coasters run amok, and earthquakes and tidal waves and dire Biblical prophecies being fulfilled on every side.
"It begins to get to you, after a while," Jennings Lang observed. "The last day we were shooting the new 'Airport,' that was the day we were going to have the wall of water come roaring down. Lee Grant was scheduled to drown, poor kid - she's so afraid of water she takes a shower instead of a bath.
"So we save the water for last, because of course it's going to wreck the set we built. I go out to the, sound stage where we're shooting, and there are fire engines there, ambulances. 'What's happening?' I ask. They tell me we've had a bomb scare. 'What the hell,' I said. 'Let 'em do it, and - we'll film it. Two disasters for the price of one."
"Anything with your coffee, sir?" the waiter asked Goldstone.
"I think I'll have a cognac," Goldstone said. "I have an early call in the morning and I don't want to have any trouble sleeping tonight."