We are proud to announce the much-anticipated re-release of Hal’s beloved classic Trust on DVD & Blu-ray from Olive Films. Remastered in stunning HD from the original negative under Hal’s direct supervision, the film that won Hartley a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival is finally available once more to eager audiences. Here’s what Hal had to say 22 years later.
What motivated you to write this script?
Almost since I was first out of college, I had been toying with a romantic melodrama concerning two young people without work and the complication of a pregnancy where the paternity is uncertain. The uncertain paternity issue preoccupied me because it was something I had gone through in college. In fact, almost all the dialogue in the clinic scene where Matthew accompanies Maria and gets in a fight with another, more calloused, guy, is verbatim. I didn’t get in a fight, but I had that conversation with the only other male person in the waiting area. He was older than me and thought he was giving me the benefit of his experience, I guess. I wrote a few versions of that between 1985 and 1987 and then let it rest. Then, in 1988, I made The Unbelievable Truth.
How was making your second film different from making your first?
We had more money. It was still a small film at six hundred thousand dollars, but it was a vast step up from the first one which had been made for only sixty thousand. I was also much more practiced after making the first and so was my crew. We were able to make scenes with a little bit more production value: more extras, a few little stunts, a much more well equipped art department.
You overhauled the part of Maria for Adrienne Shelly, and this was the first of six films you made starring Martin Donovan. What made each of them such favorites for you as leads?
At the time, I didn’t think of them as favorites. I thought they were just perfect for the parts. I had been very gratified by Adrienne’s work in the first film. I hardly remember directing her in The Unbelievable Truth. She knew what the character was like and only asked about certain lines that weren’t perfectly clear to her. Trust was different and she saw that too when I gave her the script. But it was working with her on The Unbelievable Truth—and seeing how audiences reacted to her—that made me go back and read the script of Trust again. Because I was thinking of something I could do with her. I read it and thought, ok, I’m a much better writer than I was three years ago. I sat down and re-wrote from top to bottom. But, also, I had an actual person in mind now who was, besides all this, someone I was, by then, involved with romantically. I can see things in the film now that grew directly out of that relationship: the stuff with her not wanting to wear her glasses… that is directly taken from life.
She and I attended a play that Martin was in while I was already in discussions with the English company that wanted to produce Trust. After the show, I asked her what she thought of the guy who played so and so, because I’d liked him and thought maybe he’d be good to audition as Matthew. As I remember, she was nodding excitedly right away. She was having the same idea.
How did the device of Matthew’s grenade come to you?
I can’t remember exactly. But my writing had been getting that way, aiming to pack objects with a lot of narrative meaning in and of themselves.
Is the depiction of love in Trust consistent with ideas about love in other films you’ve made?
No. I think that in Trust and—in a related but different manner, in Simple Men—I worked out my youthful, ecstatic but tortured adoration of females and got on with them in a much less troubled way. It was personal. I was desperate for some reasoning in the heart department. It’s impossible, of course, and I intuited that. I knew it would be funny and endearing at least. But after those film romantic sacrifice was no longer something I felt the need to deal with. I had done it. Other people have to do it now, their own way.
Ultimately, does Trust offer a positive view of the world?
Oh, definitely. People, whom I think of as the only manageable part of the world, taking control of their own lives and feelings. Even Matthew, I think, as he is driven off to jail. Theses people have convictions—even if they’re not able to articulate them—and they’re capable of acting upon them, eventually. I get the feeling Matthew’s been cured somehow by his witnessing of this girl’s selflessness. A selflessness that she’s had to discover for herself and earn. Because that has got to be the most dumb-assed romantic self-pitying nonsense imaginable—to attempt blowing yourself up with the evil factory because your girlfriend won’t allow you to be the father of her unwanted child. But she fixes him somehow or other. That’s very positive.
Why do you think the people who love this film have responded to it so strongly?
The characters, I think. The two lead characters are admirable, if flawed. And people of a certain age identified with them. The antagonists, like the Maria’s mom and Matthew’s dad, are refreshingly emphatic in their aims and attitudes. So, I don’t know… great characters, well written, a beautiful and handsome cast.
Why hasn’t it been more widely available until now?
It had the bad luck to be largely financed by an American company that went out of business just before the industry changed from VHS to DVD. That company’s library of films got sold to a major Hollywood studio that encountered some obscure legal problem preventing them from exploiting the library they had just purchased. That’s all I know. But that’s all over and Olive Films have bought the library.
How do you think the film functions today?
Pretty well. I still don’t see many movies like this out there. There is no well adjusted tempering of each character’s prejudices. It’s a pushy little film with a big heart, I think.