In the beginning, fortune seemed to frown on "the first-ever American Film Institute Weekend," a weekend retreat for AFI members held in Colonial Williamsburg. But by the time the sun finally showed itself on Saturday, a silver lining or two was discernible.
The highlight of the event was a personal appearance by Dustin Hoffman on Saturday evening following the Friday preview of his latest movie, "Kramer vs. Dramer," an adaptation of the Avery Carman bestseller about a child custody suit between a divorced couple. Looking exhausted but responding generously to the questions of modrator Richard Brown (a film educator from the New School for Social Research) and AFI Weekenders, Hoffman gave impressive impromptu performance.
Hoffman said that "no one goes into acting to make money. What you do go in for is the pleasure for work you happen to enjoy and the control over your working life. the irony is that it proves just about impossible whether you succeed or fail. You fall into occupational traps -- you can become typed as an unemployed actor, a character actor or a star, and you find it easy to accept any of the niches.
"There is a devil. This devil says you can have anything you want. You just have to make sure your decisions are based on staying put where the devil decided to place you. In the old days, if you had striking attriubtes. producers defined them immediately and wanted you to duplicate them over and over in subsequent films.
"Now, outside of a couple of people a Clint Eastwood, all of us are considered expendable. We sit around waiting for the right material to come along. The problem is, once you're successful the fear of failture is magnified. You don't know whether to act or not to act. That's when you get nostalgic for the period when you were unknown and did your best work because you had no choice. You'd play anything!"
What gives him the most satisfaction about acting?
"I always think of a documentary with Stravinsky which I saw a few years ago. He was asked the same question and said it all came down to that moment when you've been banging away on the keyboard for hours, trying to find one elusive note, and suddenly there it is! Bum, bum! That's the note! That's the moment!
"It's the same with acting. You don't even care if it ends up in the movie because you know that's the moment and you feel so good about it. The amazing thing about movies, being collaborative, is that when things go well, it's magic. The actors have some private thing going, the director picks up on it, and something mysterious radiates all the way through the production and the merchandising down to the eventual public response."
Friday night's program had not been as satifactory for the audience as Hoffman's performance. Robert Benton, who directed "Kramer vs. Kramer" was no-show, felled by a last-minute attack of flu. While Benton remained bedridden in New York, producer Stanely Jaffe represented the film following its preview showing to a full house augmented by a group invited by Columbia Pictures, the distributor, and by students from William & Mary. b
Monica Morgan, manager of membership service for the AFI, acknowledged that the three-day event failed to live up to expectations. Aimed especially at members in the Washington area, the Williamsburg weekend stirred little local support -- less than 30 percent at the 115 subscribers.
"We thought Williamburg would be a big selling point for our market," Morgan said. "I guess we were wrong. We got far more response from New York, New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Our big surprise was Florida. The next time around, I think we should try to find a central location in New York or Miami."
Subscribers paid as much as $210 for double occupancy and $275 for a single -- for a package that included reservations for two evenings at one of five Williamsburg hotels, admission to "Kramer vs. Kramer," and four earlier Hoffman films ("Lenny," "Little Big Man," "Midnight Cowboy" and "The Graduate"), a cocktail reception, a "bountiful colonial dinner," a hearty brunch and passes to the Williamsburg exhibition.