Home » The Unfortunate Tale of How ‘Backtrack’ Became One of Jodie Foster’s Greatest Missteps

The Unfortunate Tale of How ‘Backtrack’ Became One of Jodie Foster’s Greatest Missteps

Since her debut in the 1972 film “Napoleon and Samantha,” Jodie Foster has built a remarkable career, collaborating with renowned directors such as Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Richard Donner, David Fincher, Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee, and many others.

Even a near-mauling by a lion in her first movie didn’t deter Foster from pursuing her acting dreams. With two Academy Award wins for ‘Best Actress,’ she has become a prolific figure in the film industry. However, not all collaborations were smooth sailing.

One notable instance was working with actor-turned-director Dennis Hopper, known for his unpredictable and notorious behavior. Their creative partnership on the 1990 film “Catchfire” turned into a nightmare. The crime thriller, Hopper’s fifth directorial credit, featured him in a supporting role alongside a star-studded cast, including Vincent Price, Joe Pesci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener, Charlie Sheen, and Bob Dylan. The story revolves around Foster’s character, witnessing a mob-sponsored murder and being pursued by Hopper’s obsessed hitman.

Critics panned the film, and it turned out to be a box office catastrophe. Hopper, disheartened, had his name removed from the credits, replaced by the pseudonym Alan Smithee. He edited his preferred version and released it on television and home video under the title “Backtrack.”

Screenwriter Anne Louise Bardach described Hopper as “completely insane,” noting that despite instructions for a “tight, taut thriller,” the end result felt more like a “vaudevillian caper.” Foster, years later, revealed her dissatisfaction, referring to working with an “actor/director who was a major pain.” She confirmed it was Hopper, cautioning Meryl Streep against working with him.

Hopper, in a tirade on The Charlie Rose Show, blamed Foster for the project’s failure, stating that Catchfire “blew what I thought at the time was a go project” when “Meryl suddenly said no.” Criticizing the theatrical cut, Hopper distanced himself, targeting production company Vestron Pictures for removing footage and discarding his music choices.

While Catchfire faced challenges, Backtrack, with an alternate ending and 18 minutes longer, emerged as Hopper’s version. Regardless, it marked one of Foster’s career disasters, both critically and commercially. The tumultuous set dynamics drew Streep into its orbit long after the film’s release, showcasing the enduring impact of the challenging collaboration.

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