Above is a Belgian TV interview in 1961/62 with Bob Wise ( I get to call him that since I knew him since age 12 when he directed the movie of my father's book 'Audrey Rose') discussing why 'West Side Story' was important to the time in which it was made as well as the difficulties involved in getting it made, conceptually at least. Bob was a most self-effacing man and was happy to share directing credit with Jerome Robbins. Or was he? Bob ( I get to call him that since etc. etc.) was also a very savvy Hollywood player--in a seemingly innocent but by no means spineless way. He agreed to the unheard of proposition of sharing credit with 'Jerry' and halfway through the shoot he somehow got the Mirisch's (the producers) to fire the tempestuous choreographer/co-director. They had fallen terribly behind schedule and, as that's about the worst thing a studio/producer/bond company can here, it's likely that it was the card played by Bob to finally rid himself of the way-too-protective partner who he'd inherited (and who, remember, he'd embraced to get the film done). Remember he had previously built credibility with RKO via his involvement with 'saving' "The Magnificent Ambersons', despite Orson's wishes. Welles afficianados think of Wise as an informer; Bob thought of himself as a man thankful to the studio system for giving him a life that he never anticipated and that he took advantage of and defended to the end of his days. I always liked his lack of neurosis.
In 2002 there was a screening of 'West Side Story' at Radio City and we were invited to attend by Bob's step-daughter. We went and he was in great form. None of the surviving writers--Sondheim, Laurens etc.--showed, a tribute I guess to how much they resented his having gotten rid of Robbins. Bob was, as usual, self-effacing, charming and uncombative. Bob truly believed that it was better not to see an insult than confront one. In his opening remarks he simply said that he'd watched the movie "the other day for the first time in many years" and that "it seemed to hold up pretty well." Very Bob Wise. An editor's opinion--not a director's bluster. As soon as the movie started, with the iconic helicopter shots looking right down on the neighborhood where the story takes place, the audience went wild. Yes, it was right after 911 and every celebration in New York was much needed. But it was also an affirmation that a great piece of filmmaking can survive a generation or two--as well as a whole bunch of Hollywood/Broadway bullshit--and mean something profound and exciting to a future generation.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:23 PM
Above is another installment of that very French cinema TV show 'Cinema, Cinemas' (translation:
'Nickelodeon, Nickelodeons') which I've been posting since discovering it on Youtube. The earlier interviews (scroll down) are with Richard Brooks and Edward Dmytryk. Today's episode features Richard Fleischer, son of Max ('Betty Boop' creator/animation innovator) and a very capable man in his own right. Click here for his Wikipedia entry, which will save me the time of having to explain who he was and list his credits. From the look of things at the opening of the interview, Fleischer seems to have lived in a standard issue Beverly Hills Spanish villa (not overwhelmingly large) with a standard issue late 70s Rolls parked in the driveway (the interview was shot in 1990). His demeanor is self-assured, gentle but assertive, and he talks honestly about his reputation as a director who took over other director's movies that were in trouble. He discusses how he stages a scene with the actors prior to even bothering to figure out his shots, thus allowing the whole thing to develop organically (my word, not his). I've been doing it that way for awhile now and it really is a lot simpler than trying to figure out how to move actors around and convincing them to do what you want. In fact, I haven't bothered with a shot list on my last three movies and frankly they've turned out better for it. The only problem is that the time you spend with the actors rehearsing makes the producers nervous since all they can see (I don't let them on the set when rehearsing) is that the clock is ticking and you're not shooting. But of course once you've figured it all out the shooting goes much quicker than if you'd jumped into it without the benefit of working things out more smoothly and in privacy.
But enough about me. What about Fleischer? He makes no bones about being a 'professional' more than an artist and seems serenely confident in his opinions. He may not be the most interesting interview subject but this lack of personal dynamism shouldn't lead one to consider him a wilting lily. Hence the following story about Fleischer and Orson Welles:
Fleischer was directing the 1959 movie 'Compulsion', which co-starred Welles. On the first day that Welles worked, they rehearsed a scene in which Welles had to exit the set after giving a speech. Welles asked Fleischer which way he should exit and the director replied "to the right". "I don't think I would exit that way, Dick. I think I would exit to the left." Fleischer replied that Welles had to exit to the right and, when asked why by the portly actor, replied "Because there's no wall built on the left and we'll be shooting off the set." Welles considered this for a moment and then said: "Do you know what I'd do if I were directing this picture? I'd have them build the wall." Fleischer replied: "That's exactly why I'm directing this picture and you're not, Orson." A chill went through the air as the two men stared at each other. And then Welles burst out laughing and did as told. When Welles was asked by Peter Bogdanovich in an interview if he gave Fleischer any help in directing 'Compulsion', Welles replied: "Dick Fleischer is not a director who needs any help directing a motion picture." If I were to receive one compliment from Welles, that would be the one I'd choose.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 3:57 PM
Here's my old friend and film school advisor Eddie Dmytryk talking to the same two French guys as in the previous post (scroll down, dammit) for the mysterious TV program 'Cinema, Cinemas' (translation: 'Theater, Theaters'). As always with Eddie, much time is devoted to his infamous blacklisting and subsequent recanting. I like the way at the very opening Eddie waits for the French interviewer to ask his uncomfortable opening question about his firing after the Hollywood Ten came into public view. The interviewer thinks that his opening statement is enough for Eddie to take the bait, but Eddie is having none of it, forcing the interviewer to stumble on in increasing discomfort until the interviewee finally lets him off the hook and launches into an extended answer. Eddie was articulate and forthcoming to a fault and the interview is fascinating and entertaining. He was a difficult, controversial figure and not always an easy man to like. I had a long and complex relationship with him when growing up (he and my father were close friends and collaborators). If you're interested in knowing more about that particular subject, click here to read an extended post I wrote back in 2008, his centenary year.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 12:22 PM
Back in the 1980s, cinema journalists Phillippe Garnier and Claude Ventura seem to have created a show consisting of interviews with Hollywood directors (and occasionally actors) that I can only presume was made for French TV. Titled 'Cinema, Cinemas' (English translantion: 'Film, Films' or, colloquially, 'Movie, Movies') the show consists of neat little twenty minute segments combining interviews of the filmmakers in English (subtitled in French) with scenes from the films accompanied by somber French commentary (with no English subtitling). A number of episodes are posted on Youtube and I've just killed a significant portion of my workday watching a few. This all came about because I'm reading a biography of writer-director Richard Brooks and went casting about for interview footage of him that might have been parked by someone on the Tube. Voila! Youtube never disappoints, does it? A nice discovery, this 'Cinema, 'Cinemas' program (alternate translation: 'Picture, Pictures' or, colloquially, 'Flick, Flicks'.)
Brooks talks exclusively about 'In Cold Blood' in this segment and almost does a Truman Capote imitation--he wisely stops himself after it fails to convincingly get off the ground. His manner is one that doesn't seem to exist in people anymore--that of a grand, confident and intense anecdotalist. He was certainly a spellbinder and, though perfectly calm and well-mannered, one can see the rage beneath the surface that was, apparently, often in evidence on his sets. He actually got away with starting his movies without completed scripts and frequently refused to show actors more than the pages they were shooting, apparently convincing them that their performances would be better if they didn't know what was coming next. How Burt Lancaster, Gene Hackman, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Diane Keaton, Sean Connery etc. actually put up with this insult is beyond me. Nonetheless, Brooks was an interesting and highly successful (and unusual) combination of studio system functionary and iconoclastic auteur and the interview is a nice way to spend twenty minutes avoiding work, to say nothing of exercise.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:20 PM
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What on earth was the above video made for? It's a short film in the style of a tourist-lure travelogue promoting New York. Only its point is how lousy New York is. The Youtube poster is at least ten years off in his estimation of when it was shot--he says early sixties but the cars (among other things) show it to be the notorious New York of the early 70s. The funk music helps solidify this as well as the cabbie who uses the word 'kooks' to describe the crazy people he encounters in his job. Now dig: 'kooks' was a 50s/60s word so one could be forgiven for thinking that the use of the word places the film in the early 60s. But the cabbie is at least fifty-something years old, meaning that his use of the word 'kooks' was new and fresh ten years earlier and--as is often the case with us older ones--is a stale leftover of the hip world that he remembers from his fast-receding youth. Do you buy it? Well if not, here's the ultimate proof that the damn thing was shot in the late 60s at the very least. It comes courtesy of a comment posted on the video and proves that there are people out there much kookier and obsessive about this crap than I am. Dig:
These scenes from days gone by appear to be from the late 1960's. Why ? In the beginning of the video you see the subways and one car with graffiti and it clearly has the "B" train letter on the side. The letter and number designations for certain subway lines started in 1967. Prior to then, there was no alpha-numeric designations for the trains . They had the BMT, IRT, and IND lines in the 4 boroughs, and just names like: Sea-Beach, West End, Culver-Line, Lexington Avenue, 7-th Avenue, etc.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 9:33 AM