70mm Film Introductions
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|Feature film text by: Wolfram Hannemann, Sheldon Hall, Jasper Sharp, Joe Dunton, Sir Christopher Frayling, Duncan McGregor, Tony Sloman and Bill Lawrence||Date: 26.03.2011. Updated 03-04-12|
"Goya" by Wolfram Hannemann
|Wolfram Hannemann introducing "Goya". Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
To start with I would like to quote from an article written by Peter Ahrens in a newspaper called "Die Weltbühne" after the film’s East German premiere in September 1971:
„GOYA takes a special place within the film production of the GDR as well as those of the socialist countries. It occurs to me that the technical possibilities of large format photography and modern colour materials have been used in a convincing way, thus proving their suitability for art movies.“
Well – what more can we ask for? But I warn you – "GOYA" will be a tough one for most of you because it will be presented in its original German language version with the added attraction of French subtitles!
Let me tell you a bit about the film’s director, Konrad Wolf.
Konrad Wolf was born in 1925 as the son of Friedrich Wolf, who was a Jewish communist as well as a writer. In 1933 the Wolf family first fled to Switzerland, then to France. At the end of 1934 the family reunited in Moscow, where Konrad and his brother Markus became citizens of the Soviet Union. Due to the Nazi regime in Germany Konrad’s father lost his German nationality. Two years later the other members of the family also lost their German nationality. In 1942, aged 17, Konrad Wolf received his conscription order to serve in the Red Army, where he became a translator. After the war he first worked as a correspondent for a newspaper in Berlin before becoming Head of Department of Arts and Culture as well as press censor for the Soviet Military Administration of Sachsen-Anhalt in Halle. From 1949 to 1955 he studied the art of Directing in Moscow. 1952 he resigned as citizen of the Soviet Union and accepted citizenship of the GDR. From 1955 until his death in 1982 he was working as a director for the DEFA studio.
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|"GOYA" was made in 1971 and won Konrad Wolf a Special Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival as well as GDR‘s National Prize First Class. It was filmed in 70mm by cinematographers Werner Bergmann and Konstantin Ryzhov as a two part film. It took more than one year in pre-production. 3000 costumes had to be made and loads of requisites were used. Among these were 80 paintings by Goya, which were copied in their original size by the studios‘ painters, especially Alfred Born. Location filming took place in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, the Crimea and the Caucasus. The cast included actors from eight different countries, most of whom would perform in their native language. Two language versions were made for release. The music score was recorded in Leningrad and the dubbing was done in Berlin-Johannisthal. Some months after its premiere director Konrad Wolf decided to cut his film from 161 minutes down to 134 minutes. The latter version is the only one remaining. |
When asked in an interview about his intention in directing "GOYA" Konrad Wolf replied: „I was not primarily interested in accentuating Goya’s art. I was much more interested in the human being, who struggles with the times and circumstances he is living in and who eventually confronts them. I was never interested in making one of those artist movies trying to give answers as how the genius of an artist has to be understood or how works of art are made or why they are made. I thought that Goya was much more interesting as a complex human being. Nowadays we do not have a lot of really objective documents from that time, but Goya’s paintings can be regarded as objective documents from his time.“
So be prepared not to see your typical historical epic but a piece of arthouse cinema. Nevertheless it certainly will make a lot of impact on our deeply curved screen – the way this film was intended to be seen. The print, by the way, is most likely the print which was originally shown at the „Kinopanorama“ cinema in Paris. According to Francois Carrin, who supplied the print, this 70mm print is still in good shape and even features color thanks to the Orwo film stock.
"Dersu Uzala" by Jasper Sharp
|Jasper Sharp introducing "Dersu Uzala". Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
text coming soon
It’s a great honour to have been invited to introduce this film "Dersu Uzala", the sole title this weekend to have been directed by a Japanese filmmaker, and as such, it fits into my current research at the University of Sheffield about widescreen cinema in Japan, or at least to some extent. Because in reality, we can’t honestly describe "Dersu Uzala" as a Japanese film, produced as it was in the Soviet Union and funded by Mosfilm, that country’s largest film and TV production and post-production facility. As far as I can work out, there was no Japanese money involved.
We can however describe it as an Akira Kurosawa film, despite the Russian casts and locations.
As Kurosawa’s long-term script assistant Teruyo Nogami writes in her autobiography Waiting on the Weather, the production agreement Kurosawa signed with Mosfilm stipulated “"Dersu Uzala" is a Soviet film. However, the creative opinions of director Akira Kurosawa will be respected one hundred percent.” Though the Soviet screenwriter Yuri Nagibin receives a co-writing credit, by Nogami’s account, Kurosawa was vehemently opposed to Nagibin’s script and its attempts at bolstering the action sequences to make a more dramatic film, and the production instead went ahead with Kurosawa’s original scenario.
Only five Japanese crew members accompanied Kurosawa to the shoot in Russia, on December 1973: Nogami herself, Kurosawa’s Japanese producer, Yoichi Matsue (who would work alongside his Russian counterpart Nikolai Sizov), the assistant directors Tamotsu Kawasaki and Norio Minoshima (the former mainly a stage director especially requested by the Russians due to his fluency in the language), and last but certainly not least, there was the director of photography Asakazu Nakai, a veteran of the industry whose first film credit came as early as 1933. Nakai first worked with Kurosawa as early as 1946, filming his "No Regrets for Our Youth". Like Kurosawa, Nakai spent the bulk of his career at Toho Studios, and worked with Kurosawa on almost all of his films since this - "Stray Dog" (1949), "Seven Samurai" (1954), "Throne of Blood" (1957), all the way up to "Red Beard" (1965), Kurosawa’s last film for Toho studios. One notable exception was "Hidden Fortress" (1958), Kurosawa’s first widescreen film, films in anamorphic TohoScope.
Anyway, a bit of background about Kurosawa’s faltering career that pushed him towards "Dersu Uzala". The Japanese film industry was not in a healthy state in the 1970s – in 1975, cinema attendances were 15% percent of their peak year of 1958, a decline widely attributed to the prevalence of television. Studios were largely specialising in exploitation genres, with the gritty gangster movies of Kinji Fukasaku at Toei and the softcore Roman Porno sex films of Nikkatsu perhaps typifying the nation’s cinematic output of the era – not dissimilar to other industries such as the UK, for example.
It is indicative of the climate of the times that another of Japan’s great directors, Nagisa Oshima, used French money to realise his only major works of the decade, In the "Realm of the Senses" (1976) and "Empire of Passion" (1978), while both Shohei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki only realised one feature each during the 1970s.
By this stage, Toho Studios no longer had the resources to mount such epic productions as "Seven Samurai", and Kurosawa left the studios after his final film for them, "Red Beard", in 1965. After that came a series of serious career mishaps. He was supposed to be directing the Japanese segments of the Hollywood account of Pearl Harbour, "Tora Tora Tora", but was fired from the production and replaced by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku. The film was eventually released in 1970, the same year as Kurosawa’s self-produced "Dodesukaden", about the lives of a group of people who live on a rubbish dump.
"Dodesukaden" was Kurosawa’s first film in colour. It was distributed by Toho, but was a commercial and critical failure. Suffering from severe depression, on 22 December 1971, Kurosawa attempted suicide by slashing his wrists and throat. Fortunately he survived, and in early 1973, he was approached by Mosfilm to make essentially his only film of the 1970s, realised with Soviet funding.
Throughout his career, Kurosawa was heavily inspired by foreign literature, and particularly Russian, directing Dostoevsky’s "The Idiot" in 1951 and Gorky’s "The Lower Depths" in 1957. The invitation must have been a particularly welcome one.
I won’t say much about the story of "Dersu Uzala", except that it was filmed on location in Eastern Siberia and was based on the 1923 autobiography of the same name by Russian explorer Captain Vladimir Arsenyev about his life-changing encounter with a member of the Goldi Tribe, the ‘Dersu Uzala’ of the film’s title, in the first decade of the twentieth century. An earlier Soviet version had already been films once, by Agasi Babayan in 1961.
There are a few things worth noting about the production. The shoot began in May 1974 and wasn’t a particularly easy one by all accounts, lasted about 9 months, most of which was spent in the midst of Siberia. The actual town used as a base for the production was named Arsenyev after the author. By the end of the year, with the film way over-schedule, Kurosawa and crew returned to Moscow to complete the final shots – for example, the scenes involving the tiger.
The director was already in his sixties at this stage, so not a young man. Surprisingly, despite being filmed in 1974, it was actually only Kurosawa’s second colour film. Because of this, the rapidly changing weather conditions made shooting very difficult, trying to achieve a sense of continuityof light and colour between shots.
Also, Kurosawa had a lot of problems both using the very heavy 70mm camera equipment in the midst of the wilderness in which he was shooting, but also, dealing with Russian working methods. Apparently a large proportion of the footage he shot came back from the labs with holes punched into the centre of the frame to tell him it was not good enough to use, and he was forced to reshoot whole sequences long after they were originally filmed.
Whether any of this is detectable in the finished film is another matter as despite these problems, the film won the Grand Prix at Moscow Film Festival in 1975 and the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 1976, and led to resurgence in overseas interest in Kurosawa.
Regarding the technical details of the film, it is being presented in the 70mm format Sovscope 70 with 6-track magnetic sound. This is clearly going to present us with a marked improvement over the US DVD from Kino, released as far back as 2000, which is how I’ve experienced the film up till now. In fact, the Artificial Eye release notwithstanding, which is more or less the same as the one by Russian Cinema Council in Russia, it seems we’re still waiting on the definitive DVD or Blu-Ray of the film.
Sovscope 70 represented Kurosawa’s first use of a wide-gauge format. The three Japanese 70mm films until this point were filmed in Super Technirama 70: Kenji Misumi’s "Buddha" (1961) and Shigeo Tanaka’s "The Great Wall" (1962), both pan-Asian historical epics produced by Daiei studios, and the war film "The Pacific War and the Star Lily Corps" (1962), directed by Kiyoshi Komori (aka Baku Komori) and produced by Okura Eiga, the new company founded by the former president of Shintoho, Mitsugu Okura, following its bankrupcy the previous year: Shintoho had boasted the second highest grossing film of the previous decade in the form of "The Emperor Meiji and the Great Russo-Japanese War" (1957), Japan’s second anamorphic widescreen feature, and clear this was an attempt by the showman producer to repeat this success. It was less successful, and within a few years Okura Eiga had moved completely into sex film production, a market in which it is still very active to this day under its new name of OP Eiga.
Actually it should be pointed out that Super Technirama was not strictly speaking a 70mm format, since the films were shot in ‘standard’ Technirama (35mm anamorphic), and a portion of the image was subsequently extracted and unsqueezed before being printed on 70mm film.
Looking at Jeffry L. Johnson’s list on the in70mm.com website, the first Russian 70mm film was around the same time as Japan’s "Buddha": "The Story of the Flaming Years" (1961). This is listed as the first ever film shot in Sovscope 70, but Johnson also mentions it was rumoured to have been shot in Todd-AO. Richard W. Haines in his book Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing claims that Sovscope 70 “was identical to the Todd AO format” (pg 129). According to the Widescreen Museum website, the crucial difference is that the negative was 5-perf 70mm spherical, not 65mm. Both formats yield the same 70mm gauge print with an aspect ratio of 2.20:1.
There’s an article in the March 1964 issue of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers entitled “Cinematography in the USSR” which gives some information on Soviet wide-gauge film production, stating that: “Three studios release 70mm pictures: Mosfilm in Moscow; Lenfilm in Leningrad; and Dovzhenko-Studio in Kiev. Within 1962-63 five 70mm pictures were released and in 1963 seven pictures were scheduled for production. Currently, the wide-gage [sic] feature "War and Peace" is being taken.…By the beginning of 1963 in the Soviet Union there were 13 cinema theaters equipped with apparatus for 70mm stereophonic motion pictures... The 70mm release is expected to increase gradually and to constitute an important part in the total release of feature films.”
In other words, and as Jeffry L. Johnson’s list demonstrates, 70mm production and exhibition was a considerably more marked feature of the Soviet film industry than in Japan.
Other widescreen formats developed in the Soviet Union include:
Kinopanorama – a three-projector, three-screen system developed between 1956 and 1957 and effectively the same as Cinerama.
Circular Kinopanorama– similar to Disney’s Circarama, in which film from 11 synchroniously working cameras is projected onto a 360 degree screen. There’s currently a working example of Circular Kinopanorama technology in the All-Russia Exhibition Centre in Moscow, built in 1959.
A few other things before the film begins. "Dersu Uzala" was not the first Soviet-Japanese collaboration. This came in 1966, when Keisuke Kinoshita, a close friend and contemporary of Kurosawa, made "The Little Fugitive" (or "The Little Runaway"), a co-production between Daiei and Gorky Film Studio in Moscow of which I know little except the title. (Note that like "Buddha", this co-production was an initiative of the company’s internationally-minded president Masaichi Nagata).
There were over a dozen co-productions between Japan and the USSR during the period from the late 1960s until the end of the Cold War in 1991, including several documentaries of various lengths, animations such as the three Adventures of the Little Penguin Lolo films from 1986-87, and the features "Moscow, My Love" (1975), "Melodies of the White Night" (1976), "The Way to Medals" (1979) and "A Step" (1989). I’ve not had the chance to see any of these, nor do I know anything about them – as with Japan’s co-productions with Hong Kong, it seems that such titles are considered beyond the scope of scholars researching the national cinemas of both countries.
On a final note, some have detected more than a passing resemblance between the character of Dersu Uzala and Yoda of George Lucas’ Star Wars films, who first appeared in "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), some 5 years after "Dersu Uzala"’s release. This is quite possible, and goes beyond just the superficial observation that both are wizened old men of the woods prone to delivering strings of grammatically dubious pearls of wisdom. If you think about George Lucas’ own relationship to Kurosawa for example – not only has Lucas admitted that the robotic characters of R2D2 and C3PO are based on the retainers in Kurosawa’s 1958 film "The Hidden Fortress", one must remember too that Kurosawa’s next film, "Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior" , which was released some five years after "Dersu Uzala", was only completed due to the efforts of Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola who are credited as executive producers, after persuading 20th Century Fox to make up the shortfall in the production budget after Toho studios ran out of money.
"The Bridge on the River Kwai" by Sir Christopher Frayling
|Sir Christopher introducing "Kwai". Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Introduction to DAVID LEAN films, and specifically to "The Bridge on the River Kwai"
WELCOME to the opening event of this year’s Bradford Widescreen Festival at Pictureville —and warm congratulations, as ever, to the organisers on putting together such a uniquely spectacular programme. As part of the Festival, there are to be screenings of three David Lean films—"The Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago"—screened as they should be screened, in their full glory. After all, David Lean—especially in his later films—was one of the finest landscape artists of the post-war period—the John Constable of the cinema—and it is right that his landscapes be seen in the format they were intended to be seen; not panned and scanned or in masked letterboxes or on flatscreen televisions, however large.
I only met David Lean once—on 5th July 1985—when he was 77 years old. We had lunch and spent part of the afternoon together.
The Royal College of Art was giving him an Honorary Doctorate in the Royal Albert Hall and I was the public orator who gave his citation. There was, and still is, a hallowed tradition at the College that when they award a distinguished artist or designer an Honorary Doctorate, they accompany it with a light-hearted oration which gently sends up the ‘victim’ at the same time as warmly celebrating his or her achievements. This helps prevent the ceremony from becoming too pompous and over-formal.
Anyway, I’d contacted one or two senior film people to glean some background for this oration: remember, this was ten years before Kevin Brownlow’s huge biography appeared and seven years before the Restoration of "Lawrence of Arabia".
Sir Richard Attenborough (as he then was) called David Lean ‘the greatest director of narrative cinema in the English language’: he’d known Lean ever since being given his first film role in "In Which We Serve". Michael Powell—later to become another Honorary Doctor of the College—said I should mention how embattled David Lean could sometimes be, with producers, writers, actors and cinematographers, for the best possible reasons as an artist, because he was such a perfectionist, a maddening perfectionist. He had also warned, in print, that David Lean seldom looked you directly in the eye—he tended to make a point of turning to one side to show off his magnificent profile, which was like a face stamped on a Roman coin! A sculpted face.
Anyway, armed with these and other thoughts, this is what I said about David Lean that morning in the Albert Hall. Imagine him standing in front of me, in his scarlet doctoral robes, his Roman profile much in evidence as he stands before the assembled congregation.
If there was such a card-game as cinematic happy families—matching the names of the finest film directors to the films they’ve made—the David Lean card would be the one that all the players got wrong. For inside every Lean film, since the 1950s at any rate, has been a film of much larger dimensions bursting to get out. It is clearly not so much with Jack Sprat, as with his whole family, that the greatest of our film directors identifies. Lean and large.
And at a time when the revival of the British film industry seems often confined to the slim dimensions of the television screen, as if part of a calorie-controlled diet, Sir David has continued his single-handed mission to challenge the goliath of Hollywood with a rich body of work that is epic in scale and—even more importantly—epic in stature, even while remaining intimate.
After a Quaker childhood in Croydon, south of London, during which he was never allowed to go to the pictures, David Lean entered the film industry—as a tea-boy at Gaumont Studios in Lime Grove—in the late 1920s. He served his apprenticeship as an editor on the newsreels—and to this day considers that editing possesses ‘a kind of magic… it’s the most interesting part of film-making.’ His first assignments as a director, during the second world war, were as a protégé of Noel Coward—"In Which We Serve", "This Happy Breed", "Blithe Spirit" and the classic "Brief Encounter", which is still shown in film schools around the world as a model of how to edit a film, and from which Rachmaninoff’s romantic Second Piano Concerto has never quite recovered. Then came his adaptations of Charles Dickens—‘the perfect screenwriter’, as he has said—laying down the ground-rules for the filming of Victorian novels which have run, like a fine tweed, through BBC television ever since: "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist"—only David Lean’s were darker, more disturbing, more about post-war dislocation. In the middle 1950s, while he was scouting locations in the obscure backwaters and backstreets of Venice, for "Summer Madness" or "Summertime", he had a brief encounter with Alexander Korda, which may have changed the whole direction of his career: ‘Don’t ever be shy of showing the famous places,’ he was advised. ‘Go for the really big effects. Don’t be shy of the Grand Canal or St Mark’s because they’re thought to be a cliché. They’re not a cliché for nothing. Put them up there on the screen.’ Now, such advice could have led to epic films which were simply run of De Mille, Cecil B. de Mille, but since the recipient was David Lean, it led to a series of masterpieces which combine highly-skilled craftsmanship and technique with sensitive direction—all on the largest possible canvas: "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia", "Doctor Zhivago", "Ryan’s Daughter"—and the most recent, ten years in the planning, "A Passage to India". As David Lean said of Alexander Korda’s comments, ‘It was bloody good advice, because you can easily end up in a dirty Venetian alley—and think you’re being arty. You’re not. Show all the “eye-fulls”, but if you can in unusual ways.’
Sir David Lean has become famous for the care he takes over selecting and photographing just the right location, the right landscape for his dramas—the ‘eye-fulls’—and presenting them in the right way, even if the location is in a completely different part of the world to the one where the story happens to be set. Many’s the pilgrim who has visited ODingle Bay in the West of Ireland, to look for the sun-baked sandy beaches of "Ryan’s Daughter"—only to discover that many of these sequences were really filmed on the Cape Town coast of South Africa, on either side of Table Mountain. Where "Lawrence" was concerned, locations included Jordan and Morocco—and Almeria in Southern Spain: the arrival of Omar Sharif on a camel —filmed from a quarter of a mile away, with a 500mm telephoto lens, looking like a shimmering mirage and on the soundtrack the ‘ker-flump’ of a camel’s feet—one of the most memorable entrances in the history of cinema, if not the most memorable—this was filmed near Petra in Jordan. As for "Doctor Zhivago", apart from a few minutes of screen time filmed by a second unit in Finland and Canada, the whole of the film was shot in Spain, with the help of much marble dust for the snow and a lot of shaving cream and rock salt on the costumes for those Moscow minutes. Oh, and don’t go looking for The Bridge on the River Kwai in Thailand!
The point is that the locations he chose were just right, for what the films were trying to achieve. Whether this Englishman abroad chose the Arabian desert, the Steppes of Russia, the West of Ireland or India at the time of the British Raj as the real or imagined settings for his films, they all set visual standards to which the best of world cinema could and can only aspire…
Sir David doesn’t like film critics very much—he once said, ‘I wouldn’t take the advice of a lot of the so-called critics on how to shoot a close-up of a pot of tea’—but he has always commanded enormous respect from his fellow-practitioners, and he has enormous respect for the best of them.
All the more reason why we should add to his many honours the stoutest honour the College can bestow—
Ladies and gentlemen: SIR DAVID LEAN.
As it turned out, David Lean didn’t quite know how to react to this oration. He enjoyed the laughter of the proud parents and partners sitting in the Hall, and the real sense of celebration, but as someone who didn’t do well at school—he preferred photography and natural history—and never went on to university, and who certainly felt the lack of it, he took his academic honours very seriously. His younger brother Edward was much more academically bright—went to Oxford—and David still had a bit of a complex about this. He was also surprisingly thin-skinned about criticism. So there were a couple of prickly moments as we processed out of the Albert Hall together and over to lunch. And Michael Powell was quite right. His profile was astonishing, as if sculpted, especially when he frowned.
Anyway, the ice eventually broken, we had a long lunch together back at the Royal College of Art and had the chance to talk—albeit briefly, and sometimes interrupted by adoring film students—about tonight’s film, "The Bridge on the River Kwai", one of my all-time favourites. So here are my memories of our conversation.
We talked first about the original book—a satirical novel called The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle, a French engineer-turned-novelist who during the Second World War had been captured by Japanese forces in Indochina and who’d started writing about his experiences shortly after the War. The novel centred on the obsessive character of the British commanding officer Colonel Nicholson, who in 1943 makes it a point of honour—and of troop morale in the prison camp—to construct the finest bridge he can across the River Kwai, to carry the Burma-Siam railway. The fictional bridge was located on the Burma frontier, some two hundred miles from where the actual bridge had been built in Thailand. The novel, Lean recalled, presented Nicholson as something of a military snob, with a lot of dry jokes at the expense of the British, such as when Nicholson refuses to have his bridge painted—because that would only attract the RAF! So he felt the novel needed serious adapting for the screen. Not least because its ending was something of an anticlimax—with the bridge suffering minor damage and only the train being hit.
The original script was by Carl Foreman, who had written "High Noon", been blacklisted as a Communist sympathiser and who had originally optioned the novel for Alexander Korda, having spotted its potential. But his adaptation was, David Lean seemed to remember, too much like an adventure story—like an ‘Eastern Western’—and not enough of a detailed character study of Nicholson and Saito. But Foreman’s script did invent an American character —Shears of the US Navy, who escapes and returns—and who wasn’t in the original book.
This original script was reworked by Michael Wilson, another victim of the blacklist. He wrote the final script—give or take a few drafts—with David Lean, but when the film eventually won an Oscar for ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’, it went to the novelist Pierre Boulle, who hadn’t written any of the screen plays, and who didn’t in fact speak much English, because Foreman and Wilson were on the blacklist and therefore to be treated as non-persons. 1985 was the year when their names were at last put back on video prints of the film—‘Screenplay by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson’—and when it was agreed they should both be awarded posthumous Oscars. About time too. Oh, and Alec Guinness’s name was in future to be spelled correctly—with two `ns’ rather than one—which it wasn’t on the first-release American prints and press-kits.
Where the leading actors were concerned, producer Sam Spiegel had originally approached, for the part of Colonel Nicholson—it was said—Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Anthony Quayle, Ronald Coleman, and James Mason before settling on Alec Guinness with two ‘ns’. Variety in fact announced that Charles Laughton had been slotted for the part, but anyone who has seen "Spartacus" will know just how much of a diet he would have had to go on, to play a half-starved prisoner of war. Alec Guinness—who wasn’t at all sure about the part, thinking it was still anti-British—always claimed that David Lean’s first words to him, on arrival at the location in Ceylon, were: ‘They sent me you and I wanted Charles Laughton.’ David Lean always denied this. But their relationship was certainly tense. At the British Film Institute’s 50th anniversary dinner in London’s Guildhall, Orson Welles famously remarked that he too had been offered the part. He was over twenty stone in weight at the time, though somewhat less in the mid-1950s! I guess this only goes to show that everyone wants a slice of a success. The part of Shears was apparently offered informally to Cary Grant, Montgomery Clift and Gregory Peck before William Holden was signed. Sessue Hayakawa—a 68-year-old Japanese star—who had been a silent-film matinée idol and had worked in London and Hollywood, but who still didn’t speak much English—he learned his part phonetically—was cast as the Japanese commandant Colonel Saito—a man who is the mirror image of Colonel Nicholson in the script, equally constrained by his code of honour and his military culture, a man who David Lean intended to be impressive rather than a caricature. That is an important thought, given the recent terrible events in Japan. Impressive, rather than a caricature.
Since we were having our lunch at the Royal College of Art, most of all David Lean was interested in talking about one of his abiding passions: the romance of design and engineering. He recalled that he was fascinated at the time he made "Kwai" by stories of scientific or engineering innovation. A few years before, he had started planning a film about ‘the exploration of space’ with author Arthur C. Clarke, but nothing had come of it. Maybe "2001" was to be the eventual result. Instead, David Lean had made "The Sound Barrier", about an experimental British jet-plane, which will fly faster than the speed of sound. He was later to reminisce that as he walked along London’s Curzon Street on his way back to the cutting-room, he would often look up, see a silver jet-plane whooshing overhead and say to himself, ‘Bloody marvellous. It is bloody marvellous.’ A great British achievement, the jet engine… The romance of planes and steam trains had stayed with him, from his childhood.
Then in 1957, he made "The Bridge on the River Kwai". He felt a neglected aspect of both novel and film was that this was at one level the story of two completely different approaches to military engineering and bridge-building from the points of view of planning, design and working methods. The British approach was epitomised by Captain Reeves, one of Nicholson’s team who before the war had been a public works engineer in India. The Japanese approach was epitomised by the low-ranking military engineer, a long way away from the sophisticated capital who—as Reeves blurts out at one point—in the book: remember it was a satire—‘has never even heard of soil resistance; and who gapes when you mention pressure tables and who can’t even talk the King’s English’. This man’s ambition is to bodge together a temporary structure consisting of two rows of piles set into the riverbed, crowned with a tangle of mixed timber with extra wood laid on top to cover areas of weakness. It doesn’t matter to him if the bridge falls down in a few days, or weeks, so long as it has done its immediate job. But Colonel Nicholson has other plans, to show these ‘shoddy amateurs’ a thing or two about good old British engineering.
In the film, Lean said, the resulting full-sized bridge, made out of round timber—sketched by art director Don Ashton and engineered by Keith Best of Husbands of Sheffield (as the opening credits proudly stated)—had a three-frame profile deliberately resembling the Forth Railway Bridge; which was, as Best was to put it, ‘totally unlike the actual bridge with its series of trestle bents’. A classic of engineering. But it was there to symbolise the best of British engineering 1890-style. The timber in it was dragged by elephants across a river situated about sixty miles from Colombo in Ceylon—now Sri Lanka, a place called Kitulgala—and the bridge was built between June and December 1956, looking as though it had been entirely handmade. They’d originally intended to film in Thailand—but the location scouts thought the river didn’t look wild enough—so Ceylon it was. In order to support a twenty-five-ton locomotive with carriages, which it had to, some steel wire ropes were concealed between the halved logs, and the lower section of the main posts had to be socketed into rock, braced together and surrounded by underwater concrete. So the bridge as engineered was given a little assistance. Steel wires were clad in logs.
In the film, Nicholson proudly stands by a wooden plaque on the bridge—in readiness for the opening ceremony—which reads: ‘Designed and built by soldiers of the British Army, February-May 1943’. We later see it floating down the Kwai, a symbol of the strange ‘madness’ which led up to it. The hapless Japanese military engineer who is originally assigned to the project—and who in the film seems to be useless at either engineering or man-management—has been publicly humiliated, and has possibly even committed suicide as a result. Colonel Saito himself—also a qualified engineer, it transpires, who spent time at the ‘London Polytechnic’—is not much better at the job. Both of them locate the bridge in the wrong part of the river, where the bottom consists of soft mud. In a key scene, the businesslike British team—with the aid of designs, technical drawings and tables of figures—shows Saito how to build a proper bridge, in time for the arrival of the railway. With only three and a half months to go, against the clock, it is never explained why they construct an elaborate Forth Bridge look-alike. That’s because the look is a symbol.
Filming took place between September 1956 and April 1957, rather longer than originally intended. James Donald—as the medical officer—in fact flew home before the finish, so in the final big shot he had to be substituted by a stand-in. The film opened in October 1957 in London and December 1957 in New York. It was a story set in 1943, during the Second World War. But by 1957 the comments about Japanese engineering—David Lean recalled—had become topical in a very different way when British engineering was seriously losing ground on the global stage, and this would not—he felt—have been missed by contemporary 1950s audiences in the know. As Colonel Nicholson says in the film about his bridge:
‘Would you have it said that our chaps can’t do a proper job? One day the war will be over and I hope the people who use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built and who built it.’
Major Reeves—a specialist in ‘pressure and soil resistance’—has earlier responded to Nicholson’s plea for more orderly behaviour among British troops in the prison camp by saying that one way of achieving this will be by ‘teaching them [the Japanese] Western methods of efficiency’. And the result will be a bridge for posterity, an example to British visitors in the future—soldiers and civilians: ‘The elms of London Bridge,’ says Reeves, ‘lasted six hundred years.’ There aren’t any elms in the rainforest, but they’ll have to make do with freshly-cut timber, the tall trees which resemble them—and one of which we see being felled. So, under Nicholson’s command, there will be a new emphasis on increased output, the division of labour, careful planning and design, accurate mathematical calculations on site, proper foundations and a mixed Japanese and British workforce. Major Clipton, the medical officer, is bemused by this: ‘Must we build them a better bridge than they could themselves?’ After all, this is a prison camp, isn’t it? A better bridge could almost be construed as treason. The assumption throughout is that British engineering and workmanship are indeed superior to their Japanese counterparts—a better designed, more solidly-built bridge based on more advanced calculations and man-management techniques. A 1957 message more than a 1943 one.
An important review of the film at the time—I subsequently discovered—written by someone who had been a former Prisoner of War and published in The Listener magazine—was to pick up on this very theme in August 1959. It concluded that Japanese military engineers were more than capable of planning and designing their own bridges—thank you very much—and equally capable of making the British prisoners construct them properly. To suggest otherwise was an example of Western, or British, flag-waving:
‘Their [the Japanese] methods were always rough and ready, and often very confused; but given the need to finish the nearly three hundred miles of railway in less than a year, over a route which a previous survey by Western engineers had pronounced insuperably difficult, and with fantastically inadequate material means, the methods of the Japanese were probably the only ones which could have succeeded… It certainly seemed odd that Pierre Boulle should base his plot on the illusion that the West still had the monopoly of technological skill, when the Japanese capture of Singapore had made their ability to adapt Western methods to their own purposes so painfully obvious.’
It is important to remember this context of reception—at the time the film was released. And it was David Lean who alerted me to it, over lunch at the RCA. I must admit this was an aspect of the film I hadn’t noticed or thought about before.
But as I said to David, it was the very end of the film—so different from the novel—that for me showed just how magisterial a director he had become. It was subtle, ambiguous and in the end gave Colonel Nicholson the benefit of the doubt. He stands up, badly wounded, brushes the dust off his cap—of course—and stumbles towards the detonator. ‘What have I done?’ Then he falls. Does he fall deliberately onto the detonator? Does he fall and by mistake trigger the explosion? Is the end arbitrary, accidental—or a moment of clarity at the point of death? This is great cinema. And then the film ends as it began: with a hawk and a hawk’s-eye view of the jungle and the stupid little humans who try and tame it. ‘Madness, madness.’
The film certainly made a big impact at the time—and not just because of its box-office success, critical esteem and seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It also made an impact on future action films which had bridges in them. In fact, after "The Bridge on the River Kwai", if a big-budget production took the trouble to build a bridge, the chances were that they would take the trouble to blow it up as well. More and more bridges—real ones, not computer-generated ones in those days—went sky high. In the American Civil War in "The Horse Soldiers" and "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"; in the Mexican Revolutions in "The Wild Bunch" and "Two Mules for Sister Sara"; in the Second World War in "The Bridge at Remagen" and "A Bridge Too Far". And so on. Examples of conspicuous destruction which seemed to become well-nigh obligatory, to show off the talents of the explosives department.
As Jean Rouch—the French engineer, bridge-builder, bridge-destroyer in the Second World War, ethnographer and film theorist—is reported to have said: ‘Bridges in film seem to be there for the express purpose of being blown up!’ With the demise of the Western and the Second World War film, exploding bridges then went out of fashion in the 1970s—to make way for other kinds of disaster movie.
The print we are about to see is a recent digital restoration, dating from last year and taken from the original negative. This is the best version there is. All known 35mm prints have deteriorated—and 70mm prints, enlarged for "Kwai"’s re-release, do not seem to exist any longer.
So if you haven’t seen "The Bridge on the River Kwai" before, you are in for a treat. It launched David Lean as a bankable director on the international stage: "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago" were to be the indirect results. If you have seen it, enjoy again this intimate widescreen epic which cost 2.8 million dollars to make but every frame looks as if it cost a great deal more. The American Film Institute—in 100 Years…100 Movies—judged the film (in 1998) to be Number 13 of all time. The Library of Congress in the same year deemed it to be ‘culturally, historically and aesthetically significant’.
As David Lean might have observed: ‘bloody marvellous!’ And he’d have been right.
|Mr. Anthony Reeves saying a few words about The David Lean Foundation. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Text coming soon
|David Lean Foundation|
"The Dark Crystal" by Bill Lawrence
|Bill Lawrence saying good morning to the audience. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Good morning everybody. Most people here are here for the Widescreen Weekend but a few people in the audience are here are as part of the Museum’s education programme and have come to see some of the family matinees. To those people in particular, you have stumbled into a very magical kingdom, the magical and insane kingdom of the Widescreen Weekend. What you are going to see as part of the main programme is "The Dark Crystal". A lot of people in the audience know what 70mm is and know what Cinerama is and what widescreen is, but for those people in the audience who don’t know, and I know there are some very young people in the audience, 70mm is a, brilliant, bright film format the like of which you won’t see in any other cinema in the UK these day sadly. We show films here every year in 70mm and in Cinerama. It builds fans and we want young people to get more involved in the Widescreen Weekend and come back year after year to see these wonderful old movies even family movies like "The Dark Crystal". "The Dark Crystal" was made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Jim Henson is famous for the Muppets and Sesame Street. It was shot in 35mm but was then then blown up into 70mm. So what you will see is a lot more detail than you would ever see on television, video or DVD and hopefully is a more intense, enjoyable and exciting experience. But the first film you are going to see, I have something I am going to read out from the Education Department:
“This film was made last week in Muppet Madness. It was a very successful weekend and it was enjoyed by all those who took part and they are making more puppets today in the Museum until 4pm so if you want to go and join them, then you can do.“
Have a great time, I hope you enjoy the short film beforehand and I hope you enjoy "The Dark Crystal". And and to those people who don’t come along the Widescreen Weekend normally, I hope you come back to more films. Thank you.
"How the West Was Won" by Sir Christopher Frayling
|Sir Christopher introducing "West" to an excited audience. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
text coming soon
"Dance Craze" by Joe Dunton
|Joe Dunton introducing "Dance Craze". Image by Thomas Hauerslev.|
...I thought that was the Centenary of cinema wasn’t it, in 1996 I think it was...and we never got round to actually doing it...
- So at last we’ve been in touch with Joe Dunton and we’ve put together this event -
- We’re going to have a Q&A after the film, so please stay in the auditorium after the film
- The film is delightfully short -
- We’ll talk to Joe
- God it’s ambiguous isn’t it - it’s ambiguous; I didn’t mean it that way!
- I’m just delighted when films are short
- It’s not How the West Was Won though, is it?
- Anyway, Ladies and Gentlemen - Joe Dunton!
- I feel a bit of a fraud really -
- It’s difficult because I’ve come from a sound background and a lens background and I grew up on Oliver the Musical
- I actually worked 6 months on "Oliver" the Musical -
- Once you’ve done that you’re smitten by big pictures and -
- We were fighting at the time to get Technicolor to keep 70mm alive as it were, mainly because for me you get six tracks of magnetic sound, you know, and I came from a sound background as well as a television background
- So the idea was I pushed Technicolor to keep the baths going and the machinery going and with a good man there called Don Skinner - there was an optical printer man
- Then I decided a lot of films were looking out of focus or soft focus because it was a trend at that time - and Ossie Morris would put fog filters and diffusion on that whole period of time – and Panavision lenses were spuriously different – every one was a sort of – different lens.
- So I came up with the idea to use old lenses but use the full aperture which I did know at the
time was called Superscope or a poor man’s VistaVision - Disney called it “Poor Man’s VistaVision” - and I never knew that. I just wanted the biggest negative with the least blow-up to 70 millimetre.
- It’s in a 1.66 format and we shot it with all the lads from the camera department. I mean this is not a camera crew; this is three of us on camera - three camera operators - and all the rest of the helpers were from my camera rental department.
- We used to get in the bus at night, [- - - -] film, each one of different things
- And we actually went on a Freddie Laker plane to America - all of us on a Freddie Laker plane - he’d just started to go - - - - The Beat in America it was called the New English Beat at that time.
- And the way I did- did it (I’ll go on a little bit because it’s good to see it) is that the Director Joe Massot - sadly gone from us now – had made a film called The Song Remains the Same (the Led Zeppelin picture)
- And he used to come back to Samuelson’s at that time and chat to me - I was working; I never went home really -
- He’d chat to me and then about five, six, years later he goes [Lowers voice] “Hello Joe”
- And he said his son had seen these bands and had said “You got to film them Dad, you got to film them Dad”
- And that’s when we came together
- The Steadicam had just been invented - I operated Steadicam because I was showing
everybody else how to work the Steadicam
- The Steadicam was invented, the high speed lenses were invented -
- The Zeiss lenses were 1.4 aperture, so this is all shot with slow film
- It was like 100 ASA film but shot at one-four
- And when we did the first [band] I said “Can I try my experiment?”
- So I tried my experiment, then they rented a cinema in Southampton - just gate-crashed a cinema - to see the rushes, because I said if you don’t like it, we won’t make a film; you know, we won’t make a film -
- You take all the pressure off who’s got the rights, who’s going to look lovely, who’s not going to look lovely -
- Anyway - we showed it in the cinema in Southampton and they all sang along with the piece
- [- - - -] it didn’t have sound, but they all sang along with the music
- And that spread to every other band
- So in the end I think we had thirteen bands
- It’s a bit – I don’t want to associate it with How the West Was Won but -
- What it’s done is capture the moment in time, you know
- And I look at this film, it’s thirty years since it’s been shown, there’s only one print – this is it; there’s no more 70mm prints
- Printed from the negative -
- As I say – it ran at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road for two weeks I think, that’s all we had in the Dominion
- It went on release in the United Kingdom -
- I got fed up with the - this is not a Rank Organisation [cinema] is it?
- I got fed up with the Rank Or-
- And someone in America said I really like the film
- So I sent him all the prints -
- So all the prints went to America; it became like a Rocky Horror 2 version on the midnight circuits, on a Saturday night
- And it’s got a huge following; it’s got a lovely following
- I won’t mind if any of you don’t like it and leave!
- Because for me it’s a special moment
- It was technology for me
- We started Super 35; Greystoke was after this film, and shot Super 35
- They actually made 18 prints off the negative on Greystoke - 70mm prints
- It kept 70mm alive, a little while
- And that’s where we are now
- Thank you for coming, and I can answer any more questions after the break
- I hope you enjoy it and I hope you stay (Laughs)
- But it captured life -
- The intro is a Look at Life intro, which was a spoof really -
- Everybody thinks it was a documentary but I actually meant it as a spoof, because I used to go to the cinema and we all used to see Look at Life films, didn’t we?
- So – it was a spoof on Look at Life (Laughs)
- But everybody classed it as a documentary - I still class it as a feature
- It speaks a length, and you know, it’s there for history hopefully
- Anyway – I won’t go on any more, but I’ve got plenty more if you want any answers -
also see: The Making of "Dance Craze" by Joe Dunton + Joe Dunton Q/A
"Lawrence of Arabia" by Wolfram Hannemann
|Wolfram introducing "Lawrence" to a near-sold out Pictureville. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
"LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" from 1962 is widely regarded as a masterpiece in filmmaking by movie lovers all around the world and it is a prime example for big screen entertainment in the truest meaning of the word. That is because its director David Lean was one of those rare artists who really knew how to use the 65mm format to full advantage. No wonder that it still takes one‘s breath away when seen almost 50 years later.
And that although "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" encountered a lot of problems regarding its running time from the day it premiered at London’s Odeon Leicester Square. Soon after that it was cut by some 20 minutes and it even lost another 15 minutes when it was re-released in 1971. David Lean personally supervised the first cuts that brought the film down to 3 hours as he wanted it to enjoy more showings per day. During the 1989 restoration, he would later pass blame for the cuts onto the film’s producer Sam Spiegel. According to an interview conducted by Robert Valkenburg with the film’s composer, the late Maurice Jarre, the film had a running time of 40 hours, that is 2400 minutes, when it first was screened for a selected number of people in a Hollywood Studio prior to its initial release. It was only in 1989 when Robert Harris undertook the task to restore the film that a version became available which is said to come very close to the version shown at the film’s premiere. This will be the version we are screening tonight. The print was made only a couple of years ago. The former Dolby SR encoded magnetic soundtrack was replaced by a 6-track discrete DTS digital track.
With location filming in Marocco, Spain, Jordan, England and the USA, "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" was photographed in Super Panavision 70 from May 1961 until October 1962. At 1963‘s Academy Awards ceremony the film was honoured with seven Oscars, including Best Sound, Best Music Score, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction / Set Decoration, Best Director and Best Picture. In addition it was nominated in three more categories, for which it did not receive the award. Those were: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Peter O’Toole (the award went to Gregory Peck for "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD"), Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Omar Sharif (the award went to Ed Begley for "SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH") and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium – Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson (the Oscar went to Horton Foote for "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD"). Michael Wilson, by the way, was not granted his nomination until 1995 when it was found that the then blacklisted writer shared the screenwriting credit with Bolt. Wilson’s name should appear together with Bolt’s name in the print you are going to see.
The role of Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif) was originally intended for Horst Buchholz but he was forced to turn it down owing to his commitment to Billy Wilder's movie "ONE, TWO, THREE". So Alain Delon came in and tested successfully. However he suffered problems with the brown contact lenses required for the role. The role went to Maurice Ronet but was replaced after difficulties with his French accent and his Arab dress. David Lean is reported having said "He looked like me walking around in drag". Ronet was bought out of the film for four times the amount that Sharif was paid for his performance
Marlon Brando was signed for the role of T.E. Lawrence in 1960 but dropped out to take the role of Fletcher Christian in "MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY". Anthony Perkins was also briefly considered for the role before it was offered to Albert Finney, with whom the production company conducted an extensive and very expensive screen test. It was agreed that it was excellent, and Finney was offered the part but turned it down, as he did not want to be committed to the long-term contract he would have been required to sign. However, Albert Finney's screen tests in Arab costume as T.E. Lawrence became one of the most requested viewing items in Britain's National Film Archive. It is told that casting Peter O’Toole as Lawrence was due to Katharine Hepburn urging producer Sam Spiegel to cast him.
Alec Guinness had a life-long interest in T.E. Lawrence, and had played him in a production of Terence Rattigan's play "Ross" on stage. Guinness wanted very much to play Lawrence, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel both told him he was too old. Laurence Olivier was the original choice for Prince Feisal, and Guinness was shifted to that role when Olivier turned it down.
|Cary Grant was Sam Spiegel's first choice for General Allenby, but David Lean convinced him to cast Jack Hawkins due to his work for them on "THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI".|
With regards to the film’s musical score, David Lean wanted Malcolm Arnold to write the music, while Sam Spiegel wanted William Walton to do it. Both composers turned down the chance to work on the film. So Maurice Jarre was hired to write the dramatic score, Aram Khachaturyan was to handle the eastern themes and Benjamin Britten was to provide the British imperial music. Neither Khatchaturian or Britten were able to properly get involved so Sam Spiegel hired Richard Rodgers to fill in the musical gaps. When Spiegel and Lean heard Rodgers' compositions, they were hugely disappointed, so they turned to Jarre to see what he had done. The minute Lean heard Jarre's now-classic theme, he knew they had the right composer. Jarre was given the job of scoring the whole film - in a mere six weeks. Although the film credits list Sir Adrian Boult as the conductor, composer Maurice Jarre actually conducted every note of this recording. Sir Adrian's name was listed for contractual reasons, apparently because he was the chief conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra at that time.
The mirage lens. Image by Tak Miyagishima
One of the real stars in the film, however, is the camerawork by Freddie Young. In the 80s I had the pleasure to meet him in his small apartment in London. Freddie was way over 80 back at that time and told me with a big smile that his 16 year old son loves to run 16mm films backwards. When talking about "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" he was very excited telling me that when the film was shown for the first time on British television there were black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, which is called Letterboxing nowadays. He didn’t trust his eyes – it felt too weird for him. But don’t worry – the presentation on this screen here won’t have these confusing black bars! By the way: to film Omar Sharif's entrance through a mirage, Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the "David Lean lens". It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since. The collaboration between Freddie Young and David Lean continued for another two films: "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO" and "Ryan's Daughter", the latter of which I would love to see a new 70mm print being presented as part of a future Widescreen Weekend!
|When the restored version of "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" was released in 1989 in London’s Odeon Marble Arch in 70mm it was due to director David Lean’s specific wish that the fantastically curved screen was taken out and replaced by a flat screen. Obviously he disliked the kind of distortion that the curved screen gave to his film. Although I always have a lot of respect for an artist’s decision I was very sad about the loss of Marble Arch’s curved screen. It was the most impressive cinema I have ever been to at that time and I still have lots of fond memories about the screenings I attended there. |
Let me close my introduction with two nice trivia items which are appropriate for our wonderful widescreen weekend audience.
First: do you remember that funny little film made in 1988 set in the mid-60s in which the film’s main character and his girlfriend are leaving a cinema and you can clearly see the front of house of that cinema advertising the film it is showing: „Lawrence of Arabia“ and underneath that you can spot the magic sign „70mm“. The film in question is "BUSTER" and Phil Collins starred in the title role.
Second: who was responsible for creating the name „Lawrence of Arabia“ which subsequentially started making a legend and myth of T.E. Lawrence? No one less than Lowell Thomas, who as a reporter accompanied Lawrence and would become later one of the driving forces behind Cinerama. In fact the role of journalist Jackson Bentley as portrayed by Arthur Kennedy was created as a reference to Lowell Thomas.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me invite you to follow Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn into the big desert – in breathtaking 70mm and 6-track DTS digital sound.
"Doctor Zhivago" by Wolfram Hannemann
|Wolfram introducing "Doctor Zhivago", completely unaware he is going to be arrested in 5 minutes. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
In a world of guns and ice
there is the great voice of battle
and the greater silence of lovers.
Based on Boris Pasternak’s Nobel-Prize winning novel about the Russian Revolution, "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO" is both a vast panorama of a nation convulsed by war and the intimate drama of one man’s struggle to survive. That man is Zhivago – poet and surgeon, husband and lover – whose war-disrupted life touches and alters the lives of many, including Tonya, the gentle woman he marries, and Lara, the woman he cannot forget.
Hailed by critics around the world as the greatest literary achievement of the 19th century, Boris Pasternak’s novel was actually suppressed in Communist Russia at the time of its completion. Smuggled out of the country almost page by page, the manuscript was published first in Italy in 1957 and then in the USA in 1958. That same year Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The announcement thrilled the literary world and focused international attention on the quiet genius. But inside the Soviet Union, Pasternak became the center of a vast political controversy. The government-controlled press turned against him, The Soviet Writer’s Association expelled him, and the Communist authorities informed him that if he left the country to accept the award, he could not be permitted to return. After much soul searching, Pasternak wrote a now famous letter to Premier Khruschev: „I am bound to Russia by my birth, my life and my work. For me to leave my country would be to die“. He declined the prize, and remained in Russia, where he died in 1960.
Many studios had sought the screen rights to the novel, but producer Carlo Ponti obtained them directly from the Italian publisher with the intention of casting his wife, Sophia Loren, in the role of Lara, and contacted MGM. In the tradition of so many great epics that preceded it, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer spared no expense to bring "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO" to the screen. The studio wisely chose master filmmaker David Lean to direct Robert Bolt’s screenplay and rounded up an outstanding all star cast including Alec Guiness, Rod Steiger, Julie Christie and Omar Sharif. Lean was immediately taken with the prospect of directing this movie. He said: „When I read the book, it was the characters that first captured my imagination. They are fascinating people, all of them, and their personal stories are highly dramatic ones.“ Lean felt that the Russian Revolution itself was a towering historical event, one which had not yet been truly depicted in a motion picture. With regards to casting Ponti’s wife Sophia Loren, however, David Lean claimed that she was 'too tall' for the role.
|Red guards approaching from East to arrest Wolfram. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Yvette Mimieux and Jane Fonda were rejected for the part of Lara as well. When asked if he thought Sarah Miles would make a good choice for the part of Lara, screenwriter Robert Bolt is quoted to have said "No, she's just a north country slut". Bolt would later marry Miles. In the end David Lean cast Julie Christie as Lara after seeing her in "BILLY LIAR" and on the recommendation of John Ford, who had directed her in "YOUNG CASSIDY".
Lean's first choice for the title role was Peter O'Toole who declined, citing the gruelling experience of having made "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" with Lean. Dirk Bogarde and Max von Sydow were considered for the title role before Lean offered the role to Omar Sharif who was taken by surprise having previously asked Lean to cast him as Pavel Antipov (Pasha)
After a month went by with Marlon Brando failing to respond to David Lean's written inquiry into whether he wanted to play Viktor Komarovsky, he offered the part to James Mason, who accepted. Lean, who had wanted to cast Brando as „Lawrence of Arabia“ already, decided on Mason as he did not want an actor to overpower the character of Yuri Zhivago. Mason eventually dropped out and Rod Steiger accepted the role.
David Lean wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Tonya, but was so impressed by Geraldine Chaplin's audition that he cast her on the spot.
And to conclude the casting couch information let me tell you that Ingrid Pitt appears throughout this film in five different uncredited bit roles.
Carlo Ponti wanted to shoot the film in the Soviet Union, but the government refused his requests. So Lean and production designer John Box travelled thousands of miles through Italy, Yugoslavia, the Scandinavian countries and Canada, seeking the most suitable places for filming, eventually choosing Spain as the primary location. The studio constructed a ten-acre representation of Moscow just outside Madrid, and built other large exterior sets 175 miles north of the city where, in order to film certain scenes, they imported 60 railroad cars, constructed a dam, and completely diverted the course of a river.
|Mark Lyndon and Sebastian Rosacker represented the Red guards. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
The shooting exceeded the ten month schedule because of David Lean's wish to capture the different seasons during which the story took place. Filming took place during one of the mildest winters in Spain, leading to delays and the need to simulate snow with marble dust and plastic snow in the height of summer. The actors had to have their faces dabbed by make-up artists every few minutes because of their sweating.
To obtain critical winter scenes, Lean moved the company to the majestic Rocky Mountains of Canada and the northernmost regions of Finland where they worked in sub-zero temperatures to capture spectacular snow and blizzard footage.
Released in 1965 Hollywood was too overwhelmed by "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" to honor "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO" with the Best Picture Oscar, which it would have most likely won in any other year. However, it did not leave the ceremonies empty-handed. Awarded with 6 statuettes, the picture also earned the accolades of hundreds of critics worldwide and went on the be MGM’s second biggest grossing picture since "GONE WITH THE WIND". During its initial run in Stuttgart, Germany, where I come from, it kept the city’s best 70mm theatre busy for several months. And this happened in a lot of other places around the world as well.
When David Lean told the studio that he wanted Maurice Jarre to provide the score, he was told, "Maurice is very good on sand, but I'm sure we have someone better on snow." Jarre, of course, won the Oscar for best original score for this film and the soundtrack sold more than 600,000 copies during the film's initial release. The score, as originally conceived by Jarre, was very divisive in form and color. When the film was edited to its present 3 hours and 17 minutes, much of the score’s character was consequently altered. Jarre recalled being very upset because the film’s edits resulted in what he considered an overburdening repetition of „Lara’s Theme“. Soon after the film opened, he realized that artistry must often give way to commercial success as he heard patrons whistling his theme while exiting the movie houses.
|Wolfram being kindly, but firmly, escorted back to Row G by red guards. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
According to Freddie Young, before he reluctantly agreed to take the director of photography job following an exhausting collaboration on "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA", David Lean had a major falling-out with the previous director of photography, Nicolas Roeg, over creative differences. After Young took over, an additional two weeks of photography was required to re-shoot the scenes that Roeg had shot.
Both "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" and "RYAN’S DAUGHTER" were filmed in 65mm Super Panavision while the film in-between, "DOCTOR ZHIVAGO", was only blown up from 35mm Panavision anamorphic for budget reasons. On all three films Freddie Young worked as Director of Photography. I once met him during my stay in London and asked why it was decided to shoot "RYAN’S DAUGHTER" again in Super Panavision after "ZHIVAGO" was filmed in 35mm. He said: „That was David Lean’s decision. I could not tell the difference between the blow up and the original large format film – David could!“
So now it is up to you to judge whether you can tell the difference between a film print and the version you are going to see today, for it will be a brand new 4k digital print presented on the installed 2k digital projector. Hopefully it will be so good that some of you may spot director David Lean reflecting in a glass door as Yuri Zhivago gets off a trolley and enters a house.
John Barry & "The Lion in Winter" by Duncan McGregor
|Duncan McGregor introducing The Lion in Winter. Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
JOHN BARRY – THE LION IN WINTER INTRODUCTION
The New Year rolled in for me with the sad news that John Barry had died. As we had already agreed to programme the "Lion in Winter" for WSW, then it seemed to make perfect sense that we dedicate this screening in his memory and afford me the opportunity to give a very brief retrospective of a truly distinguished musical career.
As a young boy of seven or eight who had yet to experience the impact of a TV in his home and was therefore growing up with regular cinema visits as my primary means of entertainment, I very quickly became aware of the power of music in film and like many, it was the James Bond series which first brought Barry’s music to my attention.
I immediately started collecting those soundtracks after watching the likes of "Goldfinger", "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice" and started searching out his other scores with a childlike eagerness that captured my imagination and ensured that from the point on, my life would always be devoted in a minor – though often major way – as an avid collector of film soundtracks and it was John Barry who I am grateful to for pushing me down this avenue.
John Barry Prendergast was born in 1933 to a classical pianist mother and a father who started out first as a projectionist and who ended up with his own small chain of independent cinemas in and around the city of York.
Therefore the very fact that cinema was in Barry’s blood – literally from the get-go – ensured a lifelong love of film as he spent virtually every day at the cinema and which afforded him the opportunity to become immersed in a fantasy world of film on the big screen.
The same effect that John Barry had on me in a musical sense pretty much happened to him from the age of six, whereby he became fascinated with film music spending so many hours in his father’s darkened theatre and was inspired by the likes of Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Max Steiner.
In his early teens he was taught by the head projectionist at their family’s main cinema in the heart of York how to thread film, perform reel change-over’s and carry out the basics of film projection – you can see the obvious link for me! – which further integrated his total love of cinema.
In 1953 he went to do his National Service where he ended up playing trumpet, as well as taking up a correspondence course where he learnt to arrange jazz, which often feature in a range of styles when listening to many of his scores during the nineteen sixties and much later.
Starting up his own group – the John Barry Seven – he worked constantly performing live and writing many of his own tunes before securing regular work in the popular domain of television and the pop music arena. One of the artists he worked with in the late fifties was Adam Faith who landed the lead role in "Beat Girl" (1960) and with Barry set to score the music it was this movie which set him upon his film path.
With "Dr No" (1962) the Bond producers felt that something was still lacking in terms of the music score written by Monty Norman and it still needed an edge. Enter John Barry (who never got to see the film at that time) but who arranged the now classic Bond theme with a dynamic, up beat, brash and jazz fused interpolation which set the pulse racing and which firmly helped to identify the character of James Bond. The rest as they say is history, whereby he became part of the overall DNA of Bond.
Barry often referred to the larger than life exploits of Bond, which demanded music to match, as “million dollar Mickey Mouse music” but which still demanded highly disciplined writing. His arrangements, musical innuendo and use of a strong brass section added to the overall excitement during a decade in full swing. As Michael Caine commented; “If you consider that the 60’s was a revolution, then musically the Beatles led the pop scene and Barry the world of film scoring”.
I believe we are all influenced at an early age and being born at the very start of that decade, if I had to pick one score that captured my imagination more than any other, then it was the film with one time Bond George Lazenby, "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service". With a new and different Bond the producers were looking for something fresh and he well and truly delivered. With a frenzied pre-credits fight sequence and screaming trumpets to match, he then opted to drop the traditional theme song, whereby the main titles utilized something new - the moog synthesizer. This helped create a pulsating staccato beat over the opening titles which set the adrenaline pumping and never let go and up until the very recent "Casino Royale", the only Bond film which had an emotional undertow.
This was brought to bear by the very tender and emotive We Have All the Time in the World and whether it be the vocal arrangement as performed by Louis Armstrong or the heart rending string arrangement – for me sets this score on its own.
A winner of five Oscars and the most successful composer of the 20th century, he could always be relied on to capture the heart of a movie and embellish the narrative. Time does not permit me to cover in any real depth here his plethora of film scores, but good examples would be "The Ipcress File" and the seemingly dreary, run-of-the-mill world of Harry Palmer. Represented musically, his character is achieved with the use of a cimbalom (a Hungarian instrument), which had a beautiful solo sound and conveyed perfectly the loneliness and isolation Harry Palmer suffers as the film progresses and which was another of Barry’s strengths whereby his music could always progress the narrative, but never get in the way of it.
One other asset was his inherent ability to capture the atmosphere of a film right at the start and steer the audience in the right direction, Sydney Pollack’s "Out of Africa" being a prime example.
Pollack stated that for many years prior to asking him to write the music for Africa, that he often used to use temp tracks of Barry’s music to overlay his films and set the right tone, before inevitably realizing that it was time to hire him.
Pollack initially tried using various styles of African music for his epic before realizing none of it was working and Barry commented that it wouldn’t as it failed to deal with the core relationship of the Redford/Streep characters and also the general sense of loss underlying the film.
Barry said he would often use his own sense of loss in helping to convey what Meryl Streep feels losing Redford, her home and ultimately, her love of Africa.
Growing up during the Second World War and the enormous loss of human life which almost everyone was affected by at that time imprinted itself firmly upon his mind and it was experiences such as these which he would use to musically subjugate an audience whilst helping the film immeasurably.
"Dances with Wolves" on the other hand is about the loss of the west and at this point in his life, Barry had been for ill for two years, so was the first thing he’d written in quite some time, yet the beauty of this score shines through. The use of harmonica for the John Dunbar character and the stirring use of horns played very high, adds a dramatic and powerful effect.
For him music was a very personal thing which when done well carries the mood of a film and keeps things in context. He scored so passionately that the process was a very exhaustive one and he taught himself never to fall in love with the first thing you write. He would shut himself away to focus and concentrate intently, in order to deliver a musical palette that works for each individual film.
And so to today’s screening written towards the end of the sixties decade and for which Barry received his third Oscar. Many film composers are basically writing the only classical music that people now hear, because actual classical music isn’t infectious or stimulating enough for the general person to understand and back then John Barry utilized a symphonic 120 piece orchestra and a 40 strong choir.
Written by James Goldman (brother of noted screen writer William Goldman) and based on his own stage play this was a screenplay par excellence which allowed the acting talents of O’Toole, Hepburn, Hopkins and Dalton to excel with the acerbic wit, dark humour and verbal juxtapositions to which we are all treated.
Anthony Harvey directs with real zest and was nominated for an Oscar (the film was nominated seven times and received three) for James Goldman and Katherine Hepburn, in addition to Barry. I still think to this day that Peter O’Toole thoroughly deserved the Oscar for best actor, but alas, it was not to be.
The film is very much a period piece yet stylistically dramatic. Barry had once studied with Francis Jackson at York Minster where he learnt choral music and who also taught him the rudiments of harmony and counterpoint, which are put to great use here.
Yet for me one of Barry’s key strengths in composing was using restraint. In so many of the current crop of films we hear to day, they have wall-to-wall sound and a seemingly incessant use of music. John Barry had a natural gift and the ability in knowing when to let a film breathe and allow the action or dialogue to speak for itself and The Lion in Winter puts this to the test extremely well.
I hope you enjoy Barry’s opening salvo!
"Operation Crossbow" by Tony Sloman
|Anthony B Sloman introducing "Operation Crossbow". Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
Good morning everyone, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to this last day of the 2011 Wide Screen Festival here at Pictureville:- the second part of this unofficial tribute to George Peppard - or for those of you with more recherche tastes - the second part of the salute to Anthony Quayle in 70mm… And so to "Operation Crossbow" in 70mm, as indeed it was when it opened in London at the Empire, Leicester Square, in 1965, and where I saw it with great pleasure on transfer at the late lamented Metropole cinema, Victoria, once home to "Spartacus", "El Cid", and "Lawrence Of Arabia." - "Operation Crossbow" was indeed the title, but, after its premiere, MGM America had other ideas:- dismayed by a less-than-boffo opening and concerned that punters would confuse the title with one of the then-popular hospital dramas or perhaps a biopic about William Tell, and encouraged by their own success with the "Man from UNCLE" features, variously called "One Spy Too Many" or "The Spy With My Face", MGM distribution changed the title "Operation Crossbow" to "The Great Spy Mission", and business went from less-than-boffo to next to zero. The title was swiftly changed back, but the damage was done.
In Europe, however, where star Sophia Loren, top-billed, held more sway, the film was, both initially and on various re-runs, often double-billed with other MGM successes.
Now, you may not think of MGM as the first studio when it comes to epic war dramas, and, to a degree, you'd be right, for MGM today is largely remembered for its musicals and melodramas, both romantic and period. But let me remind you of MGM's war record: they began with a stunning success with "The Big Parade" in 1925, and during World War II delivered smash hits such as "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Mrs. Miniver", and of the latter Winston Churchill once said "Mrs. Miniver had done more for the war effort than a flotilla of destroyers".
To contextualise "Operation Crossbow": it was made when all-star war mission features had already been popularised by two massive popular and artistic successes, both for Columbia, 1957's "The Bridge On The River Kwai" (which many of you will have seen this very weekend), and 1961's "The Guns Of Navarone", titles so successful that their very names became household words.
Italian producer Carlo Ponti was married to glamour queen Sophia Loren, who had won the Academy Awards in 1961 for a war movie "Two Women", an MGM release worldwide, and had access to a screenplay by two experienced Italian screenwriters Diulio Coletti and Vittoriano Petrilli, about the Allied destruction of the German bomb factory at Peenemunde, base for the notorious V1 and V2 flying bombs, source of much destruction in World War II. Concurrently, 1963's Mirisch production "The Great Escape", had been a massive success, despite a downbeat but heroically optimistic ending, with which I'm sure you are all familiar. Ponti, shrewd producer that he was, realised that, towards the mid-1960's, that there could be an international market for the epic spy movie set in wartime, starring his gorgeous wife, that could be cross-collaterised with another production of his that MGM were co-funding and distributing, "Doctor Zhivago", which some of you may have seen yesterday…
The backstory to "Operation Crossbow" was truly remarkable, and really goes back to 1930, in New Mexico, where one man could have been said to represent the whole United States rocket programme: US scientist Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, who was granted $200,000 by the Guggenheim foundation to fund rocketship development in America. Goddard's initial attempts at rocketing were none-too-successful, but eventually he invented the likes of gyroscopic control; movable veins for steering rockets; the addition of a removable nose-cone for information storage; and most important of all - the development and application of a liquid fuel system.
Now, the US government respected all of Goddard's ideas for a far-reading rocket programme, each of which would become crucial to the eventual German rocket programme. How come? Well, astoundingly, for the sum of 10 cents each, German scientists were able to purchase each one of Goddard's patents. 10 cents each, the cost of handling by the US patent office! It was one of history's greatest bargains, not to mention strangest ironies, and formed the background to the plot of the film that you are about to see. But Goddard's plans for what were to become the V1 and the V2 were only the beginning - "Operation Crossbow"'s ultimate target was to be the V10, the weapon known to the Nazis as the 'New York' rocket - a missile capable of devastating that very city entirely, the abortion of which rocket was the great triumph of the action known as "Operation Crossbow" - but at what cost…
Carlo Ponti and MGM decided on Britain's Michael Anderson to direct. Anderson, who by the way is now 91 years old and lives in Toronto, had worked his way up from a studio tea boy to world class director, having been chosen by Michael Todd to direct the Oscar-winning "Around the World in 80 Days", with its top-star cast and 50 featured star cameos, and was also known for his work with Gary Cooper, particularly guiding the star through his fatal illness in "Naked Edge".
But Anderson's worldwide reputation was really secured by his superb 1956 film "The Dam Busters", starring Richard Todd as Guy Gibson, which was followed by two other films also starring Todd, which capitalised on Anderson's flair for suspense:- "Yangste Incident" and "Chase A Crooked Shadow", and many would cite "Shake Hands With The Devil" starring James Cagney as Anderson's finest feature. For "Operation Crossbow", therefore, Michael Anderson was a first, and superior choice - just note those 'Scope compositions, ideal for rockets and flying missiles! Film buffs might also note the reunion with Richard Todd, albeit in a minor, but key part: just wait for that telling close-up, in a scene with other ABPC co-stars Sylvia Syms and John Fraser, all three billed on a single credit card at the beginning.
The key protagonist is Duncan Sandys, real-life former MP and Cabinet Minister, and he is essayed by Richard Johnson, who had scored heavily for MGM in the war drama "Never So Few", resulting in a Metro contract. Still with us today, Johnson is probably as well-remembered for marrying Kim Novak as he is for reviving the Bulldog Drummond franchise. Also under MGM contract was British New Wave star Tom Courtenay, becoming no stranger to war epics, whose career at this time also embraced "Doctor Zhivago" and "The Night Of The Generals". Also watch out for the clever casting of distinguished war film veterans: John Mills and Trevor Howard, both on our side of course, but on the 'other' side there's Paul Henreid, Victor Laszlo himself from "Casablanca", and Helmut Dantine, an MGM refugee from Greer Garson's kitchen in "Mrs. Miniver".
Oh, and by the way, the print that you are about to see is a French-subtitled one, the actual 70mm premiered in France at the former Marignon Cinema on the Champs-Elysée (courtesy François Carrin), so German characters will be subtitled in French, not in English. I'm sure that you'll all be able to cope.
Note too that "Operation Crossbow"'s George Peppard and Jeremy Kemp would pair up again the following year, for 20th century Fox's excellent World War I CinemaScope drama "The Blue Max".
In addition to superb casting, MGM and Carlo Ponti also greatly improved the original Italian screenplay by bringing on board the credited Richard Imrie, who turned out to be none other than the great Emeric Pressburger, the 'other' half of Powell and Pressburger ("Imrie" is another European form of "Emeric"). That script was then worked over by Derry Quinn and Ray Rigby, who had done such a terrific job on the MGM war drama "The Hill".
Oh, and a word about lighting cameraman Erwin Hillier, who had met director Michael Anderson back in 1949 on "Private Angelo", which Anderson had co-directed with Peter Ustinov, and went on to shoot no less that 10 films with Anderson, before retiring in the sixties. Michael Anderson himself went on after "Operation Crossbow" to direct large-budget films with varied success, amongst them "Pope Joan", The Shoes Of The Fisherman and the science fiction cult hit "Logan's Run", a remake of which is currently on its way to us.
And for MGM, well, "Operation Crossbow" presaged a run of immensely successful war movies, all among Metro's - and, indeed, the cinema's - biggest grossers: "The Dirty Dozen" and "Where Eagles Dare" in 1969, followed by "Kelly's Heroes" in 1970, all in 70mm with full magnetic stereophonic soundtracks, and "Dirty Dozen" wasn't even shot anamorphically! And you could argue that MGM's involvement in "2001: A Space Odyssey" wouldn't have happened without the precursor of "Operation Crossbow" - after all, many of the same special effects personnel worked on both films at MGM's studios at Borehamwood, Elstree, to whom, surely, we should pay tribute today with this 70mm screening of "Operation Crossbow" - But for now, let's hear the lion roar:-
|The Real Operation Crossbow|
"The Great Race" by Sheldon Hall
|"Professor Fate of Curved Screens" - Sheldon Hall introducing "The Great Race". Image by Thomas Hauerslev|
As the “In Memoriam” section of Cineramacana so poignantly reminds us, every year we have to say goodbye to more and more old friends. This final screening of Widescreen Weekend 2011 is a tribute to three recently deceased doyens of widescreen cinema: Tony Curtis, Dorothy Provine and Blake Edwards, all of whom died in 2010. "The Great Race" (1965) was the fourth and last of the films that Curtis and Edwards made together, though it had originally been announced with Paul Newman in the role of The Great Leslie; Newman dropped out to make "Lady L" (1965) with Peter Ustinov, who had himself previously dropped out of Edwards’ "The Pink Panther" (1963), thereby allowing Peter Sellers to take over the creation of Inspector Clouseau. Edwards had then stepped in at the last moment to direct "A Shot in the Dark" (1964), which had not been planned as a Clouseau vehicle but which became an ad hoc sequel to "The Pink Panther" once Edwards came on board. "The Great Race" also reunited Edwards with the star of his "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) and Curtis with his co-star from "Some Like It Hot" (1959), albeit with the billing reversed (at least in most major territories), Jack Lemmon now getting the top spot in the title credits when he had been third-billed in that earlier film beneath Marilyn Monroe and Curtis. Come to think of it, after his rise to stardom as a Universal contract player in the 1950s, Curtis rarely seemed to be trusted to carry a major film by himself - he invariably seemed to play second fiddle to the likes of Burt Lancaster in "Trapeze" (1956) and "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), Kirk Douglas in "The Vikings" (1958) and "Spartacus" (1960), Cary Grant in Edwards’ "Operation Petticoat" (1959), Yul Brynner in "Taras Bulba" (1962) and Gregory Peck in "Captain Newman, M.D." (1963).
"The Great Race" builds on one element of the Clouseau films which evidently appealed to Edwards (and on which the later Pink Panther sequels elaborated): the resemblance of the main character to a cartoon figure, able to survive absurd, outlandish situations amid a world which otherwise seems broadly realistic - not unlike the Coyote and Road Runner. With "The Great Race" the entire film is made to resemble a live-action cartoon, on the largest possible scale, and in fact it subsequently gave rise to not one, but two actual cartoon series on television: Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley, the latter two characters being directly inspired by Lemmon’s Professor Fate and Peter Falk’s Max.
But "The Great Race" is not just a live-action cartoon. Indeed, it contains a veritable Cook’s Tour of genres, paying fond tribute to the cinema’s past (as you will gather soon enough from the opening titles). It is, obviously, a homage to silent-era comedy, albeit on a budget Mack Sennett could only dream of, climaxing with the biggest, most spectacular custard pie fight ever filmed, a riot of colour and movement which at least one critic compared to a Jackson Pollock action painting come to life. According to publicity, over 2,500 custard pies were thrown in the sequence, at least 75 of which hit Jack Lemmon. It’s also a parody of silent melodrama, as Edwards’ description suggests, with a scene between Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood evoking Rudolph Valentino’s "The Sheik" (1921), not to mention Sigmund Romberg’s "The Desert Song". Indeed, the film is also a musical, with two hummable songs, one of which is accompanied by a bouncing-ball singalong caption. The first half of the film includes a lengthy detour into the Western, with Dorothy Provine as a saloon-bar hostess and the biggest barroom brawl this side of "Dodge City" (1939). The British trade paper Kine. Weekly marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Kinematograph Renters’ Society with a paid advertisement juxtaposing a still from "The Great Train Robbery" (made in 1903) with one from "The Great Race" (set in 1908). Much of the second half is taken up with a full-scale spoof of swashbucklers in general, with Curtis delightedly and delightfully guying his own image (those fencing lessons Universal put him through came in handy), and of "The Prisoner of Zenda" in particular. In fact, it’s a rather more effective parody than the subsequent 1979 version of that story, which coincidentally proved to be the last film of director Richard Quine, for whom Edwards had written seven scripts at the beginning of his career, and the penultimate one of none other than Peter Sellers. But perhaps most of all, "The Great Race" is a comedy epic – or rather, an epic comedy, one of several slapstick spectaculars made in the wake of "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1956) centred on a race, chase or journey, usually (though not always) in a period setting. They included the Cinerama 70mm presentations "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963, in which Provine plays Sid Caesar’s wife) and "The Hallelujah Trail" (1965), the Todd-AO roadshow "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" (which opened the very same month, June 1965, as "The Great Race") and its earthbound sequel "Monte Carlo or Bust!" (1969, also known as "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies"), which starred, among others, one Tony Curtis.
According to files in the Warner Bros. Archive at the University of Southern California, "The Great Race" cost $12,939,000 to produce, some $2.3 million over budget, making it by far the most expensive comedy up to that time and only the second-most expensive film Warners had ever made (the most costly being the previous year’s "My Fair Lady"). By the end of November 1966 it had earned a worldwide rental of $18,291,000, probably not enough to make a clear profit on production, distribution and advertising costs ("Magnificent Men" earned about $30 million). Though it was conceived and planned as a roadshow presentation, the film’s world premiere engagement at the Pantages theatre in Los Angeles lasted only four weeks with twice-daily performances, reserved seats and raised prices before dropping down to continuous performances and normal prices. This set the pattern for most of its U.S. engagements, including New York where it opened at Radio City Music Hall in September. In Britain and Europe, however, the film usually played as a roadshow in 70mm prints, often in Cinerama theatres, though it was not an official Cinerama presentation (advertising sometimes misleadingly claimed that it had been shot in Super Panavision, though it was actually blown up from Panavision). In London the film opened at the Coliseum Cinerama on 14 October 1965, running until 25 February the following year when it transferred to the Astoria for a further four months before going on general release in August 1966 on the ABC circuit. Some of you may remember seeing it at the Casino Cinerama, where it played a single week in May 1972 and another five weeks in August and September 1973. I first saw it on television, on Boxing Day afternoon 1974, over the same Christmas holiday when "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines", "Monte Carlo or Bust!" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968, showing on BBC1 while "The Great Race" went out on ITV) also made their U.K. television debuts. But that’s another book that I’m writing!
One final thought. I can’t swear to the accuracy of this, but Blake Edwards may well have directed more anamorphic widescreen movies than anyone else. He made four CinemaScope films in the 1950s, "The Pink Panther" in Technirama (shown in Super Technirama 70 according to some unverified sources), and then from "A Shot in the Dark" in 1964 until Edwards’ final film, "Son of the Pink Panther", in 1993, all but one of his films (the 1967 television adaptation "Gunn") were shot in Panavision. Two more of these - the undeservedly maligned musical "Darling Lili" (1970) and the wonderful Western "Wild Rovers" (1971) - were blown up to 70mm as would-be roadshows that weren’t (in the United States, at least). While you ponder the prospects of seeing those at some future Widescreen Weekend, I have nothing more to add except - push the button, Duncan!
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