Tag Archives: director

A Conversation with Robert S. Birchard (1950–2016)

bob_mainpage

via Cinecon.org

We were saddened to learn that historian, preservationist, writer, and film/television editor Robert S. Birchard passed away this past weekend in Burbank, California. Many remember Birchard as the president of Cinecon and editor of the American Film Institute’s Feature Film Catalog, as well as for his work as a film editor in the 1980s and 90s, where he edited animated television shows like  Ducktales and Rainbow Brite, and movies such as The Return of Jafar. We remember him as the author of the seminal history, Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood. In honor of his life and work, we’d like to share a conversation with Birchard prior to the publication of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood:9780813123240

“Far and away the best film book published so far this year.”—National Board of Review, 2004

Q: To What do you attribute Cecil B. DeMille’s enduring popularity, both among film enthusiasts and the general public?

A: Cecil B. DeMille produced a number of films that have had enduring audience appeal: The Ten Commandments (1956), The King of Kings (1927), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Cleopatra (1934), and Samson and Delilah (1949). These films were major box office hits on their original release and they remain popular through repeated screenings on TV, and availability in home video formats. But, in many ways, Cecil B. DeMille’s personality has proven to be his most enduring creation. The strutting director in Jodhpurs and leather puttees, commanding great armies of extras and demanding perfection, was a creation just as much as any of his films. He worked at creating and sustaining that image throughout his career. The persona made DeMille a well-known figure, but it many ways it obscured his real accomplishments as a director. Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood is an effort to go beyond anecdote and reminiscence to create a portrait of DeMille the filmmaker. It is based in large part on original documents that erase the blur of nostalgia and preserve the immediacy of a time when Cecil B. DeMille helped create the art of motion pictures.

Q: You discuss your first encounters with DeMille’s body of work in the introduction. After writing program notes for a retrospective Of DeMille’s films, what inspired you to continue your engagement with DeMille and his art?

A: DeMille never threw anything away. Letters, telegrams, contracts, memos—even requests from actors looking for work—he kept it all, from the beginning of his career to the end. Although several biographers had gone through the DeMille archives, no one had really made a comprehensive effort to document the making of DeMille’s films and his relationship with the rest of the motion picture industry. DeMille’s story, I felt, would answer many questions about how and why Hollywood developed the way it did and offer a vivid look at how movies were really made in Hollywood’s golden age.

Q: How do you see DeMille fitting into the film industry in today’s Hollywood? If the DeMille that you have studied were a young filmmaker in 2004, would you speculate that he would have more or less difficulty reaching the heights that he achieved?

A:. DeMille brought great energy, enthusiasm, and determination to his work as a filmmaker—but, contrary to his popular image, he also had a realistic sense of the studio system and was willing to blend his vision with the demands of the marketplace. He was an independent producer working within the studio system long before this became common, and in this sense he would feel right at home in the Hollywood of today.

RSB-with-book.jpg.w300h248

via rsbirchard.com

Q: What are DeMille’s lasting legacies, either from creative or from business/industry standpoints?

A: To a large extent it was Cecil B. DeMille who set the working model for Hollywood movie making, and that legacy survives to this day. Early filmmakers often went out and shot “off the cuff” with the barest of outlines. DeMille always worked from a detailed script with meticulous pre-planning, and he pioneered the use of production sketches and story boards to determine the look of his films.

Q: Can you elaborate on DeMille’s strengths as a man and/or as a filmmaker? His weaknesses?

The most surprising thing is that for all of DeMile’s reputation as a stern, demanding director on the set, he had a real love for the people who helped bring his vision to the screen, and he went out of his way to offer work to many actors who were having trouble finding work in their later years.

If he had a weakness it was in his adherence tothe Victorian idea that art must be instructive and uplifting—a notion that is out of favor today, and in some ways this makes his work “old fashioned.” But he also had a bold sense of movie storytelling,creating compelling images that remain in one’s memory long after the light of the projector has faded from the screen—and for this reason his films retain their power to entertain.

Advertisements

A Conversation with Irish author, Ruth Barton


Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We thought we would kick off the Irish festivities today by discussing one of Ireland’s brightest film legacies, Rex Ingram! We recently chatted with UPK author and Ireland native, Ruth Barton, who reveals some insight on the research of her book, Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen, and the life of the director himself! Check it out below!

thlepjig

UPK:  Why did you choose to study Rex Ingram?

RB:  I had written an earlier book (Acting Irish in Hollywood) on émigré Irish actors in Hollywood, which threw up some extraordinary stories. So, I thought it would be interesting to extend that study into directors. I knew the outline of Rex Ingram’s story but I had never really explored it much, so this seemed to be a good time to do that. Outside of Liam O’Leary’s book on Rex Ingram, he had been surprisingly neglected by film historians and writers so it seemed like the moment had come. Also, a number of new films have emerged and new materials, like letters and family papers, so that helped.

UPK:  Did anything surprise you in your research?

RB:  We were very lucky to acquire his memoirs for the Trinity (College Dublin) archives and I was surprised by just how attached he was to Ireland and how that stayed with him throughout his life. When I started, I hadn’t been sure if he had really converted to Islam, it seemed such a radical step for the son of an Anglican rector, but the facts mounted up and now I’m convinced that he did. It was also interesting for me to find out more about the early film industry and to read his account of that in the memoirs.

UPK:  What, in your opinion, makes Rex one of the greatest artists in silent cinema?

RB:  He was truly convinced that film was the great new artform of the twentieth century and that he could put the principles of sculpting that he had learned studying under Lee Lawrie at Yale into practice by making films that had the depth of sculptures. And he managed that, making films that were acclaimed as artistic masterpieces but that were also really popular with audiences. Artistic blockbusters, if you like. He was a real perfectionist too and refused to compromise on detail.

UPK:  What influenced him to go into the film industry?

RB:  To be honest, he started in the film industry (as an actor) to make money but then he got hooked. That wasn’t unusual in those early days of the film industry, when people didn’t really know what it was. Then, too, people didn’t waste too much time on learning what to do or how to do it, they just learned on the job, which is what he did.

UPK:  Do you think growing up in Ireland had an impact on Rex’s career?

RB:  I’m sure that it did. In particular, he grew up in the Irish Protestant tradition. Irish Gothic writing comes out of that tradition, most famously with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which Rex had wished to film. The Irish Gothic is filled with images of haunted castles and ghosts and supernatural apparitions, as are his films. He always spoke of how important Ireland was to him and was very proud to be Irish.

UPK:  How did the Great War affect Rex and his work?

RB:  Rex’s brother, Frank Hitchcock, was an officer in the war and was gassed in the trenches and Rex was very affected by this. Also, many of the boys he went to school with at St Columba’s died in the war. He himself joined the Royal Air Force Canada but didn’t see service. He was also always very interested in military matters and collected military items, like swords. I think that he was fascinated by war generally and deeply affected by it personally so that this feeds into his great anti-war war film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and also Mare Nostrum.

UPK:  Why do you think Rex felt pulled toward America?

RB:  Irish people have traditionally emigrated to America and he saw that he would have opportunities there that he never would have in Ireland. His father had a friend there who promised to look after him, so that made it easier for him to leave. Also his mother had died and he missed her terribly and wanted to get away.

UPK:  Do you feel that Rex’s work is underappreciated today? In what ways?

RB:  Unlike other of his contemporaries, such as say Cecil C De Mille, very few people have ever heard of Rex Ingram. One practical problem is that it is hard to get to see his films. Another is that the pictorial style that he so pioneered is less in favour now than fast-paced narratives. Another just seems to be chance–no one kept his reputation going. I’m hoping to rectify that!

UPK:  Do you feel that he still has an impact on modern Ireland?

RB:  I believe that it is important for Irish filmmakers to realize that they come out of a longer tradition (of art cinema) than they knew. I’ve found people in the film industry are very intrigued by this history that they didn’t know about.

UPK:  What do you think Rex would have to say about the film industry today?

RB:  I think he’d love some of the films being made by non-mainstream cultures, such as Iranian films. He didn’t much care for Hollywood by the time he left it and I doubt he’d care for it any more now.

UPK:  What is your favorite Rex Ingram film and why?

RB:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has to be my favourite film, because it is so visually stunning and so ambitious and it carries it off, but I also love The Magician, which is a very creaky horror movie in the tradition of over-the-top Gothic melodramas.

To learn more about Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen, check out our website!

Poster - Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The_02 220px-Rexingram2 th

Friday Night Spotlight: Charles Walters

Charles Walters TCM Friday Night Spotlight

Good news classic film fans, all throughout December, Turner Classic Movies is hosting a spotlight on the legendary Hollywood director and choreographer, Charles Walters! This marathon of movies will occur every Friday of this month, so be sure to tune in. The schedule of films is listed in the calendar below. If you have Time Warner Cable, you will find these movies on channel 608. For other cable providers, you can to go TCM’s website and use their live streaming feature!

To prepare yourself for this film extravaganza, check out our recently published book on Charles Walters!

In this first full-length biography of Walters, Brent Phillips chronicles Walter’s career on Broadway and his successes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Phillips recounts Walter’s associations with Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, among many others, and examines his uncredited work on several films, including the blockbuster Gigi. This revealing book also considers Walter’s personal life and explores how he navigated the industry as an openly gay man. Drawing on unpublished oral histories, correspondence, and new interviews, this biography offers an entertaining and important new look at an exciting era in Hollywood history.

      

 

 

 

 

 

From Walters’ directing expertise to his flashy choreography, this is a spotlight series you don’t want to miss!

Remembering Sidney Lumet

Director of such classic American films as Serpico (1973), 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and The Verdict (1982), Sidney Lumet passed away Saturday morning in his beloved town of New York City at age 86. Since 1957, Sidney Lumet, the most prolific American director of his generation, has deepened audiences’ awareness of social, ethical, and feminist issues through his distinguished films.

Sidney Lumet: Film and Literary Vision studies over thirty of Lumet’s most significant films and surveys other films and the television productions to reveal their enduring artistic and humanistic importance. In this second edition Frank Cunningham expands his analysis of Lumet’s earlier films and examines his later work, from A Stranger Among Us (1992) to Gloria (1999).

“A pioneering study. . . . Not only a necessary and welcome first step toward according Lumet the scholarly attention he deserves, but also a fine place to begin the appreciation of our generation’s most prolific major film-maker.”– Film Quarterly

Also Available:

Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese, and Lee

New York has appeared in more movies than Michael Caine, and as a result of overfamiliarity, the City poses a problem for critics and casual moviegoers alike. Audiences mistake the New York image of skyscrapers and glitter for the real thing, but in fact the City is a network of small villages, each with its unique personality. Street Smart offers a novel approach to understanding the cultural influences of New York’s neighborhoods on the work of four quintessentially New York filmmakers: Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. Richard A. Blake examines their home villages—from Flatbush and Fort Green in Brooklyn to the Lower East Side of Manhattan—to enrich our critical understanding of the films of four of America’s most accomplished contemporary filmmakers.

“Part cultural study and part film analysis, Blake turns to four of the city’s most revered auteurs to offer readers a lesson in true New York.”– MovieMaker

 

Read the full New York Times obituary below, or here.

Continue reading

Scott Eyman and the Wall Street Journal review “Von Sternberg”

If you were reading the Wall Street Journal this past Friday, November 12, you would have seen yet ANOTHER UPK book review. Scott Eyman, author of Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille, took a closer look at Von Sternberg by John Baxter, the first biography of the legendary Hollywood director. Read the Wall Street Journal review below:

The Unhappiest Man in Hollywood

Josef von Sternberg’s prideful, obsessive nature made him a great director—and an impossible individual

By SCOTT EYMAN

In the early studio era, when many film directors adopted imperial pretensions and ruled by fear, nobody had more pretensions or was more feared than Josef von Sternberg.

BOOK_REV1

Everett CollectionFATEFUL AFFAIR Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich on the set of ‘The Blue Angel’ (1930).

He was a man who kept large, aggressive dogs, who avoided direct eye contact, who presented his opinions as incontrovertible fact and who treated everyone with unconcealed disdain or contempt. On the set, he had a blackboard; if crew members or actors wanted to talk to him, they had to write their names on the blackboard, and he’d schedule an appointment. “The only way to succeed,” he once said, “is to make people hate you. That way they remember you.”

It was all a pose, but a brilliantly played one. In fact, von Sternberg was a diminutive Viennese immigrant, the son of a Jewish lace worker and a loner with one of the worst cases of short-man’s disease on record. Born Jonas Sternberg, he added the “von” because it sounded more regal (besides, it had worked for Erich von Stroheim). The truth of von Sternberg’s life was that his towering facade of vanity barely concealed a yearning for abasement that he would capture with stunning accuracy in such films as “The Blue Angel” (1930) and “The Devil Is a Woman” (1935).

Throughout John Baxter’s bio graphy of von Sternberg— the first for this director—the author is very good on the films and on von Sternberg’s lapidary technique. Although he was mostly reared in New York, aesthetically von Sternberg was utterly European. In his rapturously ornate visuals, he was determined to find ways to make the image, the moment, come alive.

Continue reading