DON'T BUG HIM ABOUT BEINGA HOLLYWOOD CANADIAN
For starters, I think we should open up a slightly fresh perspective around a couple of the clichés that cling to one of Canada’s most illustrious native sons, Norman Jewison the Hollywood film director. The first cliché, of course, is this very business of his being a Canadian.
“Confrontation— that’s what my films are all about. Even Gaily, Gaily, a very funny picture, is really a morality play”
continued / his being a Canadian. Sure it’s true — in fact, let’s not deny that it’s one strong reason for Canada’s national magazine to be doing an article about him rather than, say, Arthur Penn, or Mike Nichols, or Francis Ford Coppola, or anyone of a handful of other young American directors who are making big strides to lead the film capital of the world into an anything-goes renaissance.
Sure it’s true that Jewison’s parents still live in Toronto and that, last summer, his eight-year-old daughter visited with them while his two sons, 12 and 10, were at camp in northern Ontario. And it’s likewise true that, for reasons of goodwill and pride in the particular kind of craftsmanship some Canadian actors are well trained to demonstrate, Norman Jewison remains especially accessible to local actors who want to break into American movies. That’s why, for instance, you will see Gordon (Quentin Dur gens) Pinsent in a brief but good part as an insurance executive in Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, and why Margot Kidder, the 19year-old star of the National Film Board’s The Cala bogie Fiddler, has an excellent supporting role in Gaily, Gaily, a ribald comedy based on the early life of journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht which Jewison is currently filming. As a matter of fact, Jewison had Margot flown to Hollywood to test for the part on the strength of photos that appeared in Maclean’s last April. You couldn’t want a closer familial Canadian hookup than that.
But, as Jewison himself is quick to warn, “Let’s not carry chauvinism too far.” Actually, in terms of everyday operations and / continued on page 67
continued from page 33
“Being a Canadian has given me a degree of objectivity”
considerations, Jewison is about as Canadian as LBJ. It's almost beside the point that, at 42, his personal style — tennis shoes, Levis, polo shirts, large sunglasses, baseball cap, the occasional denim jacket over a bare chest — belongs to that brand of California Surfin’ U.S.A. image beloved by youth-conscious west-coast types, particularly showbiz people whose ages may be anywhere from 10 to 60. ("1 don't like to think I’m middleaged yet,” says Jewison. “I really feel much more in tune with the 35-yearolds and under than the older crowd. And it's more fun to play to a younger audience. They dig. Did you know that about 65 percent of the total movie audience is under 35?”)
It's more to the point that there is a copy of Robert Coles' book Children of Crisis, a study of Negro ghetto children, on Jewison's hotel room bookshelf. When Jewison was in New York to receive the New York Film Critics' best-picture award for In The Heat Of The Night, he met the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy, hearing that Jewison was planning to film William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, recommended the book to him. ("1 met the Senator in New York, and we had a pleasant chat. We even skiied together a few times at Sun Valley. And I'm proud to say I marched beside him at Martin Luther King's funeral.”) Jewison's film of Nat Turner, the story of a Negro slave rebellion and its leader (“a black Che Guevara.” Jewison describes him), is going to strike a few sensitive and important chords in the American mass consciousness, just as In The Heat Of The Night did, only more so.
“Look,” says Jewison, “Canadians love to criticize Americans and interpret them to the rest of the world. They do it so well. And I suppose at first 1 believed I was just like everybody else. But, see, the difference is that, for instance, 1 knew the South years before I made In The Heat Of The Night. I hitchhiked through it in 1946 when I got out of the navy, and 1 got to know the accents, the smell of the place, what the busses were like, what Mississippi looked like. And now that I've lived in the country for 10 years. I'm naturally starting to become involved in its institutions. I guess that my being a Canadian has given me a certain degree of objectivity I might not have had if I had always lived here — but that’s it.”
Move onto Jewison’s set, with its special hand-wrought, leather director's chair and script bag (a gift from the cast and crew of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, the first film he produced as well as directed), his four assistant directors. associate producer, production manager, umpteen hip, sharp-looking technical assistants, etc., and you are in the midst of the making of a bigtime American motion picture. Ride with him between locations (Milwaukee. which in places still looks like the turn - of - the - century Chicago where Ben Hecht started out) in his chauffeured station wagon as he receives memos from his secretary, signs
cheques, scans reviews, tabulates grosses, issues instructions, and you are in the presence of a big-time Hollywood producer. Not markedly pretentious. but very definitely big. It is during one of these rides that Jewison casually reminds that the budget for Gaily. Gaily (the first of six his Simkoe Productions Co. has contracted
for in partnership with Mirisch Enterprises under a new. nonexclusive contract) almost equals the entire sum allotted to the Canadian Film Development Corp. ($10 million). And that about sizes up the issue of his being a Canadian. Sure, he's still legally one ol ours . . . but he goes where the action is.
I he other cliché that should be put in its place is the suggestion you read in practically every hometown newspaper story about the man — along with the reminder that he used to drive a cab in Toronto — that Norman Jewison is some laugh-a-minute geevvhiz bundle of amiability and jes’ plain folks. Nonsense. Nobody, but nobody makes it, on the strength of charm alone, through the upper echelons of CBC-TV variety ( Ii 'asne and Shuster, Show time), through the
uppest echelons of American TV variety (specials for Judy Garland, Harry Belafonte, Jackie Gleason, Lerner and Loewe), through the secondary ranks of Hollywood, directing mindless commodities such as 40 Pounds Of Trouble, The Thrill Of It All, Send Me No Flowers and The Art Of Love, through to the first ranks of Hollywood where his name is billed above the titles of his own intelligent, profitable productions.
Jewison openly acknowledges that
he thinks of himself as being an artist, au auteur, to use the European concept of a producer - director as the ultimate continuing creative inspiration for all his works. And that takes ego. True, he can be boyishly amusing — he loves to hold forth with anecdotes — and he often extends genuine courtesy and hospitality. Nevertheless, while it is diffuse in style, his sense of protocol definitely exists, and he can be quietly, imperiously aloof, not to say rude, when he
chooses. If he is displeased by a question, say, about money, the extent of his ownership of some of his films, he can freeze you with 30 seconds of breathtaking silence before he coolly resumes the conversation with an absolutely unrelated topic. His first response to a question is typically an anecdote, no matter how peripheral or innocuous. Rather than cut it short at signs of impatience from his listener, he will pursue it ad infinitum simply to exercise his prerogative to do so.
And he is great at team-play — the art of communicating his feelings to groups without actually saying any one thing to any one person. When Jewison is displeased, everyone on the set feels it. When Jewison wanted me to stay the hell out of his hair, I knew it without being told.
I avoided skirmishing with Jewison by staying out of his circle. And that’s when the truth about his amiability became apparent. What it amounts to is really only a different cliché, the fact that, whether in a foul mood or a great one, Jewison’s rapport with his professional intimates is profound, almost tribal.
One location sequence involved a careening wagon that was supposed to sideswipe another horse and wagon. During one of the takes, the horse from the sideswiped wagon not only shied as it was supposed to. it reared and bolted from its shackles, the epitome of a traffic accident circa 1910. Whether or not this accident would have been used in the finished picture, no one knows; still, it would have been nice to have on film. But both cameras had missed it and Jewison was noticeably upset. In a flash there was a huddle around him, and he and his key crew members grumbled over their anger, disappointment and frustration together like a cageful of ticontinued on page 70
gers you wouldn't want to enter even with a big whip.
On the other hand, the most beautiful and telling moment of the entire weekend in Milwaukee occurred while Jewison was filming an interior sequence with Melina Mercouri and Brian Keith. Work started quietly at 8.30 a.m., with Jewison casually rehearsing Mercouri and Keith through their movements on the set. By about 10. the atmosphere picked up considerably when Mercouri reappeared in glorious regality in her costume as one of rip-roarin’ Chicago’s most prominent madams. Then they slowly went through five takes of the scene, Jewison noting a flaw in the set here or there, redirecting the pacing, formalizing some bits of dialogue Mercouri extemporized and subtracting others. I he sixth take I could only see as a blur through other craning necks, but suddenly you could hear it coming together, click, click, click. Sound stages arc normally silent, but this time the silence became exquisite, as in a great moment of theatre, because everybody was caught up in the scene. The instant it was over, Jewison yelled, “Cut!”, and burst out into a hearty, swelling tenor laugh that seemed to lift the whole morning.
In good moments or bad, for those within 10 yards of him. Jewison is the source of energy by which you define where you are and what is happening, and you can’t help admiring a man who possesses that kind of vitality.
“Ah. he’s marvelous, the best.” says Brian Keith, playing a rambunctious Irish newspaperman in Gaily, Gaily, working with Jewison for the second time (the first: in The Russians). “I’m sure he loves the actors,” says Melina Mercouri, making her first American film with him. “I am safe with him. He will take the responsibility for an actress, but other directors can destroy you.”
Hal Ashby, film editor for Heat, associate producer for Thomas Crown and Gaily, Gaily: “He knows how to make good use of people. Haskell Wexlcr had never shot in color before Heat, but Norman looked at the job he did in Virginia Woolf and said, ‘If he can shoot black-and-white that well, he can do anything.’ For Haskell, it was the turn-on of all time; he’s now directing his first film.”
“Now just GO!”
Beau Bridges, son of Lloyd, starring in Gaily, Gaily as the young Hecht: “in Chicago, Norman suddenly decided to do a scene where I arrive at the train station. There was no dialogue, he just said, ‘You’re all excited. you’ve never seen a big train station . . . Now just GO!’ He trusts me. In fact, anyone on Norman's set can initiate an improvisation.”
Margot Kidder, playing Hecht’s young fallen angel of a girlfriend: “Norman is very relaxing, he lets you alone when you want to be and pats you on the head when you want that. When he’s directing, he doesn’t really say that much to me aside from, you
know, ‘Remember, keep it 1910 and not 1968.’ But somehow he manages to communicate — God, does he communicate.”
Like their producer-director, Jewison’s movies have a subtle, memorable way of communicating adult themes and emotions without explicitly intellectualizing them.
“If.” says Jewison. “I had to pick a word that would describe what all my films are about, it would be ‘confrontation.’ The Cincinnali Kid — incidentally, I had a fight on that one with [producer] Marty Ransahoff and eventually wound up rewriting the script with Terry Southern -— was about the confrontation between youth, Steve McQueen the young hustler, and age, T he Man, Eddy Robinson. Russians grew out of the absurdity of the cold war, the confrontation between East and West. Heat Of The Night, of course, was between the Negro and the white man. Thomas Crown, the rebel and the Establishment. Gaily. Gaily is going to be a very funny picture, but really, it’s a morality play, a story about an innocent young newspaperman confronting the corruption and hypocrisy of a big city for the first time.”
Agreed — laid out in this kind of catch-all list, Jewison's films sound glib, a charge that has occasionally been leveled against them, especially against In 'The Heat Of The Night. But. in fact, this is less the fault of the movies themselves than of the kind of criticism that demands polemics, some will-o’-the-wisp called “realism" instead of honest drama or com-
edy conceived and acted honestly within the limits of a particular story.
“I’d go along with the critics who called Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and Sidney’s [Sidney Poitier] appearance in it a cop-out from the race issue. He was a bloody superman — you name the degree and he had it.
“But that isn’t true of Heat. Sure, he was smarter than Steiger, but he had to be — he was a big-city cop from Philadelphia and Steiger was strictly Southern small-town. And remember that scene where Sidney gets cornered by a gang of roughnecks in the old warehouse? He was scared, man. Now when did you ever see Sidney scared on screen before? And remember when he goes to see that white cat in the house on the hill? And he slaps him? He was angry. When did you ever see Sidney angry before?
“Then there was the scene where he and Steiger are having a couple of drinks at Steiger’s place. Sidney starts to mention something about loneliness. and that’s it. Steiger snaps, "Hold it. boy! No pity from you, boy!’ That’s the nitty - gritty of it. They've been through all those
switches and changes together but still they've only moved one inch, one lousy inch. They’ve got a little respect for each other but they don’t like each other.
“No, I'm sorry, I'll stand by what that movie has to say. You can’t preach messages in the movies. But as long as there’s a great amount of truth in the people and the situation, continued on page 73
then the film will end up becoming a work of art.”
Actually, the “real people-ness” feeling that permeates all of Jewison's films is what overcomes the weaknesses in his scripts. He is eminently discerning about actors.
First of all, he casts carefully, avoiding most of Hollywood's community of synthetics, seeking out individual-looking faces and specialized talents instead. This is true whether the roles are for bit players, as in the police office and robbery sequences in The Thomas Crown Affair. or that fine roster of character actors that made The Russians such a humorously diverse social panorama, or the super-star Steve McQueen who was so dead right as the cocky, allAmerican golden boy in The Cincinnati Kid ( 1964) and again as the aging, disillusioned all-American golden boy in Thomas Crown (1968).
Second, he allows actors to improvise dialogue so as best to express the ways they may enrich the parts they’re playing.
And third, he’s always got a deft little piece of business up his sleeve to help an actor over a rough spot. Example: Steve McQueen's triumphant laughter scene after the robbery in Thomas Crown. McQueen's laugh almost doesn't make it; but in the middle, he gives a beautiful little twirl of the feet that socks the scene home. The twirl was Jewison’s idea because, as he says, “Ed done it myself when 1 was feeling the same way.”
(Jewison has especially high regard for McQueen’s talents. “It's obvious that Rod Steiger is a brilliant actor,” he says. “But you know, there's a way in which someone like Steve McQueen is still more believable on the movie screen. Steiger you know is acting. but Steve has this incredible believability, some force in his own personality that easily identifies with the character he’s playing. That’s what I respond to in an actor, some sign of intelligence, something he may do as a mannerism which tells me instantly he’s it.”)
Ultimately, the factor most responsible for giving Jewison's films their first-rate quality of awareness is his insistence on shooting them in actual, real-life locations. After decades of filming primarily on studio sets and back-lots, with process film used as a filler backdrop, Hollywood is just lately beaming to realize a paradox of the cinematic art: films shot with the intention of having them appear as if they cou'd happen to anybody, anywhere, invariably turn out looking like they belonged to nobody, nowhere; but fi'm.s set in specific localities not only increase the credibility of the simplest stories and characters, they immediately become universal.
Details of a real location can work wonders in the hands of an imaginative. flexible director. In The Thomas Crown Affair the script called for much of the action to take place in a warehouse. But while scouting locations in Boston. Jewison decided to substitute a cemetery instead. The result: the cemetery became a leitmotif that added depth to the entire film, suggesting not only the hero's urge to self-destruction, but also the nightmarish side of the American dream. One scene contained a pan across a
row of flag-decorated graves that could not help but evoke Vietnam.
“At the time I didn’t know exactly why I chose the cemetery,” says Jewison. “It just seemed cool, it made sense to me. Later on. I really dug the idea of Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway playing a love scene in a cemetery. When people are really in love, they begin to share the important things, like their ideas of what life is all about, and death. Cemeteries are very romantic places.”
QUESTION; “About that shot panning across those graves with the flags
JEWISON: “Glad you noticed it." QUESTION: “What were you thinking of at the time?”
JEWISON: “About all those lives given for nothing, about how 1 was sick of the glorification of war and superpatriotism. But remember, the hero of the film saw those flags. That shot was done from his point of view. Look, the basic point of any shot is
always to move the action along. If you can do one that also happens to say a little zinger at the same time, that's great. However, sometimes I'm not in control of what a shot is saying, I'm merely photographing it. It's the audience that makes the important connections. People are paying more attention to the cinema these days. But 1 guess the sign of a good director is that he instinctively knows where to shoot, where to focus the camera for the finished film.” ★