Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Be Norman Jewison = My New Goal

I'm joking, of course. Not about to go into film making. But the past few weeks I've seen a handful of Normal Jewison films as part of a retrospective put on by the TIFF and it's been kind of inspiring.

He was there to introduce a couple of them and I understand he'll be at the screening of Jesus Christ Superstar that I'm going to tomorrow evening. I bought the ticket after I learned he'd be there... (I know, crazy person going to all these films right before the festival starts. I call it stretching.)

Anyway, on the weekend I saw a rarely seen film of his called Gaily, Gaily. It was filmed in the 1960's, set in the 1910's and starred a very young Beau Bridges (playing a teenager) and an even younger Margot Kidder. In fact, the credits read: Introducing Margot Kidder.

I have a feeling the reason this film is so rare is that many Americans would consider its message to be "communist", but like so many of his films, it's critical of American society -- in this film: greed and corruption.

The film was fun, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about. Before the film, a big-wig from, um, Sony-Pictures Classics? (or one of the really big studios) introduced Jewison and then talked to him on stage for an hour. And he showed clips of 3 of Jewison's films (2 of which I'd just seen in the past few weeks--In the Heat of the Night, and In Justice for All. The third was In Country. At which I cried. At a 5 minute clip. Now I need to rent that movie. Bruce Willis. Who knew?) Anyway, the studio guy kept repeating that Norman Jewison was one of 3 or 4 filmmakers of all time whose work was a) universally appealing (he meant to a global audience) b) highly commercial, and c) art -- about something.

I don't know if "art" is the right word, but I get what the guy meant. The reason that so many of Jewison's films have become classics or are considered iconic is because he hit that sweet spot where commercial met the stories he wanted to tell. He turned Gaily, Gaily, a cutting look at politics and corruption (with definite socialist leanings... the book it was based on was written in 1910 after all), into a silly sex farce set at the turn of the century. He turns a film about civil rights into a murder mystery. He turns a cutting look at the growing power of big corporations (Rollerball) into a violent, action-paced sci-fi sports film. No matter what's at the core, his films are commercial.

At both the screening of In the Heat of the Night, and in this discussion before Gaily, Gaily Jewison told a story about meeting Robert Kennedy the winter before he started shooting and giving Kennedy a synopsis. (The two men were both in a hospital waiting room in Sundance, Idaho where both of their sons, by coincidence, had broken their legs skiing on the same day.) Anyway, the way Jewison tells it now, Kennedy told him that In the Heat of the Night was going to be an important film and Jewison claims he'd never even thought about the film in that way before that point. He just loved the story and was fascinated by the interaction and human dynamic between the two main characters. Yes, Jewison is someone who cared deeply about the civil rights movement and I'm sure that's why he chose that project (based on a book), but mostly, he claims, he was just hoping that people would turn up to see the film.

And really, isn't that what it's about? Because if no one shows up to see your film, or if no one buys your book, then who cares what fabulous ideas you included, or what beautiful sentences you crafted... Isn't it about sharing those ideas? And they aren't shared if no one wants to see the film or read the book.

If a book gets printed and nobody reads it, does it exist?

Clearly feeling existential this evening. I blame The Bachelor Pad. ;) That's what I should have posted about. :) So much more highbrow.

Fav line of this week? (and there were many, I was clapping and bouncing on my sofa a few times...)

Blake (with electric toothbrush in mouth): Give me four minutes and then we can talk.

Only a dentist could get away with using that excuse to postpone talking to the crazy chick.


Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, "In the Heat of the Night" was one of those important films back when - saw it with the family at the drive-in. That sounds a bit odd to say it - not exactly a family movie.

And I know what you mean - if nobody reads your book, does it exist? Or if only a handful read it, does it exist? How many need to read it before it exists?

In today's publishing, do you keep writing if you have to publish it yourself? Is it all worth it if you have to build your audience slowly without any guarantees of the size you will ever build?

Been thinking about this - all the work of writing used to feel worth it, imagining hitting the jackpot. Now it feels like you do all the work of writing only to hit a few cherries on a quarter machine - lol!

That's why I don't think it will continue this way - something's gotta give eventually... people won't keep doing something when there's no payoff.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Great post Maureen and all good things to think about...

And yes Blake the dentist with his toothbrush... best line of night!

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, these are all hard questions, Kathy... Making it big in publishing does have similar odds to winning at the slots... Odds are definitely against you. I think everyone has to face the big "is it worth it" questions.

Bachelor Pad craaacked me up this week. And I thought it would be boring with Jake gone. The Holly and Michael thing, too... Wow.

Eileen said...

Yes yes yes. I want to be Norman Jewison, too!!! I'm so hoping that the book I'm finishing now is exactly those three things. Plus I had a Bobby Kennedy moment last week! I heard about this speech he made in South Africa that literally made me cry. It was all about how the actions of one person can impact many.

Anonymous said...

Maureen, I talked you out of going to one of the Jewison movies, and now realized we should have rescheduled our drinking night, because these movie experiences sound amazing..

And yes, best part of Bachelor pad, slimy Blake and crazy Melissa.

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