By desire or by challenge, many are those who make a first… and sometimes unique film. Why ? Painful experience, financial reason… Explanations are not lacking. Here are five examples.
It’s not exactly a discovery. Shooting a film, in front of and/or behind the camera, is not always, far from it, a long calm river. The experience can even go downright extreme, as was the case for Apocalypse Now, whose Homeric filming is told in the mind-blowing making-of Heart of Darkness. Or Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog, and his conflicting relationship with Klaus Kinski.
If some film talents do not particularly show the desire to put on the director’s hat one day, just as many are those who end up giving in to the sirens of directing, out of desire and/or challenge. Still, some of these attempts will not be repeated. Why ? Painful and exhausting experiences, financial reasons… Explanations are not lacking. Here are five examples.
What is it about ?
For 15-year-old Tom, the war zone is at the very heart of his family. Neither poor nor rich, apparently happy. When the family leaves London for rural Devon, Tom finds himself faced with loneliness and boredom. But nothing can prepare him for the discovery of the secret that binds his father, Dad, to his sister, Jessie, aged eighteen…
From period films in costume (Rob Roy) to ultra-violent thrillers (Reservoir Dogs) via the Blockbuster (The Incredible Hulk), Tim Roth has long shown that he is an accomplished and unanimously respected actor both within of the profession than on the part of the public, capable of evolving in very different registers.
In 1999, at age 38, he went behind the camera for the first time with The War Zone. He had been considering directing for some time, but did not yet feel ready to “to give up playing the time required for a shoot”.
With The War Zone, he unpins a grenade thrown in the face of an audience petrified by a film of great psychological and physical violence. In this terrible story of incest, even the actors were put to the test; in particular Ray Winstone (the father), who will say “having tested the limits of what he was able to accept in order to do his job”.
“Incest is a serious subject that is not always treated with integrity in cinema” declared Tim Roth; “I wanted to make a film about childhood but from an adult point of view. Not what we usually see, not a Hollywood film”. Very risky but successful bet for his first trial run as a director. Especially since the work has a scope that is both salutary and intimate for him. Ten years after the film’s release, he reveals that he was the victim of sexual abuse during his childhood.
What is it about ?
A disturbing preacher pursues two children in rural America whose father has just been convicted of theft and murder. Before his incarceration, the father had entrusted them with ten thousand dollars, the existence of which they must reveal to no one. Chased without pity by this psychopathic pastor and left to their own devices, the children hit the road…
Even if he found his physique unsightly (“I have a face like the hindquarters of an elephant” he said), this did not prevent Charles Laughton from having a very great career on stage, and shooting in more than sixty works, under the direction of leading directors (Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Jules Dassin…).
Although The Night of the Hunter is Laughton’s only film as a director, it is not, however, his only directing experience. Six years earlier, when he played Inspector Jules Maigret in The Man from the Eiffel Tower, the actor directed part of it without being credited. Producer Irving Allen was the original director for this Franco-American film. But after only three days of filming, Charles Laughton threatened to quit the project if Burgess Meredith did not take charge. Laughton directed the scenes where Meredith performed.
Absolutely dark, very unusual for a film featuring children (which, by the way, Laughton didn’t like too much…), The hunter’s night was very coldly received by critics and the public. Wounded, Laughton swore never to make any more films, and anyway preferred to (re)turn to his first passion, the theater…
The script for his next film, an adaptation of Nudes and the Dead according to Norman Mailer, will remain at the bottom of the drawer, before failing in the hands of Raoul Walsh in 1958. Fortunately, time has done its work and done justice to Charles Laughton. The hunter’s night is rightly considered one of the greatest films in the history of cinema, carried by a mind-blowing Robert Mitchum.
What is it about ?
Grandpa resists… The story of Joseph P. Kotcher, alias “Kotch”, a widower in his seventies who refuses to be put away in a retirement home by his son and his daughter-in-law.
The inseparable duo Walter Matthau / Jack Lemmon was one of the great successes of US comedies of the 60s and 70s. But in front of Kotch, it is not forbidden to be perplexed, especially in front of the white toupee of Matthau playing the septuagenarians well started when he was barely 51 years old. Twenty years after the film’s release, the actor felt the role was “his best performance”. It’s his right…
As for Jack Lemmon, the experience of filming hardly left him with an imperishable memory. He found the exercise physically and emotionally too taxing. He returned to film sets the following year, this time as an actor, in the tasty comedy Avanti! by Billy Wilder.
For the anecdote, told by Jack Lemmon himself, Kotch won four Oscar nominations in 1972, including Best Actor for Walter Matthau. But it was Gene Hackman who won the precious statuette, for his extraordinary composition of Popeye Doyle in French Connection.
Charles Chaplin then addressed these elegant words to Carol Matthau, wife of the actor, thinking to comfort her: “you know you’re married to a great actor” [Comprendre : qui n’a de toute façon pas besoin de statuette pour être talentueux]. When Walter heard that, he looked the most crestfallen and plaintive I’ve ever seen before and after.”
What is it about ?
Two bandits, Rio and Dad Longworth, rob a bank in San Francisco. Surrounded, they decide to separate. Dad flees with the loot and Rio is captured. Years later he escapes from prison and finds his accomplice now married to a Mexican and sheriff of a small coastal town. In revenge, he decides to seduce his beautiful daughter…
Unique achievement of Marlon Brando then at the height of his glory, the western The Vengeance with two faces was originally to be directed by Stanley Kubrick, finally landed from the project. Very uncomfortable behind the camera, the filming was not far from being torture for him. He will say it in his autobiography published in 1994: “I had absolutely no idea what to do”…
He used an astronomical amount of film (so wasted), waited hours to make his plans… In 5 days of filming, he was already 15 days behind schedule. Little tasty anecdote: as a good follower of the Actors Studio method, he insisted on being authentically drunk for a scene where his character had to be… Except that he was so drunk that he was unable to realize. This did not prevent him from repeating the same process in the days that followed…
When Paramount discovered the final result, 4h42 long, the studio was horrified. Not content with having exploded the starting budget, which went from $1.8 million to $6 million, the film was quite simply unusable with such a length. Paramount took matters into their own hands in the editing room, and reduced the duration of the film to 2:21, in addition to changing the ending.
The film was still a big success, but Brando declared himself bitter: “It’s a good movie for them [Paramount]but it’s not the film I made… The characters are now in black and white, whereas I wanted them to be gray and human”.
What is it about ?
Topaze, a teacher, is secretly in love with Ernestine, the daughter of the director of the institution. The latter, on learning the nature of his employee’s feelings, fires him on the spot. Topaze is then hired by a crooked politician, an experience that will transform him completely.
Author of the eponymous play, Marcel Pagnol made two adaptations of Topaze. The first version of Topaze (1936) features Arnaudy, Delia-Col and Léon Brouzet. The second version of Topaze, shot in 1951, is almost twenty minutes longer and features the services of Fernandel, Marcel Vallee, Jacqueline Pagnol and Pierre Larquey.
Two years before establishing himself in the irresistible role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the saga of The Pink Panther, and three years before playing the brilliant Doctor Strangelove, Peter Sellers curiously chose to direct a adaptation of the work of Marcel pagnol.
History will remember above all that the actor / director, dissatisfied with his work, would have recovered all the copies in circulation at the time of the film’s release, and would have destroyed them… only one copy of the film known to date exists; it is carefully preserved in the archives of the British Film Institute. We are not ready to see the result. Especially since the copy was only screened on extremely rare occasions, such as in the context of the Cardiff Independent Film Festival quite a few years ago.