“He had the Devil’s own eye.”

 you're thinking about a brick wall

Very much enjoyed talking about Jack Clayton to students the other day. First lecture of term is usually a bit shambolic, and the room and equipment didn’t help here, but Clayton’s films are quite accessible and it’s certainly easy to find good scenes to extract: there are so many stand-out moments in THE INNOCENTS and maybe especially THE PUMPKIN EATER that it’s hard to limit oneself to one or two per film.

My CD of Georges Delerue’s original score to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES just arrived, so I’m listening to that as I write. Pretty criminal of Disney to have fired the sublime Delerue and hired James Horner instead, but I will admit to rather liking the Horner score, which has a pleasingly Halloweeny sound.

Since Disney never throw ANYTHING away, the idea of a restored director’s cut of SWTWC is perfectly practical. Removing the V.O. and changing the score would be very simple, and would already make a bug difference. The only thing standing in the way of this is the fact that there’s no obvious money to be made from such a project — unlike BLADE RUNNER, this film hasn’t grown in reputation since it’s first, unsuccessful release. (I remember waiting for it to play Edinburgh, but it never even came.)

Looking at Clayton’s work as a whole was a pleasure — bits link up in unusual ways. The fly that buzzes on the soundtrack of THE INNOCENTS, presaging the appearance of ghosts, moves onscreen for THE GREAT GATSBY, where it alights on a sandwich mysteriously abandoned in the echoing mansion house.

Woman in Black

The influence of the past on the present, embodied by those ghosts, receives an echo in THE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE, when Judith’s drinking friend appears as a shadowy, blurred reflection in the background of a shot, fading up as Judith remembers her.

Clayton’s fondness for overlapping images became more obvious, from the lap-dissolved dream in THE INNOCENTS to the slow mix that takes us from a giant billboard image of bespectacled eyes (the Eyes of God) to the blood-smeared headlights of Gatsby’s car. A slightly overdone effect, maybe, and one that anticipates even more vulgar pictorial effects in Coppola’s DRACULA (Coppola scripted Clayton’s GATSBY).

in the mouth of madness

But despite these interconnections, Clayton’s was such a discontinuous career that one can’t help feeling that vital parts are missing, films that would help make sense of the whole oevre if Clayton had been allowed to make them: projects like CASUALTIES OF WAR and THE TENANT, later realised by other filmmakers; projects never yet realised, like adaptations of Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, Jessamyn West’s MASSACRE AT FALL CREEK, or James Kennaway’s SILENCE.

(All this from Neil Sinyard’s excellent book, Jack Clayton.)

SILENCE was killed by Barry Diller when he took charge of 20th Century Fox. Diller is rumoured to be the model for Mr Burns in The Simpsons, and the fact that he cancelled the project without even reading the script caused Clayton to throw several chairs through that executives plate glass office window.

The story of a mute black woman known only as “Silence”, the unmade film acquired a prophetic significance when Clayton himself lost the power of speech after a stroke. Re-learning language and re-starting his career was an incredible feat — rather than regretting that Clayton made so few films, maybe I should just be grateful he was able to make as many as he did.

Free Mason

British teeth

Stills from THE INNOCENTS and THE PUMPKIN EATER.

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8 Responses to ““He had the Devil’s own eye.””

  1. The Innocents is such a creepy, atmospheric movie that you may have convinced me to revisit Something Wicked This Way Comes. I was a teenager when I saw it and was deeply disappointed, though that may have been just as much a product of the fact that I’d read the novel at least half a dozen times by then.

  2. I think the movie has a few advantages and quite a few disadvantages. At least it doesn’t have a character called the Sand Witch. The Dust Witch in the movie is Pam Grier, a nice piece of racially blind casting. Royal Dano is an excellent lightning rod salesman.
    Robards and Pryce are great. There’s something truly unnerving about Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark — he seems to be afraid himself. It makes one wonder if he has an employer, somebody he’s answerable to… even though this is never hinted at anywhere else.
    Bradbury may be impossible to read as dialogue, but those two guys do really well.
    And the child version of Mr. Cougar is v. good and scary. A little ginger ball of malevolence.

  3. memento mori begins with a shot of a stopped pendulum which dissolves into the circular dial of a telephone. also, after the credits finish, there is a shot of a modern telephone ringing. this seems kind of mean and makes me think that maybe clayton was most interested in unsettling people, which kind of ties in with the jumpy nature of his career. it is also similar to the way that you see the 20th century fox logo but don’t hear the fanfare at the start of the innocents.
    i have been thinking about why the camera ends up where it does during the argument scene in the pumpkin eater – i think it has to do with a general sense of domestic imbalance, the fact that peter finch has all this room and freedom if he wants it whereas ann bancroft is trapped between him and the edge of the frame; she can either cuddle up to him or risk being shunted out of the picture altogether. it also lets us see the weird, slightly skewed painting and disorganised bookshelves, but i think maybe the most important thing is the strong vertical of the doorframe because it makes a nice hard edge for the shot

  4. The door is also an important part of the story — Finch closes it, trying to shut off discussion of the woman who has just left. It’s hovering in the background, preying on their minds. If you drew a thought bubble around it, it would all make sense.

    The message of Memento Mori is supposed to be, Death is natural, we should understand about it from an early age, not be afraid, but live our lives with an appreciation that they are finite. So the phone at the end is a sharp reminder to the audience, but it’s not meant to be too upsetting.

    Certainly JC was interested in having a strong effect on viewers though, and the fact that he often chose “difficult” subjects no doubt made it harder for him to get stuff made.

    But he got to marry Haya Harareet, so there were definite compensations.

  5. maybe if you make enough ‘difficult’ films, you are rewarded with a terrific wife

    spielberg must be after an upgrade

  6. The shot of Miss Jessel you reproduce above is one of the most beautiful in all of cinema.

  7. Agreed! More on Freddie Francis soon.

    Also, more on Peter Wyngarde!

  8. Re ‘difficult’ films = hot wives. Antonioni and Bergman would seem to support that contention.

    But there are many, many exceptions.

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