Dream Repairman

I’m a sucker for memoirs by cinematographers and editors — perhaps especially the latter. Sometimes these books can be frustrating because the authors are not experienced writers or may not understand what the reader would like to hear about — or maybe what I want to hear about is too arcane.

The best book by an editor I know is Ralph Rosenblum’s When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story, which covers work with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, William Friedkin… all very interesting personalities, and a lot of films which required really inventive work in the cutting room.

So I was excited to find a copy of Jim Clark’s memoir (written with John H Myers), Dream Repairman, Adventures in Film Editing. Like Rosenblum’s book, this covers its author and subject’s entire career up until retirement, only Clark is a Brit who has worked in America and Europe, his career only ending relatively recently due to health troubles (he was to have cut Rob Marshall’s Nine).

By his own account, Clark is quite an outspoken man (at one point he describes meeting Sean Penn, who asks him what he thought of INTO THE WILD. “It’s too long,” says Clark) so the fact that I don’t like a lot of the films he cut isn’t a problem. He doesn’t like them either. But he did cut a slew of films for John Schlesinger, some of which I like a lot, plus a few for Stanley Donen and a couple for Jack Clayton. His portrait of Clayton’s temperament enhances my understanding of this complex and not always pleasant man, adding to the raging furies I already knew about (you can’t really resent a man for throwing a chair through Barry Diller’s office window) a prodigious appetite for brandy and sodas and a penchant for sadistic practical jokes perhaps inherited from his time with John Huston.

Schlesinger could be equally explosive, but emerges as a lot more lovable (and one waits in vain for thunderbolts to strike down Madonna and Rupert Everett for humiliating him and practically killing him while making the wretched THE NEXT BEST THING. It’s very silly, but I do like Schlesinger’s nickname for his over-budget comedy disaster HONKY TONK FREEWAY, which he only ever referred to as WANKY WANK BUMHOLE.

(The book abounds in nicknames: we learn that Zeffirelli called C. Thomas Howell “Tea Towel” and Liz Taylor “thee beetch,” [which is, in fact, his name for all women], while the labs referred to Martha Fienne’s ONEGIN as “ONE GIN,” and Schlesinger’s affectionate/elitist name for the general public: “the sillies.”)

There’s not a huge amount about the craft of editing, which is admittedly difficult to illustrate on the page, though we do learn a lot about how at least a few of Robert DeNiro’s performances have been hewn together out of miles of wildly uneven material, since the actor often doesn’t learn his lines and feels his way through his scenes trying a wide variety of approaches, so that the editor makes most of the choices for him.

But Clark is an amiable host, and fabulously indiscrete: he prints a full-frontal picture of Marty Feldman, something I didn’t expect to see as I turned the page, lists the guests at a Hollywood party and then remarks that he was the only straight man present (the company included at least one major producer who has been known to get shirty when his personal life comes under the spotlight), and carelessly tosses off the following –

“It was known that Jimmy Woolf was homosexual, though just how active he was I never knew. He had a long liason with Laurence Harvey, now married, and was currently escorting Terence Stamp who was also in TERM OF TRIAL.”

I *think* the story is that Woolf liked nothing more than a handsome young man who would treat him very badly, so I don’t think this necessarily means what it seems to mean. But who knows? the charm of Clark’s book is that he’s out of that world now so he can more or less say anything he likes. Though increasingly tetchy about the levels of productorial interference in modern filmmaking, made possible by digital editing, he’s generally fair and affectionate to nearly all his collaborators, even when he’s mercilessly rubbishing the end product of some of these jobs.

Clark’s short stint as director is also covered — he did well to concentrate on editing, as these include the lamentable RENTADICK, which he still thinks is funny, and MADHOUSE, which was butchered by Milton Subotsky but is actually a bit better than he gives it credit for. It did result in a lifelong friendship with star Vincent Price, and through him to Coral Browne, who provides some good vulgar fun. I’ve long admired the anecdote about her rehearsing a play wearing a huge fur hat. When the director asked her if she was uncomfortable, she said “Yes, I feel as though I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole.”

But Clark provides a story that’s positively heroic in its use of bawdiness in the face of death. Browne is dying of cancer and on a morphine drip. She’s asked if she’s hungry.

“Yes.”

“What would you like to eat.”

“A big cock.”

It’s not witty, exactly. But it somehow strikes me as encapsulating humanity at its finest.

Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing

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24 Responses to “Dream Repairman”

  1. I like memoirs too. Especially Nestor Almendros’ A MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA where he talks in great deal about his background and his philosophy of using natural lights which is what made his work revolutionary at the time. He worked with Truffaut, Rohmer, Barbet Schroder, Maurice Pialat, Jean Eustache, Terence Malick and on Rossellini’s last film. The book was published before his work on Scorsese’s LIFE LESSONS, his final major work. But it really needs to be back in print preferably with some interviews and observations on his final films.

  2. Jim Clark’s tales of editing YOUNG TOSCANINI (the lavish Franco Zeffirelli camp-fest with C Thomas Howell and Liz Taylor) are truly uproarious, but nowhere near as funny as the film itself.

    It takes place in 1880s Brazil, but Liz plays a Russian opera diva who happens to be the mistress of the Emperor (Philippe Noiret, looking somewhat embarrassed). It all climaxes with Liz singing Aida in black face, and stopping the performance in mid-warble to make a public plea to the Emperor to free the slaves…which he promptly does, of course.

    Is this, in fact, history? One would be hard-pressed to make it up!

  3. Nestor Almendros wrote the ONLY article on Eisenstein of any value. it was published in “Film Comment” many years back.

    After Ralph Rosenblum’s book came out Woody Allen neevr worked with him again,

  4. Woody may not have liked reading how RR rescued all his early films, I don’t know. Allen emerges better than Friedkin and Brooks, anyway. Although RR’s work on The Night they Raided Minsky’s all took place after Friedkin left the project so he didn’t get the Full Experience.

  5. The one good thing in The Next Best Thing: Neil Patrick Harris

  6. That’s quite a good scene, admittedly… Can’t recall any of the reviews mentioning any redeeming features, and the general view seemed to be that it was a sad way for Schlesinger to finish his career. That coffin might as well be his.

  7. Well, Woody Allen shuns any explanations or conversations about his working methods, totally doing away with DVD extras on his films. So if there’s a side of the story we’re not getting, it’s his. Obviously Woody Allen made great films afterwards.

    Vilmos Zsigmond gave a talk in India last year, I attended it and he talked about Woody Allen’s working methods. He described someone who was very precise about what he wanted. He mentioned that he suggested using a crane for one of his recent films which Allen generally avoids. When he saw the result, he said, “it’s too Hollywood!” and he changed it.

  8. jiminholland Says:

    ‘Nestor Almendros wrote the ONLY article on Eisenstein of any value.’

    Nice to know that an American film critic can speak with such authority about a Latvian/Russian filmmaker as analyzed by a Spanish cinematographer.

    Nice to know that the work of scholars such as Yuri Tsvian, Richard Taylor, Jacques Aumont, and Ian Christie — who actually go into archives, and can actually read Russian (how arrogant of them!) — is of NO value .

    Nice to know why the audio commentary track on Masters of Cinema edition of Murnau’s Faust is such an inane and historically clueless hash.

  9. Now now, let’s keep things civil.

    It’s possible that Mr Ehrenstein was guilty of hyperbole — it might be more productive to ask him to explain his statement, in the light of the work of the other writers you cite, rather that wading in with insults concerning another topic altogether. That’s no way to clarify matters.

  10. jiminholland Says:

    Fair enough.

    How does Almendros’ article help us understand Eisenstein’s influence on GW Pabst, on Jean Epstein, on Mizoguchi (of the late ’20s/early 30s), on Kurosawa, on Godard, on Penn and Peckinpah?

    How does it help us understand why David O Selznick thought Battleship Potemkin should be studied by Hollywood filmmakers in the way that painters studied the work of renaissance masters?

    And, speaking of Selznick, how could anyone who knows anything about the history of the flow of film talent from Germany to the USA think that Selznick imported Fritz Lang thinking he could make of him the next Lubitsch, as is claimed on the audio commentary of MoC’s Faust?

    Lubitsch arrived in America in 1922 and within a few years was the most famous and powerful director in the world; Lang arrived in 1935, where he found himself fed a steady diet of shit (out of which, undeniably, he made shitade).

    To confuse the reasons German filmmakers emigrated to the USA before 1933 and after 1933 — as is done on the MoC commentary of Murnau’s Faust — is an example of historical laziness verging on criminal negligence.

  11. Almendros’ artice deals with the SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS fact that Eisenstein was gay and Battleship Potemkin is more homoerotic that Mapplethorpe.(Not to mention the drag grand finale of Ivan the Terrible Part 2.)

    If you can’t grasp the significance of this, and the fact that Eisensein “scholarship ‘ in all its insistent voluminousness NEVER deals with it. (Jacques Aumont went so far to declare that anyone who “goes there” — as the kids say nowadays –should be banned from serious critical consideration ) then I really don’t know what to say.

    Eisenstein’s politics are as muddy as his sexuality is crystal clear.

    LIVE WITH IT!

  12. jiminholland Says:

    That Eisenstein was gay, that his films are shot through with homoeroticism, and that this is of enormous significance is without question ‘screamingly obvious.’

    And also at this point — 21 years after the appearance of Almendros’ piece — largely uncontroversial.

    Indeed, one recent study by a cognitive film theorist felt the need to justify why it WASN’T addressing the issue of Eisenstein’s homosexuality (cognitivism, at least in this account, doesn’t address the “socio-political”; one of the reasons, for what it’s worth, that I find cognitive film theory rather uninteresting).

    To say that Almendros’ is the ONLY VALID piece written on Eisenstein is not only blinkered, reducing drastically the range of Eisenstein’s significance to the history of cinema, but unnecessary as a polemical gesture.

    As a little googling — Eisenstein + homosexuality, Eisenstein + gay — might have revealed to you.

    And speaking of googling, it would seem that you’ve been through this before. From ‘a film by,’ June 2006:

    “The simple thing, Blake, is Eisentein no longer
    impresses me as he once did. I find his editing
    strategies wanting in comparasion to Lang, Vertov and
    even Griffith. This leaves his homoeroticism as his
    sole aspect of interest, IMO.”

    Film history, unruly thing that is, tends to resist being contained by what a single critic finds to be of interest.

    LIVE WITH IT!

  13. While I’d agree we shouldn’t dismiss all writing on Eisenstein as without merit, surely the fact that since Almendros’ piece the field of criticism on him has transformed as you describe would suggest the colossal significance of that first consideration of his sexuality.

  14. jiminholland Says:

    Might we not here be splitting semantic hairs?

    I say “enormous significance,” you say “colossal significance.”

    Let’s call the whole thing… awfully significant.

  15. Look Mr. jiminholland, you have issues with Mr. Ehrenstein’s arguments on Eisenstein, that’s fine. But stalking his online posts and provoking an argument is no way to conduct any serious cinematic discourse. I feel that your priority is skewed and dubious. Mr. Ehrenstein’s skepticism on Eisenstein merely does him the favour of taking his works seriously and boasting real consequences which most people intent on putting him on a pedestal don’t allow him to do. Online comments are meant to be conversations and like all conversations, eavesdroppers are not welcome.

    As for Eisenstein’s sexuality, it was something he was very aware of, and in IVAN THE TERRIBLE it comes to the fore in a way none of his other films achieve which was why he considered it his most personal work and fully achieved vision(or semi-since Part III was shut down). The main project of his career was synthesizing Freud and Marx, in a way that anticipates the likes of Marcuse and especially Bertolucci.

  16. jiminholland Says:

    Stalking Ehrenstein’s posts?

    What on earth are you talking about?

    Catching up on some old posts on this blog (which I think is a film-blog of genius, I’ll add), I read Ehrenstein’s comment on Almendros/Eisenstein.

    Finding it arrogant and ill-informed, I replied — in snark mode, to be sure.

    David Cairns commented on my comment, indicating he found its tone inappropriate.

    I replied to David Cairns, ceding his point (“Fair enough”) and expanding on my previous comment (acerbically, but in snark-free good faith).

    Ehrenstein replied to me and I replied to Ehrenstein, including a quote of his I found when googling Eisenstein + homosexuality (is that what you considered to be ‘stalking’? because I’ve never actively sought out any of his online writing),

    Etc, etc.

    And let me get this right: Delurking is eavesdropping, and eavesdroppers aren’t welcome.

    Jeez, Louise.

    To transliterate a Dutch expression, there are some long toes around here.

  17. I don’t quite get the transliteration. :)

    I don’t care if people are eavesdropping, it’s a public conversation and I welcome people joining in if they have something to add. It’s just that you got off on the wrong foot with your tone. I suspect David E would have conceded that some of the writers you cite have merit if you’d asked him politely to modify his initial remark. Now all we’re really arguing about is the level of Almendros’s great significance, as you say. Perhaps not the only writer on the subject who matters, but one who turned the whole field around.

  18. jiminholland Says:

    Long toes are easily stepped on.

    Dutch speakers have ‘lange tenen’ where English speakers have thin skins.

    Comment was made strictly in reference to the eavesdroppers aren’t welcome thing.

  19. I should say thanks for the kind words! Feel free to jump into any conversations you like, it’s informal here.

  20. jiminholland Says:

    Thanks for the invite.

    I expect I will jump in, but hope that any resulting splash will be less turbulent than this entry into the water proved to be.

    (Although it wasn’t an entirely unilluminating turbulence, when all is said and done…).

    And you’re welcome to the kind words; frankly, I’m in awe of what you do here — terrifically smart and laugh-out-loud funny, day in and day out.

    (And I’ll here single out what you’ve written about Raoul Walsh and Robert Siodmak — your archives on those directors are just unbelievably rich. On the latter, by the way, you significantly complicate the argument made by Thomas Elsaesser — one of the great living film scholars — on the relationship between Weimar cinema and film noir in his Weimar Cinema and After. Best book I know on the subject — but your treatment of Siodmak is more nuanced than his, and undercuts some of his claims.)

    An irony: one of the key pieces of writing for me in deciding to pursue film as an academic field of study, which then led to my going on to becoming an actual film academic (I’m assuming it’s pretty obvious that I’m a member of the professoriate, yes?), was the 1978 Film Comment article, “Obscure Objects of Desire: A Jam Session on Non-Narrative.”

    The performers in that jam session? Raymond Durgnat, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and David Ehrenstein.

    Great piece.

  21. Wow, I didn’t realize I’d even written that much on Walsh!

    Alpi’s book on Siodmak is terrific if you can find a copy. I wish somebody would pay for another book on him — I’d write it!

  22. Hi, a little late but very interesting review of Jim Clark’s book! I was just confused about what you meant by this one part:

    “I *think* the story is that Woolf liked nothing more than a handsome young man who would treat him very badly, so I don’t think this necessarily means what it seems to mean.”

  23. What I meant is that it’s not 100% certain whether Woolf had a sexual relationship with Harvey or Stamp. Some gay men of the period, such as Lindsay Anderson, were known to form obsessions with straight leading men because the rejection fulfilled some psychological need. It’s all speculation, and I certainly have no intention of making allegations about anybody. I shouldn’t have implied that Stamp treated Woolf badly, either.

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