The Sunday Intertitle: Fred Zinnemann Week

Welcome to the Week!

There are no intertitles in Zinnemann films, none that I’ve been able to find. Conceivably there might be something like one in one of his MGM short subjects, but the only one I’ve seen of those, THE OLD SOUTH, is heavily narrated but unintertitled.

Even  at the start of his films, where narrative tradition often used to suggest some kind of superimposed text to set the scene, Fred prefers voice-over to writing: sometimes the narration will set the film off, as with THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING or DAY OF THE JACKAL, and then disappear for the rest of the film.

But here’s an opening explanatory title from his last film, FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER. Seems a perverse enough place to begin. The Year 1932 — I like that helpful “The Year,” in case we thought the four digits were a PIN number or part of an address.

By contrast, but still on the subject of late films, here’s the opening VO from JULIA, spoken by Jane Fonda (and drawn fairly directly from Lillian Hellman’s source story, I think) —

“Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens, it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress; a child makes way for a dog; a boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called “pentimento,” because the painter repented, changed his mind.”

And by the end of the first sentence, I can tell you, I was thinking, “He’s gonna do a dissolve!” It’s so perfect, because Hellman is describing something with a clear analog in film technique. At the same time, or a beat later, “I think maybe it’s too perfect. I hope he doesn’t dissolve right away.” He waits a delicious moment after the speech ends, then dissolves, not once, but twice —

Incidentally, what’s with the recurrence of fishing in Fred’s films? Apart from the above image, we have REDES, a proto-neo-realist drama about fishermen, which was Zinnemann’s first feature as (co-)director, the opening image of THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, and it’s even given as Peter Finch’s preferred mode of relaxation in THE NUN’S STORY… and he tried to film Heningway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA but quit when his original dream to shoot a real fish in the real ocean with a starved Spencer Tracy was replaced by the actuality of filming a fake fish in a studio sea with a well-fed Spencer Tracy.

Later today — Why Fred Zinnemann Week?

5 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Fred Zinnemann Week”

  1. Christopher Says:

    rewatched one of my old fave Zinnemann films last week..ACT OF of MGM’s ..soft -big budget-Noirs..Altho the Van Heflin outcome is anything but MGM happiness…Mary Astor reminds me of what must have happened to many a once golden age actress..

  2. That’s a terrific movie, and quite un-MGM-like in the way that the threatening outsider turns out to be an avenging angel of justice, and the solid bourgeoise hubbie is the source of corruption. Fiona’s never seen it, we’ll be watching this week…

  3. Christopher Says:

    .a film best seen without any build-up..

  4. That’s one of the interesting things I’ve found about FZ — it’s generally much easier to enjoy those of his films you know nothing about. The Hawks line on High Noon seems to make people feel forced to take a stand, one way or the other, and the heavy weight of “quality” people imagine hanging over his work doesn’t help them appreciate what’s actually in front of them. With a modest noir like Act of Violence, people feel like they can actually discover it for themselves, which is what most true movie buffs enjoy the most.

  5. Christopher Says:

    Its always fun to discover something on your own,something you weren’t expecting..and then later go look to see what someone else,if anyone,had something to say about it..It used to be so aggravating sometimes, before the internet,to be left in the dark so long with maybe only a book to find out something about a film you just saw and were amazed by..

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