Playing Dead


Image from SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. Words from All My Flashbacks, the memoir of Brit director, and former child actor, Lewis Gilbert.

I had read only the chapters dealing with certain key films, but Fiona went through the whole thing, though not in order, lending the life of EDUCATING RITA’s director an unwonted MARIENBAD quality. She pointed out this anecdote.

At this point in the story, Gilbert is aged six.

…there was one thing I could not understand. Why would an actor – and I knew that actors appeared in films because I had already been in a couple myself – why would an actor playing a cowboy or an Indian allow himself to be killed? Why would he let someone fire a gun at him or shoot an arrow through him? I couldn’t understand that at all but I didn’t want to ask. One day the answer hit me. I went to the green room, the place in a theatre where performers go to relax, and found three or four of them sitting around, talking and smoking. “You know those people who get killed in a film,” I said, “I know how they get killed and why they get killed.” They all stopped and looked at me.

“What do you mean? They’re actors.”

“I know they’re actors,” I said, “but what actor would want himself to be killed?”

“They aren’t. They’re acting.”

“No, no. I’ve seen them dying. I’ve seen them fall off horses, dead.”

“So, what do you think happens?” they asked.

“What you do,” I said, “is, you go to the prison and you find somebody who’s going to be hanged and you say, ‘Look, if you come into our film and get killed, we will pay you some money and we will look after your family. You might as well do it our way and get paid because you’re going to get hanged anyway.'”

Well of course they roared with laughter and thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. “No, son,” they insisted, still laughing, “it is acting. Honestly, it really is.” But I thought, ‘I don’t believe that,’ and I turned around and stalked out. There it was again, the inability of the child thrown into a world of fantasy to adjust to what was fantasy and what was fact.

Which brings us right back to SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, doesn’t it?


11 Responses to “Playing Dead”

  1. Which reminds me of this priceless gem reported by Robert Thompson. His son must have been about four at the time. “Daaaad?” “Yes son.” (and he took is thumb out of his mouth so he knew it must be an important question) “When you die and go to heaven…Does Jesus strangle you to make sure you’re dead?” “No son. People tend to think of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a merciful saviour.”

  2. Yes, and we wrote that into Let Us Prey and the uncredited script doctor took it out!

  3. Being that he’s a zombie, Jesus would eat your brains.

  4. Robert Thomson Says:

    Robert Thomson says: “Uvavu!” to the quote concerning his littlest kid: now aged 19.5 years…

  5. You have done a fine job bringing up/indoctrinating the lad. Congratulations. “Uvavu!” back at ya.

  6. Sorry. Just noticed I put a ‘p’ in your surname. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?

  7. John Seal Says:

    Speaking of Let Us Prey, David, did you know it is playing this month on one of the Showtime channels in the US (unfortunately, not a channel I get)?

    And speaking of Spirit of the Beehive, I recently discovered Erice’s Cria Cuervos, which I actually prefer…

  8. But it does have Ana Torrent in it, so there is a connection.

    Erice’s short, Lifeline, in the Ten Minutes Older compendium, is a masterpiece, with the same kind of interlocking imagery as Beehive. Highly recommended.

    Nice to see Let Us Prey getting out there. In the UK, it’s no 1 in the iTunes horror chart. Maybe we’ll get our deferments one day after all…

  9. John Seal Says:

    Wow, how did I elide Erice and Saura? I watched Cria Cuervos and my addled brain instantly connected it with Spirit of the Beehive. I was so sure I didn’t even think to check IMDb or a reference book!

    Glad to see there actually IS a connection!!

  10. If in doubt, assume it isn’t Erice, since he’s made so few films. When the Spanish filmmaking community heard he was making a film with a photorealist painter who takes a year to complete a canvas, they all thought, “Wow, this movie will NEVER get finished!”

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