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?