Archive for Jan Leyda

Pg. 17, #3

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2020 by dcairns

Mackendrick accompanied Relph to Prague to scout locations. As always, his enthusiasm was tireless: Relph describes him “rushing up every steeple in Prague when you could see perfectly well from the ground that it wasn’t any good. But he would never take anybody else’s word.” Mackendrick, for his part, retorts that “Michael is covering up for the fact that he doesn’t like heights. One of the spires was very tall, with a tiny balcony and this terrific bird’s eye view of Prague. I managed to get Michael up the stairs, but when he got outside he turned his face to the wall and wouldn’t turn around. So he never saw the view.”


Checkmate. When you were interviewed by Bianco e Nero in 1958 you said that modern directors had eliminated the “problem of the bicycle.”


…Morning sunlight at the Onwentsia Club, where Father has just given me a beautiful pony of my own, a retired polo pony. I go riding with a groom from the club’s stables. My retired polo pony is, of course, neck-broken, he works with one hand, but I don’t know this and I must do something with the reins, because abruptly the pony has started back where we came from and I am swinging in the air on the other end of the reins doing the big loop.


It was altogether different in those days, because we had no dialogue or anything. I learned a great deal about pantomime from him, people telling the story just by their looks, their eyes and their hands. I learned about movement from him, of course, because most of his pictures were what we always called a “run-to-the-rescue.” That means that the girl is on the railroad tracks, the train is coming, her lover is coming on the horse and he gets her off just as the train goes by. All the pictures in the early days had that.


Most of the writers who have contributed to this dictionary belong either to the generation for whom Citizen Kane was the first great revelation of the cinema or to the generation for whom Godard’s A Bout de Souffle performed the same function. But they are alike in one very important respect: neither generation was brought up on silent film. Almost all the writers in the Dictionary discovered silent film after their experience of sound film. This is important, because they are therefore almost obliged to have a different view of montage.


The weird part of it is that it never occurred to anyone, including Clark and me, that all this might have had a bad effect on the mood, or on our ability to play a love scene convincingly. But that’s the way it was. The way it always is. The way it is today, on any movie set…


Of course, there was the zoo, with caged lions — that was before those ridiculous concrete rocks were built for them — and they made me cry. The seals, on the other hand, seemed to me to be happy; at least they had their water, and kilos of fish thrown to them by a keeper who addressed them only in German.


This week I excerpted only film books. It makes it harder to create a crazy mixed-up storyline or conversation, but what surprised me is that the coincidental connections created have little to do with film and more to do with transport.

They are: Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick, by Philip Kemp; Encountering Directors, by Charles Thomas Samuels (being flummoxed by Antonioni); Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges; Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends, by Patrick McGilligan, interviewing Raoul Walsh (pictured) with Debra Weiner about D.W. Griffith; Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, edited by Richard Roud, from his introduction; Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda (the speaker is Mary Astor, referencing Clark Gable); Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, by Simone Signoret.

Quote of the Day: Raoul Walsh, storyteller

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on March 28, 2008 by dcairns

Today’s story is a believe-it-if-you-like story, as Mr. Lindores, my old headmaster, used to say in morning assembly at Parsons Green Primary School.

Meeting Raoul

Raoul Walsh.

‘D.W. Griffith had a stock company — 4 or 5 of us, 3 or 4 girls — and one day he asked me if I would like to go to Mexico and film some battle scenes. I said I would, and he said, “Well, you’re going to go and meet a very notorious bandit. You’re going to meet Pancho Villa. And I may as well tell you this: we’ve had a very sad experience. We had Villa under contract through Mutual, and they signed Pancho Villa up for $500 a week. So I must tell you that Mutual sent a Mr. Doaks or somebody down to meet Pancho Villa with a check for $500 and we never heard anything more from him.”

‘So I said to Mr. Griffith, “What am I going there for — to find Mr. Doaks?” And he said, “No, no, no. You’re going to meet a Mr. So-and-so at the Del Norte Hotel in El Paso and they will have $500 in gold for you to give to this bandit…”


D.W. Griffith.

‘By the way, before I went down, Griffith told me, “You know, we have no story to do of Villa’s life, so while you are on the train you will probably think up some story. Either that or get shot.” So I kept thinking about stories on the way down. I had nothing else to do. I kept about 8 possible stories in mind until I could see this bum and see how he would react. They led me in to Villa, and he was sitting there with his goddamn bug hat on and he was loaded with bullets and guns and he had a big black moustache.

Viva Villa!

Pancho Villa.

‘The interpreter started palavering. “Why did you come?” he said. “With the $500,” I said, and I opened the bag and showed it to him. Ah, they were tickled to death. And they came over and looked down and saw the money. Ah yes, gold!

‘So then this fellow says, “What do you want to do with my general?” I said, “I want to make a story of the general’s life,” and he told that to the general and then he said, “The general is interested. Tell me the general’s life. He wants to hear it too.”

‘Well, a couple of guards are at the door and a guard is at the window, and I thought, “Hell, I’m never going to get out of here. Why did I come? So I told him the general’s life [. . .]

Then this handsome young boy, with this terrible calamity that hit him just in the prime of life — I said he stood there before his mother and vowed to kill Federal after Federal until the whole army was wiped out. And I said that from then on the general had hatred, just nothing but hatred, for the Federals. And he decided to collect an army, and he went from town to town to tell them what these Federals did to his family, what they did to the poor, what they did to this, what they did to that, and I said that finally he got a great following of people. And I said that they’re here in Juarez right now, and here is the general who accomplished all this. And he got up and shook hands with me.

‘We actually made the picture. It was called THE LIFE OF VILLA, and I played the young Villa myself.’

~ Raoul Walsh, talking to the Yale Alumni Magazine, June 72. Quoted in Film Makers Speak, edited by Jan Leyda.

A Lion is in the Streets