Friday, September 4, 2015

My hero / Oliver Sacks by Hilary Mantel

Oliver Sacks

My hero: Oliver Sacks

by Hilary Mantel

He has been a patient, too, and is wise enough to know he cannot leave himself out of the story

Hilary Mantel
The Guardian, Friday 8 February 2013 13.31 GMT

"Which book changed your life?" is a question it's tempting to answer with a shrug; the truth is, books can seldom do that by themselves. But in 1970, before he was a household name, Oliver Sacks wrote a book called Migraine. More modest and more technical than his big hits – Awakenings or The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – the book is still remarkable in its shrewd perceptions and breadth of reference. It changed my life, and I dare say that of thousands of other sufferers, by increasing my knowledge of this strange condition. And for a patient, knowledge is power.
Everything Sacks writes has his unique stamp. Clinical acumen combines with understanding of people. Scientific precision is wedded to a spirit of optimism and benevolence. Like Freud before him, he has elevated the case history into literature. But as a neurologist, he has not had to abandon hard science to do it. We trust him because of his practicality, his hands-on experience, as well as the fact that he writes with such clarity about the human body and the human condition. He observes, but he is not afraid of empathy. Describing himself as a "neuroanthropologist", he voyages into the unknown territory inside our heads. Informed by 25 years of hospital experience, he sees the soul within the symptoms. He has been a patient, too, and he is wise enough to know he cannot leave himself out of the story.
Perhaps my favourite of his books is An Anthropologist on Mars, "tales of survival" that illustrate the resilience of the body and brain, our capacity to adapt and renew ourselves. He never makes the reader feel like a voyeur; his approach is subtle, and what emerges from all his work is his respect for his subjects. He seems to love human beings, which is sometimes a hard feat to sustain. He doesn't love humanity in the abstract, but admires and learns from each individual, however damaged. He reminds us that though medicine is a science, healing is an art.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Obituaries / Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks obituary

Neurologist and writer best known for his books The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings

Adam Zeman
The Guardian, Sunday 30 August 2015 13.32 BST

With his absorbing and accessible yet profound accounts of neurological cases and conditions, Oliver Sacks, who has died aged 82, brought the clinical science of the brain to life for countless readers. Although his first book, Migraine (1970), marked a relatively conventional beginning, Sacks’s decision to write about a neurological disorder with complex psychological precipitants and concomitants, and one from which he himself suffered, pointed in the direction of his future interests.
His second book, Awakenings (1973), crucially encouraged by his publisher Colin Haycraft at Duckworth, appeared when Sacks was 40 and brought his work to a wide audience. Effusively praised by the critics, it describes the effects of L-Dopa, then recently recognised as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease, in a group of patients who had lived in something close to suspended animation since the epidemic of the “sleeping sickness”, encephalitis lethargica, swept the world at the end of the first world war.
In the words of the metaphysical poet John Donne, one of Sacks’s literary masters, Awakenings depicts his patients’ “preternatural birth, in returning to life, from this sickness” – a birth sometimes fraught with awful tribulations. Awakenings later became the subject of the first documentary in the ITV Discovery series (1974), and a successful feature film, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
Sacks’s many subsequent books ranged across and beyond the territory of clinical neurology, but his work always remained rooted in his fascination with the brain.The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and An Anthropologist on Mars(1995) are collections of essays on patients with disorders of sensation and perception (such as the agnosic Dr P, who mistook his wife for a hat, and the colour-blind painter Mr I); of memory, language and movement (like “Witty Ticcy Ray” and the surgeon Dr Carl Bennett, both sufferers from Tourette syndrome, with its combination of intense physical tics and psychological compulsions); and of “social cognition” more broadly, as in the case of the autistic academic Temple Grandin, who described herself feeling as if she were “an anthropologist on Mars”, so mysterious did she find the ways of her fellow humans.
In Seeing Voices (1989), Sacks explored the experiences of deaf people; in The Mind’s Eye (2010), he returned to disorders of vision, a subject rendered highly personal for him by the loss of vision in one eye to a retinal melanoma, the ultimate cause of his final illness. Hallucinations (2012) allowed Sacks to explore the territory of the imagination, drawing partly on his own experience of migraine, LSD and drug withdrawal. Musicophilia (2007) is a neurologist’s tribute to a lifetime’s enjoyment of music, illustrating its power using Sacks’s usual method – the arresting, emotionally muscular, case history.
He also wrote prolifically for periodicals including the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and inspired an abundance of work in other media. He appeared in documentaries, winning recognition as a highbrow but appealingly bearish TV personality. His extensive televised travels took in the western Pacific island of Guam, famed in neurology for its high prevalence of a complex neurodegenerative disorder that Sacks and others have attributed to exposure to an environmental toxin.
The films At First Sight (1999) and The Music Never Stopped (2011) grew out of clinical tales from An Anthroplogist on Mars. Stage adaptations of his writings include A Kind of Alaska (1982), a one-act play by Harold Pinter based on Awakenings. His influence extends improbably to woodwork: Theodore Gray’s Periodic-Table Table is a magnificent repository of the earth’s elements, inspired by Sacks’s memoir, Uncle Tungsten (2001).
The animating theme of Sacks’s work is the importance of individuality in medicine. He quoted Sir William Osler with approval – “Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has” – and wrote in Awakenings: “There is nothing alive which is not individual: our health is ours; our diseases are ours; our reactions are ours – no less than our minds or our faces.”
It follows that “mechanical medicine” which considers only the “weapons” of therapy but never the “person who is ill” is “utterly inadequate”. Sacks’s natural sympathy for people with neurological disorders or impairments, so powerfully felt and expressed, permeates his writings. It helps him to describe, with deep interest and insight, the “accommodations” by which people learn to get along with – sometimes even benefit from – their illnesses. Yet Sacks was such a resonant writer precisely because his sense of the importance of the personal and human, learned partly from his humane medical parents, is tempered by an equal attraction toward the abstract and scientific. His writing inhabits the tension, constantly present in medicine, between art and science, the warmth of individual lives and the cooler strength of general principles.
His intellectual and family background helps to explain how he managed this. His grandfather, Marcus Landau, was a “boot and shoe manufacturer, kosher slaughterer, grocer, scholar, mathematician, mystic and inventor” who fathered 17 children. Seven of Marcus’s sons worked as mining consultants in Africa, among them “Uncle Tungsten”, Sacks’s favourite uncle (real name Dave), a geologist turned lightbulb manufacturer. He inspired Sacks’s childhood love of chemistry, fostering a sense of the marvellous which Sacks evoked in his book about him, quoting the 19th-century introduction to chemistry he read as a child: “The common life of man is full of wonders, chemical and physiological. Most of us pass through this life without seeing or being sensible of them…”
Sacks wrote that, at times, he “felt a sort of ecstasy at the formal intellectual beauty of the universe”. But despite his intense passions as a child, his down-to-earth family grounded him, and in his teens a new hunger for “the human, the personal” was satisfied in part by encounters with poetry, music and visual arts which later gave his writings on neurology their broad cultural and historical perspective.
He was born in north London. His father, Samuel, was a general practitioner, his mother, Muriel, a surgeon and pathologist. His future interests and talents were shaped and nurtured by his large, rumbustious, cultivated, polymathic Jewish family, evocatively described in his memoir. Apart from a painfully lonely period at boarding schools, in exile from his family during the blitz, Sacks grew up in London.
He was an independent and sometimes eccentric child – baking a biscuit for his Scout master with concrete rather than flour led to the loss of teeth (his master’s) and reputation. His education at St Paul’s school introduced him to Jonathan Miller, later, like Sacks, also a doctor and writer. Sacks, Miller and Eric Korn, his oldest friend, must have made a formidable trio of – as Sacks put it – “noisy, clever, Jewish boys”, equally at home in the sciences and the arts. The thriving literary society they founded became the victim of its own success when the school’s high master decided enough was enough: “Sacks, you’re dissolved … you don’t exist, you don’t exist any more.” Sacks was understandably indignant – this was not the only time that his ebullient personality would collide with British reserve.
From St Paul’s, he moved on to study medicine at Queen’s College, Oxford, and later the Middlesex hospital, graduating in 1958. After completing his house posts in Britain, in 1961 he moved to the US to train in neurology. The atmosphere of British neurology in the early 1960s, somewhat elitist and oddly isolated from its sister disciplines of psychiatry and psychology, was probably uncongenial to Sacks, with his wide-ranging interests and cosmopolitan background; rumour has it that influential London neurologists had corresponding misgivings about allowing Sacks to join their number.
Following his internship at Mount Zion hospital, San Francisco, and a residency at UCLA, Sacks moved in 1965 to New York, which was to be his main home from then on. From 1966 he worked as a consulting neurologist for the Beth Abraham hospital in the Bronx, and he held academic posts at New York and Columbia universities.
He received numerous awards and honours, including a Guggenheim fellowship in 1989 and being made CBE in 2008. He was a shy man, and, Uncle Tungsten apart, his private life remained very private, until the publication of his compelling autobiography, On the Move (2015). It told of his early interest in gay sex and fascination with motorbikes, leathers and drug experiences, and his 35 years of celibacy until, in 2008, he became the partner of the writer Bill Hayes, who survives him.
His slightly bemused appearance in public may have been attributable to his striking, and apparently familial, prosopagnosia – an inability to recognise faces. In an article for the New Yorker, he described the comedy of a rendez-vous with a similarly prosopagnosic colleague. True to form, Sacks identified and befriended a prosopagnosic portrait painter, Chuck Close, whose gigantic portraits depended on his idiosyncratic attention to the details of the faces the painter failed to recognise.
Sacks had his detractors. One common accusation is that his writings involve a “neurological freak show” which allowed him to profit unjustifiably from his practice. His more numerous admirers find this accusation wide of the mark. Illness makes “freaks” of us all at one time or another: Sacks’s sympathetic insight into the human brain, and the human condition, through the medium of illness, has heartened many more readers than it has offended.
The accusation that Sacks wrote “fairytales” is arguably more telling. Sacks’s case histories lack the meticulous measurements and experimental detail that contemporary science expects of its practitioners. Sacks undoubtedly drew from life in his writings though he may have used a measure of embellishment when it suited his purpose. But his readers turn to him, not for mathematical precision, but for his splendidly readable prose, sympathetic portraits of his patients, broad intellectual horizons and an abiding sense of wonder at the world.
“The sum of anecdote is not evidence,” as the advocates of evidence-based medicine like to remind softer-minded folk, and they are right that personal experience often misleads, particularly in the context of medical treatment. And yet, one can imagine Sacks reflecting, anecdote is in fact precisely where evidence begins. Sacks does a wonderful job of summoning up the human experiences and encounters that are the bedrock of medicine and everyday life.
A final criticism may be the most revealing, not least of the critics. Sacks was transgressive. He wrote of his patients, potentially breaching expectations of confidentiality, and he often wrote of himself, his own afflictions, his migraine, his injured leg, his ocular tumour, his difficulty in recognising faces. He crossed the line that normally separates doctors from their patients, and he did so twice over. But the truth, as Sacks knew well, is that this dividing line, important as it is, can be made an excuse for professional arrogance. Doctors need to bring something of themselves to their patients, to make a personal connection, if medicine is to be a healing science.
 Oliver Wolf Sacks, neurologist and writer, born 9 July 1933; died 30 August 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Obituaries / Wes Craven

Wes Craven obituary

US film director and screenwriter famed for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream

Ryan Gilbey
The Guardian, Monday 31 August 2015 17.54 BST

Wes Craven, who has died aged 76 of brain cancer, was a horror pioneer three times over. In the 1970s, he wrote and directed several films that delivered a new level of intensity and explicitness to the genre. Most notorious was his debut, The Last House on the Left (1972), the relentless tale of the torture of two women and the revenge doled out to the killers by the victims’ parents. (It was inspired by Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.) Exaggeration and advertising are synonymous, but this was one instance where the poster copy – “To avoid fainting, keep repeating ‘It’s only a movie...’” – amounted to more than hyperbole. The scenes of sexual violence made the film the subject of continuing censorship for more than 30 years, particularly in Britain, where it was repeatedly refused a certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. “It’s not a movie I would go back and watch,” said Craven in 2011.
In 1984, Craven enjoyed his greatest success with A Nightmare on Elm Street, which lent a fantasy aspect to the slasher genre popular at the time. Whereas the killers in hits such as Friday the 13th or Halloween had been corporeal, Craven devised a monster, Freddy Krueger, who pursued his victims through the infinite space of their dreams. It was to be expected that the movie would be frightening. But scenes of the teenage protagonist struggling to ascend a marshmallow staircase, or being dragged by her pursuer into the depths of a bath that has become suddenly bottomless, possessed a haunted beauty worthy of Jean Cocteau.

Freddy Krueger

The film became a lucrative franchise, spawning a TV series, endless merchandise, six sequels, a movie spinoff, Freddy Vs Jason (2003), and a 2010 remake. Freddy Krueger himself grew into a popular modernday bogeyman and a postwar equivalent to Dracula. However, Craven was involved with only two of the sequels. He wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which included at least one disturbing image to rank with anything from the first film: the holes on a junkie’s arm turning into tiny mouths, pleading and insatiable. He also wrote and directed the sophisticated and rejuvenating fifth episode, entitled Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), which featured the director and some of the cast members playing themselves. It was witty, satirical and scary: a bloodspattered Pirandello.
Craven’s hattrick was completed in 1996 when he directed Scream, best described as a horror movie that knows it’s a horror movie. Though the idea had not come from him (Kevin Williamson wrote the screenplay), it was consistent with his sensibility. The collegeage characters in Scream are well-versed in the conventions of the horror genre. The killer who is stalking them, wearing a ghostly mask elongated in a Munchian howl, is given to asking his victims: “What’s your favourite scary movie?” Scream 2 (1997) maintained the humour, horror and postmodern mischief: one scene included a discussion about how rare it is for sequels to improve upon originals. This foreshadowed a falling-off in quality across another two outings (2000 and 2011) directed by Craven.

Wesley was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents, Paul, who died when his son was five years old, and Caroline (nee Miller), were strict Baptists who forbade him from reading comic books. He attended Wheaton College, Illinois, graduating with a degree in English and psychology, then got his master’s in philosophy and writing from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. For several years he was a teacher before breaking into the film industry as a sound editor. He directed pseudonymously a number of pornographic movies and was credited as editor and assistant director on It Happened in Hollywood (1973), a porn comedy produced by the editors of Screw magazine.

The Last House on the Left originated when Craven and his friend and colleague Sean Cunningham were commissioned to make a cheap horror film (the budget was under $90,000) for the bottom half of a double bill. Craven described the picture’s coarse, gritty violence as a reaction to the horrors of Vietnam, and embraced a narrative free from moral certainties. In the wake of its notoriety, Craven found himself all but ostracised: “My friends barely talked to me after they saw it. My social life among New York academic types disappeared.” He was unable to raise the money for other scripts he had written outside the genre, but was promised the budget should he wish to make a second horror film.
In response, he wrote and directed The Hills Have Eyes (1977), about a road trip that goes wrong when the travellers find themselves at the mercy of mutant savages in the Nevada desert. Craven followed this with several TV movies and a handful of tepid films, among them Deadly Blessing (1981) and the lacklustre The Hills Have Eyes II (1984). After A Nightmare on Elm Street became a hit, Craven seemed to flounder. He made the TV movie Chiller (1985), about a man cryogenically frozen, the zombie voodoo horror The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and several episodes of The Twilight Zone. Though not a boxoffice success, The People Under the Stairs (1991) was powerful. It took the idea of an imprisoned race of creatures, bred in captivity by a tyrannical white couple, as his metaphor for the poor, African-American underclass in the US.

Outside the Scream series, his choices could be variable. The Eddie Murphy horror comedy Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) was undistinguished. But the fine suspense thriller Red Eye (2005), set largely on a plane, was positively Hitchcockian. Craven strayed far outside his comfort zone in the sentimental drama Music of the Heart (1999), which aimed for the tear ducts rather than the hairs on the back of the neck; it earned an Oscar nomination for its star, Meryl Streep, as a violin teacher in Harlem.
Craven painstakingly oversaw remakes of some of his own films, taking several years to find the right directors and writers to do justice to new incarnations of The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Last House on the Left (2009). His last screenplay was for the 3D serial-killer horror My Soul to Take (2010).
He is survived by his third wife, Iya Labunka, and his two children, Jonathan and Jessica, from a previous marriage.
 Wesley Earl Craven, film director, screenwriter and producer, born 2 August 1939; died 30 August 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wes Craven / I wasn't allowed to see movies when I was a child

Wes Craven
"I wasn't allowed to see movies 
when I was a child"

Q: How did you get started in films?

Wes CRAVEN: I wasn't allowed to see movies when I was a child. It was against the religion I was raised in, Fundamentalist Baptist. I didn't go into a commercial movie house until I was a sewnior in college, and that was on the sly. It wasn't until I was in graduate school that I immersed myself in films. Then, I went to see all the films by Bergman, Fellini, etc.

The first film I made was when I was teaching. Some students came to me and said, "We see you have a camera, would you be our faculty advisor on a movie we want to make? You can shoot it." I said, "Sure", and got all of these free rolls of film from the drama department, and we went out and made a 45-minute MISSION IMPOSSIBLE spoof. We taught ourselves how to edit just by doing it. We didn't have any sort of editing machine, so we did it on a school projector. Splices were scotch-taped, and then glued for the final version. We couldn't figure out how to put sound with the movie. We knew that there was some film that had sound stripes along one side, but then we couldn't figure out how to do any sound overlap, or put music on there. So we did all our sound on a 1/4-inch tape, and then ran it at the same time with the projector, and we had a rheostat so we could slow it down a little bit or speed it up to keep it roughly at the same place.

We showed the picture at the local school auditorium. Well, we were smart enough to put everybody at the school, and everybody in the town that was of any significance, in the movie. So we had this huge turnout, and we made more than the cost of the movie in the first night! The next week-end, we showed it at the college that shared the town, and had another sell-out crowd. Then, we showed it at another college, that was fifteen miles down, and they all came to see it. So we made a lot of money. We had this great cast and crew party afterwards, and we spent it all on that!

From this, I got the bug. I wasn't happy teaching. I was enjoying the teaching, but not the grades. The students that would come and say, "I'm going to be drafted if you don't give me an A". The Department Chairman wanted me to get a PhD on Elizabethan Lutes in the Time of Chaucer, or something that obscure. So I quit my job, I went to New York, and I looked that summer for a job in film, but I wasn't able to find anything.

I went back to upstate New York, and I taught a year of High School at a terrible school. At the end of that summer, I was talking to a student friend of mine, and he said he had a brother who was a film editor. That was Harry Chapin, who had once won an Oscar for, I believe, the editing of LEGENDARY CHAMPIONS, a short film on the great champion boxers.

So, I sat down with Harry, and he was very kind. He was working on a Steinbeck. He showed me how a film was put together. I sat with him for about a week, just watching him cut. He explained to me why he was cutting, pacing, and a great deal of things which stuck with me to this day. At about the end of that week, a man whose offices we were renting the room in, fired his messenger and said, "If you know anyone who wants a job as a messenger, I'm looking for one." I was 30-year old, had a Master's Degree in Philosophy, two kids, and took the job as a messenger! That's how I got into film!

It was a film post-production house and, within ten months, I was Assistant Manager! Then, I quit that job for an assistant editing job. During that time, I crammed myself on film. I would work at night, synching up rushes or documentaries all over town, and got to know the young documentary film crowd in new York.

After that job, I drove a cab in New York for about three months, looking for a job in actually making a film. I finally got a chance on this small film that was being done by a 27-year old named Sean Cunningham. It was a small, homemade film, and I got the job of synching up rushes determined on the system editing, and it turned into a full-time editing job, and even some directing, because he was having a falling out with the film-maker that was working with him. We ended up finishing this film together.

The film came out, and made around $7 million. It had costed about $70,000. It was called TOGETHER, and very few people have heard of it, but it played all over the country for a summer. It was sort of like a sensitivity-training course for couples. It had a little nudity here and there. We all called it "Reader's Digest Sex". It was Marilyn Chambers' first film. She did a nude diving scene in it. But it had nothing beyond that. It talked about how to be more attuned to your huzsband's or wife's needs.

The releasors of this film, a small company called Vanguard, offered us $50,000 to make a horror film. Sean said yo me, "Why don't you write it, direct it and cut it, and I'll produce it. We'll do it for $40,000 and pocket the $10,000. We'll do it in three weeks." So, I went out and wrote the script for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and the reaction to it was so strong, because it was just a crazy, wild script! Our agreement was that we would just hold nothing back. We would do the most outrageous things we could think of. So I wrote this crazy sort of ribald comedy, horror thing. And we couldn't get it out of the mimeograph place! That was the first sign that we had something special: they were all passing around the mimeographs to read!

We went out and we made the film. We went over-budget, and Vanguard had to give us another $40,000, so we ended up doing it for $90,000 after all. When it came out, it was immediately a big hit, and it's still playing. It was a sort of phenomenon, and I've been directing ever since -- or trying to direct. (laughter)

Q: Why was it also called KRUG & CO on some prints?

WC: It's an interesting story about how an advertising campaign and a title can influence a film. Originally, the working title of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was THE NIGHT OF VENGEANCE. When it came out, we didn't like that, so we did a big contest among all the friends and relatives, and we came up with three titles: SEX CRIME OF THE CENTURY, which is part of the conversation Sadie and Krug have in the car at the beginning, when Sadie concludes that the greatest sex criminal of the century was Freud, because he made everybody self-conscious about sex. We also came up with KRUG & CO, because Krug was the main villain. Finally, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT was a title suggested by an ad man, whom we all though was terribly off the wall for suggesting such a title, which had nothing much to do with the film.

They opened it up in three towns simultaneously, all with the same demographic profiles, but using different ad campaigns. What an ad campaign determines is, who comes out those first, crucial two nights to get the word-of-mouth going. The first two nights in the towns with SEX CRIME and KRUG, nobody came. And in the town where they had the LAST HOUSE title, and the ad campaign that said, "Keep repeating, It's Only a Movie!", a crowd came out. And the next night, there was double the crowd, and it just took off. So it was a very dramatic example of how a title change and an ad campaign can work. To this day, there are people who still remember the ad campaign. You can hear the audience repeating, "It's Only a Movie!"

Q: Had you had any ideas for scripts before?

WC: As I said, they gave us money specifically to do a crazy horror film. Before that time, when I graduated from college with a Bachelor's in English, I was sort of undetermined between a musical career -- I was playing guitar in some of the cabarets in Chicago -- and I also had been writing short story and poetry. I received a full scholarship to John Hopkins' writing seminars under a poet named Coleman, so I decided to do that. So I studied writing and philosophy at Hopkins, and got my Master's Degree.

Then, when I got out, I didn't know what I could do for a living. So, after someone suggested I teach, I did just that. I was very fortunate. I put in an application at a place and there were no openings, so I started a job selling rare coins in Baltimore. But then, some English professor in Pennsylvania dropped dead of a heart attack the day before the classes started! I got this telephone call, and they said, "If you come out right away, you can have this job!" It's the story of my life! So I jumped in an airplane and ended up in Pennsylvania teaching college.

Q: Other than for the fact that it got you in films, do you feel that LAST HOUSE was a worthwhile experience?

WC: Absolutely! It's funny because I would never have thought of going out and doing a horror film, but now, I can see through whatever set of circumstances and luck that I was well-suited to doing that. The horror film is a typical way for a young film-maker to gain entree into the film-making world. It is a kind of film that can be made on a low budget, and that can make a great deal of money.

As I look back over my entire life, I can see that I always enjoyed spooky stories, and I always enjoyed doing outrageous things. So I was indeed suited to doing that kind of film, although it would have never occurred to me, at that time, to actually do a horror movie on my own. I was trying to write very artistic stories and poetry. I was going in totally different directions, and not getting very far, and all of a sudden, somebody gave me a chance to do something that I never would have allowed myself to think about doing. Because I was totally anonymous at the time -- I was living in New York on a shoestring -- I figured I would do this picture and nobody would ever know I did it, or even go see it! So I just went crazy and did this really bizarre movie. And then, everybody knew that I had done it, and I became notorious for doing that kind of movie. It's kind of ironic how it all happened!

Q: Did you have fun making LAST HOUSE?

WC: Yes, we had a LOT of fun making it! It was all friends that did it. Sean Cunningham and I were friends by that time, and we shot most of it in the homes of either his mother or his own backyard. We used friends of ours as actors, so it was a very homemade fun family movie, in a weird sort of way. Compared to some other shoots that I've had since, it was relatively trouble-free. I believe the original was shot in three weeks, then we went back for a fourth.

At the time, I didn't know about storyboards. I was sort of feeling my way as a director. So, I did weird things, like drawing lines in the script, like "this shot is sort of smilar to that shot on this page", and I would draw lines until it was such a mess I couldn't follow any of it! I really didn't know what the established procedures were for organizing a film. We had it budgeted, and we knew we had a certain amount for props and costumes, but beyond that, there was very little organization.

I didn't have much of an idea about what a director actually did, beyond shouting "Action!" and "Cut!". My orientation was more in documentaries, because that was the type of films I had worked on during that first year in New York. So I covered a lot of LAST HOUSE as a documentary film-maker would cover an event. The scene in the woods, for example, where the girls are first taken in the woods, I covered three times continuously, never stopping the action. Just played the entire scene as an event, and I had the camera stand in three separate places in general, and follow the action, and then planned to cut it together later. That scene had a real spontanous feel, so we would rehearse it before hand, and then just do it.

As a result, the editing of LAST HOUSE took nine months because it was such a mess. I didn't know what a master was. I didn't know how a master and reading a close-up could be used together. All of these things, I learned by either shooting a lot of material and then, finding out later that I should have done something else, or by finding from experience what worked and what didn't. But somehow, in the end, it all turned out O.K.

Q: Did you have to do a lot of trimming down on LAST HOUSE because of the violence?

WC: We had requests from sub-distributors, people in other sections of the country, who said that this film was too wild to play. They were getting audiences, but the audiences were tearing up the theaters! We had reports of people faiting, threats of lawsuits, fist fights and near-riots. We had a case of people trying to get in the projection booth and the projectionist had to barricade himself in! (laughter) Wait! We had a case of half an audience leaving and cowering in the lobby! (laughter)

We had lots of cases of projectionists and theater managers editing the prints themselves with scissors. We would get the prints back in pieces in the cans. So we voluntarily took out several scenes, two of which I don't really miss because they were so outrageously painful to watch, and one of which I think really hurt the film.

In the murder of Phyllis, the first of the girls to die, my whole intention was to show murder in a film that was as I would imagine it to be, rather than as it was depicted in films normally at that time. That is, the person delivered the killing blow, and the victim died, maybe with a few gasps, but not always. They would never fight a protracted fight, and would suffer clearly in front of the camera. So I did that with Phyllis, and I carried it through all the way, and the people that were killing her then went into a sort of psycho-sexual frenzy, where clearly they were going beyond what they even thought they were going to do, and it ended with them realizing that they had partially disemboweled her, and reaching down and pulling out a loop of her intestine. That was the point where a lot of people fainted...

But that, to me, was the REALITY of murder, because at that point, their whole character changed, and they were suddenly sober and horrified by what they had done, and we had to cut that out. To me, now, that murder, as it stands, loses the whole climactic rhythm of that sudden realization. I think it gave the film a truth that was very painful to watch, but also very real.

Q: Was there anything about LAST HOUSE that you didn't like?

WC: Oh, yes! The comedy scenes. I think the cliches of the stupid rural sheriff and his assistant did not work. All of us, for years, were under the influence of IN THE HEAT OF NIGHT and the stupid Southern Sheriff. Some of the sound is also terrible: the scene in the old Cadillac where Krug and the others are riding along and do the bit about the Sex Crime of the Century, was one of my favorite scenes in the script, but you can't hear it, because we didn't know how to mike people, and how to make any post-production dubbing either!

Q: Did you feel able, after LAST HOUSE, to go out and be a director?

WC: Yes, but the phone never rang! (laughter) It was quite a period of time. Because LAST HOUSE was so upsetting to the Establishment, I think I had only one call in two years, even though commercially the film was a big hit. That was from the producers of LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, a horror film of about the same period. But Sean and I went out and wrote scripts for quite a while after that. We wrote comedies, we wrote a script on Vietnam, we tried to get serious, but nobody would take us seriously. So, I ended up accepting an offer from a friend of mine to do THE HILLS HAVE EYES. By the time, THE HILLS was out, people saw that there was not only this wildman, but somebody who knew how to sit and direct. From that, I got on a television show, and from there to some more wide acceptance.

Q: How did HILLS happen?

WC: Someone came to me and said, "Let's do another LAST HOUSE." He'd waited and watched me for years, and he knew that I wasn't having any success getting out of the genre. So he said to me, "So it might not be what you want to do, but you need some money to live on." At that time, I was virtually broke.

The idea of the specific story was my own. I researched quite a while in the New York Public Library on murder and mayhem in general, and ran across a story of a weird family which lived in Scotland in the 17th Century. They were cannibals living in a cave overlooking the ocean, and they would way-lay travelers between London and some other town. The whole countryside got the reputation of being haunted because those that went in didn't tend to come out. Finally, a husband and wife were attacked on their way home, and the wife was grabbed, but the man escaped and saw the people. He went back to London and brought back help. They discovered a cave with this in-bred family of about 25 people, and vats of human bodies pickled in sea-water. This wild and crazy family was captured and dragged back to London, and executed in a most bizarre and uncivilized way. That was my inspiration for the family in HILLS, which lived on the Nevada gun-range.

Q: Did you have a much bigger budget to shoot HILLS?

WC: Yes, but with inflation, it ended up being just about the same. We spent about $230,000 and we shot for five weeks. We still shot in 16mm, but we had special effects, like we blew up a big trailer, which was very exciting to us. We had animals; we did some stunts, which we had an actual stuntman do. We actually did some fun things!

Interview © 1999 Randy Lofficier


Monday, August 31, 2015

Alain Elkann interviews Fanny Ardant

Fanny Ardant: The Ultimate Diva
A short interview from the archive with the actress and director Fanny Ardant, who speaks fluent French, Italian and Spanish and learned English while filmingCallas Forever (2002). She is a really passionate reader, as was her former companion François Truffaut. They both loved Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Arthur Miller and Henry James and Fanny likes Julien Gracq, Jane Austen, Elsa Morante and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Fanny Ardant Callas Forever (2002)
Fanny Ardant
Callas Forever (2002)
Amica magazine, 16th May 1992
Fanny Ardant: “I love Rome. I like it that people waste their time chatting, sitting outside on chairs in front of their houses. It’s a city where a lot of people do nothing on the street and simply enjoy life, live the moment… It is because of this that I live in Rome.”
And how about other cities?
I like those cities where I can look out through the windows of taxis as they take me to work. London because of the women’s legs and the front steps of its houses. New York because it gives me the feeling of not existing. It makes me feel small, but very energetic. It gives me the impression that I’m on a film set.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Marilyn Monroe / Five best moments

Marilyn Monroe: five best moments

As The Misfits gets a rerelease, we take a look back at the short but unforgettable career of the dazzling star

Benjamin Lee
Friday 12 June 2015 16.29 BST

Given her status, it’s easy to forget that Marilyn Monroe’s career lasted for just 15 years, a brief moment in film history. While her legacy persists, the focus on her looks and much-copied style often overshadows her fine work as an actor.
This week’s rerelease of The Misfits, Monroe’s last finished film, is a tragic reminder of her talent, as she plays a divorcee who strikes up a relationship with an ageing cowboy, played by Clark Gable. It serves as a necessary reminder that she wasn’t always playing a dizzy blonde, something that’s often forgotten. Here’s our pick of her career highlights:

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Although Monroe had seen her star steadily rise in Hollywood, it was the one-two punch of her roles as a femme fatale in Niagara and a showgirl in this Howard Hawks musical that really turned her into a superstar. She showed off her charm as well as her singing and dancing prowess, especially in this endlessly rewatchable performance of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. It’s particularly impressive given that Monroe was apparently a victim of stage fright throughout production.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kit Harington is returning as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones season 6

Kit Harington is returning as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones season 6

  • Kit Harington plays the role of Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
  • The character was killed off in the season 5 finale
  • It has now been reported that he will return for season 6
PUBLISHED: JULY 22, 2015 11:41

There has been a lot of talk about what to expect from Game of Thrones season 6 next year, with the fate of a number of characters being unknown following the season 5 finale this year. One of the biggest talking points about the season 5 finale was the death of Jon Snow and how that was going to impact the events that take place in season 6.
A lot of fans were devastated by the death of Jon Snow, with most of them struggling to accept that the character was dead, insisting that actor KitHarington will have to return for Game of Thrones season 6. However, wheneverthe subject has been brought up to those in the know, they have all insisted thatKit Harington is moving on to other projects and Jon Snow is staying dead.