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Gavin Millar

Sabotage

Gavin Millar, 13 September 1990

Extravagance and self-indulgence were among the kinder accusations levelled at Orson Welles by industry chiefs. For the most part the charges were unjust. Not only was Welles possibly the most distinguished film artist to be abused and all but broken by the system, and by leading individuals within it (including politicians, newspaper magnates, journalists, gossip-columnists and even critics), he was possibly the least culpable. Even Brady, an admirer, in his exhaustive and occasionally exhausting coverage, fails from time to time to set the record straight aggressively enough, and falls victim to what we should regard as the received malice.

‘I’m glad what I done’

Gavin Millar, 13 October 1988

Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth was Kazan’s first big Broadway hit as a director, in November 1942. Walking out of the theatre one night, he overheard a couple arguing about the play: ‘ “What’s it all about?” the man complained to his wife. “Why, George,” she said, “it’s about love and hate and passion and everything – ever since the world began.” “Well,” the man said, “there must be more to it than that.” ’’

Kindness rules

Gavin Millar, 8 January 1987

Though it does not say so, Michael Powell’s 700-page autobiography is merely the first volume of a work which Powell rather surprisingly tells us is ‘what my mother would have wished and what I was born for’. Surprising not for the reference to his mother, since he always speaks of her with the greatest affection and respect, but for the seeming dedication to letters in a man who never ceases to proclaim his lifelong devotion to images. He reads an article in Picturegoer in 1920 about a day in the life of a film crew shooting in London: ‘What fascinated me was the attitude: the planned yet flexible operation, led by the director, to seize the moment, to take advantage of something pictorial or surprising, to snatch your scene out of the streets, to turn the light of common day into something beautiful and entertaining. This was for me! I never had the slightest doubt that I was meant to direct films from that day to this.’

Beach Scenes

Gavin Millar, 1 August 1985

Nestor Almendros is one of the world’s most sought-after directors of cinematography. He is most closely associated with the French cinema, having shot nine of Truffaut’s films and seven of Rohmer’s, but recently his Oscar for Malick’s Days of Heaven has encouraged Americans to take a chance on this independent Spaniard who has three times been exiled – from Franco’s Spain, Batista’s Cuba and Castro’s Cuba. Among his Transatlantic credits are Jack Nicholson’s Goin’ south, Benton’s Kramer vs Kramer, Places in the Heart and Still of the Night, and Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice. He was closest of all, though, to Truffaut, who contributes a preface. The book ends just before Truffaut’s death last year and the final pages in which Almendros speaks with characteristic warmth, gratitude and modesty of their collaboration, then at a fine point of mature balance, are lent an unexpected poignancy.’

The Scandalous Charm of Luis Buñuel

Gavin Millar, 1 September 1983

Luis Buñuel, the Spanish film-maker who died last month, was the same age as the century. One of the many paradoxes of his career is that, despite his unwavering determination to shock and provoke, he ended his life revered by the public he professed to abhor: the great mass of the comfortable bourgeoisie. A further paradox may be that we cannot be sure whether this pleased or distressed him. If we take his frequent pronouncements at their face value (always a dangerous thing to do with him), then his artistic life must be accounted a complete failure – in his eyes. When he and Dali unleashed Un Chien Andalou in 1929 on an astonished Paris public, it was not meant as a calling card for the various anarchist and surrealist groups to pick up – even if they did so. Still less was it intended as a contribution to avant-gardism – abstract aesthetic trifling with which Buñuel had no patience. He wanted it to be, as he wrote in December 1929 in La Révolution Surréaliste, No 12, ‘a desperate and passionate appeal to murder’. Back in Madrid, at a showing to the Cineclub, he told the audience: ‘I do not want the film to please you, but to offend you. I would be sorry if you were to enjoy it.’–

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