Roger Ebert discusses old movies with Studs Terkel ; part 2
BROADCAST: Dec. 3, 1996 | DURATION: 00:52:44
Chicago Sun-Times film critic and author Roger Ebert discusses his book "Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, The Finest Writing From A Century of Film" (published by Norton); reads passages from his book.
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Studs Terkel We're continuing this hour, the second hour with Roger Ebert based on the comments, reflections based on his book, recent book, "Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the Finest Writing From a Century of Film" and Norton the publishers. Yesterday we talked about Chaplin and Keaton and Garbo and early films and Fields and "Citizen Kane", and we continue in that vein now talking about films. Naturally, the one staple, if there's one staple in movies and one theme continues all over the world, is an American theme and yet probably is, except the [university?], that's the Western.
Roger Ebert Yes. The Western is one of the three American genres: the western, the musical, and film noir, although it's ironic that it took the French to give us a name for film noir, but the western, of course, is the story of our early history, because from the very moment of the first settlers on the east coast of America, it was always the West that beckoned: "Go West, young man." And what's interesting here is that the essay on the Western is by Andre Bazin, who was the French film critic, one of the founders of "Cahiers du Cinema", the influential film magazine. And they find in -- and the French in particular found in westerns an artistry that we didn't respect because of course, American intellectuals during the '30s and '40s and into the '50s condescended to the Western. And it took the French to point out that the films of John Ford and Howard Hawks and actors like John Wayne were true artistic figures even though they might not be the ones that we would want to embrace. In fact, elsewhere in this book I have an essay by Joan Didion about John Wayne. That's her favorite, her favorite movie star is John Wayne.
Studs Terkel Oh, anything, it could be Renaissance painting, could be politics, of course, any aspect. But back to the figure that is Wayne but also the theme -- Of the subject that is the Western. And also is based on a myth, too, the individual on his own where we know there is a tremendous community effort against that which would destroy a community that was throughout there, too. But it's always again, it's the lone cowboy. The image that Henry Kissinger had of himself, the lone cowboy.
Roger Ebert Yes, the Western may have done us harm as well as good in terms of supplying us with national archetypes. I think that the notion that a guy rides in on his horse with his six-shooter and straightens everything out is attractive but not very realistic.
Studs Terkel But nonetheless, the appeal of it, the appeal was the direction, both the appeal and the landscape, too. You mentioned the French, my wife's sister was married to an Italian artist, Alberto [Burri?]. His first wish on coming to America, was to see a Western. And I remember Henry Fonda's "Tin Star"; was it "Tin Star"?
Roger Ebert Yeah.
Roger Ebert Also, the western gives you a a format within which you can tell all kinds of stories. It's very simple because it takes place in an empty place. If there's a town, it's a small town, it's surrounded by the frontier so that you can have people kind of outlined against the horizon whose, whose character descriptions and whose problems and whose goals are very simple, and using that as your starting place. You can tell almost any kind of story, you can do Greek tragedy, you can of course the Japanese films have been remade into westerns. Shakespeare has been remade into westerns. It's a genre that can accept input from almost any kind or --
Roger Ebert Yes,
Roger Ebert But on, the funny thing is, not only did the "Seven Samurai" become "The Magnificent Seven", but to some degree, Japanese samurai movies in the first place were influenced by American westerns. What they did was they looked at early westerns. You know, Tom Mix and William S. Hart. And then they looked at their own history and they saw the samurai and said, "Well, this is the Japanese cowboy." And so although they had samurai stories going back for centuries, their early samurai films were very much influenced by movies from America.
Studs Terkel But it was not just a cowboy, the noble cowboy, which also has I think Warshaw in your book points out, a redemption theme, too, there's the girl Not the sweet-faced girl, but the true heroine, a girl who has a bad life who reforms. Claire Trevor, of course, was the actress. She was the one to most -- Play that role. She was in "Stagecoach", too. The girl prostitute, the bad girl who somehow is heroic at the end and generous.
Roger Ebert Well, women in the West are usually come in two types: either you have the prostitute or you have the schoolmarm who puts up the picket fences and calls everybody to Sunday school lessons on Sunday. And they were the civilizing influences, the schoolmarm in a more conventional way, but the prostitute also, of course, tried to enforce behavior in the saloon or in the bordello that she ran and you had to check your guns at the door, or no swearing around the ladies, they had this kind of genteel image that they tried to impose on the rough character of the western cowboy.
Studs Terkel Now in contrast to that, this seems to go on forever and ever, the Western. The contrast that we have, not in contrast, along with the gangster film, and now we come to "Public Enemy" and "Little Caesar", don't we?
Studs Terkel Well, of course the American gangster movies had an interesting influence on reality and you probably know we have a mutual friend named Jay Robert Nash who has written a lot of books about crime. He claims that in the '30s a lot of gangsters learned how to talk and behave by going to the movies. And that writers like Ben Hecht who wrote some of those great early gangster movies wrote this dialogue, you know, made it up, put it on the screen. All the gangsters went down to the Biograph or the Chicago or the State-Lake and they lapped it up and then they walked out of the theater and started to walk and talk like Jimmy Cagney.
Studs Terkel That's the theme you and I recreated the hour before that's when they came a couple of guys came to visit. When he wrote the film "Scarface" and Hecht at the time was involved with several films, came to came to to Hollywood shortly after "The Front Page", "Underworld", one of the early films and he was involved with that, too, but somehow they're always paying that debt. When Edward G. Robinson as Rico, you know, Little Caesar, says --
Studs Terkel Toward the end, "Mother of God, could this be the end of Rico?" Of course, it was so anti-foreign, by the way, the words used, the attitude of the detective who shoots, who kills Rico at the end, is the most jingoistic, vicious, anti-foreign stuff. Anti-Italian, of course, but it's so vile, you listen to it now, this guy's comments were beyond anybody's.
Roger Ebert Well, there was a lot of isolationism going on in America in the '30s and it found its expression in the popular movies where foreigners were often seen in a very suspicious way. Japanese, for example were often characterized as --
Studs Terkel But now that leads to other matters, of the blacklist itself, what happened during the witchhunt days when we're looking at film for for red propaganda. That was part of it, too. And you quote, there's a great quote of Lela Rogers who was a friendly witness for the, and authoritative one sounding, for the House Un-American Activities Committee, a footnote on page four-o-eight. And whenever, the mother of Ginger Rogers, the quote about, "What is the some of the stuff these reds are trying to sneak into films?" And there's a footnote at the bottom, nice if you could read that, the footnote on the bottom of page 408.
Roger Ebert Now let's see here, "In her testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Miss Lela, Lela Rogers said that the movie 'None But the Lonely Heart' was un-American because it was gloomy. Like so much else that was said during the unhappy investigation of Hollywood, this statement was at once stupid and illuminating. One knew immediately what Mrs. Rodgers was talking about, she had simply been insensitive enough to carry her philistinism to its conclusion."
Studs Terkel Well, no, that is a film written by Clifford Odets, who was a playwright for the left-wing theatre, the Group Theatre, and that was one of his early films, but that she's also known for a great comment. "Kitty Foyle", Chris Morley's novel, starring her daughter Ginger Rogers, won all sorts of awards, "That is a red film because the line on it, Kitty has a line in it, 'Share and share alike. That's democracy." That of course she considered. So that's also part of the history of movies we're talking about.
Roger Ebert I was looking on page 728 where we have a memoir of the blacklist by Howard Koch, who co-authored "Casablanca" and he talks about those days, too. It was a terrible time when when people could be denounced. And you know what the worst of it was. I mean, if there were people who sincerely believed this, then that was one thing, but you could pay someone to get your name taken off the list.
Studs Terkel It was a racket, of course, called red channels, others, but you mentioned "Casablanca", that, of course, becomes one of the films and that shows you where the piece of music, of course, you have Sam "Dooley" Wilson at the piano, and that's always associated with "Casablanca" and that, of course, again dealt with certain themes, this guy, Bogart's hero Rick, was someone we assume now we're told maybe he took part in the Spanish Civil War on the Loyalists' side. Not a mercenary, but someone who believed in certain things and then was stunned somewhere along the line and became cynical and sardonic but the generosity -- It's just a touch of this just -- I'm sure it'll make "Casablanca" fans happy.
Studs Terkel That may be the most familiar song in the history of films, possibly. On that subject, brief moments, Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director, he speaks of those films to him, they're recapturing a certain vivid, though brief, moments.
Roger Ebert That's what he wants to do, capture memory, capture imagination, and capture the human face. He told me, and I quote him here in my introduction to the selection from his autobiography, that for him, in film the most beautiful thing is the human face. He said that he was watching a documentary on television about Antonioni and Antonioni was talking about his movie "The Passenger" and they showed some scenes from the passenger but Bergman said, "For me, what was more interesting than the scenes from the movie were just the close ups of Antonioni's face." What it said about him.
Studs Terkel That's funny. One of my favorite Bergman films, not the favorite of many others, is "Wild Strawberries", talking about faces. It's an old man, I forgot the actor's name, the old actor, ex-director played this role and the old man remade it.
Roger Ebert Yes.
Studs Terkel And he does not become the small boy in the flashbacks of childhood, he is the old man remembering his mother, remembering he's not the young, remembering his wife's betrayal of him but he says, "Oh, that face!" That face was so -- as just as you speak of faces. This was Fellini. Fellini also cast fa -- I have a friend, I had a friend named Lou Gilbert, [Giggy?], and he's an actor, you know. And one day he went to Italy to horse around and he met Fellini. He auditioned, Fellini says "I will cast you immediately, like your face." He was the grandfather in "Giulietta of the Spirits" [sic, the English title was "Juliet of the Spirits"], that was my old friend and he went, I said "What did he do?" "He didn't do anything, he looked at me, he says you're in the movie." He looked for cert -- Faces. So we come to Fellini, don't we?
Roger Ebert Fellini, the great -- You know, we've lost so many great directors in the last 10 years, and he was he was one of the few that gets an adjective: Felliniesque. Because you could look at any 30 seconds from a Fellini film and know that it was a Fellini film; the music, the the fascination with strange characters, strange types, the memory, the nostalgia, the grotesques, the exaggerated people, the elements of the circus, and the elements of Rome.
Studs Terkel Nino Rota. We hear this and immediately "La Dolce Vita" comes to mind. We hear this toward the end of the film, there's a friend that she's a mistress of a guy who works with the director of Marcello and there's a party, the sweet life, the decadent life, and there's a party and there's a dance. And she danced sort of a strip dance, sort of semi. And here's the music: [Music from "La Dolce Vita"].
Roger Ebert And I see them at dawn walking down to the beach after the all-night party exhausted going down to the beach to see what the fishermen have found. You know, "La Dolce Vita" is one of my really personally favorite films. It takes this character of the gossip columnist in Rome and uses him --
Studs Terkel Marcello.
Roger Ebert Marcello. And called 'Marcello', and uses him as a seeker. He wants to do something good, he wants to write a book, maybe, but instead he's caught up in "La Dolce Vita", the sweet life, and he has his friend Steiner, who he admires so much, and then Steiner commits suicide.
Studs Terkel I have to tell you about an adventure. When I went I went to see Fellini in Rome and at the Cinecitta, and I asked him why did you choose a gossip columnist as your protagonist? He says, "Because he is the Herodotus of our day." The news that most get, feed news, comes from a gossip columnist, and about Steiner's, there's this man, this gossip columnist admires the psychiatrist, this Dr. Steiner who in the midst of what seems to be 'the sweet life' commits suicide. So I try to find out why, so I asked Fellini, "Why did you? Why did he commit suic --?" "I don't know. I just felt like having him do it." So I asked Marcello, "Why do you think he did it?" I asked Mastroianni, I was going around like a detective. He's "I don't know. Fellini told me to do so." And finally I came to Alain Cuny, the French actor --
Studs Terkel He did Steiner. This is a little Paris theater, I'm seeing him there in this dressing room, and I said, "Why did, why did, why do you think he did it?" Here I am, thinking he's -- "Well, Fellini said do it!" So there it's in his head. It was in his head. But my favorite film, I knew "La Dolce Vita" hit me, I still go back to the simplest of his films, "La Strada."
Studs Terkel Strong man. This sort of slow-witted girl with him. But when she died, he missed that trumpet she played and ever there were a study, I think of the guys at the hotel where I was raised and some guy getting drunk, finally gets struck, you knew, one dayas you see Quinn, as Zampanno, this guy being kicked out of a bar, he falls down. He's at the beach, crying, you know one day his head's gonna hit the rock and he's gonna, that's it. You know this is going to happen. But the study in loneli -- I said, I don't remember seeing anything quite like that.
Roger Ebert There are some people who, of course, are purists who say that Fellini went downhill after "La Strada", that his earlier films were more in the neorealist tradition, and starting with "La Dolce Vita" he got too, I don't know, too fancy, too elaborate. I like "La Dolce Vita" the best and of course you have great films like "8 1/2" -- And
Studs Terkel "Amarcord", one of the other favorites, "Amarcord", which is the only autobiographical film, too. We're talking to Roger Ebert, the end of reel one of this Part 2, it's a two-hour program, this is the second hour. "Roger Ebert's Book of Film", it's a compendium, it's a gathering of all sorts of writing, the writings of the directors, memories of actors, the writings of critics, as well, throughout, and the very beginnings of it, and writings of observers of the scene generally. So we'll pick up with some more about other directors, other figures, and other thoughts about movies. And finally, you as a critic, your thoughts to wind this up. And so as I just in a cursory fashion cut through your book, Stanley Kubrick. Now we come to Stan and this talk here, I forget who was talk -- he's talking about 2001 and the work he does on that. So we come to Kubrick and his approach and "Strangelove" [sic], of course.
Roger Ebert Kubrick is one of the great hermits of the cinema. He lives over there in England. He never gives interviews. He never does press. He never travels. He shot an entire Vietnam War film in England, importing palm trees. He's a perfectionist. And he makes these films that seem to have an elegance and an intelligence that you don't often see in the cinema. "Dr. Strangelove", of course, the great anti-bomb black comedy, with Slim Pickens riding down to earth on a bomb.
Studs Terkel In "2001", and here is the one, that's the reason I chose that, now. I never forgot, it was a Kubrick film, not the greatest war film ever made, but a great film. I think of -- You mentioned, you've got Renoir we'll come back to Kubrick in a moment. You have Renoir. Can you speak?
Roger Ebert "Grand Illusion." Renoir says, "You spend an evening listening to records and the result is a film. I cannot say that it was French Baroque music that inspired me to make 'The Rules of the Game', but certainly it played a part in making me wish to film the sort of people who danced to that music." And so he shows this house party in the countryside, the rich aristocrats and their servants and the game poachers. In the 1930s as Naziism is beginning to spread its shadow across Europe and the dance goes on. But soon the music is going to end.
Studs Terkel And here's that music and there's a piece in the harmonica, for example, in "Grand Illusion" that's very moving. But to me, come back to Kubrick, that's why I raised this, "Paths of Glory", which is based upon a World War I incident, a real one. I remember reading the novel as a kid by Humphrey Cobb, in which the French stupid generals insist on storming storming the hill and there isn't a ghost of a chance and they were, they retreated, finally, many guys killed. They had a lottery. So in that film at the very end, they retake a town back and forth, the French Germans and they got the Germans have been kicked out of the town. The French took it over and a little German girl was on stage there and they're hooting and they're howling, a pretty girl, and she's starts singing this song, and this song haunts me, I hear now when an old German woman sing it, or I hear it on the record, I immediately think of the last reel of "Paths of Glory." And this is the girl gets up and sings this song, and the guys, we follow their face, suddenly the sound of it. And the poignance of her voice makes them so homesick. And this is the song: [German song, concludes with girl speaking in English: "Studs, it ain't the path of glory, but."] That's, to me, and I still am moved by that so deeply. And I always think of this, we'll come back to Roger, to the theme, the overlying underlying theme of your book, is the power of a film and memory.
Roger Ebert The film to fix the memory, so that sometimes the film becomes the memory and encapsulates things, and there's music associated so often with the great moments in movies. As I was thinking of that song from "Paths of Glory", a World War I song. And then, of course, we also played you must remember this "As Time Goes By" from World War II. And then when you think of the war in Vietnam you think of "Apocalypse Now" with the songs of The Doors. Each war gets songs that kind of express the feeling and of course, The Doors, the songs are more doom-laden.
Studs Terkel See, the thing about this other film, the one I just remember, talking about, "Paths of Glory", this song we just heard, it's about the loss of youth, and about death. Oh, by the way, it's about death. It's called "The True Hussar" [sic], "The Faithful Hussar", his girl, this young girl whom he loves dies, and he remembers to be faithful to her forever and ever and ever. And on the previous program we had we had "Uta no Goldola", that song in "Ikiru", and that's about youth as fleet, as gone, and which reminds me of something else, and youth has gone and he and I are old.
Roger Ebert You know it's funny, because great films and just ordinary popular films both can take a place in our imagination. When you were talking about youth is gone, I was thinking of, there's an essay in my book by John Updike about Doris Day. Doris Day is his favorite actress and I was thinking "Young at Heart"; "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you're young at heart." Now, that -- "Young at Heart" is not a great film, but it's one of my favorite films because of the song and also because of the tone and spirit of the film.
Roger Ebert Well, she was singing on the road with Les Brown at the age of 15 and a half. In fact there's another essay in the book by Oscar Levant, who says, "I have been in Hollywood so long I remember Doris Day before she was a virgin."
Studs Terkel That's very funny. So, funny how we think of these songs and pieces of music. And again, we'll come back to the United States, which is in a sense where the films had their flowering. It's huge, of course, the role of American films in other countries. For example, India, we think naturally those who have seen "Pata" [sic, refers to "Pather Panchali"], who have seen Satyajit Ray films, like this marvelous director. But in most of India they make their own films of course, a lot of shoddy ones but is that as in other countries the American film that is the most popular?
Roger Ebert American films are the gold standard for movies around the world, for better or for worse. We don't always export the very -- We don't always make very good films, but certainly all over the world American films are are admired, and you're looking here at the essay by Satyajit Ray, who, you know, that day that he made the first shot in that film was the first day he'd ever directed a single foot of the film.
Roger Ebert It was also the first day that his cinematographer had ever used a camera. And they went out in a field and they shot the two children in the field of kind of wildflowers looking at the train go past, and they went back a week later to get another shot and all the flowers had had withered and died. They had to wait another year to get the next shot. I mean, they did some other stuff in between, but they had to wait another year to complete that scene. And I mentioned in my introduction to Satyajit Ray's piece that at the Hawaii film festival a few years ago, every year Eastman Kodak gives an award to a great cinematographer and they invited a man named Subrata Mitra who was Ray's cinematographer on that film and he got up to give a speech and he didn't thank Satyajit Ray, he didn't thank Eastman Kodak, he didn't thank any person. He thanked his camera, and he thanked his film, the workman thanking his tools. I thought it was very touching.
Studs Terkel But to me again, a key moment seeing "Pather Panchali", the first one of the trilogy, is when the girl dies, and the mother, the central figure, Apu's mother, is is crying out. It's like the silent shriek of the Munch painting. And she cries out, you don't hear her voice. You hear the sitar of Ravi Shankar. See, the soundtrack was Ravi Shankar's sitar, and as she cries out it's not her voice but that sitar moan was so stunning and so overladen with grief. Again the use of a sound and imagination and not the voice. And of course he spoke of, I remember seeing "The Music Room." A sad commentary.
Studs Terkel I wanted to go interview him, and I did, and he says, I said, the question the students, it was at Mandel Hall.there was a showing, University of Chicago and I was so moved by the fact that very simple film, the theme was the end of a certain moment in the life, the guy, at the end of the young wastrel, the maharajah, he's not much good but there's a certain culture involved at the dances in the music and a money changer takes over. It's the end of a certain moment and the beginning of another, a shoddy moment. And so you feel sad for this wastrel of a certain time it's gone. So this is so people ask that question of the young student and all they ask was, "How did you raise the money for the film? What sort of shot did you take? How did you --?" Not a word about the film. He said, "Well, that's the way it is.
Roger Ebert Oh, you know I saw one of his early films at the New York Film Festival; actually, not one of his early films one of his films in the late '60s and one of these same kinds of people got up and said, "Well, now in the Apu trilogy you never moved your camera. It was all stationary setups. Now you move the camera all the time." It was "Big City", was the movie that they were talking about. "Why have you moved your ca --Why have you started to move your camera?" And he smiled, and his answer was, "We finally got enough money to rent some decent equipment."
Studs Terkel Talking to Roger Ebert and this is the second hour of the conversation about his book that that evokes these particular thoughts "Roger Ebert's Book of Film", and the subtitle is "From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the Finest Writing From a Century of Film" and the writing is in all forms writing by novelists and writing by critics and thoughts about actors and about directors and Norton the publishers, and we'll pick up with the the third reel of the second hour or the seventh reel. We haven't talked about other aspects in the book. Our columnist friend, Mike Royko, John Belushi, knew -- Mike knew John Belushi as a kid in Chicago and Belushi did a film about a columnist, he plays the columnist, and Royko wrote a column about that. And he was he was of mixed emotions.
Roger Ebert It was a column from 1981 and the name of the movie was "Continental Divide" and John Belushi played a columnist for "The Chicago Sun-Times." Obviously based on Royko and the funny thing was that Belushi didn't have to look far for his information on Royko because he had known Royko since he was, since Belushi was a little boy, and Royko had been a friend of the Belushi family and particularly of John's uncle and aunt. And so Royko went to the movie and he says, "100 people have asked me for my reaction to the movie "Continental Divide. It isn't that I'm a movie expert, because I'm not, I just like to look at them, especially the ones with Bo Derek." But he kind of feels that, "As much as I like Belushi personally," he says, "I think the producers might have made a mistake in casting me. I think Paul Newman would have made a better choice. Although he's older than I am and in appearance we're different because he has blue eyes and mine are brownish green."
Roger Ebert Yeah.
Studs Terkel You've got everything in the book, here. Incidentally they're writings, special writings, I remembered Lillian Ross, the critic working for "The New Yorker" covered the disaster of what would have been a remarkable film, "Red Badge of Courage" --
Roger Ebert The book was published just, the official publication date was just in the middle of late November, and they had a signing or an autographing or a launching party or whatever you want to call it at Elaine's in New York. And Lillian Ross came to that event, and there was such a thrill for me to meet her because she really invented the kind of journalism that is now used not only to write about movies but to write about a lot of other things where you spend time absorbing the drama, the personalities ,the behind-the-scenes stuff of good reporting and certainly her book called "Picture", it was called "Picture", and it was about "The Red Badge of Courage" directed by John Huston, starred Bill Mauldin, our friend from Chicago, and Audy Murphy based on the novel by Stephen Crane, and a disaster, a great disaster, although nobody will ever know what it would have looked like if we could have ever seen the original cut that John Huston delivered because it was interfered with so much by the studio in terms of changing the music changing the ending cutting out 40 percent of the scenes that the result was very hard to to judge.
Roger Ebert She has a long conversation with John Kobal, who -- I don't know if you ever met John, he was on the jury of the Chicago Film Festival for many years in the '70s and Mae really opened up to him, although she still stayed in character, and Kobal points out that she really based the Mae West character on Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell, two people who were out of her childhood, so that the people seeing her didn't really know who her character was based on. But she was putting herself on, in a way, she was she she she exuded a kind of sexuality that was innocent in its naughtiness.
Studs Terkel Brendan Gill, of "The New Yorker" has a piece on blue movies, and here he comes through with something rather fascinating today: the big draw, the most exciting films are not about sex, they're all about violence.
Roger Ebert He seems to feel it would be better if we had more sex and less violence. That's one of the pieces I'm pleased with of the many, there are 114 selections in this anthology, and Brendan Gill wrote, who is the drama critic for "The New Yorker", wrote this essay called "Blue Notes" for a little film magazine and he talked about going to pornographic movies in Manhattan in the '70s. And of course, that's something that not a lot of people would admit to, certainly not respectable drama critics. But his message is, there is a kind, at least he feels there is a kind of humanity and honesty and frankness in these movies that he values in addition to their erotic qualities and that why is it that when you see people making love with each other it has to be in a little seedy theater where people go in with their hats pulled low across their face. But if you make a movie where people kill each other, then everybody lines up in the sunlight and goes in, and it doesn't matter.
Studs Terkel Ernst Lubitsch is known as the director of these light and very sophisticated and very sardonic and quite witty films, I remember him bringing bringing Maurice Chevalier here in "The Smiling Lieutenant" and other films, but she was a tough customer.
Roger Ebert "She hated it. 'I will not allow one picture to be shown. Rosita, Rosita, Oh, I detested that picture. I disliked the director Ernst Lubitsch as much as he disliked me.'" She brought him over. She ran her company. She was a very powerful woman in the early days of the movies. She and Douglas Pickford and --
Roger Ebert They started United Artists, and so this man came over and they didn't get along for one second and finally she went into his office and she said, "You see, I have come into your office. I've not asked you to come into my office. But I am the boss on this picture. I paid for your ticket and your wife's ticket to come to America. I'm paying your salary it's me who's up on the screen and I'm the one who's going to have the final say." Because they had big big arguments and she quotes him, she's merciless with his accent.
Studs Terkel And she's tough. She says, "We're going to do Faust with Lubitsch superv --", but mother (Mary Pickford's mother) didn't know the story of Faust, so Lubitsch told her, 'Yeah, she has a baby and she's not married. So she strangles the baby.' And mother said, 'What?! What was that?' 'Well, Marguerite is not married. She has a baby. So she strangles it.' 'Not my daughter', said my mother, outraged. 'No, sir!' So I didn't make Faust."
Roger Ebert Just as well. I don't see Mary Pickford strangling a baby. There's another thing, she wanted to make "Dorothy Vernon" which was the story that involved Dorothy Vernon, Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. And this was the picture that she brought Lubitsch over to film. He gets to America, he doesn't want to make it. She says, "You read the script." He says, "Yeah, I don't like it." She said, "Well, why didn't you say that in Germany?" "Vell, now I'm telling you." She says, "What's wrong with Dorothy Vernon?" and Lubitsch says, "There is too many queens, and not enough queens."
Roger Ebert I have a selection from "Lulu in Hollywood" which is her famous book. This is one of the best-written books about movies, movie stars, and being in the movies. Louise Brooks. of course, was in two famous movies, "Pandora's Box" and "Diary of a Lost Girl", both of them filmed in Berlin by Pabst. She was a great star in the '20s, she fell into obscurity and into poverty and into disgrace and then was discovered in the '60s by a film curator at Eastman House in Rochester, James Card, who brought her to Rochester where she wrote this wonderful, wonderful book recalling her early days and also talking about people she had worked with, such as Humphrey Bogart, who she worked on the Broadway stage with. A wonderful face. Can't you see her face right now in your mind's eye?
Studs Terkel She has also the way of describing films in which she plays this prostitute. Never done that way before, but someone who just loathes and despises her work and thus all humanity, for that matter. But there's a wit behind it and she was starving. I remember Kenneth Tynan did a remarkable piece about her way back. So she speaks of this director, G.W. Pabst, and I remember seeing a movie years ago, "Kameradschaft", "Comradeship", shortly after World War I, a movie about a mine disaster on the French -- Franco-German border and the miners helping one another, the French miners rescuing the German miners and German miners helping them, and this is Pabst. But we have to come before -- this is the end of our third reel. I got one more reel to go. So we've got to get in Groucho Marx's letters to Warner Brothers about a certain film called "Casablanca", "One Night in Casablanca." And by the way, we just have to mention Roger Ebert's book, we haven't talked about old movie actors, old comics like John Bunny. In fact, just at the same time as Chaplin, we haven't talked about various other directors, one of your favorites, Hitchcock, of course, and John Houseman's thoughts about Welles and and Nathaniel West, we have to come to that, probably end with that Nathaniel West's thoughts about how -- the remarkable novel called "Day of the Locust", but this is "Roger Ebert's Book of Film", and last reel coming up. And so, Roger we wound up, we gone about an hour and three quarters now, two nights
Studs Terkel Going, and what other aspects of it we could touch about now, just briefly, you ment -- Perhaps, with a novel by Nathaniel West. Nathaniel West wrote "Miss Lonelyhearts." And then he wrote "Day of the Locust" which is a study of what? Just of a fan, an extra, and his obsession.
Studs Terkel 733.
Studs Terkel 733 is an excerpt from "Day of the Locust" and it's about the surreal quality, the almost nightmarish quality of a guy kind of finds this actress, this starlet. This guy hung around films, was an extra or a or a handyman around and about, and as he goes to the set sees it all -- We talk about reality and fantasy, aren't we? He comes across various sets, can be a Babylonian cities [in?] or a Western city's [in?] or big cities' [in?].
Roger Ebert Goes past it through a desert, gets to a Western town, The Last chance Saloon, next to that he can see a water buffalo, then an Arab charge by on a white stallion. Then he saw a truck with a load of snow and several malamute dogs. He went through the swinging doors of the saloon and finds himself in Paris.
Studs Terkel And these are all the sets on the back lot, and it's mixed up with the reality and this is what we're talk -- This basically is the essence of what we're talking about, isn't it, throughout? The dream sequence that Scorsese mentioned, the moments --
Studs Terkel And so we have the film in reality and we have to have Groucho Marx. When we mention producers and the role they've played, one way or another, and so we come to Groucho Marx and his letters. This is after the smash of "Casablanca."
Roger Ebert Well, the Warner Brothers had a big hit called "Casablanca" and then the Marx Brothers decided to make a movie called "A Night in Casablanca." And they got a letter from the Warner Brothers offering to sue them for using the word 'Casablanca.' So Groucho, page 751, he wrote back to the Warner Brothers. He says, "You claim you own 'Casablanca' and that no one else can use that name without your permission. Well, what about Warner Brothers? Do you own that, too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor's eye. Even before us, there have been other brothers, the Smiths brothers, the brothers Karamazov, Dan Brothers. an outfielder with Detroit and 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?' This was originally, 'Brothers, Can You Spare a Dime?', but this was spreading a dime pretty thin, so they threw out one brother, gave all the money to the other one, and whittled it down to 'Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'"
Studs Terkel Now, the Warner Brothers lawyers didn't know how to take this, was he serious or not? So he writes, "Dear Warners", I guess "Dear Warners" 'cause he can't say "Warner Brothers", he did that [and here it is?]: "Dear Warners, there isn't much I can tell you about the story. In it" -- the one they have -- "I play a doctor of divinity who ministers to the natives and as a sideline he he does what? He makes can openers and pea jackets to the savages and on the Gold Coast of Africa. When I first meet Chico he's working in a saloon selling sponges to barflies who aren't able to carry their liquor. Harpo is an Arabian caddy caddy who lives in a small Grecian urn on the outskirts of the city." And it goes on, and still it says, "Still they weren't quite -- The attorneys couldn't quite figure out the story and naturally they asked him to explain more, so he's "Dear Brothers" -- Now it's "Dear Brothers" -- Since I wrote you I regret to say there have been some changes in the plot of our new picture, "A Night in Casablanca"; in the new version, I play Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart, Harpo and Chico are itinerant rug peddlers who are weary of laying rugs and enter a monastery just for a lark. That's a good joke on them, as there hasn't been a lark in the place 15 years." And it goes on. But the -- But the -- His his gags are not quite comprehensible to the lawyers. So we have that aspect, we have to --
Studs Terkel There were two minds at work and I was I was thinking of other aspects of the book that we haven't touched on again come to movies, you mentioned you touched on some early films, little-known foreign films, there used to be Cinema Theatre here in Chicago, and before that it was, it had another name and way way back in the '30s saw movies there and one was the Danish director Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc."
Studs Terkel Italian actress, Falconetti. Falconetti, yes. Now, why do I think of that film every time I hear Franck, Franck's D Minor Symphony? Because it was a silent film, but they added a soundtrack later. There was a music track, and it was Franck's D Minor, had a certain movement and I couldn't find it now for the for this purpose. There's a certain movement in it when she is on, in her bed, Joan, the Bishop of Beauvais, played by a marvelous Italian actor, I can still see the wart against his nose, he wants her to recant. To recant so she will not suffer the fires of hell, she's about to be burned at the stake and she does not, but as she's on the bed suffering this fever, she is being bled, too, the music is heard and every time I hear that symphony I think of the movie. So again we come to the power of the film, don't we?
Roger Ebert The face. Her face, Falconetti's face, in that black and white cinematography, you'll never be able to forget her, kind of like her passion shining through. And I think it was the only picture she ever made.
Studs Terkel But that was, again, the power of movies, in a sense that's the theme of Roger Ebert's book, a book of film, and it's encyclopedic and I know nothing like this, the ground that it covers. And Norton are the publishers. You know how to close this with a movie? I think of Chaplin again, and "Modern Times", he wrote the music. And that's just seen at the pictures. And this, you hear the music, you know it's Chaplin, just you know Nino Rota's music is Fellini, you know the sitar of Ravi Shankar is of Satyajit Ray.