Page 8, 24th December 1982

24th December 1982
Page 8
Page 8, 24th December 1982 — Building up a chronicle of the growth of film-making

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Locations: Natal, London


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Building up a chronicle of the growth of film-making

The Unquiet Man by Dan Ford (William Kimber, £11.50). Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg (Souvenir Press, £9.95).

The Noel Coward Diaries, edited by Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £15.00).

Coward the Playwright by John Lahr (Methuen, £3.95).

Mahatma Gandhi by Chadra Kumar and Mohinder Puri (Heinemann Casad, £8.95).

The Story of Cinema by David Shipman, Volume One (Hodder and Stoughton, Limp, £5.95, £14.95).

AS BIOGRAPHY and autobiography, these books proceed in more or less chronological order. This is a welcome relief after seeing so many contemporary movies

apparently made as kaleidoscopes of image and sensation for the viewer to sort out. Two of them, The Unquiet Man and Moving Pictures tell parallel stories of the growingup of the protagonists and of the Hollywood where they grew.

The Unquiet Man is the late great director, John Ford. Son of an Irish immigrant saloon keeper, and almost a foundermember of the film colony, Ford from The Iron Horse (1924) became the director of half a century of Western masterpieces. With such other triumphs as The Informer, Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and many more, Ford probably achieved the widest range of first-rate movies among his 136 films of any one director.

The Western received a fresh, mid-term impetus from the incomparable Stagecoach (1938) which also marked the beginning both of Ford's long association with John Wayne as his star and protege; and his discovery of the spectacular Monument Valley, Utah as the ideal location with its mysterious desert structures of rock and sand. He was to come back and use it for innumerable Westerns all the way through to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and My Darling Clementine until he knew the very roads as well as he came to know the Navajo Indians whose

territory it was. Characteristically Ford insisted on the Indians being paid at full Hollywood rates, his friends for all future Westerns.

Ford has been duly acclaimed all over the world in awards and literary tributes, here notably in the fine book by Lindsey Anderson, critic and • fellowdirector. Dan Ford, author of the present study of his life and works is his grandson, who declares his intent to concentrate on the personal, family and professional aspects. The relationship enables him to bring a whole new dimension to the task. The element of family piety allows him an intimacy — ever discreet — in assessing Ford's "fifty-ear-long but less than ideal marriage" with its ups and downs and interruptions. There is a grand-filial affectionate, tolerance of his grandfather's notorious quirks and foibles; his hard drinking (alcohol had been a problem for John Ford since his twenties), hard swearing, his passion for boats (he tried to make his yacht Araner the nucleus of a Hollywood yacht club). Dan Ford even examines his grandfather's motives for his bullying of actors, even favourite actors; or his tricks for getting the better of producers like Zanuck; and his near-greed for medals and martial glory.

John Ford had a passion for the Navy and a distinguished war record for his "Field Photographic Unit" operating even into China on official and unofficial missions. He retired from the Naval Reserve with the more or less honorary title of Admiral. Understandably he was prouder of this, of his Legion of Merit Medal, of Freedom (presented by Richard Nixon) and of any other service honour he succeeded in collecting and after the war enjoyed dressing up in uniform to wear, prouder than of his five Oscars.

As a lifelong Hollywood resident, Dan Ford knew how to appreciate John Ford's consummate craftsmanship, but he rather appreciates his grandfather's human qualities, the fidelity to old friends and colleagues, the tendency to form family-users of the casts and crews. Not forgetting his selfconscious and determined Irishness.

The sub-title of Moving Pictures is "Memoirs of a Hollywood Prince". Budd Schulberg is the son of B.P. Schulberg, one of the early producers for Famous PlayersLasky the studio which became Paramount. Buddy came to America steerage in the arms of his mother, as members of that other immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe who clambered from their fur or glove sales to give Hollywood its first decades of "Moguls". Buddy recalls their rivalries and partnerships from his child's-eye memory or from reference to an unpublished article by his father, "B.P.". He recalls as blackmail the hard bargaining over contracts by Mary Pickford, the "World's Sweetheart" and her mother, Charlotte; or that Adolph Zukor was a benevolent adopted uncle.

The chronicle is milestoned by the little boy's birthdays. "In 1916, when I was two", The Birth of a Nation had been acclaimed and the creative producers had just been accorded victory in the High Court over the Trusts, a victory seen as the cinema's day of independence, clearing the way for its development from Hale's Tours or other sideshow to "the art-form of the poor". The studio backlots were the little prince's playground and in those pre-Union days Edich von Stroheim could make crews work all night.

Budd himself would become an eminent screenwriter notably for Elia Karan (I Cover the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd) Hollywood Prince was singularly well placed to gather material and train his judgment for this lively and illuminating record of top level studio gossip and technical development.

The Schulberg tradition regarded the real pioneer founder of the American cinema as Erwin Porter, the humble camera mechanic who made the first "story film", The Life of an American Fireman, then slipped quietly out, thinking he could not live up to the grand artists Zukor was engaging, like Sarah Bernhardt. Sarah on seeing the first film of her as Queen Elizabeth (I) is said to have exclaimed "Oh, Mr Zukor

you have put the best of me in pickle for all time".

Noel Coward was without doubt one of the supreme entertainers of our time. Undeniably he was a man of the theatre rather than of the cinema. Neither Mr Coward in the huge volume of his Diaries (1945-1969) or John Lahr author of the small smart paperback approaches films in depth. The omission is surprising for Coward has been an influence in films since his debut in The Scoundrel. The diaries show him understandably proud of Brief Encounter calling Celia Johnson "quite wonderful" and Trevor Howard "fine" and an obvious new star. After praising the acting and direction, Coward ends with a characteristic pat on

his own back: "And let's face it, beautifully written".

He admired Carol Reed and David Lean the directors, David Lean sometimes seemed to complement Coward's play, in This Happy Breed and Brief Moment, Lean's was head to Coward's heart.

Surprisingly, Coward shared two important characteristics with John Ford, beside their professional pre-eminence: their gift for friendship especially fidelity to old friends; and their passion for the Navy expressed by Coward in his great film inspired by the loss of H.M.S. Kelly, In Which We Serve. He was of course enormously proud of its international success, and is working on the film in the prologue to these diaries.

A heavy tome of mostly light writing, it is a real feast of highlevel gossip, theatrical, social and of course Royal, with his visits to and from Clarence House "to dinner with the darling Queen Mother", or to Kensington to cosy dinner with Princess Margaret and Tony. But in all the records of the high life he loved so much, Coward never lets slip the integrity of his professional judgment and taste, justification of Lahr's sharper judgment that all Coward's "comedies of bad manners" were the flip side of his profound belief in good manners and good taste as solvents of society.

Coward writes at once candidly and lovingly of his lifelong friend and co-star Gertie Lawrence: "For all her overplayings and silliness she never did a mean or unkind thing", and even in a play he thought dreadful he wrote: Gertie beyond praise. I have never seen her play so beautifully or with such heart and truth". I shall treasure even more his prognosis of his other old friend Beatrice Lillie (who made me laugh more than any other clown) wanting to star in

the musical version of Blithe Spirit. "She will bring to it star

quality, moments of genius and little or no acting ability, but I'll settle". Coward thought his "talent to amuse" would survive, and he may well go down to history as the one-man Restoration entertainer of this century.

The modestly written but well illustrated and produced paperback biography of Gandhi makes no impression of film publicity, though it came out in time for the London showing of the Attenborough film. This is indeed the story of the private person Gandhi in India and in London, then Natal before he ended his sensational career as a world revolutionary leader. It is an engagingly told story of the turning of a humble, shy, tongue-tied boy's failure academically propelled by slighted vanity among other lessons of life into his campaign for personal power and national independence. The account of his family and marital relations is appealing and makes the book a useful background material to him.

Another heavy tome is only

the first Volume by David Shipman's Story of Cinema "From the beginnings to Gone With the Wind." It looks at first like an updating of the old histories and encyclopaedias of the movies, with early chapters

on Griffith, Chaplin and the Russian experiment.

Soon however it becomes clear that Shipman's version is not just up-dated but controversial. He thinks Griffith over-rated, the brilliant Swedish silent cinema ignored and so forth. So the old story retold from Shipman's thoroughly documented and authenticated point of view is set out in two columns to be referred for consultation to an index in print so small as the book is weighty. Shipman refers back to the late Paul Rotha's "The Film Til Now" as the father of all film histories. Details of the cinema's beginnings may continue to be matters of controversy,. Halies or Gaumont, Porter or Griffith?

But when Shipman's second volume comes out he will no doubt have written one definitive history of the cinema. Meanwhile the first volume is well worth mastering.

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