My Gleanings

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

René Clair shows the difference between American and Eurpoean film.

Often times on Internet film boards, posters ask what is the difference between American film and European film. I think this story, from the French director René Clair - who spent World War II in Hollywood - which contrast Cecil B De Mille's film The Story of Doctor Wassell with the film about Corydon Wassell that Clair planned, explains the difference. It is taken from Clair's "Cinema yesterday and today. Translated by Stanley Appelbaum. Edited, and with an introd. and annotations, by R. C. Dale." from Dover Publications in 1972 pages 194-195

"Around 1942, during the darkest months of the war, which the United States had just entered, President Roosevelt one evening made famous the name of a modest hero. During one of his “fireside chats”, as his occasional radio speeches were called. He told the story of Dr. Wassell. This brave doctor (a navy doctor, I think) had saved a number of women and children, leading them through some jungle, in the face of various perils, to a place of safety.

"No sooner had the President ended his talk than C.B. [De Mille] had found the subject for his next production. And in the days that followed, perhaps the very next day, the newspapers announced that The Story of Doctor Wassell was going to be reenacted on the screen. A contract was signed with the doctor, who soon arrived in California. He was welcomed to the studio with all possible ceremony, then at lunch was seated on C.B.’s right. On that occasion, no doubt, he met the male star who was to portray him in the studio jungle beneath the sun of spotlights. Hollywood was not afraid to reconstitute war scenes at home and, since a number of actors were in the service, it was precisely those men whose health or age or some other reason kept them from combat, who were fought over to take the role of heroes.

"The good doctor surely had many opportunities to savor the irony of this parallel between fiction and reality. While the screenplay was being worked out – a long process in which he took part – I think he was surprised more than once by the addition of some sentimental or dramatic incidents with which the professionals saw fit to enliven the simple narrative of his adventure that he had given. I can picture the scene: “But that never happened!” “Leave it to us. We know what the public wants.” Probably after a few sessions not much attention was paid to his opinions.

"It seems that not much more attention was being paid to him personally. In the commissary he did not remain for long on the right hand of the Master. As the weeks went by, his table setting became gradually more distant from this place of honor. And one day when C.B. was entertaining important guests, I saw Dr. Wassell lunching at a small table along with a secretary.

"The last time I caught sight of him was during the shooting of the film which was to glorify his exploits on countless screens. The working day had just ended. Actors, bit players, technicians and assistants were leaving the studios, getting into their cars and departing in all directions to the cheerful hum of their motors, while, all alone at the corner of the street, the glorious doctor was waiting for the bus.

"This sight gave me the idea for a film which would tell the true adventure of Dr. Wassell – his mishaps among the artificial flora and made-up fauna of the cinema. I submitted the project to the high authorities of Paramount, but I was given to understand that war in Hollywood was not a laughing matter.

from René Clair's "Cinema yesterday and today. Translated by Stanley Appelbaum. Edited, and with an introd. and annotations, by R. C. Dale." from Dover Publications in 1972 pages 194-195



Blogger A said...

What a delightfully tragic tale.
This says probably more about Hollywood than the movie would have. Reminds me what a wonderful storyteller Rene Clair was. But I haven't seen any of his films made in Hollywood. Did I miss something?
And I'm still trying to appreciate Cecil B. after two rather disappointing silent films.

21/9/06 07:42  

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