Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Pyrrhic Victory For THE TALL WOMEN

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

I tried to get them out of my mind as we discussed and rehearsed the scene. Anne and Perla understood the drama that was to be unfolded. I am certain Anne's ordeal in Australia gave her (the) necessary insights into the mind of this hapless schoolteacher. Perla had an inherent sense of tragedy and persecution that seems to be born into most Jewish women, and her exposure to the Argentine Nazi threat made her even more sensitive to the loss of a husband and a future. Having never had a child, Maria Perschy could not fully comprehend the kind of hysterical reaction that would follow the sudden, violent death of a husband and the murder of a baby while it was cradled in a mother's arms. Unable to understand these emotions, she overacted badly.
My biggest challenge was to get Maria to understand that hysteria following such a loss would be a trauma of disbelief, followed by total assurance it was not true. She would not go into hysterical shrieking; she would sing and talk to her dead baby while cuddling it as if it were alive. Her violence would come only when they tried to take the child away from her, and the she would become a tiger. Anne was forced to slap her several times to take the baby; then, once she realized the truth, she could break down, but never into an over-emotional scene.~We worked and worked on that scene until everyone got it right, and then we shot it. It turned out as I hoped it would. It was one of the highlights of the movie and accomplished its purpose. I observed audiences in every movie theatre I visited playing THE TALL WOMEN, and there were few dry eyes during this scene. I finished all the master scenes and was ready for close-ups when the Westinghouse typhoon blew in. Enrique Bergere, my assistant director, kept them from bursting in on me until I had finished the takes and called for a break before shooting the next scene.
Pack didn't even bother with the courtesy of a hello before he started shouting. We were off to the side and sitting in the director and star's chairs, but everyone heard him yelling. The reason for his visit was soon made clear, at which point all I could do was laugh. Anne and others were also laughing but much more discretely. He was furious, but he had to stop his tirade until I finished laughing.
With tears in my eyes from that fit of laughter, I explained he was the victim of Howard's profound ignorance. Howard told him we were making a picture in which a board with numbers on it preceded every scene and that there were telephone and telegraph wires showing in a film set in an era in which those things didn't exist. Pack also demanded an explanation for the "shit I was pulling" by making a film that was part color and part black and white. He warned us that Westinghouse was not going to stand for this type of treachery. I don't know how Dick felt after I finished my lecture, but if I were he a peanut shell would have been too big a container to carry me off the set.
I have explained the reason for the clappers being in every shot. I didn't know what Dick was talking about with regard to telephone wires, etc., but I found out the cause later, and it was as ridiculous as the rest of his complaints. When we were shooting the opening scenes of the caravan of wagons as it crossed the prairie, we needed an overhead shot. We had not cranes to use in Almeria, so we improvised. At one point the main road crossed over the ravine through which the caravan was to travel, so I set my master camera on that bridge to get a vista of the entire train of wagons making its dusty way westward. It was an imposing shot and well worth the extra effort entailed. When we shot the clapper, it was impossible to get it from such a height, so we shot it up on the road and then panned down to get the action when I called for it. In that brief clapper shot, we managed to get a small view of the only telephone line into Almeria. Nuff said!
A film company working on a tight budget uses every short cut it can where economy doesn't result in loss of quality or production values. The cost of positive color film is about triple that of black and white film. Since we would shoot and print over 100,000 feet of film on THE TALL WOMEN, the savings involved in printing rushes in black and white instead of color were obvious; therefore we printed only key scenes in color so the cameraman could check his photographic result and color quality in those particular shots. Normally he would ask for only three or four color prints a day. The film takes a beating in the editing, so black-and-white film serves equally well for cutting. Action is the editor's main concern, so he is content to use black and white. Laboratory control over color hue and tone is so great it is not necessary for a cameraman to concern himself with any problem of balance.
Howard Barnes was so ignorant of these elementary facts of production that he had alarmed Dick Pack almost to the point of hysteria. Pack's education was not accomplished quickly, so I had to tolerate his presence on the set for two days.
Of course, Pack had to make his contribution to our creativity in order to justify the stupidity of his sudden trip to Spain, so he meddled. In the scene where the women went about the camp picking up all the things they might need for their foray into the wilderness, he noted that Adrianna and Rosella wore their torn circus costumes that exposed their beautiful cleavages. No breas was visiable, but Dick began shouting that McGannon would find that repulsive and demanded we get other costumes for the Italians. When I refused, he foraged all over the set to find something that would cover up what he wanted covered up. He came upon two Mexican serapes, part of the decor of Perla's wagon, and he put them over the heads of the Italian circus queens to cover their chests. The Grimaldi sisters had to wear those damned things throughout the rest of the film. I was tired of arguing, so I let Dick Pack make this fine artistic contribution to motion-picture history. Ours is certainly the only Western in which two Italian circus women will ever wear serapes. Bravo Dick, your life has not been in vain.
He took off somewhat mollified, but not happy. No one likes to be made a fool, and he most certainly appeared so in the eyes of all of us, including Anne, whom he tried to impress. He was constantly talking with her at every free moment attempting to get her to commit to an additionaly number of pictures for Westinghouse (not me). She gave him her stock answer: "Talk to my agent." Later she told me she found Dick Pack obnoxious and Howard Barnes unworthy of comment; she also warned me never to turn my back on either of them. We had achieved a Pyrrhic victory over those two; but, to this day I do not understand why Dick didn't fire Howard for the embarrassment he caused. I did, however, have peace and quiet until we finished photography.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this a hundred years ago on TV, and remember very little about it. Just the women in wagons, Indians and some decent music.