Monday, December 14, 2009

Sidney Screens The Movies

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

The screening began promptly at 9:30, and I was surprised to see about forty people in the audience. I had given permission to Gustavo and Fernando to attend, and they were there with friends. When I tried to find out who the others were, I was told by Pepe Moreno that he had taken the liberty of inviting a few Spanish distributors to see the finished product in the hope of making a good deal for Spain. I met and spoke to the managers of Universal, Warner, and Columbia as well as independent distributors. In Spain the independents were actually more important than our own American companies. Import licenses for foreign films were issued by the government on the basis of the number of native films distributed, so most of the American films were distributed by Spanish companies. This worked in our favor by eliminating a monopoly by any one company.
The Fono Espana screening room was actually a working dubbing room and not a very comfortable place to watch a movie, but the sound equipment was excellent. The film began rolling and I really enjoyed it. THE TALL WOMEN is a well-made movie; its only drawback is its discernibly small budget. The Indian attack scenes were acceptable, but not notable. I wept inwardly at my own folly in not realizing the potential I had in my grasp.
The acting, however, could not have been better, especially the superlative performances by Anne Baxter, Perla Crystal, Maria Perschy, and Maria Mahor. The poignancy and fear they felt were transmitted from that screen almost hypnotically. You did't realize it was only a movie - they made you live their experience. The music was good and added to every scene, and the sound effects were real and unobtrusive. Marcello Gatti's camera caught the misery and terror of that Western desert, and his lighting in the cave sequences captured the essence of the women's fear. It was a remarkable job of photography, and Marcello was nominated for an award by the Italian Academy. The picture moves in American tempo, and Antonio's editing was extremely well done.
I must admit to a little bit of pride when the picture ended and the applause resounded. Tony Recoder came over and introduced me to the CBS executive who expressed the same sentiments this picture evoked where it played: "Do you really mean to tell me that this picture was made in Spain?" (That question might have been apropos had we not been sitting in Madrid.) He asked me if the picture had been sold for network TV, and of course I had to refer him to Westinghouse.
Tony later told me CBS offered $250,000 for a two-run network showing, but Westinghouse turned it down. In those days, a quarter of a million dollars was a lot of money for a television showing, but apparently not to Westinghouse. The refusal robbed me of the opportunity of getting my work on a national network for all of American to see. I wonder if that couldn't have been one of the reasons for Westinghouse's refusal. After all it doesn't make sense to reject a $200,000 profit that wouldn't affect WBC's library rights for its own stations and could only raise the asking price when the film went into syndication.
This, of course, gave me still another reason to love Pack and company. It is wonderful to look back - you have such clarity of vision and it becomes that clear day when you can see forever. I realize now that I could have forced Westinghouse to accept the deal but only at the time. At this stage, all I can do is shrug and say "C'est la vie."
The next showing was FICKLE FINGER OF FATE, and again I was pleasantly surprised. The film turned out much better than even I had hoped. Dick Rush added a couple of personal flourishes that worked well. For example, his beauty contest winners, who play such a vital role in the story, wore different colored wigs and were named by color. The girls were beautiful, and the wigs made them appear colorful and exotic-looking. Macasoli did his usual fine camera work, and Dick managed to get a performance out of Tab Hunter that got him great trade paper reviews and additional work. I was pleased with the result, and so was Barnes. the same distributors who had seen THE TALL WOMEN saw the FICKLE FINGER OF FATE screening. We were all on a high until we saw THE CHRISTMAS KID later that afternoon.
Unbeknownst to me, John Horvath took off for the States and left the cutting of THE CHRISTMAS KID to a Spanish assistant who had absolutely no knowledge of the script. Ordinarily, this could not have happened since our cutting rooms were in the basement of our office building, and I normally visited them daily. However, once again I had a problem with Purgatori trying to prove his mettle as a worldwide film salesman. He was contacted for distribution rights by an unusually large number of countries due to stories in trade papers announcing the completion of our programmed pictures.
The world markets were in need of film because of the curtailment of Hollywood production, and anyone making as many films as we were became highly desirable. Purgatori was in hog heaven, again beginning to feel self-important as the once discourteous buyers were now seeking him out. It was my intention to make an overall deal for world distribution, either with an American distributor or with one of the big British, German, or Italian distributors. No matter how many times I told Purgatori of my plan, he remained convinced that his way was preferable, and he kept on pushing. I was tied up in Rome for sixteen days straightening out the affairs of Domino Films. I returned only just in time for the screenings.
That day's CHRISTMAS KID screening was exclusively for me, our cutting staff, my secretary Marianne, and production crew. I did not permit Howard to enter and for once he didn't protest too much. I think seeing to films in one day that were much better than he had reported them to be was about as much as he could stand. I was truly thankful I had not invited him. I knew that THE CHRISTMAS KID had to be a good picture based on the rushes, but what I saw sickened me. The cut made absolutely no sense and the result was pathetic.
When I demanded to know where Horvath was, all I got were shrugs from the staff. I asked Marianne if she had any knowledge of his whereabouts, and after much hemming and hawing she told me he was in New York, but was expected back in two days. I raised hell with her for not notifying me about this and for giving him permission to leave. I knew John well enough to know he would not have left without some kind of permission, implied or otherwise, and I also knew of his very close relationship to Marianne. If Marianne hadn't been such a tremendous asset to me, I would have fired her then and there, but experience as assistant to Alan Funt on Candid Camera made her completely irreplacable, not to mention that I really loved her as a friend. No irreparable damage was done, but now I had to go to work in the cutting room personally.

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