The basic ideas among young American film-makers are simple: the big movies we grew up on are either corrupt, obsolete or dead, or are beyond our reach (we can’t get a chance to make Hollywood films)—so we’ll make films of our own, cheap films that we can make in our own way.
A Man for All Seasons is tasteful and moderately enjoyable; Robert Bolt’s dialogue is crisp, lucid, and well-spoken; the actors are generally efficient. Fred Zinnemann’s direction is placed at the service of Bolt’s material—in the manner of a good, modest stage director who does not attempt more than a faithful, respectful interpretation of the play. It’s pleasant to see a movie made with integrity and sensibility: A Man for All Seasons wasn’t that easy to do and it wasn’t “safe”—though it appears to have turned out well for all concerned. But that’s really just about all I can say for it.
Jean-Luc Godard intended to give the public what it wanted. His next film was going to be about a girl and a gun—”A sure-fire story which will sell a lot of tickets.” And so, like Henry James’ hero in The Next Time he proceeded to make a work of art that sold fewer tickets than ever. What was to be a simple commercial movie about a robbery became Band of Outsiders. The two heroes of Band of Outsiders begin by play-acting crime and violence movies, then really act them out in their lives. Their girl, wanting to be accepted, tells them there is money in the villa where she lives.
When the announcement was made that Norman Mailer’s An American Dream was to be made into a movie, my reaction was that John Huston was the only man who could do it. And what a script it could be for him! But Huston was working on The Bible. A quarter of a century had passed since The Maltese Falcon, it was a long time since San Pietro and The Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Red Badge of Courage and The African Queen.
Masculine Feminine is that rare movie achievement: a work of grace and beauty in a contemporary setting. Godard has liberated his feeling for modem youth from the American gangster-movie framework which limited his expressiveness and his relevance to the non-movie centered world. He has taken up the strands of what was most original in his best films—the life of the uncomprehending heroine, the blank-eyed career-happy little opportunist-betrayer from Breathless, and the hully-gully, the dance of sexual isolation, from Band of Outsiders.
There are some rather dumb—but in a way brilliant—gimmicks that have a strong, and it would almost seem a perennial, public appeal. Books or plays or movies based on them don’t even have to be especially well done to be popular: readers and audiences respond to the gimmick. Sometimes this kind of trick idea is so primitive that it’s particularly attractive to educated people—perhaps because they’re puzzled by why they’re drawn to it and so take it to be a much more complex idea than it is. Frankenstein is one of these fantastic, lucrative “ideas”; The Pawnbroker is almost one.
What makes movies a great popular art form is that certain artists can, at moments in their lives, reach out and unify the audience—educated and uneducated—in a shared response. The tragedy in the history of movies is that those who have this capacity are usually prevented from doing so. The mass audience gets its big empty movies full of meaningless action; the arthouse audience gets its studies of small action and large inaction loaded with meaning. Almost everyone who cares about movies knows that Orson Welles is such an artist.
Two for the Road and Accident—very chic, clever, skillful and with the very latest in color and time-and-memory techniques—give us the La Notte view of marriage. Boredom, desperation, resignation. Both Frederic Raphael, who wrote Two for the Road as an original screenplay for Stanely Donen, and Harold Pinter, who adapted the Nicholas Mosley novel Accident for Joseph Losey, get a laugh with the same gag: men so self-centered that they don't remember the existence of their own daughters—Caroline in one, Francesa in the other. Great minds travel in the same TV channel?