11/19/07

OTTO PREMINGER: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN SKULL

ottopreminger

I'm reading an excellent new biography of the still controversial director and producer Otto Preminger, called "Otto Preminger; The Man Who Would Be King". (He didn't make that movie, by the way--John Huston did--and I'm not sure why the author, Foster Hirsch, chose that for the subtitle. I like my golden skull gag much more). Anyway, Preminger comes off in this book as an inexhaustible individual, constantly in motion setting up movies, buying "properties" and working with different writers often at night after a full days shooting of his current movie (all his shoots were, of course, tense and trouble-filled), and then going off and publicizing the finished films himself--going so far as to pick the exact theaters he wanted to show his films in in different cities, supervising the poster art, endlessly giving press conferences, throwing opening night parties etc. And then, when he wanted to relax, he'd stage a Broadway play...

The main thing you come away with is how tough--really TOUGH--old show-biz guys were. Sure there are wankers now like Michael Bay and Russell Crowe, but they come off as more petulant, spoiled. Preminger was a non-stop locomotive, constantly moving ahead, brushing past problems that would have stymied others, ending the blacklist with a single bold stroke (crediting Trumbo on "Exodus"--it wasn't Kirk Douglas and "Spartacus" which, in fact, came second), ending the production code in a similarly bold move (he simply asked himself "What's the big deal about not getting a seal of approval from the Church"? and released "The Moon Is Blue" without one...and, of course, made a fortune since the Church's disapproval of the material naturally enflamed moviegoers everywhere). Even his last, crapped out attempts at movies (the atrocious "Rosebud" has been turning up on cable of late and it truly must be seen to be believed) had to be admired for their vigorous globe-trotting, their far-reaching logistical ambitions for a filmmaker in his seventies. The book has made me want to re-see a few late Preminger's that I either haven't seen in years--"Such Good Friends" with Dyan Cannon I remember enjoying when I saw it cut up on tv in the early eighties but I haven't seen it turn up of late--or a few that I never saw to begin with. "Hurry Sundown" sounds like a good, square, late sixties historical epic and "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" may well be quite underrated-Preminger seemed extremely proud of it even though it was a mega-flop when originally released. The wondrously strange "Skidoo" has been turning up at film festivals of late and a couple of clips of this meringue-flavored, "Laugh-In" era quasi musical comedy have been posted on youtube. Although I've always liked "Bojour Tristesse", I've never seen his "Saint Joan", his first outing with Jean Seberg. How lousy could it be? The black and white stills look awfully enticing and it's by George Bernard Shaw, for goddsake. But it doesn't seem to have any cable life at all.

Lets look at this very interesting interview with Preminger, shot in 1971, which incorporates some behind the scenes footage from "Such Good Friends" as well as a little interview footage of the great James Coco. This appears to be dailies for a projected television piece on Preminger. Was it ever made? Is there more raw footage of this nature? It's a great find and a one of kind look at this bizarre, riveting man.

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