Above I've posted a TV interview with Joan Crawford from the 1960s. I don't know who the English moderator with the poofy hair is but Joan looks pretty damn sleek and comports herself well. (Sort of. The first minute is spent semi-dissing Elizabeth Taylor.) But at 1:07 in, she's asked about George Cukor and she becomes a very different Joan. She warms up and becomes very un-Crawford like in a happy and sincerely admiring way. They made four films together and the portrait she paints of him is akin to the attitude he displayed in the audio seminar I posted yesterday (scroll down for Chrissakes). He was both irascible and funny, warm and firm. It sounds like he put on his actors in a way that freed them instead of shutting them down. She says that he was the first director who helped her not take herself so seriously. No easy feat, that.
Of their four collaborations, the one that stands out in both the interviews and my mind is 'A Womans Face', a 1941 film noir that was made before there was officially a style known as film noir. This is one of the interesting things about Cukor that he rarely gets much credit for. He was truly an innovator, not merely a studio director but a filmmaker looking to do things boldly and differently. He shot a studio movie on location in New York City ("Tarnished Lady") in 1931 when that was not generally the norm. In the 1954 remake of 'A Star Is Born' he disregarded the conventional wisdom about how to use the widescreen (flatly shooting masters only, eschewing close-ups etc.) and not only wildly disobeyed these 'laws' but experimented with hand-held in the great opening sequence when Norman Maine shows up drunk at his own premiere. I don't know who exactly is responsible for the heavily shadowed, mysteriously evocative atmosphere of 'A Woman's Face' and I doubt Cukor would have taken sole credit. This is another quite wonderful thing about the 'gentleman director' (Pat McGilligan's term for him). He was relentless on attacking the auteur theory and insisted that the director owed everything to 'the text', the cameraman and, of course, the actors. He was realistic about his own contributions and happy to give credit where he thought it was due. But as any director knows, you can either encourage strong contributions or stifle them and clearly Cukor fell in the former category as one of the great, brave encouragers. Below is the trailer for 'A Woman's Face.' The full movie can be easily found on Youtube and is worth a look.
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