DIRECTORS BEING A LITTLE BIT UNCOMFORTABLY INTERVIEWED PT. 3: ROBERT WISE!
Above is a Belgian TV interview in 1961/62 with Bob Wise ( I get to call him that since I knew him since age 12 when he directed the movie of my father's book 'Audrey Rose') discussing why 'West Side Story' was important to the time in which it was made as well as the difficulties involved in getting it made, conceptually at least. Bob was a most self-effacing man and was happy to share directing credit with Jerome Robbins. Or was he? Bob ( I get to call him that since etc. etc.) was also a very savvy Hollywood player--in a seemingly innocent but by no means spineless way. He agreed to the unheard of proposition of sharing credit with 'Jerry' and halfway through the shoot he somehow got the Mirisch's (the producers) to fire the tempestuous choreographer/co-director. They had fallen terribly behind schedule and, as that's about the worst thing a studio/producer/bond company can here, it's likely that it was the card played by Bob to finally rid himself of the way-too-protective partner who he'd inherited (and who, remember, he'd embraced to get the film done). Remember he had previously built credibility with RKO via his involvement with 'saving' "The Magnificent Ambersons', despite Orson's wishes. Welles afficianados think of Wise as an informer; Bob thought of himself as a man thankful to the studio system for giving him a life that he never anticipated and that he took advantage of and defended to the end of his days. I always liked his lack of neurosis.
In 2002 there was a screening of 'West Side Story' at Radio City and we were invited to attend by Bob's step-daughter. We went and he was in great form. None of the surviving writers--Sondheim, Laurens etc.--showed, a tribute I guess to how much they resented his having gotten rid of Robbins. Bob was, as usual, self-effacing, charming and uncombative. Bob truly believed that it was better not to see an insult than confront one. In his opening remarks he simply said that he'd watched the movie "the other day for the first time in many years" and that "it seemed to hold up pretty well." Very Bob Wise. An editor's opinion--not a director's bluster. As soon as the movie started, with the iconic helicopter shots looking right down on the neighborhood where the story takes place, the audience went wild. Yes, it was right after 911 and every celebration in New York was much needed. But it was also an affirmation that a great piece of filmmaking can survive a generation or two--as well as a whole bunch of Hollywood/Broadway bullshit--and mean something profound and exciting to a future generation.
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:23 PM