TORONTO: A NORMAN JEWISON RETROSPECTIVE
FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS
In a brick lined post and beam office packed with memorabilia, veteran Canadian filmmaker NORMAN JEWISON walked across the room to display one of his best loved treasures: a director’s chair.
Its caramel hued leather seat worn soft over the decades, the showpiece has travelled with him to nearly every movie set in his four decade career.
It was a gift to him from the crew of his second film, 1963’s THE THRILL OF IT ALL, starring DORIS DAY and JAMES GARNER.
“I guess they figured I was going to be around for a while so they wanted to make sure I could sit down,” he quipped, offering up the first of several chuckles as he recounted a varied career that established him as one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed storytellers.
Of course, NORMAN JEWISON would go on to helm an incredibly diverse slate of movies. A retrospective of his work — which has racked up a total of 46 ACADEMY AWARD nominations and 12 wins — kicks off Thursday in Toronto at the TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX, hosted by THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and TV ONTARIO.
The self effacing director is modest in the lead up to this latest tribute, which follows a star packed salute from New York’s FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER in May and a coveted LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the DIRECTORS GUILD in January 2010.
“I think we’re always flattered when people pat you on the head and tell you you’ve done a good job or you’ve done a lousy job or whatever,” stated Mr. Jewison, whose only actual ACADEMY AWARD trophy came in the form of OSCAR’S prestigious IRVING THALBERG AWARD in 1999, which he keeps on his desk.
“Some of the films have been very popular and some less popular and that’s the way it is. You never know when you make a film – you make a motion picture – you never know how the audience is going to receive it. But some of them have worked very well.”
Very well indeed. Few Canadians can match NORMAN JEWISON’S impact in Hollywood.
His earliest gigs included driving a cab in Toronto and occasional radio work for the CBC. After a two year work/study program with the BBC in London, he returned to Canada to write, direct and produce comedy/variety shows with the CBC.
He crossed the border in 1958, when CBS invited him to New York to direct YOUR HIT PARADE, kicking off an EMMY AWARD winning TV career before jumping to the big screen in 1962.
The upper shelves of a floor to ceiling bookcase in his office are lined with copies of his films.
His catalogue includes the ultrastylish THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, the rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the provocative legal dramedy
…AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, the critically acclaimed A SOLDIER’S STORY and the audience favourite MOONSTRUCK.
MOONSTRUCK costar OLYMPIA DUKAKIS, who will attend a special showing of the 1987 romantic classic Thursday with screenwriter JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY, said that she recalled being impressed by Mr. Jewison’s directing choices and watched him closely on set.
“I just felt he was like a teacher all the time,” OLYMPIA commented in a recent telephone interview from New York.
“You just had to open your eyes and listen and watch and you could learn from him constantly.”
OLYMPIA — whose role as the steely matriarch ROSE CASTORINI featured choice lines including “You’ve got a love bite on your neck. Your life’s going down the toilet!” and “Do you love him, Loretta?” — noted that she shot to widespread fame after the film hit theatres.
“That movie, of course, changed my life. Totally changed my life and I have Norman to thank for that. I got nominated and got an Oscar and because of that I was able to wake up and not worry about money. I could pay my bills. Our daughter was going to college on credit cards at the time.”
Strong personalities from stars including CHER and NICOLAS CAGE made for a colourful shoot, she added, noting that a tense standoff between the director and his romantic leads when filming the climactic scene erupted in expletives and a thrown chair.
Things got so heated that FEODOR CHALIAPIN JR., who played the grandfather, tried to intervene with pleas of “Shout, don’t hit!” she remembered.
“He thought we were going to start hitting each other, I guess,” OLYMPIA chuckled.
“At that point, Norman said, ‘OK, let’s do the scene,’ because of course everybody’s energy was up and everybody was like hot under the collar and then he did it.”
Mr. Jewison is gracious in his account of the same confrontation.
“We had a lot of fun on Moonstruck,” he said diplomatically, acknowledging that “it wasn’t smooth sailing.”
“But a director has to have a lot of confidence in themselves and a lot of confidence in this film that they see in their head. Sometimes it’s difficult to get that across to people because they have other ideas. Think about it — there are 30 or 40 directors on the set. Every actor thinks she can direct and he should be telling the story.”
“Everybody wants to be a director, including Mother Teresa. When I met Mother Teresa I told her how important she was and her work in India and how she was revered and how people listen to her and she said, ‘They don’t listen to me as much as they would if I were a film director. If I could be a film director, then they would listen to me!’ Because she believed that directors were very powerful people. And I was trying to explain to her that it’s not easy. It’s not easy.”
NORMAN JEWISON is not one to shy away from a challenge, claimed OLYMPIA, noting that many of his films delve into the very fabric of U.S. identity. The director said that he is drawn to some of the most volatile social issues of the day.
“America has always had a fascination for me because of its differences,” stated Mr. Jewison, who earned the nickname Canadian Pinko from JOHN WAYNE.
“I’ve made a lot of films about those elements, I think, in American society that I as a Canadian can sit back and observe. We’re pretty smug up here. We’re always explaining America to itself. We’re always telling them what we think they should be doing because we know better, of course.”
Still, he’s always considered himself a Canadian filmmaker and notes that several of his movies were shot in his homeland — including THE HURRICANE. He also speaks proudly of THE CANADIAN FILM CENTRE, which he established in 1986 to offer emerging talent the chance to hone their skills.
“A lot of (my films) are about America because that’s where I was making my films and that’s where I found my inspiration. The Americans are great at supporting talent. They’ve always imported their talent.”
Mr. Jewison’s accolades include a COMPANION OF THE ORDER OF CANADA and a GOVERNOR GENERAL’S PERFORMING ARTS AWARD in 2004.
AND JUSTICE FOR ALL: THE FILMS OF NORMAN JEWISON includes screenings of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, introduced by Canadian director CLEMENT VIRGO and ROLLERBALL, introduced by HARD CORE LOGO director BRUCE McDONALD.
A special IN CONVERSATION WITH NORMAN JEWISON, followed by a screening of GAILY, GAILY takes place AUGUST 29.
The retrospective series kicks off Thursday and runs until AUGUST 31.