My Favorite Director

When you go to the movies as a child you don’t care much about who starred in the movie. No less who directed it. As you get older you start to pay attention to the actors. “Did you see the new John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe film”?. Some movies become franchises and the movie is more important than the actor..”Did you see the new James Bond or Indiana Jones flick”?..not “Did you see the new Sean Connery or Harrison Ford film.  Similarly when a director starts to accumulate an impressive body of work we might hear, “Did you see the new Spielberg or Scorsese film”?. Outside of Hollywood circles, I highly doubt my favorite director was ever referred to in this way. Perhaps because his work  crossed all genres and lacked that “something” that the average movie goer would identify as a repetitive pattern of film making, as perhaps one would with a David Lean film. Each film was a unique product based on his interpretation of the story. He wasn’t married to anyone cinematographer, but chose the one he felt could best portray a particular story. However, every director has techniques that are reproducible in their films as did his.   It took some years after having seen his name as director of a number of great films,  before it struck me as a body of work. It struck in 1979’s Star Trek the Motion Picture directed by Robert Wise. Robert Wise, why was that name familiar?…a strange visitor from another planet?..well yes, but no not Superman, Gort. I started checking out the films directed by Wise and much to my surprise crossing all genres he directed a number of films I really enjoyed.. the short list..BODY SNATCHER..THE SETUP..BLOOD ON THE MOON..EARTH STOOD STILL..SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME..RUN SILENT RUN DEEP..I WANT TO LIVE..WEST SIDE STORY …SOUND OF MUSIC..SAND PEBBLES (see slideshow below). His best were those he wanted to make as opposed to those he had to make being under studio contract. Many of his best films had social issues as the underpinnings of the story…Racism in Odds Against Tomorrow, West Side Story (the perfect blend of theatre and film) and the Sound of Music..Man’s inhumanity to man and the need for understanding among nations in the Sand Pebbles…Capital punishment in I Want to Live and human dignity and freedom of spirit in Sound of Music. Given my penchant for Sci-fi films, and his for social commentary, The Day the Earth Stood Still was a perfect film ..rather than your typical Saturday morning serial where aliens are the bad guys and the battle takes place in outer space ..this takes place on earth and the aliens are the good guys..fancy that..superficially a cautionary tale about peaceful coexistence ..a bit deeper on mans unthinking and violent reaction to the unknown..a perfect Wise film, social commentary and great entertainment. As eluded to above directors have certain techniques that are reproducible in their movies. Wise insisted that all the actors in a films speak with the same accent. As typified in Sound of Music, here photographed directing Kim Karath (below), all English accents in a movie set in Austria. He also liked shooting in tight spaces. He felt the most powerful method of displaying human emotions at crucial moments in a film was enhanced by confrontations in tight spaces. No better demonstrated than in Run Silent Run Deep (below).

He didn’t like so called dissolves or fade outs but preferred straight cuts in his films as exemplified in Somebody Up There Likes Me. Finally, as a testament to his film making ability, Star Trek was a film that was to be rushed into production. Presented to Wise (who was known for his meticulous planning of a film) as an unfinished script with not yet conceptualized special effects, he turned out a visually and aurally stunning film…so when you find yourself, as I occasionally do, humming some tunes from Sound of Music, treat yourself and watch a Robert Wise film. (This article is largely excerpted from Sergio Leemann’s Robert Wise on his films From Editing Room to Director’s Chair).

Credit: Lobby card images used below courtesy of LobbyCards.Net

Especially for sci-fi collectors, material from the Day the Earth Stood Still is much sought after. Though expensive, fortunately not rare. It’s my favorite sci-fi film with Forbidden Planet and The Time Machine coming in second and third. Speaking about Forbidden Planet, every time I think about that monster from the ID..the sounds accompanying its footsteps and when we finally got to see scared the crap out of me and I had nightmares for months. Boy if I could just  get my hands on that Krell IQ booster I could give professor Barnhard a run for his money. Enough digression. The half sheet for DESS is my favorite piece for that movie. The 94’ reissue is beautiful as well (see slideshow below). 

As you would expect American posters for the film are the more expensive than most foreign posters. If you were buying the poster for investment purposes buying an American poster is the way to go (below-left). But if you are buying for display purposes there are other considerations. Comparison for example of the Australian one sheet with the same image, but produced using a stone-litho like printing process, yielded a poster with more vibrant and deeply saturated colors (below-right). 

Left- American Poster

Right- Australian Poster

Alas, Gort’s head is up for auction ( left). Why should I be surprised. First the tablets containing the ten commandments, then the holy grail and now this. Friends, this is the holy grail of sci-fi in my book. I hope it doesn’t end up on somebody’s fireplace mantle next to their favorite team signed football helmet. To quote a famous movie line “that belongs in a museum!”. Whereever it ends up, its new owner should have a good flashlight (one way you could communicate with Gort) or you could keep mumbling Klaatu Barada Nikto which I have on good authority means Gort Abort which could be handy if you’ve been naughty and Gort is thinking about turning you into Bantha fodder.

Cheers and happy holidays to all..Alan