Thursday, September 13, 2007

preview: private screenings with norman jewison

You know, an awful lot of my articles begin with some sort of personal anecdote about a movie I discovered when I was a kid, and what I thought. I can't help it; I connected to movies at an early age and they fueled my imagination. Sometimes it's only years later when I learned that a bunch of films I like have a director, actor, actress, cinematographer or writer in common. Case in point: Norman Jewison. Some years ago, I learned that Jewsion was at the helm of In the Heat of the Night as well as Fiddler on the Roof. And Moonstruck, and A Soldier's Story and a great Carl Reiner satire: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. It wasn't until recently that I learned that he also directed a couple of great Doris Day movies that I enjoy: The Thrill of It All and Send Me No Flowers.

With some directors it's not too difficult to see patterns or preferred choices in subject matter. Jewison is a little different - he's really worked in several different genres and started out in television as well. He's tackled sensitive subjects like race and prejudice. He's deftly handled satire as well as romantic comedy. He boldly took on transferring not one, but two Broadway hit musicals to the screen. So what drives a guy like Norman Jewison? How does he pick his material? He's a great director and he's brought a lot of classic and modern classic films to the screen. I mean, In the Heat of The Night and Fiddler alone make him stand out.

As with any subject, when you look at a person's life and examine their work closely, you learn a lot about them. It's another thing altogether to listen to them in an interview with someone who knows how to ask questions, and when to back off and let them answer. Such an opportunity presents itself tonight in the form of Robert Osborne hosting another edition of TCM's great original series: Private Screenings. Tonight's episode will be an interview with Norman Jewison, which was recorded in front of a live audience at the Sarasota Film Festival this past April.

Jewison talks about his career, which began in television- first at the BBC in London, then the CBC in Canada and finally in New York. His first big break came when he was asked to direct Judy Garland's first television special, the legendary television show that had Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as guest stars. Tony Curtis saw the show and asked Norman if wanted to direct his next film, 40 Pounds of Trouble. From there, he landed a contract with MGM, where he would direct several comedies, including several Doris Day pictures. Eager to not be typed as director of light comedies, he didn't "renew" his contract (one of his funny stories that he tells in the interview) and was able to tackle meatier films and subjects. The Cincinnati Kid, with Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson proved he had the mettle. Soon the follow would be The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming, a satire that he fought to make, and one which ended up being screened in the Soviet Union. Jewison's next project was tackling the sensitive subject of race in the great film In the Heat of the Night. It was a topic he would come back to several times in his career (notably with A Soldier's Story and Hurricane).

Jewison got a chance to work with his friend Steve McQueen again in The Thomas Crown Affair, in which he cast a then unknown Faye Dunaway, who also hit the screen that same year in Bonnie and Clyde. In the 70s, Jewison was offered the chance to direct the screen version of Fiddler on the Roof. When he took the job, he insisted on filming in Europe and cast more European actors. The result was much more authentic feel and atmosphere to the now classic film. He would also follow that up with another Broadway hit, Jesus Christ, Superstar. His career continued well into the 80s and 90s with films like Agnes of God, Best Friends, In Country and Only You. Of course, his biggest hit of that time was probably the Academy Award winning film, Moonstruck. Norman Jewison also recently wrote a book about his life and career entitled: This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me.

This past April, Jewsion was honored during the Sarasota Film Festival. Turner Classic Movies sent host Robert Osborne to talk to him about his work and his career. The result- another great TCM special. Tonight, Sept.13th, on Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne will be interviewing filmmaker Norman Jewison in an installment of their original series, Private Screenings. Wolf and I recently sat down and watched the episode and really enjoyed it. Let us give you both of our takes on the interview.

Wolf's Take:
For those of you who don't know, TCM spells class. That's just what you get from the Private Screenings series. The newest episode is no exception. Norman Jewison is the subject of Mr. Osborne's interrogation this time around and it is well worth watching. Mr. Jewison's history in movies is impressive with such projects as The Cincinnati Kid and Fiddler on the Roof.

He proves to be a great story teller with the many entertaining anecdotes he shares in this interview which takes place at the Oslo Theater in Sarasota, Florida. We find that he has worked with many wonderful actors and he provides us with great images of his experiences with them. Mr. Jewison proves to be quite an entertainer and a down to earth guy. Mr. Osborne shows his skill as a wonderful interviewer, knowing when to ask questions and when to let Mr. Jewison explain and excite the audience with his great memories of his days in Hollywood. As always, Private Screenings does not disappoint and provides us with another great evening of enjoyment for classic film fans.

Loophole's Take:
One of the things that struck me initially was Jewison's self-effacing sense of humor. It was wonderful to listen to him talk about his work, but also to tell humorous stories about his career and those he has known. I found him to be very down to earth man in the interview and candid about not only how much he enjoyed his work, but how often others played special roles in furthering his career.

During the interview, several clips from his films were shown and I was surprised to discover that there was only one the films discussed that I had never seen and that was one of his most recent: Hurricane with Denzel Washington. Jewison discussed how powerful an actor Washington is, and discussed a scene that they then showed. It was indeed a powerful moment, and while Jewison is right in praising the work of the many actors he's worked with, it also takes a special talent and guiding touch to be able to nuance those performances out of those actors.

I particularly enjoyed his discussions of the filming of In the Heat of the Night, and just how groundbreaking that film was, and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming. He told about how much he fought to get it made, and a funny tale of how the film wound up being screened in the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war to great acclaim.

The Bottom Line
This episode of Private Screenings was great, and Wolf and I highly recommend that you don't miss it. If you've got to set the DVR, TiVo, heck VCR- don't miss it. It's a great show and as always, Robert Osborne demonstrates why he is one of the best in the business.

Private Screenings with Norman Jewison is hosted by Robert Osbourne and premieres tonight, September 13th, at 8pm est. Afterwords TCM will feature a mini-marathon of some of Jewison's films including Moonstruck, The Cincinnati Kid and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming! Don't miss the interview and be sure to catch those films.

I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exceptionI find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

I thought all the nuts went home on Labor Day.


Anonymous said...

Just finished watching the show- very nice! It's refreshing to listen to an interviewer who isn't obsessed with speaking over the interviewee. Robert Osborn let him tell his stories and guided him gentle for time. Very entertaining.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Excellent review, and I agree that Mr. Osborne is skilled interviewer who knows his subject and always displays intelligence and courtesy with his interviewees.

J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks for your comments.
Yes- Robert Osborne is very good at what he does, and to me you can always tell when someone has a passion and love for what they do. While he is very skilled and professional, his love for the films and everyone behind them come throught each and everytime.I would love to see him host the Oscars one time, but I don't know if today's modern audience would appreciate it? What do you guys think?

mel said...

Off topic, but if you go here: and look for the post "The Son Also Rises", I think you'll be interested.

Best regards.

J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks mel! That was interesting. I didn't know that Bill Marx had written a book about his father Harpo. I guess most of the other Marx kids wrote books - so why not? I've read most of them, so this is on my list!
Folks for those of you who didn't follow Mel's link you should copy and paste it into your browser and check it out. It's about Harpo's son Bill who is a Jazz artist.
Thanks again, Mel!


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