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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Joel Schumacher on David Lean's Great Expectations

    Mark Monahan talks to the Hollywood director about David Lean's Great Expectations (1946)

    For someone who, with his little sister, watched St Elmo's Fire on video almost daily during the late 1980s, interviewing the man behind it, Joel Schumacher, is something of a childish thrill. It's also illuminating in surprising ways. Officially, there's nothing on the agenda but Great Expectations - David Lean's ravishing 1946 adaptation of Dickens's 1861 novel, starring John Mills as Pip, Alec Guinness as his pal, Herbert Pocket, and a luminous Jean Simmons as Estella, the object of Pip's desire. And yet Schumacher's experience of this film is, it turns out, the story not only of his childhood, but also of how one of the most successful directors in modern Hollywood first found his calling.

    "Long before you were born," says the charming 63-year-old, "I grew up in this poor neighbourhood of New York. My father died when I was four, and it was just my mother and me. She was out at work six days a week and three nights a week, so I was kind of wild on the streets.

    "We lived on the ground floor of this tenement building, and you could see the back of this movie theatre my whole childhood - it sort of loomed over me. I spent all my time there. I constantly had to be dragged out of it, kicking and screaming.

    "When I was seven," he continues, "I was there with some neighbourhood kids. They used to run movies very differently in those days: they'd have cartoons on Saturday mornings, then maybe a western or two, some other movie in the afternoon, and then a different one at night. We'd go there during the day and hide out, and watch everything.

    "And…" he pauses for several seconds. "The movie started out, and it begins with the young Pip [Anthony Wager] skipping through the graveyard to his parents' grave. Of course, I didn't know anything about Charles Dickens or David Lean, but I believe, looking back, that it was probably the first image that I ever saw that I could relate to. Because I was a child who had experienced death, and cemeteries, and here was a little boy going through a graveyard. And then, of course, we were poor, and the whole story of Great Expectations is this young man bettering himself through the help of the convict, and I think that, although I was too young to even understand what I was watching, it had a very profound effect on me.

    "Right afterwards I went to the library at my school, read the necessary books and built a marionette stage and marionettes. I started making up these shows, and it made me very, very popular! But I now think - because I had never seen theatre or television - that I was trying to make movies. I'd write these little stories, and I even had a phonograph that I would play at the same time, and have them dance. Sometimes when I'm making a movie," he adds, grinning, "I just think I'm working with expensive marionettes.''

    The maker of these wood-and-clay string puppets, whose clothes were stitched together by his mother, graduated into a maker of high-concept, high-gloss American movies, often starring relative unknowns, often deliberately controversial, and seldom dull. The post-college-angst drama St Elmo's Fire and teen vampire flick The Lost Boys helped introduce the world to Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric; Falling Down had Michael Douglas unforgettably redecorating a hamburger joint with an Uzi; 8MM saw Nic Cage pursue the makers of a snuff movie.

    By contrast, Batman & Robin, Schumacher's second contribution to the series, was a shamefully cynical, studio-driven effort. "Everybody got greedy," says Schumacher. "I take full responsibility - but it was healthy for me, because I learned a lot from it, and I don't think I'll make the same mistakes again.''

    He has since returned to the bigger ideas and smaller budgets that he prefers, putting Philip Seymour Hoffman in drag in Flawless, discovering Irishman Colin Farrell in Tigerland, and, in his taut new thriller, Phone Booth, stranding the bonsai Dubliner in a glass box, a sniper's crosshairs trained on him. Given such a body of work, I ask, might he expect people to be surprised about his choosing a Lean movie?

    "You know," he replies, "I'm a fan of a great many films. A David Lean film would look like a music video compared to Tarkovsky or Antonioni, and I love their films too. I just think that the kind of films you make should be your own, even though you're a fan of many other kinds of film-making.''

    Schumacher admits to having gone on to become "a David Lean freak" in the 1960s. "It was," he says, "after I saw Lawrence [of Arabia], and then [Dr] Zhivago, and I had seen Bridge on the River Kwai - that was really his golden period - as well as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. They were fantastic, full of such beautiful, extraordinary images.

    "That opening scene in Great Expectations when the convict, Magwitch, jumps out, is really shocking. I remember as a kid trembling when that happened - it haunted me for months afterwards. There are lots of other indelible things in it. That great British actor Finlay Currie, who plays Magwitch, he's brilliant - I remember his face, every line of it. And then, Jean Simmons is so beautiful as the teenage Estella, and, of course, Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham, and the decaying, rat-infested wedding table."

    He reflects further. "I didn't want to be trapped in poverty," he says. "I wanted to make money for my mother, I had those childhood and teenage dreams of doing things for my mother, who unfortunately died very young also. And I think all of that is wrapped up in Great Expectations. I haven't seen it for some years. In fact," he declares, "I'm going to look at it again.''

  2. #2
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    ok im doing an essay on great expectations directed by david lean in 1946 and julian jarrolds in 1999. I need tonnes of ideas on the first scene when pip meets magwitch, stuff like camera techniques and sound please you have to help me if anyone has any ideas.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    Feb 2004
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    Maybe mention the way David Lean often used point of view shots - Pip looking at the blowing branches of trees etc - to establish the audience's sympathy with the character. Lean is noted for his 'pov' shots, and continued to use this technique extensively in his last films (scene in the woods during Ryan's Daughter and the erotic statues frightening Ms Quested during Passage to India). PS My mum, a great film buff herself, who must have viewed Lean's Dickens film at the cinema when she was 21, always said that early scene was one of the most memorable and frightening she ever viewed. Good Luck with the essay.

  4. #4
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    If you're mentioning sounds, I can tell you that the sound of the creaking of the tree was actually made by twisting a wet rope. Try it & see.

    It needs a fairly large rope that is already twisted quite a lot. Then, as you twist it a bit more, it gives off a lovely creak.


  5. #5
    Senior Member Country: United States
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    You are right David, it was very memorable. This is one of my favorite movies and Lean is my favorite British director. His POV photography is excellent and definitely establishes the opening scene after the reading of page one from the book. The wind also is used as a transitional and judging part (Magwitch). The early part of the movie reminds me of early years when, as a child, one is getting ones moral and social bearings, vulnerable to adult action. This scene starts the theme of the movie - coming of age and becoming mature.


  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Scotland julian_craster's Avatar
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    The epic, the musical, the weepie, the horror story, the romance - Charles

    Dickens wrote perfect movies.

    David Thomson welcomes a return to the big

    screen for David Lean's version of Great Expectations

    Wednesday January 24, 2007

    The Guardian

    The great excitement of Great Expectations - and it is still there, on the

    screen - has to do with the rediscovery that visual storytelling was not

    just a notional link between Charles Dickens and movies, but an underground

    river that had broken above ground. I doubt that David Lean had read it, but

    in 1944 the Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein had written an essay,

    Dickens, Griffith and the Film Today, which said, essentially, read Dickens,

    see the way he cuts from place to place, feel the flashbacks as time

    explains the present, look at the immediate impact of a character as a type

    (look at Magwitch - one shot establishes him) and feel the immense onward

    thrust of "what happened next" - the dynamic of the serial form in which

    Great Expectations and most of Dickens was published. The lessons are there.

    Dickens had foreseen the movies.

    In the same way, David Lean and his colleagues said, yes, of course the

    novel is 525 pages and we love every detail, but we could bring it down to a

    film of 118 minutes and not leave the experts disappointed.

    It is part of the structural elegance of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations

    that he shows us a pork pie and a bottle of brandy, plain as can be, and

    then lets the narrative spin off towards the conclusion that if our hero,

    Pip, has a mysterious benefactor, then it is going to be Miss Havisham, who

    took such a dark interest in him. Who knows, if you've read much Dickens,

    you can't rule out the possibility that Pip is Miss Havisham's lost child

    and the cause of her broken heart, lost children being a climatic condition

    in Dickens. But when you look at Lean's film of Great Expectations, as

    Magwitch the convict - the beneficiary of that pork pie and the brandy,

    thanks to Pip's kindness and courage - is taken back to the hulks, he gives

    not just one, but two knowing glances at the boy over his shoulder. Couldn't

    we see? Couldn't we guess?

    Raised on Dickens novels by his father (and happy to find them out of

    copyright), the producer David O Selznick had made two Dickens films at MGM

    in the mid 1930s: David Copperfield, with Freddie Bartholomew as David and

    WC Fields as Micawber; and A Tale of Two Cities. They had worked as skilful

    adaptations, and as displays of art direction, costuming and character

    acting (with Edna May Oliver playing Betsey Trotwood and Miss Pross, and

    Basil Rathbone doing Murdstone and St Evremonde).

    It was in a justified spirit of competition that a group gathered after the

    war to do Great Expectations. The inspiration was a 1939 stage version in

    London, mounted by Alec Guinness, in which he was the narrator and Herbert

    Pocket, and Martita Hunt played Miss Havisham. Lean saw that show and

    planned. The group who assembled, Cineguild, had had successes with Blithe

    Spirit and Brief Encounter, and they included Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony

    Havelock- Allan, Kay Walsh (Lean's then wife) and Cecil McGivern. They wrote

    a script, and Neame reckoned the film could be made for £375,000.

    Go to the very start of the novel, and you find a clue to their process.

    Pip, the boy, is in marsh country, down by the river, visiting the grave of

    his father and mother. Dickens gives the setting a quick paragraph: "The low

    leaden line beyond it was the river; and that the distant savage lair from

    which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of

    shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip."

    For its opening, the film surpassed the book: there are fine landscape shots

    with a mackerel sky; then there are studio shots, I think, with a fine

    painted glass seascape; and then there is the churchyard on the marsh, with

    witchy trees and lopsided headstones - all of which is a set. There is even

    a gibbet. The care over the place is deeply atmospheric, as is the casting

    and the look of Magwitch (Finlay Currie), the escaped convict. It is a

    classic scene and for years the British Film Institute used it as a teaching

    tool on editing (Lean was an editor before he directed).

    The same method is applied to the creation of Satis House, where Miss

    Havisham lives in the dark. It was Lean's film (or Dickens'), but the art

    director, Wilfred Shingleton, the costumes, the production design, and the

    photography, by Guy Green and Robert Krasker, was steadily building the

    texture of the film. And don't forget the players: Martita Hunt returned as

    Miss Havisham and Jean Simmons - at 17 - was Estella. Pip, by the way, was

    Anthony Wager, who did a very good job even if he was not quite as winning

    as Freddie Bartholomew had been. The childhood scenes between Pip and

    Estella - his humbleness and her superiority - influenced a lot of postwar

    love affairs.

    Of course, there's a big time shift, and, suddenly, Pip is John Mills, 38 at

    the time, when Pip should be a younger man. I like the film, but I'm bound

    to say that Mills has problems. A little too old and not quite good enough

    (see him next to Guinness's Pocket and you see the gap), but enforcing

    another casting change. Thus, as Estella grows older too, she becomes

    Valerie Hobson - and Hobson is perfectly all right. It's just that the

    audience misses Jean Simmons and yearns to see her playing 23, where she had

    been playing 13. I think the reach was within her powers and then we could

    have had a younger Pip - Dirk Bogarde, who would have been around 25.

    Retroactive dreams, I know, but all in the spirit of great expectations. And

    it's not as if the film lacked admirers. It was a great hit at home, and in

    America it played commercially - not just in art houses. The results were

    quickly apparent. It was nominated for best picture and best director

    (Lean's second nod, after Brief Encounter). The script was nominated, and

    Guy Green and John Bryan won Oscars for photography and art direction. It

    was a moment when "great expectations" spoke for British career hopes in


    Great Expectations lost as best picture to Elia Kazan's Gentleman's

    Agreement (a fatuous decision in hindsight), but next year two British films

    were nominated - Hamlet and The Red Shoes - and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet

    won. In the same period, Brits won many other Oscar nominations and such

    people as Alec Guinness, Jean Simmons, Deborah Kerr and James Mason acquired

    international careers.

    Lean stayed in Britain for a while, but he delivered the second barrel of

    the Dickens gun, Oliver Twist (1948), made by essentially the same team,

    with a great child performance (John Howard Davies) and an even better

    supporting gallery. The two Dickens films are an outstanding achievement and

    they remain modern, gripping, funny and touching.

    Lean would make his epics later, but he was not at ease inventing stories. I

    think he rejoiced in Dickens because the story was settled, and because it

    allowed him translation, his most personal skill. The Dickens film looks a

    lot better today than A Passage to India, Ryan's Daughter and Doctor

    Zhivago. Is it possible that they're better than Lawrence of Arabia, too?

    Time will tell.

    Meanwhile, the lesson was learned: British cinema could and should regard

    Dickens as a treasure house: Cavalcanti made Nicholas Nickleby at Ealing in

    1947; Alistair Sim was Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951); there was a

    neglected Pickwick Papers (1954) and Dirk Bogarde was Carton in a pretty

    good Tale of Two Cities (1958). But that was only the beginning. As

    television found an appetite for classic serials, for loving, scholarly use

    of sets and costumes and a happy way with slight over-playing in supporting

    roles, so Dickens was restored as a popular author (if he had ever been


    This is a tradition that should remember Lean and Great Expectations, along

    with the realisation that Dickens had already imagined film noir, the

    musical, the epic, the weepie, the horror story and the endless romances of

    lost, stolen and strayed children. He was a man of the theatre (witness the

    great Dickens shows put on by Emlyn Williams and Simon Callow) who would

    have understood movies in an afternoon, or the simple image of an

    irresistible pork pie ·.

    The new print of GE is released on February 2.

  7. #7
    Member Country: UK
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    One of my all time favourite films, just a classic. On the original poster there is no mention of Alec Guinness but introduce Anthony Wager and Jean Simmons, what a difference a couple of years later.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Country: England
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    Surely still the best ever Britmovie. Curious though that it is only 21 on the BM Top 100 list!!!

    Good to see that a new print has been released for Cinema distribution but I bet it is a very limited release. No sign of it around my way, as yet.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: England harryfielder's Avatar
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    Jul 2005
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    Still the best version and a must see again film....


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