By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
The 73-year-old Jewison -- the sort of director one might consider "legendary," if only because his films run so often on American Movie Classics and TNT that we have all but memorized them -- finds no contradictions running through his résumé. As far as he's concerned, his films are all alike, their themes and emotions and ideals consistent from start to finish. They are all, as he likes to say, movies about people who suffer with a smile, who laugh in times of tragedy. They're films in which the only special effects are close-ups of actors whose faces fill the widest of screens. They're films in which stories are told and resolutions are neither neat nor tidy. They have unhappy endings, even when the hero triumphs.
"I've never felt there's a lot of difference between comedy and drama," Jewison says when discussing his varied filmography. "I approach both as though they're believable. If they're not believable, that's when people get the popcorn and say, 'What am I doing here?' That's why comedy sometimes has to be taken very seriously. It's a fragile thing. It's more difficult to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. Billy Wilder told me that, and he was right. He could move from comedy to drama. William Wyler moved from comedy to drama to musicals to...well, he could do anything. So that's why I never considered myself a genre filmmaker. A lot of my dramas have humor in them, and a lot of my comedies have tears in them, because that's what life is about. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't shed a tear for something, and not a day goes by when I don't laugh uproariously at something. We need a balance."
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Like John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn and Sidney Lumet, all of whom also worked in live television in New York in the '50s before heading toward the Western sunset, Jewison makes intimate films. You don't watch them; you live with them. His are the most ordinary of heroes, mundane men and women who triumph over the catastrophic day-to-day. They're nuns who believe themselves to be the Lamb of God; they're card players trying to lay down the biggest bet; they're small-town sheriffs and love-struck bakers and Vietnam vets trying to find their small places in a world looking to swallow them whole.
"I come from that period before the kind of anti-intellectual filmmaking that began with Star Wars," Jewison says, "where effects became more important than people, where action sequences -- endless, mindless reels of action -- -became more important than storytelling. That's when film changed rapidly, and I think it was all because filmmakers and studios were trying to appeal to a more juvenile audience. Someone once said of The Thomas Crown Affair and In the Heat of the Night, 'That's sophisticated filmmaking, and I kept saying, 'I don't make films for 14-year-olds. I am more interested in ideas. It's the idea behind the story that makes it important. That's what we should be talking about.' But it's like [screenwriter] Bill Goldman says: Nobody knows anything about anything, and you never know if the audience is going to be interested. You have to be a step ahead...and you have to be lucky."
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