Tag Archives: Actors Directing Themselves

“The Fearless Hyena”
by Chris Hoey

1. Jackie Chan

In the last film of Jackie Chan’s early filmmaking days in Hong Kong, Chan meticulously practices the art he perfected through trial and error over the course of many films. For many of his early films, the ending credits displayed the pain and suffering the cast and crew suffered in the creation of Chan’s special brand of martial arts films. In the classic “blooper” reel, the audience was treated to the stunts that went awry and the fight scenes in which strikes landed accidentally. Chan’s penchant for improvisation coupled with careful choreography helped to build his reputation as a master filmmaker even as his style proved to be mayhem for production management.

2. JC HandprintsChan can sometimes baffle set designers and set dressers with the style of fight scenes he stages. He famously likes to use anything the audience sees in the scene. During the famous “chopsticks” fight scene, two characters fight for the meaty morsels with chopstick skills. The dishes on the table barely move throughout the scene while the two combatants toss bits of food around, stealing the chunks from each other in cunning crescendo of culinary martial arts. Chan has an eye for continuity, however, as both dishes maintain a consistent look throughout the action. You won’t find a bowl of rice that goes from half-full to empty to full again, depending on the camera angle here.

3. JC Shadow SilouetteMaybe the forgiving aspect of Chan’s style is that chaos and speed reign. If an audience member is taking time to notice a bowl or a set piece that is out of place from shot to shot, they must have a quick eye. In one scene, Chan’s character challenges his master to a duel of balancing various pottery vases and vessels. The pots and even cups and saucers seem to appear out of thin air, and that seems to be the point. Chan presents a fantasy sequence where we delight in the skills in the action rather than the reality of the objects in the scene.

Chan’s stunning fight scenes and stunt work also further the plot and director’s purpose in the film. Often the sequences settle a score between opposing forces, but much more frequently the scenes help to set a tone or make the audience laugh. In one famous scene from the film, Chan’s character engages in “emotional kung fu,” in which the practitioner of the art uses happiness, sadness, and any other display of emotion to expose his adversary’s weakness.

4. JC Hollywood StarIn the end, fans of Chan are always satisfied because, just like his characters, who are practiced and faithful to the martial arts, Chan is faithful to his own style of motion picture arts. The story and the continuity serve a greater purpose in his films. That may be the reason there is nothing like a classic Jackie Chan film.

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Olivier Stars in and Directs Marilyn Monroe
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. the-prince-and-the-showgirl1What happens when you put the world’s greatest Shakespearean actor together with Hollywood’s sexiest starlet? You get heaven and hell in the form of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” this week’s Moviezoot watch list film with Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Made in 1957, this film featured a snobbishly cantankerous and domineering Olivier directing a fragile, insecure, method-acting Monroe, whom he described as a “professional amateur.” Marilyn Monroe Productions, which had been formed in 1955, produced the film, and possibly led the actress to believe she would have more control over the filmmaking process.

“Of all the things I’ve done in life, directing a motion picture is the most beautiful. It’s the most exciting and the nearest than an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator,” Olivier once said. He may have had some doubts though with the tumultuous creating of “The Prince and the Showgirl” and all of its ensuing dramatic problems with Monroe.

2. Olivier and Monroe 2In fact, the 2011 drama “My Week with Marilyn,” which starred Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, and Eddie Redmayne, is based on the books by Colin Clark, that chronicle the stormy making of the film. This film focused on a week of shooting with Monroe being escorted around London by Colin (Redmayne), after her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) left for the United States. It depicts her bouts of self-doubt and depression, obvious drug and alcohol use, late scene arrivals, flubbed lines, and even a miscarriage. It was filmed at Saltwood Castle, White Waltham Airfield, and other London locations, including the same studio where they filmed “The Prince and the Showgirl” originally in 1956. It was a difficult, trying period for both stars to say the least.

3. Olivier Later YearsIn his 1983 autobiography “Confessions of an Actor,” Olivier writes that when he met Marilyn Monroe prior to the production, he believed he would fall in love with her. During production, however, he became tired of Monroe’s legendary diva-like lack of discipline and her constant questioning of his directions and wound up despising her instead. He admitted later though that her performance overshadowed his own, even going so far as to say that she was the best thing in the film and that the final result was worth the aggravation.

How this unlikely pair came together for this romantic comedy is another story. Named the #6 Actress on The American Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends, Marilyn Monroe was a noted American actress, comedienne, singer, and model. In 1949, she posed nude for the now famous calendar shot, which appeared in Playboy in 1953.

4. Marilyn Monroe test shotShe was the first centerfold in that magazine’s long history. Monroe went on to become one of the world’s most enduring entertainment icons, remembered for her charming personification of the Hollywood sex symbol and her tragic personal and professional struggles within the industry. With unmatched magnetism and childlike vulnerability, Monroe was a true movie star long before the film’s 1957 release.

After seeing Monroe in her small part in ”The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), Joseph L. Mankiewicz cast her in “All About Eve” (1950), resulting in a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. “Niagara” (1953), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) solidified her status as a superstar.

5. marilyn-monroe-1502475049OiaUnfortunately, Monroe wasn’t happy with her sexpot image and she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Her work began to slow down around this time though, due to her habit of being continually late to sets, her bungled scenes and forgotten lines, her constant illnesses, and her unwillingness to cooperate with her producers, directors, and other actors. In 1955, after a failed marriage to baseball great Joe DiMaggio, Monroe moved to New York from Hollywood in an attempt to ditch her sexy image and become the serious actor she dreamed she could be. While there, she worked with director Lee Strasberg at New York’s The Actors Studio.

6. MM Dress Blowing UpShe also began psychoanalysis to learn more about herself. Sadly, she’d spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages while her mother was committed to a mental institution. Critics recognized her artistic and dramatic acting transformation in 1956’s “Bus Stop,” though many were shocked by her marriage to serious playwright Arthur Miller.

Monroe has said, “My problem is that I drive myself … I’m trying to become an artist, and to be true, and sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of craziness, I’m just trying to get the truest part of myself out, and it’s very hard. There are times when I think, ‘All I have to be is true’. But sometimes it doesn’t come out so easily. I always have this secret feeling that I’m really a fake or something, a phony.”

7. Marilyn MonroeIn 1957, Monroe flew to Britain to make the film, which was far from a success financially and critically. Unfortunately it didn’t make as much money as anticipated considering the two box-office draws, and many critics panned it for being too slow moving.

Named the 2nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premier Magazine, behind #1 Cary Grant and before #3 Tom Cruise, Monroe once said, “Fame is fickle, and I know it. It has its compensations but it also has its drawbacks, and I’ve experienced them both.” While she only acted in 30 films before her tragic death by suicide, her legend lives on in film history forever. There are over 600 books and several songs written about her.

8. Olivier and Monroe Press Shot SmilingUnlike Monroe, Sir Laurence Olivier was an actor’s actor. Named the #14 greatest actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute and considered by many to be the greatest English-speaking actor of the twentieth century, Olivier’s career was built on his many roles in Shakespeare adaptations. A handsome man with a rich, smooth speaking voice, he often played noble and fiercely proud leaders and royal figures, including the role of Charles, the Prince Regent in “The Prince and the Showgirl.” He often directed himself in films. All five of the films that he directed were adaptations of plays: “Henry V” (1944), “Hamlet” (1948) and “Richard III” (1955) were all based on the plays of the same names by William Shakespeare; “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957) was based on the play “The Sleeping Prince” by Terence Rattigan; and “Three Sisters” (1970) was based on the play of the same name by Anton Chekhov.

Olivier also starred in 1940’s “Rebecca” and 1948’s “Hamlet,” both Best Picture Academy Award winners. He was the first actor nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in five different decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s. He was nominated 13 times for the Academy Award, nine times as Best Actor, once as Best Supporting Actor, twice for Best Picture, and once as Best Director.

Despite his success and peer and critic accolades alike, Olivier seemed unhappy with his fame and struggled with his own self-esteem much like Monroe. His oldest son, Tarquin Olivier claims in his 1993 memoir “My Father Laurence Olivier” that his father was dissatisfied with his career and felt a failure. Olivier disparaged his own achievements, pointing to Cary Grant’s career as the prime example of greatness. As fate would have it, Grant presented Olivier with his career achievement Oscar in 1979, though they were never friends.

9. Olivier and MonroeOlivier was familiar with mental illness due to his marriage to bipolar actress Vivien Leigh, whom he cared for during her manic episodes. Olivier once said of Monroe, “There were two entirely unrelated sides to Marilyn. You would not be far out if you described her as schizoid; the two people that she was could hardly have been more different. She was so adorable, so witty, such incredible fun and more physically attractive than anyone I could have imagined, apart from herself on the screen.”

Check out Monroe and Olivier now in The Prince and the Showgirl on MovieZoot.com.

First-time Director Shows Inexperience
in Gorgeous Disaster
by John Francis

1. One Eyed Jacks PosterThere were a number of big Hollywood names attached to Marlon Brando’s first and only directorial effort, “One Eyed Jacks”: Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, and Rod Serling, none of whom made the final cut.

The convoluted path to get the film made only adds to Brando’s own complex and convoluted legacy. The great British director Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) was initially set to helm the film, with another great director, Sam Peckinpah (“Wild Bunch”) set to write the screenplay on a first draft written by Serling of “Twilight Zone” fame.

Brando then fired Kubrick, who had fired Peckinpah, and brought in Calder Willingham, who was also fired, leading to Guy Trosper, who worked on the script with Brando, becoming the director. Film historians think that was Brando’s intention all along. When actor Karl Malden, who played Brando’s nemesis in the film, Dad Longworth, was asked who really wrote the film, his reply was: “There is one answer to your question — Marlon Brando, a genius in our time.”

Tracy and Fonda were both considered by Kubrick for the role of Dad, but once he was gone, Malden, who was on salary with Brando’s production company, was hired.

2. Brando DirectingSo, with Brando starring and directing, the film finally got off the ground, but Brando’s inexperience behind the camera would cause untold problems for the production.

The filming was supposed to take three months with a budget of $1.8 million. Brando spent six months and $6 million, shooting a million feet of film, six times the average film of the time. Brando also used Paramount’s new Vista-Vision process, which was much more expensive to shoot. His rough cut was eight hours, which he trimmed to five hours, then three. A frustrated Paramount took over and cut it down to its final length, 141 minutes.

Filming began at the end of 1958, but it was not completed until the fall of 1960 and released on March 31, 1961 in New York City.

Brando not only shot an inordinate amount of film, he was indecisive and methodical, pondered each camera setup while 120 members of the crew sat around doing nothing and would sit for hours waiting for the ocean waves to change for that perfect shot.

One story from the set had Brando getting drunk to film a scene in which his character Rio was drunk, but he got too drunk to act or direct, so he insisted on doing it again the next day. The following day, he again got too drunk to act or direct.

3. Brando and MaldenBrando talked about directing the film in a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone magazine: “You work yourself to death. You’re the first one up in the morning … I mean, we shot that thing on the run, you know, you make up the dialogue the scene before, improvising, and your brain is going crazy.”

Despite the studio taking over the film, never a good thing, the mixed reviews and all the turmoil and confusion on the set, “One Eyed Jacks” has fared well over the years. Many critics lament the fact that Brando never directed again, even though he showed flashes of brilliance in his own tortured way on “One Eyed Jacks.”

In 2016, Universal Pictures undertook a 4K digital restoration in partnership with The Film Foundation and in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Scorsese did the introduction and film critic Howard Hampton contributed a lengthy essay ”One-Eyed Jacks: Zen Nihilism” who called the film:

“A muted riot of sweaty brows and deadly stares, star turned director Brando’s ominous, custom-tailored western ‘One Eyed Jacks’ belongs to a line of conflicted, half-mad productions that appear doomed from the outset yet turn into more impactful film experiences than a barrel of cautiously wrought, fastidiously executed “classics’.”

4. Brando in One Eyed JacksThe Criterion Collection called it “a western like no other, combining the mythological scope of that most American of genres with the searing naturalism of a performance by Marlon Brando — all suffused with Freudian overtones and masculine anxiety. Though the production was overwhelmed by its director’s perfectionism and plagued by setbacks and studio reediting, ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ stands as one of Brando’s great achievements, thanks above all to his tortured turn as Rio, a bank robber bent on revenge against his former partner in crime.”

Film writer Steven Schneider included the film among the “1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”

Brando wasn’t so enamored of Paramount’s cut of his film, but by this time he had probably had enough of it anyway.

“Now, it’s a good picture for them (Paramount),” he’s quoted as saying when it was released, “but it’s not the picture I made … now the characters in the film are black-and-white, not gray-and-human as I planned them.”

Brando’s eight hours of footage has been lost to time, but it would have been fascinating to see that version of the film.

Watch One Eyed Jacks on MovieZoot.com now!