Beyond Finian

With the curtain calls in for Finian’s Rainbow, Francis Ford Coppola was hot to get on the road for his next project, The Rain People. But Howard Kazanjian was faced with a dilemma as to what he would be doing next.

Francis had asked Howard to accompany him on The Rain People as his AD. They were going to be on the road traveling light, catching those places and situations that crossed their path, much as they had when up in the Bay area for Finian. So he only wanted one AD for this film. This restriction placed a stumbling block to Howard’s participation.  Howard was a 2d AD at the time, but this arrangement would require him to be a 1st AD. To remedy this problem, Coppola called the DGA to ask for a waiver, or perhaps get Howard “promoted” to 1st AD early, since he was so close to qualifying already. The DGA turned Coppola down on both counts. Coppola turned to Howard and gave him this advice – “Quit the Guild.” Howard had to tell Coppola “No.” He just felt he could not. It would be too difficult (nigh on impossible, not to mention expensive) to try to get back in afterwards.

[Aside – As I mentioned in an earlier post George Lucas did go along with Coppola for The Rain People, not as AD, but as a general factotum, a gopher. He shot a documentary about the making of the film. On the road, somewhere in Colorado, Francis and George took in Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey.” George told Francis that he wanted to do something in that vein. It was one of the seeds for what later would become “Star Wars.” In tribute to Kubrick, they painted an inscription on one of the vans in their caravan – “HAL 9000” in three inch letters].

Instead, Howard went on to work for Sam Peckinpah and his film The Wild Bunch, (which is covered in other posts on my blog).

Later, in 1971, Coppola wanted Howard to be his AD on The Godfather. Again, the DGA rules intervened. Back then a member of the West Coast DGA (of which Howard was one) could not work within the jurisdiction of the East Coast DGA, where the film was to be shot.

Dick Kline DP

Dick Kline DP

So Howard Kazanjian on one side reported to the director Josh Logan, but he also came in the orbit of influence of the director of photography, Dick Kline. Sometimes there can be a struggle between the Director and the DP in creative matters, with the Director holding the upper hand.  Instead Logan concerned himself more with the major talents (and the budget, and cutting costs), and he gave a lot of latitude to Kline in setting up the shots.  He trusted him to do more than just light for the camera.

Dick Kline’s father was cinematographer Benjamin H Kline, who had been working in Hollywood since the silent days in the 1920s – up through the 50s and 60s when he switched to television.  (At Columbia in the 40s he turned the camera on the shenanigans of the Three Stooges).

In Dick Kline, Howard found an excellent friend and a mentor. They had worked together on another project here at Warners – a pilot for a TV series called “House of Wax”.

[Aside – House of Wax was turned down by the network, so WB released it as a feature, under the title it would have had as the first episode – Chamber of Horrors].

Kline’s turn as DP on it had caught the eye of studio head Jack Warner, who in acknowledgement gave him the DP position on his next personal production – Camelot.  And because Kline had been impressed by Howard and his get up and go attitude, he went to the powers that be and asked that Howard be assigned to Camelot too. [Howard – I never walked but ran everywhere, tackling my tasks. I used to be on two phones at once, and listening to what was going on, on set]

Howard also liked Kline’s camerawork. [Howard – Dick had a different way of lighting a scene.  And on Camelot his style conflicted with the key gaffer, causing a little friction].  The old timers were more attuned to the slower film speeds (AS200) which called for tons of light.  Kline toned down the lights, but would throw extra on smaller areas. For example, in Vanessa’s arrival at Camelot, for the dolly shot that followed her horse litter, he trained a PAR light (Parabolic anodized reflector) on the star while they did this traveling shot.

And Howard especially appreciated the fact that Kline was helpful with directors, or more specifically young ADs. Kline kept Howard informed. He would let Howard know when his cameras were in place, and the set lit, giving Howard ample time to have the actors and extras in place. (Unlike Howard’s experience later with the DP on The Wild Bunch). Or conversely he would give him a heads up about delays, and if it were near to the lunch hour, Howard could fully use that intelligence and call an early lunch, saving both time and money.

Kline also gave him advice about the business and about people.  And pointers on why he did things a certain way. Howard would write notes on the margins of his script about camera setups and lighting. [Howard – you have to pick a style – you move or you don’t. Kline only moved when he had to, preferring to keep the camera stationary. And he used the crane a lot.]

For one shot – one end of the throne room set had been converted to the round table room. (These sets were housed within the largest sound stage on the WB lot). A simple establishing shot was planned – the whole entirety of the round table would be in view and the camera operator was to pan up from there and take in the stained glass windows on the wall behind them.  Howard was watching and thought the operator hadn’t quite fulfilled the task. He brought his concern to Kline. Kline quizzed his operator if he had panned up as instructed. The cameraman assured his boss that he had, and it was left at that.  However, the dailies came back and when run they showed that the operator had not covered them completely. But it was all too late, the round table set by that time had been broken down and it would have been too expensive to set up again.

Stay tuned next week for “Painting Stars and Falling Knights,” the next post in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.

Shall We Gather in the River

“HOW-WARD!”

The intonation in Peckinpah’s voice brought the normal hubbub on the set to a halt. Everyone fell silent, and all eyes turned to Howard Kazanjian. And Howard braced himself for the tongue lashing to follow. He was getting accustomed to the “attention,” for he realized that he was the one consistent face in the revolving directory of ADs coming on and off the film.  So in this sense, his director was counting upon him heavily to do his job, and to do it well. And Howard did just that.

When shooting ended for the day, the actors and crew knocked off and looked for a bar. Howard, however still had work to do. The call sheets for the following day had to be prepared, then delivered. Which tended to be a problem, for in most locations the members of the cast were spread all over the town. The stuntmen were usually the furthest out, and hence the last ones served. In Parras, all the stuntmen were put up in a well appointed hacienda.  The first time Howard arrived with their call sheets, they were just sitting down to dinner, attended to by servants [Howard – “Wow, do you guys really have a place here.”]. Upon returning from his rounds, Howard tidied up any remaining paperwork before turning in, many times without dinner. (He lost twenty pounds over the course of filming, dropping down to 120 by the end).

The stuntmen were hired on as units – man and horse. The horses were specially trained – to be responsive to their masters, and to be unheedful of noises (i.e. gunshots), horse falls and other distractions on set. The head wrangler saw to their needs and care, and all the paperwork associated with bringing them across the border.

Now they were at a new location, the Nazas River. Things were winding down to the middle (speaking of the story chronology) – or the end of shooting. This last sequence would cover a huge stunt – the blowing up of the bridge while the bounty hunters crossed it in pursuit of the fleeing Wild Bunch – no camera tricks or special effects, just five men and their horses falling off a bridge and into the waters of a river.

Fred Gammon was now the 1st AD. Howard worked under him, having charge this time of the stuntmen. The day they were scheduled to begin shooting this sequence ended up a bust. The flow in the river was judged to be too swift (16 mph) and hence too dangerous for the stuntmen and their horses.

The day following, conditions looked more favorable. Howard had the stuntmen and their horses ready, but Sam concentrated on taking shots of burning fuses – closeups that would serve as inserts. When it appeared that the director was winding up that action, Howard would move the stuntmen into position on the bridge, only to be waved off. This was repeated over and over, with understandable, unintended consequences. The stuntmen were getting more apprehensive as uncertainty grew. Psychologically they were getting psyched out.

And this was not the only problem adding to the tension. One of the stuntmen, Joe Canutt lodged a complaint when he learned that the charges to blow the bridge were much bigger than necessary. (Again, Sam was the mover behind the “bigger and better” explosions). Plus there was the concern about explosions in and around water, and the consequent danger to the men on account of the lethal increase in water pressure. They finally acquiesced to the stunt men’s concern and reduced the size of the charges above, and eliminated those below the water line altogether.

Six cameras were set up to catch the optimum angles on all the action, three on shore; three on barges in the river, secured by cables. Peckinpah and Ballard chose to be with two of the cameras afloat, in one of the barges.

Finally they were set. The stuntmen were mounted on their horses and in place on the bridge. Howard was on the near bank of the river out of view of the cameras, when Peckinpah called “action.”

The charges exploded and the bridge roadbed swung down like a trapdoor plunging horses and riders into the swiftly moving river. Though one of the riders was knocked out and had to be fished unconscious from the water, none of the stuntmen were seriously injured. The only “casualty” was one of the cameras.

Following the form, Howard negotiated with the stuntmen their pay after the stunt.  The SAG set their normal rate for pay, overtime and meals. Special stunts, as I mentioned in last week’s post, called for separate negotiations. By the time that Howard was done negotiating with them, he had earned their respect. They walked away with $2000 a piece, pretty good pay for the time.

Howard had already been subject to the process himself when he met with the studio Production Manager Dutch Meyer before heading to Mexico. And did not fare as well. The normal rate for an AD was one hundred dollars per week – stateside. According to DGA guidelines when you were on foreign soil, an additional foreign location fee was called for. But Dutch was into rounding figures – downward – and made that small increase nearly disappear. Welcome to Hollywood.

But picking up back at the scene, and still on the subject of respect, there was the matter of getting the director safely back onto dry land. With the shot over, some of the hands began to haul on the cable to bring Peckinpah and Ballard back in. As they neared the bank, a voice called out, “Cut the cable! Cut the cable!”

Peckinpah shouted back, “Who said that!”

Some one on the crew shouted in reply. “That was Howard!”

Peckinpah didn’t say a word. Instead an appreciative grin lit up his face. Howard had earned his respect.

Howard had lasted out the entire shooting schedule. But now with principal photography over, he returned stateside.

Back at Burbank, Howard had not seen the last of the mercurial director. When Sam returned from Mexico, he enlisted Howard’s help to shoot some brief inserts – low angle shots of some of the leads against neutral backgrounds that could be cut in with the principal footage.

And then there was that one chance encounter on the WB lot that Howard will always remember. Howard was walking on one of streets between the sound stages, when Peckinpah was passing in his Porsche. Sam saw Howard, stopped the car, got out and hugged him. And thanked him for his contribution to the making of The Wild Bunch.

Howard will return sometime in the beginning of 2015 with the “Adventures of Howard Kazanjian – the Musicals” – Camelot and Finian’s Rainbow and working with Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero; and Petula Clark, Tommy Steele and the immortal Fred Astaire. And with director Francis Ford Coppola.

So stay tuned and Watch This Space.

Shooting the Train

In the morning, the actors were the first ones on set. They had to be there early for the ministrations of Al Greenway, who was in charge of make-up. As an AD Howard Kazanjian had to be sure that they were there in place to get their make up on and if necessary their mustaches glued in place. Wardrobe would follow. However, the director Peckinpah was always late, usually last on the set. Borgnine always complained about Sam’s tardiness. But that was nothing compared to when Ernie noticed Sam handing out live ammo to the Mexican extras. To Sam it was an aesthetic concern, they were the only thing that looked good in their bandoleers. Noticeably not all of the cartridges were returned, however, with fifteen or twenty going missing, and afterwards gunfire could be heard at odd times. At the following day’s distribution, Ernie left the set in protest and returned to his room.  He stayed there until he was notified that all the ammunition had been returned.

Difficulties of a different sort for an AD awaited Howard in Sonora.  They were there to capture the sequence in which the Wild Bunch plunders a train for the weapons shipment being transported on it, all by agreement to be handed over to General Mapache.

First, there was the stunt that went bad. The engineer was to be thrown from the cab, as the Wild Bunch seized control. All was set for him to be flung off the moving train onto some crash pads, but the stunt person did something he shouldn’t have. Instead of just sailing free over the side, he grabbed one of the handrails, thinking to ease his fall. With the train moving forward and with the point of contact acting as a fulcrum, he was spun in an arc, and all he succeeded in doing was cracking his head against the coal car. It fell to Howard to handle the aftermath. ADs had the duty to negotiate with the stunt people the recompense for special stunts which was always done after the trick, and not before. But it can be a particularly ticklish affair when the stunt didn’t come off.

In one of the next setups, Peckinpah was in his director’s chair beside the track at a little distance from the locomotive with Pike (Bill Holden) aboard. Howard was tasked as a runner between the two. Howard is not sure what set off all the tension at this point between the director and his star, but tension there was. Perhaps it was just the fact that it was hot out, and even hotter in the cab of the locomotive. After a spell of doing nothing but sweat, Holden yelled to Howard, “What’s happening?” This sent Howard bouncing back and forth between them relaying messages of rising ire on both sides. Sam would often stall while he was considering his next move. Holden finally retorted to one of Sam’s evasions, “What am I supposed to  be doing?” By this time both were clearly hearing one another, since both were yelling at the top of their lungs, but kept up the fiction that they didn’t. At the last, Sam yelled to Howard, “You tell Holden, I’ll tell him when I decide.”

Who knows if this didn’t lead to the next accident.

Further down the rail line and the next setup, Sam reigned from above on a crane with the camera. Sam had insisted that Holden drive the train himself and bring it in at full speed, and stop it quickly next to the buckboard into which they were to load the stolen weapons. Several takes in succession ate up the morning and Sam didn’t like any of them. It was another hot day. And Holden was getting tired of it, so for the next take he just pushed it to the stops.

Just ahead out of view of the camera and beyond where the train was supposed to a stop, was a small bridge upon which a flatcar was parked with all their equipment – generators etc. The train was barreling and the brakes were thrown – the wheels locked –  sparks were flying and it looked like an accident were imminent. Howard was beside the crane and saw it all.

Warren Oates who was riding on the flatcar attached in front of the engine, saw the gap closing between his flatcar and the stationary one. He turned and ran for the comparative safety of the engine behind him. The two flatcars collided and the heavily laden one bounced about a foot in the air.  Crew members who had been keeping out of sight under the bridge bolted from that haven, running up the arroyo and away from the bridge and their fears of an explosion, or worse yet the flat cars falling off the bridge down to where they were hiding.

Thankfully no one was hurt. The camera did not catch the crash, which was just as well for the script did not call for such a stunt. The engine’s cowcatcher was severely bent. With any movement it would now plow the ground ahead of it.

It fell to Howard Kazanjian, the second assistant director to fill out the report about the accident and send it off to the studio.


Join us next Wednesday as we bring to a close this series on Howard Kazanjian’s time working on the Wild Bunch with “Shall We Gather in the River.” Stay tuned and Watch This Space.

Shooting Time to Pieces

    “Pieces of Time.”

     Borrowing a phrase from Jimmy Stewart (via Peter Bogdanovich) and repurposing it – what you capture with the camera’s lens (pieces of time) can be reordered and put together in the best way to tell your story. It’s magical. What this means is that you are not limited to a mere chronological methodology in capturing the image, but can grab your shots planned around availabilities of people and locations.

     Thus it was with the Wild Bunch. Here they were only midway through production and they were about to shoot the ending to the film.

     When they arrived at “the Villa” (Hacienda Cienaga del Carmen, in the desert between Torreon and Saltillo) they were four days behind schedule, and as things progressed or rather didn’t, they slipped further behind.

     They launched into it easily enough.  Sam had his vision for the famous walk of the Wild Bunch, the big build up to the last shoot out. [Howard – “Much of the walk was with just the Wild Bunch. When they entered the courtyard Cliff and I staged and directed the extras.”] With the tension raised to the breaking point, their demand for the release of their friend Angel (Jaime Sanchez) is met by his death at the hands of the antagonist, General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez).

    Here, this lead off event in the courtyard ran into problems. The first take of Mapache slashing Angel’s throat didn’t come off. Granted a high degree of co-ordination was necessary –  as Emilio wielded a rubber knife, an out-of-sight crew member manipulated the mechanics of the bloodletting, Jaime who had been fitted with a special prosthetic, a tube under his makeup, was supposed to react. But Jaime just didn’t react like he was being killed. [Howard – “He didn’t react at the right time, his expression didn’t work as his neck was slit nor was the amount of blood enough for Sam.  Sam did want more blood.   I think Sam would have liked to slit Jaime’s throat for real and get the right amount of reaction and blood!”] Sam called for the second take and moved on.

     But what to do next was painfully slow in coming, for Peckinpah was undecided. He took a weekend with his cinematographer Lucien Ballard and finally worked out a plan. Multiple shots were taken of the chaotic action restaged at different distances from the camera. This required lots of squibs and paint. Two squibs for each shot that struck an actor – a splash of blood for the entrance and another for the exit. Ten thousand total, including 500 or so wired into the walls. And because they needed to shoot the scene and redo it again and again the clothing of the actors had to be rendered back to their “before” image. The costumer Gordon Dawson and his crew would tape up the holes and paint over the “blood” stains.

    And despite his superhuman work staging the extras through those multiple takes, this period also saw the exit of 1st AD Cliff Coleman, for he ran afoul of the cinematographer and Peckinpah. [Howard – “During rehearsals and set-ups, Ballard didn’t want anyone in front of his camera — even in the background.  The moment he was ready he would call for Sam giving NO or LITTLE time for the assistants to set the background actors, animals, etc.  Cliff ruined the first master take of the shoot-out.  Though Sam said not a word, Cliff was fired. Cliff had no excuse as Ballard had clearly warned him beforehand to stay out of the view of the camera.”] It wasn’t immediate, Cliff was slowly eased out, first banished to the second unit to cover the rail yard scene when the rebel army came to oust General Mapache and his Federale forces, then back to the States.

     In regards to Ballard, Howard had his own contretemps with him when the company was still in Parras. Near the grounds of the Hotel Rincon del Montero where they were staying, they set up the scene that would be Angel’s village. There the children were playing in this pool of water (unknown to the company their water supply at the hotel). As was his usual practice Ballard wouldn’t let any one in front of his camera while he was lighting the scene. For years he always kept on his person, a stick that he attached to his wrist by a narrow leather strap. He used this as a pointer to instruct a rigger or an electrician what light to move or barn door to reposition, or he would point at you with it and tell you to get out of the way. When Ballard was set, he notified Sam all was ready.  But all wasn’t ready, the extras had not been set, nor told what to do. Howard had been kept from his job and he had had it. [Howard -“In the Mexican village where the little boys were jumping in the water I had it out with Ballard I grabbed his stick (a 1/2” round dowel) and broke it in half looking directly into Ballard’s eyes.”] For days afterward, Howard and Lucien found themselves in a rather awkward situation, neither could look at the other. Lucien would turn and discover Howard, and would immediately avert his gaze. Likewise for Howard. It took a week or two. The 2nd AD and the cinematographer finally felt their way into a good working relationship.

It was a grueling time for all in the company. There was little joy in the grip of their responsibilities. Everyone was being stretched and pushed to their limits and beyond by the singular artistic vision of Sam Peckinpah.

Be sure to come back next Wednesday for “Shooting the Train” the next post in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian. And Watch This Space!

First Day of Shooting at Anything that Moves

Monday March 25th, 1968. When they showed up that morning, the asphalt streets of Parras, Mexico were covered with dirt and some of the buildings outfitted with add-on facades, all to give it the look of a Texas border town.

Cliff Coleman, the brand new 1st AD had not arrived yet.  The studio had put him on a plane with a copy of the script.  He would be a good choice, because he was excellent when it came to managing crowds, just what was needed on the first day. For the first scenes to be shot were the first scenes in the film, and if you remember the film there were lots of crowds to be pushed around.

There were four groups to be co-ordinated – the Wild Bunch (in town to rob the railroad), the bounty hunters (there to trap the Wild Bunch), the townspeople (innocents caught in the crossfire), and a subset of the townspeople – teetotalers, preparing and conducting a temperance march.

Howard Kazanjian, as the 2nd Assistant Director was attached to the second unit and put in charge of the last named subset. He was in the revival tent and had as his task to teach the Mexican extras that made up the temperance procession how to sing Shall We Gather at the River.

And he was very busy indeed. In fact he wore two hats that day. Peckinpah intended to shoot the master scene for the entire flow of the action from the entry of the Wild Bunch into the town, the shoot out and their exit. Because there were five cameras rolling to catch all the interaction among the actors and the two hundred plus extras, and because there were not enough crew to man them, Howard served on this unit’s camera crew, pulling focus.

By the afternoon, Coleman had arrived and took up his tasks as 1st AD. By the end of the day the master shot was in. The next few days, as was the practice, the coverage was closer, little isolated snatches of action and close ups for the name actors. It was a smart and economical way of doing things. The number of people in front of and behind the camera were pared down. By the end of the week they moved inside to shoot interiors.

By that time, Howard had another reason to check out the interiors too. He had worn out his socks, and went in search of replacements in the only place at hand – the one General store in the town of Parras.

Tune in next Wednesday for the further adventures of Howard Kazanjian – in “Shooting Time to Pieces,” here on Watch this Space!

The Only A.D. that Peckinpah Did Not Fire

It was 1968. The job of Production Assistant as a title was non-existent. The thankless job of putting together call sheets, and delivering them, keeping all the records for personnel hours and things used, and doing all those little things that lubricated the process behind the scenes fell to the assistant director instead. If a chicken were checked out for the day for a shot, Howard Kazanjian recorded it. Somewhere today there rests in the WB archives for such things, those hand written records put together faithfully by Howard.

You would think that you would need a bunch of these minions running around to insure everyone was reached in a timely fashion. But the number of ADs on a film wasn’t at the whim or even prerogative of the director, but rather wholly under the rule of the deals negotiated by the studios with the guilds. When it came to ADs numeric factors trumped all else, and the numbers for Peckinpah’s new project – The Wild Bunch, dictated that it be limited to two.

So why are there six ADs listed in IMDB for the Wild Bunch?

Just because a maximum of two was dictated, that didn’t mean that the director had to keep them if he didn’t like them. And Sam Peckinpah found a multitude of reasons to fire his aids. A chore after the decision actually left to his production manager, Bill Faralla – (and that all without even an explanation). Howard was the only AD that was not fired by the fiery director. So why is he not listed on the credits that appear in the film itself? His title of Second Assistant Director was a category at that time that was not authorized in any title scroll.

One of the few exceptions to this dictum, involved Howard himself just the year before. He did such a bang up job on Finian’s Rainbow that the producer fought for, and succeeded in getting him a credit on that title.

The first casualty among the AD ranks was the 1st Asst, Phil Rawlins. He had lots of experience on TV westerns.  He was a rodeo cowboy who first worked as a stunt man, then as an AD – in shows like Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Maverick, and now more recently on F Troop, in which he moved up from AD to associate producer. For whatever reason he was let go before the first day of principal photography. All he was told was that his replacement would be arriving in the morning.

As things panned out, this left Howard as the only American AD when the first cameras rolled.

Up next Wednesday, the next installment in the Adventures of Howard Kazanjian – First Day of Shooting at Anything that Moves. So stay tuned and Watch This Space.

The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian

Landing a Job as an A.D.

After a stint at the TV company Four Star Productions right out of college, Howard Kazanjian had the opportunity to settle in at WB for his trial period as an assistant director. Four Star, the TV firm begun by Dick Powell, Joel McCrea, David Niven and Charles Boyer had been a good training ground. In the three short months there, he had helped on the TV series Amos Burke – Secret Agent, Honey West, and the Big Valley. He even gained some experience working on a couple of pilots, one a western, a spin-off of the feature High Noon, and another one The Sea Wolves which showcased a submarine. Neither of them made it past the pilot stage.

With the move to WB, Howard continued to work in TV, on the series Mr Roberts and The F.B.I., before switching to feature films (see credits below). It was during this period that Howard worked on two musicals Camelot and Finian’s Rainbow. (Both of which I hope to touch on in future posts). With his assignment to Finian his trial period with the DGA was over and he was now a full fledged assistant director.

Then, word was out that Sam Peckinpah was looking for ADs for his next feature, The Wild Bunch, to be produced at Warners. The buzz about town was that another western was in the works. History had been made with the $400,000 sale of William Goldman’s script for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to Fox. Peckinpah with his $100,000 script in hand wanted to beat it into production and onto the screens. (He did.)
Peckinpah’s normal practice was to give a candidate a copy of the script, then call him in to grill him on his read of the project. [Howard – “I never was interviewed regarding the script by Peckinpah. His team had overlooked me in the interview process, or perhaps thought I had been interviewed. WB was pushing for me to be on that show.”] So he never heard those words – “We’ll call you later.”

Instead he was sent for, but when he entered Peckinpah’s office suite it was anything but promising. The outer office was empty. A female voice called out from behind the closed door to the next room. ”Be right with you.”

Howard stood waiting.

When the woman popped her head out of the door to call him in, Howard could’t help but notice that she was not an office worker, but rather a nurse, her tell-tale cap giving that fact away. No sooner had he entered the room and the door closed, than she instructed him to pull down his pants. Right then and there out came an hypodermic and she injected its contents into Howard’s gluteus maximus.

Howard says his muscles must have tensed up automatically, and it was much more painful than it should have been. In fact, a rather large knot developed that stayed with him for the next month.

One plus though. He knew immediately that he had the job, and would soon be going south of the border, down Mexico way.

 

FOUR STAR
Amos Burke, Secret Agent
The Big Valley
The Smothers Brother Show – one week only
Honey West – one week only
Ace of the Mounties – Pilot
Sea Wolves – Pilot   (Submarine)
High Noon – Pilot

WARNER BROS
Mr. Roberts (TV)
The House of Wax – Pilot
The F.B.I. (TV)
Not With My Wife, You Don’t
An American Dream
The Cool Ones
Chubasco
Cool Hand Luke
Camelot
Finian’s Rainbow
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!
The Wild Bunch
Once You Kiss A Stranger
The Great Bank Robbery
The Arrangement

The Wild Bunch Plays Havoc

The Wild Bunch Plays Havoc

It wasn’t normal for the Renton Cinema to play Warner Brothers films. They were normally exhibited at the Sterling theaters. But for some reason in June of 1969, we opened the Sam Peckinpah film “The Wild Bunch.”

It was a bit controversial at the time. I wonder now if that might have been the reason that we played it instead of Sterling.

The number of Westerns had been dropping noticeably from the studios’ release schedules, at least measured from the baseline of the fifties. But I checked this year – and there were surprisingly quite a few of various flavors – Support Your Local Sheriff, True Grit, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, Undefeated, and the year was sent off with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Paint Your Wagon. More germain to this instance, probably, was the opening of the John Wayne film – True Grit. It came out in the Sterling houses one week before the Wild Bunch. And that might have been another reason that Sterling passed, they might simply have had no room to open the WB title.

The Wild Bunch opened in our small house, Cinema II which only had 500 seats. It was an R-rated movie. And now being old enough to view it, I took it in on one of my days off. I don’t remember a movie to that date in my young life that was so disturbing. Sure, there had been moments in Lawrence of Arabia that played similar notes on my psyche, but they were not as explicit as the Wild Bunch. In LoA you saw the aftermath, not the blow by blow that was put up on the screen by Peckinpah. I have read that Peckinpah, when planning this film, wanted to make it as realistic as possible. He had it in his mind to translate his experiences hunting deer, to this violent story of men in conflict. His memory of the bullet impacting the body of the animal, led him to find ways to replicate that in the shoot outs that he would depict. Another WB movie had led the way in this matter. Bonnie and Clyde was one of the first films to use the squib, that explosive pack of red liquid attached to the body of the actor. Peckinpah set out to out-Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie and Clyde. And he did.

I remember sitting there sometimes too squeamish to look up at the screen out of fear of what I would see. At times like those, one’s own identity entered into the equation of movie viewing. What if this were to happen to me? What would I do in a similar situation? Run for cover assuredly. I remember being suddenly aware that there was a mind behind all this, at work trying to impact the audience, causing their thoughts to flow in a direction of its choosing. Peckinpah says he intended it as an anti-war, or at the least an anti-violence statement. Was he successful? Not if that was actually his intent, for the violence was actually an attraction for many, and he himself was surprised and saddened by that fact.

The envelope had been pushed and there was no going back. Going forward the Western would not be cast in the sensibilities of the Saturday morning matinee western, a la Roy Rogers or Hopalong Cassidy. Nor was any other film genre left untouched.

Beginning next week I will be starting another thread to my blog. I have entitled it “The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.” It will be appearing on Watch This Space on Wednesdays.
Howard is the internationally renowned film producer, who has on his credits “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Return of the Jedi” among others. He is also a dear brother in Christ.
My first series will cover his time as an assistant director on “The Wild Bunch” under Sam Peckinpah.
So stay tuned and Watch This Space.