Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson as the Closing Night Presentation at the 2020 AFI FEST presented by Audi.
The latest documentary and world premiere of My Psychedelic Love Story from the renowned documentary filmmaker of the Thin Blue Line and Fog of War (Academy Award winner), Errol Morris, comes a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, Swiss-born, Paris-raised, jet-setting, aristocratic, Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US, incarcerated, and eventually released. At the time there was much speculation Harcourt-Smith was a CIA plant – a Mata Hari of sorts.
Having recently watched The Trial of the Chicago 7, on Netflix, as My Psychedelic Love Story unfolded I cannot say I was surprised to see Timothy Leary jailed for such a long period of time over possession of a small amount of marijuana. The underlying story at play was the Nixon Administration making an example of another high-profile individual who encouraged others to think and act “outside the box.” All in the name of law and order – before Watergate became public and while the Vietnam War and student protests raged in the background.
Morris bases his work in My Psychedelic Love Story on a four-tape interview Leary gave with a prison psychologist. In agreeing to be interviewed, Leary makes clear in the tapes he wanted the love of his life, Ms. Johanna Harcourt-Smith, to have final custody of the tapes. But, according to Harcourt-Smith, her life centered on Leary and getting him his release from prison. Leary was undergoing hallucinogenic treatment while incarcerated. First from Harcourt smuggling in acid tabs in her belly button and through postage stamps on her letters sent through the US Postal Office and, subsequently, through prison therapy sessions.
Eventually, the government (the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency) threatened Leary with an ultimatum – publicly announce his cooperation to halt the LSD crisis or spend the remainder of his life in a psychiatric ward with a fried brain. His incarceration would soon include his ingestion of stronger and stronger doses of hallucinogens until he lost his mind. Leary agreed to cooperate, was released from prison into the Witness Protection Program, and was living in a small cabin in Idaho with no electricity. One night he and Harcourt-Smith had an argument. Leary left in the middle of the night and Harcourt-Smith never saw Leary again.
Only within the last few years when some of her belongings were sent to her did Harcourt listen to the interview tapes from 1974. Morris has his Interrotron that allows for a powerful sense of intimacy as well as several other cameras placed at various angles and vantage points capturing Harcourt-Smith as she delivers a monologue of epic proportions. As Harcourt-Smith drifts from topic to topic Morris introduces still photographs, psychedelic art, archival footage, and even a clip from Alice in Wonderland.
Harcourt-Smith is a compelling storyteller. During her two-month jet setting romance with Leary, she recalls her conversations with Keith Richards and how she encouraged him to go to America and make albums with the Rolling Stones. And, the spur-of-the-moment trips to Switzerland, Afghanistan, France, and back again. Listening to her tell her tale coupled with Morris’ use of image inserts of colorful Tarot cards and hypnotic music, I felt captivated and often wondered how could Harcourt have such a vivid recollection of her and Leary’s travels on the run from the law. Nevertheless, My Psychedelic Love Story is quite a tale of what seems to have become a largely forgotten part of the turbulent 1970s. Don’t fret, however, as Showtime will be airing it soon. Highly recommended!
The one and only Martin Scorsese visited the AFI Campus recently to discuss making his spiritual epic SILENCE (an AFI AWARDS 2016 Official Selection), the master filmmaker’s decades-long labor of love that explores apostasy and crises of faith in 17th-century Japan. The film features Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuit missionaries dispatched to Japan to locate a fellow priest gone rogue, played by Liam Neeson.
“Obviously, these themes and ideas and concepts are very much the foundation of my life. The formation began, in a way, at a very early age, so I’ve never really lost interest in that or the urge to keep searching,” Scorsese told AFI Conservatory Fellows, referencing his religious films THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) and KUNDUN (1997). SILENCE is based on Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name. “Reading the book… The whole idea of this apostasy, why did it seem like a victory rather than a defeat?” Scorsese said, explaining one of the film’s central questions.
Watch a clip below in which Scorsese discusses how he was forced to re-think how to film a particular scene in SILENCE.
Scorsese also discussed the future of cinema with Fellows. “I do feel that cinema, for the first hundred years, has been within this proscenium…but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way,” he said. “You have this unlimited technology; you can do anything. I’m the product of a certain place in time. You’re younger, it’s very different, and it’s up to you to reinvent it and use any form you want… The one thing that keeps you human is your story, and it has to be from a personal vision. It has to come from a personal truth that is different from making a product.”
Following a rigorous selection process, AFI selected 25 alumnae from the AFI Conservatory and the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) to advance to the next phase of the Fox Filmmakers Lab. From a previous post, the Lab is a partnership between Twentieth Century Fox Film and AFI, who will together work to increase the number of female directors working on major studio films by giving the alumnae opportunities to direct short films based on the studio’s film franchises and titles, such as: ALIEN, CHRONICLE, DIE HARD, ERAGON (Fox 2000), THE FLY, THE MAZE RUNNER, THE OMEN, PLANET OF THE APES and PREDATOR.
The 2017 Fox Filmmaker Lab directors/AFI alumnae are:
Alexis O. Korycinski
Rosita Lama Muvdi
Deborah M. Pratt
Following the conclusion of Lab Week at Fox — which provided participants with tremendous access to the process of studio filmmaking — the filmmakers were celebrated at a cocktail party kickoff event in Beverly Hills, CA on Thursday, January 12, with Stacey Snider (Chairman and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Film) and Bob Gazzale (President and CEO of AFI) in attendance in support of this groundbreaking partnership and to welcome the incoming filmmakers to the program.
In the Spring, following further mentored development of their material, the directors will pitch their franchise or reboot ideas to Fox executives. One or more filmmakers will be chosen to make their concept into a short film.
Fox is committed to providing significant resources to the projects, to reflect the quality and scale of the films that they support. The filmmakers will be able to add the projects to their portfolios and pitch Fox feature films unrelated to the shorts in the future.
Posted by Larry GleesonBy Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-GazetteUnfolding memories of all that Debbie Reynolds brought to the stage, screen and celebrity fascination of our lives would read like a chronicle of Hollywood history, starting in 1952. That’s when a 19-year-old went toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain,” the American Film Institute’s No. 1 movie musical of all time.Ms. Reynolds died Wednesday at 84, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress, writer and mental health activist Carrie Fisher.
Film star Debbie Reynolds, who collected movie memorabilia for more than 30 years, opened the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in 2005. (via Business Wire)
In recent years, Ms. Reynolds appeared on screen mostly as matriarchs, with Albert Brooks in the title role of the 1996 film “Mother” and as Debra Messing’s mom in the sitcom “Will & Grace.” She also provided the voice of the nurturing spider in “Charlotte’s Web,” Nana Possible in the animated TV series “Kim Possible” and Lulu Pickles for “Rugrats.”
The 1973 Broadway musical “Irene” earned her a leading actress Tony nomination and her lone Academy Award nomination was for her favorite role — “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Earlier this year, Ms. Reynolds was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars ceremony.
Ms. Reynolds gave us many more memories in seven decades as a public figure, but if she had done nothing else in her career, she would still be remembered simply for being in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Mark Olsen wrote in his Los Angeles Times appreciation.
The actress had four credited movie roles when she was cast opposite Mr. Kelly, a Pittsburgh native, and Mr. O’Connor.
“She noted at the British Film Institute in 2011: ‘I wasn’t sexy, I wasn’t beautiful, I wasn’t cute and I couldn’t dance. Why would they take me?’
“One only has to see her pop out of a cake to dance and sing to ‘All I Do Is Dream of You’ to answer the question. Her exuberance, the sheer attack with which she approached the part, made her undeniable,” Mr. Olsen writes.
“You know, I was so dumb,” she said to the American Film Institute in 2012, “that I didn’t feel you could fail.”
Mr. Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, on Thursday told BBC Radio that Ms. Reynolds, Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Connor “are like comets that flash through the air once in a lifetime. And we are ever so grateful.”
On Facebook, Mrs. Kelly debunked what she called “a tall tale” about Ms. Reynolds as a young dancer. She quoted NPR’s Neda Ulaby as saying Ms. Reynolds “had studied gymnastics, but for the movie, she practiced tap dancing for up to 14 hours at a time.”
Mrs. Kelly said production records are very clear on the subject. For example, “on April 25, 1951, the report indicates that Gene arrived on set at 10 a.m., had one meal and departed at 5:15 p.m. ‘Debbie Reynolds same.’” She also notes, as Ms. Reynolds has said, that her rehearsal time was three months, “which says a lot about Debbie and the remarkable assistants who taught her to dance.”
There has been much speculation about the cause of the seemingly unsinkable Ms. Reynolds’ death. The entertainer suffered two strokes in 2015 but seemed to make a full recovery.
No cause of death has been disclosed for mother or daughter, but some are blaming Ms. Reynolds’ passing on broken heart syndrome, known medically as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In the scant space between her daughter’s death and her own, Ms. Reynolds told her son, Todd Fisher, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” according to the Associated Press.
“A ‘broken heart’ really is an event where the heart ceases to function normally and is prone to heart rhythm abnormalities,” Dr. Mark Creager, past president of the American Heart Association, told the AP. “That term is used to explain a very real phenomenon that does occur in patients who have been exposed to sudden emotional stress or extremely devastating circumstances.”
The documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” will premiere at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 on HBO. The film chronicling the sometimes rocky mother-daughter relationship was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was originally set to air on HBO in March.
The Hollywood Reporter called it “a tender tribute to two iconic women whose Hollywood history spans from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ through ‘Star Wars’ and whose intimate connection is no less singular.”
In the meantime, viewings of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Singin’ in the Rain” would seem to be in order.
Posted by Larry GleesonSix documentary projects that screened at AFI DOCS 2016 in Washington, DC, have been selected to receive funding from the AFI DOCS/NBCUniversal Impact Grants.Now in their second year, the grants will support the outreach and social action campaigns for these six documentary projects that participated in the AFI DOCS 2016 Impact Lab, a two-day filmmaker workshop sponsored by NBCUniversal and presented in partnership with Picture Motion.
The 2016 Impact Lab took place in Washington, DC, from June 21–22, 2016, during AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s international documentary film festival held annually in the nation’s capital — with the goal to inspire change by bringing together the nation’s leaders and leading artists. Led by Heidi Nel (formerly with Picture Motion in Washington, DC), the Lab introduced participants to policymakers addressing a range of issues from the moral injury of American military veterans to caregivers, LGBT youth, gun violence, education and juvenile incarceration, and imparted filmmakers with the skills to engage with those policymakers at a grassroots level to catalyze lasting social change.
Spanning some of the most critical and urgent problems facing the world today, the projects supported by these grants demonstrated their ability to leverage distribution in 2016. The documentary projects receiving a total of $75,000 in support from the 2016 AFI DOCS/NBCUniversal Impact Grants are:
ALMOST SUNRISE Michael Collins, Director
Two young Iraq War veterans hike a 2,700-mile course from the Midwest to the California Coast to raise awareness for those like themselves who struggle with memories of combat. Along the way, they meet other vets and supporters and talk through their traumas in this inspiring journey toward healing.
CARE Deirdre Fishel, Director
Millions of elderly Americans depend on compassionate caregivers to provide the support they need to age in place. These health care workers offer love and kindness to the elderly, but often don’t earn enough to keep a roof over their heads. With compelling stories of caregivers and those in need, CARE opens our eyes to the fragile human infrastructure that supports an aging America.
CHECK IT Toby Oppenheimer, Director Dana Flor, Director
In the heart of the nation’s capital, the Check It is a street gang comprised of gay and transgender teens who support each other in the face of outside bullying, attacks and discrimination. The group struggles with an existence underscored by violence, poverty and prostitution, but when a young mentor comes into their lives, he endeavors to help them find a more productive outlet: through the creative world of fashion. Finally faced with a better option, the Check It members must now attempt to beat the odds by getting off the street and working toward lives of purpose and accomplishment.
NEWTOWN Kim A. Snyder, Director
On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and murdered 20 schoolchildren and six educators. In the aftermath of the killings, filmmaker Kim Snyder traveled to Newtown and trained her lens on a grieving community, following several families who came face to face with tragedy. NEWTOWN reveals both the indelible scars gun violence leaves behind and the resilience of people who come together to heal.
RAISING BERTIE Margaret Byrne, Director
Filmed over the course of seven years, RAISING BERTIE is a sensitively made portrait of three African American teen boys living in the rural community of Bertie County, North Carolina. When the supportive community school they attend is forced to close, the boys must navigate a path of their own, which they hope will lead them away from the cycles of racism and poverty that threaten to engulf their lives.
THEY CALL US MONSTERS Ben Lear, Director
This fresh look at juvenile justice follows three Latino teens awaiting sentencing for violent crimes as a legal debate rages on imposing life sentences for minors. The young men find their voice thanks to a teacher who helps them write, cast and produce a film based on their life experiences. The boys are complex, surprisingly lovable characters whose paths diverge as they enter a capricious court system, making a strong case for juvenile justice reform.
Horror fan Anthony Conti has stage four kidney cancer, but thanks to the Make A Film Foundation, his short film The Black Ghiandola, starring Depp, Lynch, Laura Dern and JK Simmons, is in post-production.
It was also co-directed by three massive Hollywood names — Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke and St Vincent director Ted Melfi — during the five-day shoot.
The synopsis of the film, which Conti wrote himself, reads: ‘The Black Ghiandola centers on a young man, played by Anthony Conti, who risks his life to save the girl he loves, after his family is wiped out during a zombie apocalypse.’
Conti, who lives in Hollywood, already had experience making his own comedy/sci-fi YouTube series, The Satanic Zucchini Show.
He later managed to get this new project off the ground after contacting Make A Film Foundation to get hold of a copy of one of their other movies.
Writing The Black Ghiandola apparently helped Conti fight his cancer, and stars involved in the project have paid tribute to the ‘courageous’ youngster in touching a video from the foundation.
The teen also uploaded a shot of the letter he received from the American Film Institute telling him Sam Raimi would be directing his movie, which must have been a huge moment for him.
Conti, who is undergoing chemotherapy, received financial help from dozens of Hollywood businesses, including channel AMC who make his fave show The Walking Dead, plus family members and online supporters.
Snaps from the set of the film show just how much fun all those taking part had, and how much fake blood was deployed, too.
Depp appears to be playing a doctor who gets attacked by flesh-eating zombies, a role he no doubt relished.
Based on writer-director Logan Sandler’s own experience growing up in and around the Bahamas, Live Cargo is a powerful meditation on love, loss and healing in a post-colonial world. Shot entirely in black and white, the film upends the “tropical paradise” archetype through its sharp, neorealist focus on the day-to-day of the island community. Live Cargo is co-written and produced by fellow American Film Institute alum Thymaya Payne, director and producer of the award-winning documentary Stolen Seas.
Newcomer Sam Dillon delivers a breakout performance as Myron, a mysterious, homeless youth who is desperate to belong. He stars alongside Independent Spirit Award nominee Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12), Robert Altman Spirit Award recipient Dree Hemingway (Starlet), Robert Wisdom (“The Wire”) and Leonard Earl Howze (“Kevin Can Wait”).
Following a devastating loss, Nadine (Hemingway) and Lewis (Stanfield) retreat to a small Bahamian island where Nadine’s family has kept a house for many years. As they try to heal and move forward with their relationship, the community on the island shows signs of unraveling — with the island’s mayor, Roy (Wisdom), squaring off against Doughboy (Howze), a human trafficker who manipulates the impressionable homeless teenager Myron (Dillon) into assisting with his smuggling operation.
Live Cargo proves a welcome addition to Bahaman Regional Cinema and marks a stylistic entrance for Logan Sandler on the American Cinema front. Worthy of consideration.
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the Egyptian Theatre, AFI film festival, Hollywood, Calif.
Eraserhead, directed by David Lynch, the 2010 AFIfest’s guest director, continues to mesmerize audiences with its stark portrayal of the many all too human desires. As NY Times’ Manohla Dargis so eloquently writes “The black-and-white world of Eraserhead disturbs, seduces and even shocks with images that are alternately discomforting, even physically off-putting. It also amuses with scenes of preposterous, macabre comedy, among them a memorable family dinner involving a cooked bird that wiggles obscenely on its plate while it gushes forth a menacing dark liquid.” Consequently, Henry Spencer, played by John Nance is informed that he has fathered a child with girlfriend Mary X, played by Charlotte Stewart. However, the child is born as a mutated fetus. The doctors aren’t even sure the baby is human any longer. The baby appears with shuffling eyes and a bulbous wet head that looks like a skinned lamb and just lies on a table, cackling and cooing – more an emblem of dread than a bundle of joy. Henry and Mary move into Henry’s single-room apartment where the baby’s constant crying keeps them awake at night. Their existence is dominated by the overwhelming banality of Henry’s single apartment and its outlook onto a brick wall. Eventually, Mary walks out, leaving Henry with sole charge of the baby. Henry is left with what is some men’s greatest nightmare – of being left with the sole responsibility for raising an unwanted child.
Throughout Eraserhead, Lynch plays with a good deal of sexual imagery and sexual energy which seems to be the through action of the film. In the opening moments, we see Henry floating through space dreaming and what look like sperm emerging from his mouth. When domestic life with the baby starts going wrong, Henry is seen pulling sperm out of the sleeping Mary’s mouth as though trying to symbolically reverse the pregnancy. The sex in the film seems tinged with disgust – Henry’s future mother-in-law questions Henry about whether he and Mary have had sexual intercourse and proceeds to come onto Henry by slobbering on his check and neck. Later Henry hooks up with the seductive, attractive woman from across the hallway. However, Henry’s bed turns into a glowing swamp. Henry’s pick up attempt comes full circle as he sees the woman seducing another man. She teasingly turns to Henry and laughs at him somewhat menacingly. The only happiness Henry seems to find is in his radiator dream-land where a girl with puffy pock-cheeked cabaret-style dancer nervously sings and moves on stage as sperm drop on her. Perhaps as Richard Schieb suggests “this latter seems to be arguing that masturbation is the only safe form of sex – certainly, this would seem to be the case at the climax of the film, which sees Henry going off to join the pure and innocent puff-cheeked girl in radiator dream-land in a blaze of white light that may be the hereafter.” And who is the mysterious man depicted at the beginning and at the end of the film? He appears to be “the man behind the curtain” pulling the lever that controls Henry’s fate. Moreover, he quite possibly may represent Henry’s bloodline with his disfigured appearance shadowed by the flying sperm-like images. Or, maybe he represents a higher duality of fear and omniscience as Henry, in the opening scene, is seen confessing a wrongdoing and receiving forgiveness. This first scene sets the tone for Eraserhead. It is open to your interpretation.
Eraserhead certainly defies any type of classification. Lynch literally seems to have tapped into his subconscious. He uses dreams and dream-like imagery. Overall, Eraserhead seems to symbolize industrial dehumanization to a post-holocaust nuclear proliferation era with powerful sexual overtones. Henry lives in the midst of an industrial wasteland. The only views we get of the outside world are of cold, dirty factories. The only greenery we see is in Henry’s room consisting of two piles of dirt, one on his dresser and one on his bedside table where branches have sprouted. And, as Scheib so poignantly asks, “What do the pencil erasers represent – do they, as some pedantic academic suggested, symbolically represent the mind’s ability to repress or ‘erase’ matter?” Indeed.
Eraserhead was produced by the American Film Institute (AFI). AFI is known for its Lifetime Achievement Awards and for its production of over 250 short films. Eraserhead appeared at the 1976 Chicago International Film Festival, at the Filmex Film Festival in 1977 and at the 1978 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival garnering the Antennae II Award. In 2004, The USA National Film Preservation Board named Eraserhead to the National Film Registry. It took Mr. Lynch five years to complete it. Other notable films by Mr. Lynch include Mulholland Drive (2001), Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me (1992). Recommended.
Have a favorite vintage movie poster? Chances are, it was probably designed by Bill Gold, one of the most prolific designers ever to work in movies. Gaining early prestige working on CASABLANCA for Warner Bros., his legacy of posters spans from Hollywood’s Golden Age through New Hollywood, including a close and enduring collaboration with director Clint Eastwood.
AFI spoke with Gold, now retired, about an illustrious career that has proven as influential as the films for which he’s designed posters.
AFI: Tell us how you got started in the business, and where you are today now that you’ve retired.
Bill Gold: In my wildest dreams, I could not have foreseen the career I would have. As a young child, while other kids were out playing ball and riding their bikes, I was at home drawing. After graduating from Pratt Institute, I got a job in the poster department at Warner Bros. Who would have known that the first film I would work on would be the iconic CASABLANCA? That launched my remarkable career. By the early 1960s, I had started my own company, Bill Gold Advertising.
As a kid in Brooklyn, I started drawing from the age of eight and never stopped. In elementary school I was winning art honors. I was drawn to the movies. I graduated from Pratt Institute and went looking for a job, and introduced myself to the art director of the poster department of Warner Bros. in their New York offices. He sent me away on trial to design posters for four earlier films: ESCAPE ME NEVER and ROBIN HOOD with Errol Flynn, THE MAN I LOVE with Ida Lupino and Bette Davis‘s WINTER MEETING. Afterwards he told me, “You’re hired.” My first assignment was for a film not yet finished: CASABLANCA.
I’ve been retired since 2004 with the exception of coming back to work with Clint on J. EDGAR and Warner Home Video on a special project. I’m currently enjoying life with my wife, Susan, and our dog Willoughby in Connecticut.
AFI: What is “the Bill Gold look”? What is it that makes your work yours?
Gold: I know what movie posters should look like, instinctively. My style is and has always been “less is more.” I don’t like a cluttered look. Clean, simple and to the point. I guess you could say black, red, gray and white are usually my trademark colors.
Years ago, I looked at everything that MGM and Paramount and all the companies did, and I never liked anything that I saw. I always found fault with the fact that they showed three heads of the actors, and that’s about all the concept they would use. And when I started to work, I thought: “I don’t want to just do a concept with three heads in it. I want a story.”
I’ve worked on poster campaigns for films by Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Federico Fellini, but my most significant relationship is with Clint Eastwood. We began working together in 1971 when I created the poster for DIRTY HARRY and continued until I retired in 2004.
AFI: What do you think are the ingredients of a successful/memorable movie poster?
Gold: You’d get an assignment and they’d tell you something of how the movie should be marketed. I’d go see the film (I always got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions to movies), or if it wasn’t complete, I’d look at the stills. You then decide how you want the public to see it, then you think of the best way to communicate that. I had usually at least three art directors working for me in a given year, production people and assistants.
AFI: How has the poster making process changed today?
Gold: Posters illustrations are gone. They only use digital photos now. Anybody who can use a computer thinks they can do this. Having computer knowledge is very different from being an artist or an art director or a marketer. A 10-year-old can do a good job on the computer. With photos today the stars can’t say, “It doesn’t look like me.” We used to have to do it over.
My objective is to “sell” the film, to entice an audience to see it through a revealing and striking image and typography. To provoke an interest in the “story” of the film is what I am able to do best.
AFI: Looking back on your legacy and decades of work, how do you feel you have contributed to the history of American movies?
Gold: It’s remarkable the range of styles I’ve used in creating numerous iconic works. It seems a bit unlikely that the designer responsible for the conventional rendering of James Cagney in patriotic garb in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY could have conceived the frilly pink collage of MY FAIR LADY, the blobbed, multi-colored hippie images for WOODSTOCK and the upside-down nocturnal reflections of Clint Eastwood’s MYSTIC RIVER.
Moving with the times as American graphics began to change in the 1950s, I went from relying on traditional illustration to embracing Modernism, Symbolism, Pop Art and psychedelia. I didn’t forget the early American influences, such as J.C. Leyendecker, or the folksy wit of Norman Rockwell.
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)
We got together with Warren Beatty and I believe we had Faye Dunaway at the meeting as well, and Warren was in charge: it was his movie. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, or how to market BONNIE AND CLYDE. It was a sensational, dramatic action-thriller but he also wanted it to look authentic and real and exact — so, looking at the poster, you couldn’t make the mistake of thinking it was just a story. It was about the Depression years, 1930s America. Hence the sepia and the period lettering and those kinds of aesthetic choices. We worked from a specially shot photograph. Beatty was delighted with the final campaign.
My first assignment in 1942 after being hired by the Warner Bros. art department in New York was CASABLANCA. My initial thoughts were to put together a montage showing all the characters depicted in the film. I wanted to have Humphrey Bogart in the foreground and Ingrid Bergman behind him looking on. I didn’t want to give away their romance. The client loved it but said there was no excitement, so I put a gun in Bogart’s hand. The gun was taken from the film HIGH SIERRA.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
Kubrick always wanted to be in control. He wanted to be aware of every step I was taking. He needed to know he had input and was part of the thinking process.
The poster used in the domestic campaign for DELIVERANCE showed hands coming out of the river holding a rifle. But executives in charge of the international campaign wanted something a little more dynamic to represent a movie about a weekend canoe trip from hell. So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if it had a three-dimensional quality, and it looked like it was coming out of the eye of one of the Southern characters? The tag line “What did happen on the Cahulawassee River?” added a final mysterious touch.
DIRTY HARRY (1971)
Clint and I have become very good friends over the years. Professionally, he is as good as it gets. He appreciates everything I have done for him, and has wonderful taste and a remarkable eye for art. Of course, there have been a couple of times when he has asked me to “go back to the drawing board” and investigate another direction. But this is part of the working process, and most of the time we are both on the same page. Clint Eastwood wrote in the foreword to “Bill Gold: Posterworks,” “With Bill I knew he would bring great ideas, and the poster he created would be one less thing we had to think about. He respected the film, he respected the story, and he always respected what we were trying to accomplish.”
THE EXORCIST (1973)
I picked the still of the priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), arriving at the house in Georgetown for the exorcism with a briefcase in his hand because it struck a chord with me. When you looked at this still, you knew somehow that whatever is about to happen inside that house is not going to be good! I adapted it by taking a lot of the detail out of the photo and turning it into a design, and after that no one wanted to see anything else. I’d been specifically told by William Friedkin and Warner Bros. that we must not use an image of the girl possessed, or show anything that had any hint of religious connotation. They were very concerned about that. Friedkin was very involved, and he and Warners rejected all our other comps. They knew what they wanted and certainly picked the right image, which was used all over the world. And the movie, at the time, became the biggest hit in Warners’ history.
MY FAIR LADY (1964)
I had seen the stage musical on Broadway a couple of times, with Rex Harrison as Prof. Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, and I knew it by heart. This campaign is a favorite of mine. With George Cukor directing, the movie had Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews, and Cecil Beaton’s costumes and sets which were important. Warner Bros. had invested about $17 million in it. Here we began with work-in-progress charcoal drawings, and squiggles to get our juices flowing. Eventually, I was happy with the way both principals looked, and now we had to add some extra elements to embellish it, such as the umbrella. The final poster is a collage of charcoal drawings, with color added on top. I designed the lettering, which has become so symbolic of the movie, inseparable from it almost.
This was directed by Mike Nichols, for Paramount. We used military-style lettering and tried to capture the irreverence of the novel: putting war in its place. I like the clarity of these posters. But none were used in the end. They thought they were too clever. This one presents its message clearly with the overhead shot of a toilet with a toy bomber in the bowl. The tagline underneath the image simply says “The first film to put war in its place.” While that message does work with the film, perhaps it was a bit too risky a venture to go with at the time; or distributors felt that having a one-liner like this (despite the truth in it) wasn’t the best way to sell the movie.
October 2, 2016 – Today’s White House Student Film Festival in Washington, DC, marked AFI’s third annual collaboration on the event, which inspires and celebrates young filmmakers from around the nation. AFI welcomed aspiring K–12 filmmakers to the White House to premiere their work for an audience of special guests and film artists from in front of and behind the camera, including Ty Burrell, Alfre Woodard and STRANGER THINGS creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer and star Millie Bobby Brown.
AFI is a founding partner of the festival, which took place this year preceding South by South Lawn, an elaborate outdoor event celebrating the arts to be held on Monday, October 3. As part of AFI’s ongoing mission to educate today’s audiences and tomorrow’s storytellers — a mandate that began when AFI was born in the White House Rose Garden in 1965 — participating filmmakers will continue to learn about the art form after the festival by working closely with AFI Conservatory alumni as mentors.
Open to K–12 student filmmakers, storytellers were encouraged to submit their short film based on this year’s festival theme, “The World I Want to Live In.” Thirteen finalist films were screened at the event, followed by a meet-and-greet with festival attendees. In line with this year’s theme of looking toward the future, and the festival’s annual spirit of innovation, Virtual Reality stations were also part of the experience for guests, filmmakers and their families.
Since the White House Student Film Festival inception in 2014, AFI has worked on President Barack Obama’s program as an advisor and producer, reviewing submissions and creating a celebration that includes educational opportunities for the selected young filmmakers. This year, that partnership continued as the White House Student Film Festival highlighted both the Administration’s commitment to public service and AFI’s ongoing mission to nurture the next generation of storytellers.