A YEAR IN THE DARK
by Frederick Bailey Directing Mentor, IAFT/Los Angeles
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1977, I didn’t know many people, so I spent a lot of time in movie theatres. This was way before the arrival of VCRs and DVD players—not to mention Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. That means the only way to see movies uninterrupted was in theatres, on the big screen.
There were plenty of repertory cinemas in those days, theatres that would show double features of old movies. They would change the bill two or three times a week, and there were probably a dozen such theatres in town—all but one or two of them gone now. The choices were virtually limitless.
Admission was something like $2. Maybe less!
So I spent a year in the dark, seeing more than 400 movies in one twelve-month stretch. Mostly I saw studio output from the 1930s and ‘40s. For me, it was better than a year in college.
One benefit was I was finally able to figure out why some people were famous. I had always disliked Joan Crawford—couldn’t figure out how she ever became a big star. Then I saw her in Grand Hotel (1932), The Women (1939), and others, when she was young and vibrant, and I understood. She started out wired—instead of weird. She was really something.
Barbara Stanwyck was another actor I was familiar with from TV, but the honesty and immediacy of her work in studio pictures like Ten Cents a Dance (1931), The Lady Eve (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944) was what really nailed me to the wall.
Preston Sturges did Lady Eve and Billy Wilder did Double Indemnity, both first-rate helmsmen, but the directors who meant the most to me were John Huston, William Wyler, Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford.
A cluster of overseas directors, working in languages other than English, also made a mammoth impression on me. Foremost among them were Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi (all from Japan); Federico Fellini, Pietro Germi, Vitorrio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni (all from Italy); Ingmar Bergman (Sweden); Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard (France); and Satyajit Ray (India).
I strongly urge people interested in making movies to study the work of the best directors from that period of Hollywood and world cinema history, because it was a golden age of movies, with good story structure and an emphasis on adult emotions and adult acting.
Sad but true… They don’t make ‘em like that any more.