Film Director Joseph H. Lewis On Why Films, Hollywood & L.A. Changed For The Worse

Observations On Hollywood Trash

Director Joseph H. Lewis

Peter Bogdanovich early in his career was a film writer for magazines. Over the years he interviewed many people in the film industry and continued to do so even after becoming a successful director himself.  The interviews with directors are compiled in a great book: Who The Devil Made It Conversations With Legendary Film Directors by Peter Bogdanovich (Knopf; 1997).

He interviewed director Joseph H. Lewis (1907-2000) an adept filmmaker best known for his 1950 movie Gun Crazy, a precursor to Arthur Penn’s landmark film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Bogdanovich asked Lewis in 1994, to “define the change that had happened in Hollywood.”

Lewis was able to clearly answer him:

“Yes, I define it one way. When I was a little boy I worked at MGM: I loaded film; from there I became an assistant camera boy; from there, an assistant cutter; from there, the head of a cutting department; from there I became a director. These things don’t happen today. A guy comes up and, yes, he has a script- he wrote it; he’ll let them do it, providing he can direct it. And they go for it.”

Bogdanovich – “In other words, he doesn’t have any experience.”

“That’s right. I’m not criticizing anybody – but there are no studios anymore the way they once were.”

Bogdanovich – “You mean when the studios were a factory where movies got made – with departments, actors under contract, everybody knowing how to make a picture?”

“Yes, and, after all, that dollar sign becomes larger and larger every moment.”

Bogdanovich concludes his chapter with Joseph H. Lewis asking him if “it feels like a totally different world from when he started?”

“World or picture world?” as Lewis asks for clarification and Bogdanovich says “both.”  So Lewis replies:

The answer is yes to both- absolutely. When I was a little boy working at MGM, I didn’t have a car and I lived in Hollywood. I didn’t need a car- I’d walk out into the street and stick out my thumb and three cars would stop and take me to Culver City; and take me back home the same way. You didn’t lock your door at night. What for? And Los Angeles is not Los Angeles; I don’t know what it is. It’s a city of confusion, violence- I rarely, if ever go outside the Marina. I haven’t been to a film, I guess in at least two years. My wife doesn’t like to go to pictures because she thinks they’ve become trash. But about two years ago, the Directors Guild was running a film (don’t know the title) and I said, ‘Come on darling, let’s go see this one.’ We sit down, they start the picture and, and I think within the first hundred feet (of film) the guy says ‘Honey, I’m going to f*** you right now- get your ass in bed.’ Well, my wife almost keeled over. She grabbed my arm ; she said, ‘Darling, I guess I’m not up to this. Let’s go.’ And we walked out and that’s the last time I’ve seen a film.”

Who The Devil Made It Conversations With Legendary Film Directors, though out of print is available at many public libraries and from used book web sites for a few dollars.

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